Vladimir Runchak: "I am for 'betraying' my audience"
"I have never tried to be a hostage of someone else's style or some compositional technique". I remembered these words after talking with Vladimir Runchak, a man of impeccable taste. Vladimir charms with a fundamental honesty and nobility, for many has turned today into an anachronism. He is a famous Ukrainian conductor, composer and a button-accordion player. Mr. Runchak has performed with many orchestras in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, France, Poland and Azerbaijan. The series of concerts "New Music in Ukraine" were organized due to his efforts. We talked in the lobby of the hotel in Baku, where his works are to be performed within the 5th Qara Qarayev International Contemporary Music Festival. Vladimir is also involved as a conductor in an unusual performance "Variété" by Mauricio Kagel and in another concert with "Swinging Music" by Kazimierz Serocki.
Vladimir, I know you are in Baku not for the first time. Once you were a principal guest conductor of the Qara Qarayev Azerbaijan State Chamber Orchestra, right? How did your creative relationships developed with this country?
I really was a principal guest conductor of the Qara Qarayev Azerbaijan State Chamber Orchestra in the seasons 2007-2008 and 2010-2011. Before that there were several single concerts. I began to work with Azerbaijani musicians a long time ago. The cooperation with this orchestra was not easy and peculiar.
You conduct the Maurizio Kagel's performance "Variété" at this Festival. Whose initiative was it to include this composition into the program?
It was our common initiative with the composer Faradzh Qarayev, an artistic director of the Festival. We always discuss our projects and his opinion is very interesting to me. His characteristic feature is a balanced and surprisingly exact position on completely different issues. Note, that the program of the Festival is not a taste-depending one without prejudice to composers. This festival policy is very close to me. I suggested to include the "Variété" into the program, for I had already played the concert performances of this composition in Kiev and Lvov. Faradzh offered its stage version. Afterwards began the negotiations with Andreas Lawrence, the head of the German- Spanish ballet troupe AVA Dance Company. He agreed to participate in the project.
The performance of "Variété" takes place in the Baku Theatre for Young Spectators on April 18, and promises to be a special event. The stage version of the performance will be presented for the first time in the Post-Soviet Space, as well as the Berio's Symphony the Kagel's "Variété" is if I may say so, a product or an offshoot of the Berio's work. Kagel tried to move away from the aesthetics of classical avant-garde, guided by the idea that music should bring pleasure. There are very little such works in contemporary classical music. Most of the works are serious or quasi-serious. The Kagel's creative work is very close to me for his instrumental theater combines the introduction of humor and irony elements into the new music.
How do you find the cooperation with the Azerbaijani Con Tempo ensemble?
Azerbaijani musicians in this performance are of no less importance than a ballet troupe. The best musicians of the country are involved. Their incredible sacrifice is admirable. The intensive work schedule of the musicians makes them every day to make a real heroic deed. For example they have symphony orchestra rehearsal from 10:00 to 14:00, then there is an opera orchestra rehearsal from 15 to 17:00 and from 17:00 to 20:00 we do Kagel. Can you imagine how exhausting it is? To understand it one should know a little the specifics of horn players, whose instruments are also their lips. One can easily get traumata with this schedule and play no longer at all.
Is it somehow connected with the shortage of professional musicians in Azerbaijan?
Yes, this is due to a deficiency of performers, ready to perform this mega difficult composition with unusual aesthetics. I want to thank all the musicians involved in this production. They did a great job.
Have you got a creative mutual understanding with accordionist from Germany Eva Zöllner?
Eva is an outstanding musician. She has already participated in a concert version in Mexico. It is nice that she, as always, with absolute German precision has the ideal training of all parties. In some cases, she helped us with information, as there were some unknown notation marks in the score common for modern methods in German. The project leader Andreas Lawrence and ballet crew were the example of discipline. They knew exactly when, how and what had to be done, that was what one should learn from them.
Vladimir, do you think the age of a performance has gone?
Kagel's compositions can barely be called a performance. This is a ballet action, where improvisation peculiar to the genre of performance is practically nullified. I would call this work a modern dance show.
