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Reflections about music

Interviewer Zemfira Yerzhan
Friday, January 21, 2011, 10:38

For today Zhaniya Aubakirova is the brightest musician-performer of classical music in Central Asia. The pianist organically combines concert activity with active public life not only in her home country, but also on the international arena.

Zhaniya Aubakirova graduated from the Moscow conservatory, then she stayed there as an assistant-trainee. Since 1981 she has been teaching at the Kazakh national conservatory, in 1997 she has become its rector. After victories at prestigious international competitions (International Contest Marguerite Long – Jacques Thibaud – France, 1983; the International contest of chamber ensembles, 1985) Zhaniya Aubakirova has been giving concerts actively. The pianist was received with delight at the best concert halls of the USA, Japan, France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Indonesia, Korea, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Israel, Greece, and Turkey.

Owing to her activities the school of pianists of Kazakhstan has risen on a new level and has appeared on the international stage. Strict virtuosity, deep expressiveness, and masterly skill attract professionals as well as ordinary fans of music, who appreciate the performing art and selfless activity of the musician.

What is the place of Kazakhstan in the world music culture, in your view?

It is difficult for me to speak about this. But my work in the post of the Conservatory’s rector and my experience of a concert pianist, I think, give me grounds for certain conclusions.

I am absolutely sure that Kazakhstan has a very good basis for the development of classical music. Its components include cultural heritage of the soviet epoch, special musical endowments that are peculiar to our nation, and in general, good system of musical education. May be its sections are developed irregularly (there are problems in secondary musical education), but all of them create favorable basis for bringing up talented musicians.

Along with that we have to understand that Kazakhstan has not numerous population. Thus, according to the law of quantity’s transition into quality, according to the simple law of figures, we cannot have crowds of stars, which we were used to pretend to. (For comparison: China with the population of 1.5 billion people has only 10 conservatories and consequently very high level of competition and validity).

Undoubtedly, all Kazakhstani classical performers that give concerts abroad obtain deserved recognition. But for further promotion we need to develop the proper infrastructure in Kazakhstan, produce competitive musical products, organize a classical music channel, launch special music magazines. Everything that is being done in this direction today is aimed at only maintaining the image of one or another sphere, but is not demanded by the market at all.

In addition, we have to consider such an important factor as geographic remoteness of Kazakhstan from the recognized centers of music culture – Europe and America. To invite us, any producer will have to spend much more money for transport charges.

Today neither the state no domestic sponsors have enough money to “promote” Kazakhstani musicians in the world market – to pay for the whole “parcel” of needs, which, by the way, includes not only rent of quarters and instruments, but also, what is the most important, advertising in key prestigious press. So every time we try to appear in the world scene though having rather moderate potential.

For example, if I give concerts in big halls that are very important for a pianist’s career, such concerts should be sponsored. I had given several such performances funded by national companies. Those concerts were the most important events in my creative biography. They have produced though not the greatest but at least some advertising of our country. But in the context of the whole domestic music process this is too little, especially compared to how it is usually organized abroad.

It seems to me that Kazakhstan does have potential, but it can be realized in full extent only under certain conditions. Efforts of professionals of the music industry and serious investments should be involved for this.

Unfortunately it becomes more and more difficult for young musicians to enter this world. Not casually, many people prefer a quiet job at any foreign orchestra that guarantees more or less high earnings. May be this form of our “investment” into the world culture is not bad. But today we suffer from the lack of young talented generation that would work for the development of Kazakhstan’s culture!

Thus, resuming my answer to your question I would say that the place of Kazakhstan in the world music culture (whether we like this or not) is similar to places of the majority of small countries.

Of course, it is also important that we have significant oil reserves and that our country is on the upsurge today. Musicians just like all creative people necessarily need to feel this mood, to believe it, because such optimism can also be a source of inspiration.

What is the position of classical music today, in your view?

More and more often we hear alarming statements that classical music is unable to stand up against the market laws, which are aimed at the creation of music products. The main figures here are not musicians, soloists, or conductors, but show promoters, who are usually not interested in music. Today we can already speak of serious changes in the ideology of music and psychology of its perception. Nobody wants to listen to an opera for two hours. Listeners prefer to hear only 2-3 popular arias out of it. Nobody is interested in serious compositions. Only classical smash hits generate public excitement. The sense and contents of classical music as an enlightener, educator, keeper of high traditions have depreciated extremely.

The majority of orchestras can hardly survive, while the system of super stars, separate soloists has become very popular today. Individual performers usually earn hundreds of times more than other musicians. For example, concerts of three tenors on huge stadiums with transmission for 300 million audience started being organized. These singers and arias from operas that were performed by them have immediately become popular in the world. Classical music has become a part of show-business.

3-5 mega-stars among pianists, violinists, violoncellists, and conductors are promoted. And other musicians in such situation turn out to be noncompetitive – not in respect of their skills, but regarding investments in them. In the world there is a big number of really great artists that do not get in this system of production of musical show-products and remain unknown. In fact art is not sports. The champion here cannot be revealed.

But you are very successful in creativity, have world popularity and at the same time you are engaged in active public work.

Yes, in fact I have very successful positions. I give up to 15 concerts a year abroad. Every year I perform at full houses in France. I always receive invitations to Germany and South Korea. Apart from concerts, I teach master classes there, and all this is financed by an inviting party. Also in the recent years I have been touring as a soloist with one of the world’s best Russian National Orchestra.

