- You probably communicate with many colleagues who remain in Russia. How do musicians with opposite views on war get along in collectives, for example, in orchestras? How many of your friends supported her?
- I still have friends in Russia, and all my friends adhere to the same views as me. I cannot call people of other views friends in the real, true sense of the word. One of my friends plays in an orchestra, but he did not share his impressions of his colleagues with me. A few days ago, we exchanged text messages with him, he sent me a voice message saying that after the start of the war he had thoughts of leaving, but then he began to think: “Why should I leave because of some crazy person? Let him go." I know that this point of view is quite widespread in Russia, and I support it.
I can't tell you about the orchestra. Written by a good friend from Russia, not a musician, but she is connected with music by occupation. And it was a letter of despair. When I showed it to my wife, she said that it was just a document of the era. She wrote that at work they agreed not to discuss politics, but sometimes it breaks through. She wrote the following phrase: "If I knew who I was friends with." Despair from how many of her acquaintances for some reason want to continue to bomb Ukraine and conquer it, from the general situation, from disappointment in friends.
— Do you maintain relations with Ukrainian musicians?
— Of course, I have many familiar Ukrainian musicians. For example, Alexei Botvinov, director of the Odessa Classics festival. I played at this festival last year, we became family friends. After the start of the war, they fled to Europe, we constantly correspond.
“War can create tension in relationships…
There was no reason for that, what are you talking about? On the contrary, we met a couple of months before. They came to Prague for my wife's birthday, and when the war started, he wrote to me: "Yes, you were right when you said that Putin would attack, but we didn't believe it."
- Before the full-scale invasion, did you already think that this would happen?
- I don’t remember exactly, but when it happened, I was not surprised, because it was clear to me that Putin was capable of anything.
— How do Europeans treat musicians of Russian origin? First, some bloggers, then the Russian media, and then Putin started talking about “the abolition of Russian culture”…
— You and I understand how to treat everything that Putin says. As he himself once said: "Former KGB officers do not exist." And we know that the KGB officers are professional liars, this is an integral part of the profession. After the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the West asked those Russian musicians who have recently been close to Putin and at the same time tour abroad to publicly condemn the war. Because they refused to do so, they were no longer invited to the West. At the same time, the attitude towards them has not changed - everyone already knew who they were, they simply considered it possible to invite them here, and after February 24 they considered it unacceptable. And the same goes for all musicians. I do not know of a single case where attitudes have changed only on the basis of a Russian passport.
We know about one famous singer <Anna Netrebko - The Insider> , who was not known for being close to Putin, but posed with the flag of the "Donetsk People's Republic" eight years ago <the singer later explained that she brought humanitarian aid to Donetsk for the opera house, and the flag arose unexpectedly for her - The Insider> . She had problems, and therefore she first made one statement, then another, but in the end she chose the West.
Personally, none of the musicians with a Russian passport complained about this to me. I know of one case, they wrote about it in the press - this is the pianist Alexander Malofeev, who condemned the war. His concert in Vancouver was cancelled . The organizer of the concert, both publicly and personally, later told me that it was not because of her attitude towards Malofeev, it was just that protests began in Vancouver against various Russian organizations. They also threatened to protest if Malofeev arrived. She simply felt sorry for him, because he is a young boy, why should he endure this. I met him a couple of months later at the festival - we sat at dinner after the concert, and he didn’t complain to me about anything like that.
- After the denazification of Germany, questions arose for musicians, for example, Furtwängler and Karajan - the latter was even a member of the NSDAP. When it comes to the denazification of Russia, do you think that Russian musicians should feel the consequences? For example, Matsuev, Spivakov, Gergiev and Bashmet, who signed a letter in support of the annexation of Crimea - should the denazification of Russia affect their careers?