From the conversation I realized that Kagel's creative work is close to you.
Yes, it is really so. The "bad" avant-garde composers transformed music into a mass patience in the hall: "When is it going to finish?" The time when it was considered that the audience is foolish has gone. Now composers must pay attention to themselves, to their procedurality, shaping and artistry of their works.
In my opinion, the most important thing in creation is a degree of talent and the adequacy of expression. It is necessary to compose in such a way that one could understand what the composer meant and wanted to say. The public endured it and as a result we lost it. At best we listen to ourselves, and at worst it does not happen because of envy, being busy and other factors.
Innovative techniques work only when everything is done perfectly. An audience requires a constant contact. Such concerts and performances are attended by a prepared audience, people, who know what they are going to listen.
Your diptych "The Two Confessions" (1998) will be performed within the Festival: 1. In Berliner Dom (In Berlin Cathedral) and 2. In Berliner Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (in Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church). Once in an interview you said that the spiritual contemporary music could never be played in a church because of its complexity. Your composition is going to be performed in the church, where it belongs. What do you feel about it?
I meant mainly the modern spiritual choral music when I spoke to the press. This is a huge problem that needs attention. Relationships of modern art and religion have always been strained. In the Orthodox Church this aspect is very problematic. It is usually required to play what is written in the style of classics, otherwise the piece is not allowed to be performed in the temples. Everyone, of course, has the right to choose, whether to compromise or to remain true to himself. Personally I choose the latter.
For example, there is a composer who uses tested methods both in instrumental and sacred music. I do not like it, but he is honest. I do not understand such conformism when a composer makes concessions writing instrumental music in a difficult and conceptual manner but spiritual music in simplified language. Such compromises lead sooner or later to the degradation of the personality of a composer, it is a road to nowhere.
There is the other side to this issue when the church music is written by church leaders who do not have professional music education. When this music is being performed on a concert stage, and now it happens more and more often, it becomes self-sufficient. A temple is not a concert hall, but a place where people come to pray and talk with God. The music in a church should not be self-sufficient as soon as it becomes one, it looses its entire meaning: people start to listen to music but not to a sermon. In a temple the music is only a part of the whole action. Great music is needed only in the great feasts, they are not numerous. Another problem for the performance of contemporary sacred music in the church is the lack of a professional choir.
When you hear "avant-garde", what do you think in the first place?
Today for me this word has no conceptual component. The beginning of "avant-garde" we used to count from the Second Viennese School. At that time when one heard this word certain names and works gave absolutely precise associations. In the second half of the XX century with the appearing of postmodernism emerged a huge number of different directions in kind of avant-garde. It became difficult to classify anything at all. What is avant-garde now? It is very difficult to drive all these into stylistic boundaries. Therefore, the concept of "avant-garde" has lost its meaning, and now it is worth speaking only about the quality of music.
Kagel once said: "Every time there is a manifesto it is immediately being betrayed". Do you often betray your manifestos or are you being betrayed?
It seems to me that the betrayal of your own technique of musical language is even a positive thing. Each new work is like a new love for me, a new novel or a painting. If I have told something today, tomorrow I have to say some other thing. One should betray his own manifestos. If we do not do this, we will become predictable, and this is too bad.
So you betray your audience…
I support the idea to "betray" my audience that they would come to listen to my compositions and would not know what awaits them. I have, for example "Vladislav Passion" dedicated to a suicide composer Vladislav Zolotarev. I heard, "How can it be?" But he is a saint for button accordion players. This one is accompanied by SEXtet for six performers and virtuoso "Hallo M.K." dedicated to Maurizio Kagel, or a play "Give Shevchenko Prize to anyone who wants it". The audience having heard SEXtet will be waiting for something like this, but this is unacceptable. Of course I "betray" my audience. It wants "Give Us Two Shevchenko Prizes" or "Give Us Three Shevchenko Prizes" but I give it "Two Confessions". I want each composition to be a surprise to the listener.
Interview prepared by Elena Kravtsun, Press Center of the Festival