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15 Questions to Alexander Danilevski

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello to you. I am now in a Jesuit college in a little French town, Bithe. But do not think I am a Jesuit! Simply there are good acoustics here. My early music ensemble “Syntagma” is recording Gautier d’Épinal and others from the XIIIth century. The music is very good and is really up-to-date. Here is, for instance, a couplet from Colin Muset:

With the greatest pleasure would I sing
If I knew how,
And I would lead a good life,
If this century were worth so.
… If I were God,
I would manage life otherwise.
I would put a better people in it
Because the actual one is not worthy…

This prepares the answer to your third question, as you can see. The feeling of a crisis is as old as the world.

What’s on your schedule right now?
Debts, debts, debts… to editors, and the performers will soon send me to prison for debts; I am late in everything.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Crisis is a permanent state of a seeking artist. To triumph over it is a voluntanry action giving birth to an artistic work. Our music is a foundation of the world. While we are writing or playing it, the world stops running, otherwise why should we be doing it? The world stands on our music, so the composer has to believe, or all he does has no sense. To go against the tide is our destiny, our fate, duty or what you want.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
GREEN is the colour of a new love. One can find the new in newest works and in ones thousands of years old.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Ideally, the sound would be imperceptible and listeners would not notice it; they must be captivated to the point that information passes directly to their soul or subconsciousness.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Essentially different things. European music is based on the constructive principle before any other thing. I like to include improvisatory elements in my compositions. The improvisation is a space of freedom like an open window in an architectural work.

How would you define the term “interpretation”?
“Spoiled telephone”; but not only. It has sometimes happened to me that I  listened to my own works which had not been rehearsed with me, and performers found unexpected beauties. But there were also quite awful performances, when I thought that I‘d better bury it somewhere. We possibly may find an analogy with translations: Shakespeare’s texts are well alive and up-to-datel, whereas their translations by Voltaire are hopelessly obsolete. A masterpiece lives and develops. So interpretation is a necessary element of a composition, and a composer has to take it in account, even a really bad one.

Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
Of course, the freedom. But the choice of this kind is now no more a challenging question. The time has come to take interest in the form. The XXth century was that of the intonation along with the classical form. The XXIst c innovations will not be intonational ones; they will be based on developing a new musical form and dramaturgy. At least, I am working on it. Intonational problems now seem to be of less importance.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Music is a sound art which first appeals to the ear, while the intellect plays a controlling and analysing role. When the ear and the intellect change their respective roles, that is the composition addresses first to the intellect and not to the ear – then that is where the border grows.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
Of course, very different things. They call to different levels of the consciousness, more exactly, the “popular” calls to no level at all. Musical language is of no importance here, it does not depend on genre.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
By default art includes all aspects of life, including politics, and even something greater than our life, something unknown to us, whether the artist wants it or not. The trouble begins when it (the art) is pragmatically subjugated to political aims. I am apolitical to the marrow, and the society must ensure my right to be apolitical, if not, it is not a society but a “dog’s tail” (a popular Russian expression meaning something really bad). Art stops to exist as soon as it is applied to something. For instance, a beautiful candlestick remains no more an artwork when knocking somebody’s head.

True or false: People need to be educated about  music, before they can really appreciate it.
Yes, of course. And the more the better. I especially studied to play several instruments in order to learn to listen instrumentalists; one can appreciate quite differently a virtuoso playing, when knowing in what manner things are pushed or plucked.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
I can answer only for France. Administrative structures work so badly that due to their errors the subsidies sometimes go to the proper people.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I had already cherished the idea of a “Festivals of Premieres”. There is a lot of never played music from Medieval Ages to now. It would be so fair to meet in one concert music from different epochs! I have experienced several times the performing of medieval or baroque and contemporary compositions. It is so exciting! Early instruments open new perspectives and give astonishing colours to new music. Especially now when a colossal progress is made in this field, and there are so much virtuosi. But, like with food, people are very conservative: musicians prefer to play and their audiences like to listen to and all together eat what they have already tasted. So, I would quickly go bankrupt.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I would have already written it, if I had a vision. But I have an idea of what it would signify; and now I am building an idea of how it must sound. Little by little I am growing up…

Alexander Danilevski
Ensemble Syntagma

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