Answering this question , first of all, I must make a reservation about Spivakov , a man whom I have known well for many years. I will say less than I could, since Vladimir Teodorovich lives in Russia, and I do not want to harm him in any way. First of all, let me remind you of the well-known facts. Let us remember: at the very beginning of the current war, Spivakov signed an appeal by Russian cultural figures against the war. Let us also recall that in the mid-1990s Vladimir Teodorovich protested against the war in Chechnya. Among the signatories of the letter in support of the annexation of Crimea, as well as among the Russian cultural figures in general, who once spoke out in one form or another in support of Putin, there were a variety of people. Both in form and simply in the number of such statements from different people, it was always clear to me personally, as Gorbachev said, “who is hu”: who really supports Putin and his policies, and who spoke out or signed simply because he was at the head of the orchestra /theater/museum/charitable foundation dependent on state support. In short, in terms of his political views, Spivakov in no way deserves to be put on a par with the other musicians you mentioned - just as, for example, Chulpan Khamatova clearly does not deserve to be put on a par with, say, Tabakov.
By the way, musicians in Germany and Austria behaved differently under Nazism. The same Furtwängler, as best he could, tried to resist the Nazi policy, helped the Jewish musicians from his orchestra. Karajan was indeed a member of the NSDAP, but did not make any statements in support of the regime. But, for example, Gieseking proudly publicly called himself a Nazi and gave concerts in concentration camps; Boehm, having received the post of chief conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra after the Anschluss of Austria, wrote a letter of thanks to Goebbels, in which he promised to “clean out all the Jewish dirt from the orchestra,” and fulfilled his promise; Kempf, touring during World War II in fascist Romania, where Jews were forbidden to attend some concerts, demanded that Jews be forbidden to attend his concerts ...
So yes, I think that musicians should feel the consequences of denazification, and in a much more severe form than it was after the Second World War. And that's why. A Russian musician who has no orchestra, no charitable foundation or anything like that, wrote in a private Facebook chat a couple of years ago that he was for Putin, and in response to the appeal of Navalny, who at that time was undergoing treatment in Germany , to keep Gergiev out of the West, said that even after the collapse of Nazism and Communism, people were smart enough not to persecute musicians associated with these regimes. And now I'm thinking: maybe that's why this musician and others voluntarily and willingly support Putin - because they are sure that they won't get anything for it? And I come to the conclusion: the same Gieseking and the same Mengelberg received little in their time; in vain they were eventually allowed to give concerts. No amount of talent or even genius can justify willingly supporting a dictator and mass murderer. Therefore, I am convinced that yes, all those who voluntarily and repeatedly supported and continue to support Putin (it is they, and not those who once signed one letter or allowed themselves one statement) - both musicians and everyone else - should be severely punished so that in the future it would be repulsive to others.
- People of art in the context of a big war can somehow influence the situation?
- They can give concerts to help Ukraine. I gave and took part in such concerts. He gave as much as he could. Not only people of art, but everyone who has such an opportunity, donated money.
- Money is understandable, but art itself can influence politics?
- Dictators and tyrants used art for their own purposes. It was in the Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany, and Putin has always tried to do it.
- What if it's the other way around? Can art prevent war?
— I don't know, to be honest. It is possible and necessary to protest people of art in various forms, but art is clearly not enough to prevent the war. Force can only be stopped by force. Can artists contribute to this? I'm not sure, I'm not delusional about this, although I myself try to do everything I can, namely, to give interviews and turn to Western politicians and ordinary citizens in them. Last summer I also wrote a trio for violin, cello and piano dedicated to the war in Ukraine.
Have you already presented it to the public?
“Of course, the audience responds well. There was a premiere in Amsterdam in October, and after that, with the musicians from the Gropius Quartet, we played it in Weimar. On November 17, the Kaufman trio performed it near Milan, and on December 5, I and the concertmasters of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra groups will play it in Prague. Could this affect something? I don't know, but I can hope. Of course, music in principle has great emotional power and can influence people. But how, in this case, can music influence listeners and inspire them to help Ukraine financially or to demand from their politicians to act accordingly? I just try to do what I can, according to the Nekrasov principle - “Let not every warrior harm the enemy, but everyone go into battle!”. My age does not allow me to go into battle, and there are no qualifications.