At the same time I combine “incompatible” things: I actively give concerts being a musical institution’s head. As a rector I have a lot of successes and achievements, which I am actually proud of. Very often my foreign colleagues say that in their countries such a precedent would be impossible basically… I have recently been elected president of the Public association for the protection of copyrights. Recently people have got an understanding that it is necessary to create the legislative base to regulate relationships in the creative sphere. I do not think that all these problems can be resolved in the near future. For this purpose it is necessary to carry out a great amount of work, first of all in consciousness of people.

You have worked in many countries. Do you feel yourself a citizen of the world?

To some extent – yes. I have been on all continents. Now, when I leave for somewhere, I regard this not as a grandiose event in my life but as the continuation of my habitual work. I do not have fear of taking a plane and changing the place of my stay. This condition is good as it removes many illusions that somewhere “grass is greener”, that in another place all is different and is simply remarkable.

Certainly, on the trips I see many fine examples that inspire me. And I start to think: “Why would not we do this in our home country?” – I share with colleagues, I start telling government officials, sponsors, and journalists about such experience. Foreign concerts and trips give me sensation of the completeness of life. – I see the entire world, I meet many people, I communicate with them. If earlier I had to go with a translator now I speak English. People everywhere are absolutely identical. They all rejoice and mourn similarly. If someone does careless work, it will be noticed everywhere; if there is a qualitative performance, then people will always appreciate. And actually the world is so small!

You are one of the youngest rectors in history of the Kazakh conservatory. What have you managed to do while being in this post?

Actually, I did not expect that I could do all this – it is pleasant for me to see how all things around are changing so perfectly. I have repaired all buildings, including the dormitory, which was in a pitiable condition before. It was very insulting that the future art workers were forced to live in such conditions. We have improved seismic resistance of the old building of the conservatory besides major repairs. I managed to expand our territory. Four years ago we have got one more building – this means additional 5,000 square meters for the Conservatory.

I have also built a Big organ hall. Firstly I thought that it would be enough just to repair it; it has always been uncomfortable, dark, cold, it had no even artistic premises. Well, it was awful, and the main thing – everybody has already got used to it. Eventually, we had to destroy this building completely and to erect a new one. Once before the last stage of construction I have come to one of the ministers and said: “All five staffs of the government, all key ministers – of finance and economy, – they all know about the problem of the Almaty Conservatory’s organ hall. If you are not familiar with it, I will tell you”. And in the answer I have heard not without a share of humor: “You have already told me about this half a year ago, and I am two hands – for!”

Over these years I have learned to tell people about culture, about the needs of our sphere trying to make it interesting for them. In fact it means that I have been conducting active educational activity to some extent. And, it is necessary to tell, I have received many responses that were dear to me. Practically all people, with whom I worked on the settlement of the conservatory’s problems, later have become my associates. It seems to me that even only this one fact is a very weighty justification of the rector’s work which I am engaged in. And the main thing, certainly, is the increased professional skills of our students and teachers, which are directly related to the improvement of the quality of our life.

For certain, it is uneasy to combine such a responsible post that takes so much time and the intense concert activity?

People often ask me: “What for do you need this rector’s post? Nobody will thanks you then. And from your party this is an obvious sacrifice, in fact it takes so much time and forces”. And I, to admit (especially when there were conflicts and friction in the conservatory, which are inevitable for any collective), was inclined to believe in correctness of such statements. But here, you will probably be surprised: my parents have played an important role. They have supported me, have found necessary words. In general, traditional Kazakh education as you know is focused on the support of a spirit of collectivism and patriotism in a person. It is considered that everything you do for people will necessarily do you good and form a basis of well-being of your family more in spiritual rather than in material sphere. We are children of our parents; their merit is in what we are today. And my parents still have not learned to have a rest, they constantly work, they are very active, always wish to function. Perhaps, this is also a feature of their generation.

Could you mark out any features of national woman’s character?

It has already become common to say that Kazakh women are beautiful, educated, initiative and achieve much in their lives. This is true. When I communicate with my women compatriots, I am simply amazed – how wonderful they are! I think, all this was conditioned by historical features. Kazakh women never suffered from discrimination like other women of the traditional Muslim East. And girls in our families, as a rule, are pampered; “Yerkeletip ociredi” saying in Kazakh. On the other hand we as the nation living between Europe and Asia possess high ability to master all new.

Please tell us about your plans for the near future.

This is my second week in Almaty, for me it is unusually long. This year I have played solo concerts in Germany, went on tour with the Russian national orchestra to Switzerland. In April I have visited the International fair in Frankfurt because we needed to buy a big number of musical instruments for the Conservatory. I have just returned from Japan and Indonesia where I visited Yamaha company’s factories. It has impressed me so much. In August I will have to go on a trip to a very prestigious festival in Berlin. There we will give a concert together with the Student’s symphonic orchestra of the Conservatory at a wonderful hall. I will be a soloist. In this concert I will perform a new composition for me. So, I am learning it all my evenings now. And it is necessary also to find still necessary money for the trip, to get visas, to resolve a number of organizational problems. Any of my initiatives is connected with lots of efforts.

Once I have heard from my husband: “You achieve everything that you plan. Could you set no new tasks for yourself at least for some time?” But I do not try to discover problems for myself at all! All this rough activity is an integral part of my life. I know that at times I suffer from this. But what should I do then? You feel certain internal programming on action and you can not stop.

And as a whole I am happy with my destiny and with the chances I get from my life.