Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alfred Schnittke

And so the South Bank for the last of their Alfred Schnittke Festival. Hiw widow was there beforehand, in magnificently long flights of Russian that the translator remembered bravely, plus the cellist Alexander Ivashkin and conductor Vladimir Jurowsky. It does seem that Schnittke was one of the century's beautiful lives. Three strokes saw him clinically dead for a while, that life after death aspect filtering into his music. Music wasn't hard for him after these strokes, his widow told us. His life was music, so while he lived music must come from him. His right hand paralyzed, he wrote with his left, and musicians would then decipher it.
My new novel has an elderly cellist / composer as its central figure, so Schnittke's 2nd cellos concerto served as research as I edge toward more writing time. Being there, seeing Ivashkin playing away fortissimo in the final movement, pursuing his own journey in the high register while the fullest of orchestras drowns him out totally, was quite moving. It needed the visual, the loner continuing his story, his music, his arms sweeping, his body pumping, despite the forces gathered around him. He spoke in his programme notes, and from the platform, about the orchestra deliberately 'killing' the soloist but that's not so - his tune emerges at the close, still going, quite sweet.

Rostropovic learned the 2nd concerto, an astoundingly complex work, in just two weeks, performing the premiere without the score. Perhaps he simply made up all the places where his playing would be drowned out, but it was fun (and modest, for he used the score himself) for Ivashkin to give us that memory of Rostropovic's genius.


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