“There is a popular belief that classical music itself can keep people from being violent.
- This is from ignorance of history. Didn't Hitler and Stalin go to concerts and listen to good music?
- The Soviet authorities generally had a long history of friendship with people of culture.
“It has always been different. I have not heard that Khrushchev was distinguished by his love for music and invited musicians to his place. On the contrary, Plisetskoy Khrushchev, who had to take foreign guests to the Bolshoi Theater for Swan Lake, complained: “The ballet is wonderful, but how much can you?” But Stalin loved and invited musicians to himself and his accomplices. Hitler, as you know, began as an artist himself. Stalin wrote poetry in his youth, and so did Mao.
As for talented artists who suddenly find themselves on the side of evil, Huberman has a quatrain like this: “He is dark and poor in soul, and his play radiates with light. God's gift is unexpected, like a pimple - and it can happen on the ass.
- After February, self-flagellation was widespread in the circle of the Russian intelligentsia: “We are to blame for everything, we didn’t interfere with anything, we didn’t do anything good” ...
— I believe that this also applies to Western politicians. Because of their tolerance for the USSR, because of the policy that the West decided to pursue in the late 1960s, millions of people died in the world. Archival documents made public by Vladimir Bukovsky in the mid-1990s prove that the Soviet Union supported terrorism throughout the world, including in Africa and Latin America. After the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the West, instead of pursuing the same policy towards Russia that it pursued towards Germany after Nazism, forgave Yeltsin everything - both Abkhazia, and Chechnya, and support for Milosevic. Then Putin came - the invasion of Georgia, the actual annexation of South Ossetia, the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass - and also nothing, some kind of toothless sanctions. Western politicians did what we now call various bad words.
“We are now criticizing the West, but inside Russia we couldn’t stop Putin either.
— It's true, but objectively the West has much more opportunities than the people in Russia. Just not enough people wanted to stop him, which had its own reasons, which consisted in Yeltsin's policy, which, in the eyes of many people, discredited both Western ideals and the West as a whole, which Putin took advantage of. On the other hand, he was helped by the situation on the oil market in the early 2000s.
- Let's remember 2008, when 500 people came to Pushkin Square to protest against the invasion of Georgia, and then it was relatively safe. At the same time, theaters and music halls were full in 2008, and people were buying up books. People were busy with other things, and they were not up to it.
“At that time I spoke with a very small number of people. Of course, they did not support, but they did not particularly protest either. I remember that some of my old friends said that everyone is lying - ours, Georgians, and Ossetians. At the same time, he was against Putin from the very beginning, and then he did not support the war. He was already an elderly man and a few years later went to say goodbye to Nemtsov.
“People are told that there is no truth at all.
- Of course, and this leads to indifference. As Bruno Jasensky said: “Do not be afraid of enemies - they can only kill; do not be afraid of friends - they can only betray; be afraid of the indifferent, for with their tacit consent, betrayals and murders are committed.
- Do you think that the attitude of Western politicians and society towards this problem has changed over this year? Woke up?
— Of course, it has changed, thanks to the Ukrainians. On the very first day of the war, Biden offered Zelensky asylum, and Zelensky replied that he did not need transport, but weapons. It was thanks to the heroism of the Ukrainians that Western politicians understood what needed to be done - but after they brought themselves into a state of oil and gas dependence on Russia decades ago - and the West pays millions for gas every day, even today its possibilities are limited.
The attitude of Western politicians and society has changed thanks to the Ukrainians
Why did you leave Russia at the time?
— I left at the end of 1991, it was a very anxious and uncertain time. Shortly before this, there was a putsch, but who then understood that maybe this time it failed, and the other will end in success, and the old Soviet times will return. I am a Jew, anti-Semitism flourished in Russia, which is why I left. I have lived in the US, UK, France and now in the Czech Republic.
- Despite all the talk about the abolition of Russian culture, you have constant tours and crowded halls ...
- Yes, the halls are filled both at regular concerts and at concerts in support of Ukraine. The first concert in support of Ukraine, in which I had the opportunity to participate, took place at the end of March at the presidential palace in Berlin. It was attended by a small part of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, composer Valentin Silvestrov, who had fled from Kyiv to Berlin a couple of days before, Ruben Pogosov and myself. There should have been a president of Germany with his wife <Frank-Walter Steinmeier - The Insider>, but they were ill with covid. Before the start of the concert, the president's address was shown on the screen, and after the concert he wished to talk to me on the phone. I decided that this was my chance to influence something, and I told him: “I beg you, help Ukraine as much as possible and as much as possible, send it as many weapons as possible,” to which he then replied: “Yes, we recently adopted decision to supply Ukraine with weapons. It wasn't easy, but we made the decision." Only later did I find out that earlier Steinmeier pursued a largely pro-Putin policy, tried to be friends with Putin, and with the Chinese, and with the Turks, and when the war began, he found himself in a very bad situation and tried to fix it in every possible way, which is why he organized such a concert .
To help Ukraine, there was also a concert at the Boston Conservatory, my quartet played, then there was a conversation with me right on the stage, and then I played the 2nd scherzo and Chopin's A-flat major polonaise. Then there was a big gala concert in support of Ukraine at Carnegie Hall, hosted by Richard Gere, and, among other things, Yitzhak Perelman and I played a tune from the movie Schindler's List. I played the same Chopin polonaise in A-flat major, which became a symbol of Polish pride, and now I play it often.
And at the festival in Verbier, in Switzerland, there was an unusual experience. Have you read the short story by the American writer Kresmen Taylor called "The Addressee Dropped Out?" It was written in 1938 based on true stories that took place at the time. The story shows the correspondence of two friends, a Jew and a German, who become enemies after Hitler comes to power. The parallels with our time are incredible, and my wife's sister Marianna Arzumanova, an actress and director, staged a play based on this story in her theater , and then staged a slightly modified version of it for the Verbier festival. The famous singer Thomas Hampson played the role of a German, I played the role of a Jew, and my wife played the roles of three women who are mentioned in this story but are not characters. Immediately after the concert, we received an offer to repeat this performance in the Jewish Center in London, in Geneva and in Elmau Castle near Munich. A similar thing is happening today among many people in Russia. Or between people who stayed in Russia and left there.
I recall my long-standing dispute with the now deceased Russian publicist who lived in Latvia, the absolute pro-Putinist Alexander Olbik. Once, on vacation in Jurmala, a stranger asked me for an interview and gave me his book - a collection of interviews with various people, including Yeltsin, Yevtushenko, Tal and others. I gave him an interview, but it soon turned out that our views were opposite. In his very first letter to me, in which he explained why he was for Putin, Olbik wrote almost exactly the same as the German hero of the story written in 1938.
This hero, Martin Schulse, shortly after Hitler came to power, wrote to his Jewish friend who remained in America that liberals like to sit and talk about freedom, but do nothing, and when an energetic figure appears, they are immediately against him. And Olbik wrote to me that liberals, they say, like to read books and talk about human rights, but they themselves are not able to manage not only the state, but even a public toilet. Then it turned out that Olbik wrote a whole novel about Putin...
— The final of your trio is dedicated to the victory of Ukraine. Are you as sure of it as you were sure that Putin would attack?
- I was not sure that Putin would attack, I just fully assumed such a possibility. As for the victory of Ukraine, I not only believe in it, but I believe that it must happen, because it will be the victory of all mankind. If Ukraine, God forbid, is defeated, it will be the defeat of all mankind.
Interviewed by Oleg Pshenichny