"My idol is the musician who teaches me something today"
Dmitry Smirnov was born in 1994, St. Petersburg. He studied at the Haute Ecole de Musique de Lausanne (Lausanne’s University of Music) in Switzerland (Class of Professor Pavel Vernikov) and Basel Academy of Music (class of Professor Rainer Schmidt). Although Dmitry is only 23 years old, he already won II Prize of the All-Russian Music Competition (Moscow, 2011) and I Prize at the International Tibor Varga Violin Competition (Switzerland, 2015). In 2017, this violinist won two Swiss International Contests: Competition in Lausanne and the Rotary Excellence Prize in Lugano. Dmitry Smirnov is the soloist and permanent participant of the Music House programs since 2011.
St. Petersburg Music House (SPMH): What inspired you to become a musician? Do you have any idol in music?
Dmitry Smirnov: My parents took me to music school, where I started to play violin. My parents are choral conductors, graduates of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. They constantly took me along to rehearsals, where I sat and listened to Bortniansky, Sviridov and Schutz. My mother worked in mixed choir "LegeArtis", and my father created his own male ensemble "Anima". Their repertoire is very interesting, and the level is amazing. That was my first school. It seems to me that it was vocal music that opened up all delights of our vocation and set up the course.
Voice is the most natural phenomenon. It is the beginning of all communications. Violin has a beautiful timbre, but this sound is not entirely natural, since it is only the sound of instrument, it does not have its own soul. We take this instrument, we extract from it the sound by rubbing the bow along the string, if necessary, we adorn it with vibration and talk with the one who listens to us. This is a kind of soul psychology. Everything in our profession is very relative when it comes to music itself. And I want to understand what kind of matter it is.
As for idols – It's a lie. But it is sometimes very difficult to exist without this lie. I am sure that when I get older I will speak differently. At present, my idol is the musician who teaches me something today. However, over the past few years, I often return to what the Italian flautist and conductor Giovanni Antonini is doing. I'm also very inspired by my professor Rainer Schmidt.
SPMH: How do you envisage your career in ten years’ time?
Dmitry Smirnov: I hope that soon the concept of "career" will no longer be such an important aspect of society, and everyone will be able to do what he really likes.
SPMH: What, in your opinion, is the pinnacle of musician's career?
Dmitry Smirnov: Everyone has his own vision of musician's career "pinnacle". As for me personally, I think that the moment when I say "that's it, this is it" will never come. It seems to me, only decades after one’s death it is possible to judge, whether some or other musician has reached the pinnacle of his career.
SPMH: Chamber or symphonic music?
Dmitry Smirnov: Vocal-symphonic, chamber-instrumental. Any, I'm an absolute melomaniac.
SPMH: What is the "message" of your interpreting?
Dmitry Smirnov: Since there emerged a need for people to interact, that was the moment when the history of music started. After all, communication, and we are talking about the most understandable – the verbal one – starts with sound. Any note, new or old, causes the person's brain to ask: "What is it?". We know about the bird singing, the sound of wind in Vivaldi pieces, and with industrial revolution we got to know the noise of steam engines and car horns, radio, springs, typewriters and atomic weapon, which destroys the sound. All this is present in works by Bartok, Shostakovich, Varese and other contemporaries.
Today, over so many years after the appearance of the ancient theatre in Greece, after the first recorded and performed hymns, after the foundation of Notre Dame School, musician`s function did not change after Bach's death. The only changes were in how it all was delivered from musician to listener and listener’s perception. If you look at masterpieces of Mattezon, Charpentier, you can see in the case how people in the 18th Century perceived the C major key in a different way. In fact, it does not matter for the listener what is the C major and what is the function of this key. Today, we have another perception and other ways of communication between people. But this is still relevant.
Notes still remain the multimeter barrier between the composer's legacy and the contemporary interpreter. Even the most advanced editions and computer printing will not be able to print the original dynamics of Schubert or Beethoven, for example, since the publisher will have to spend extra money to draw important "forks", exactly as it is in Beethoven`s String Quartet manuscript.
My professor Rainer Schmidt showed me the manuscript of Shubert's Death and the Maiden for String Quartet. It's just amazing how graphically Schubert sets off the quartet accompanying voices, using thin pen strokes, and highlights the cello`s leading voice in bold stroke that goes far beyond the musical staff. How was this melody supposed to be born so that it would be recorded exactly like this? Perhaps it is an expression of incredible protest against death? These things affect the performer.
Mother tongue, which means the way the composer thinks, speaks in rhythms and intonations of his music. Humour, love, anger, melancholy, joy, ego and sometimes their intricate mixes – all this is, has been and will always be, and no one will take it away from the person and from the composer. Recorded notes are the barrier between the composer's heritage and the contemporary performer. These notes have no emotions, there are only icons behind which are hidden huge thoughts and limiting emotions. Let's recall the mnemes and hooks wherefrom all that started. There was the large-scale reorganization over the centuries, while occurred articulation signs and nuances, symbols of characters and tempos. And, again, the same indications in different epochs meant completely different things. In Joseph Haydn legacy, as far as I know, only once you can find designation "three forte", and in XX century there are already 5 "pianos" and 6 "forte" and whatever you can think of. Does this mean that the rest of Haydn's music should be performed more quietly and more delicately than the culmination in the final of Tchaikovsky's Symphony, having 5 "forte"? Perhaps, but I can only guess that this is an absolute nonsense. You can find "Accelerando" in Haydn works, unlike Mozart, these are peculiarities of script, however, he has a possible hint to accelerate which occurs in 5th part of 60th Symphony called "Dissipated" when he made 8-stroke repeating chains of dominant tonic sets in the first bar "Andantep" and in the fourth "Allegrof". Is it possible that this is a specific accelerando with crescendo? Incidentally, this is why folk music is often livelier, it is transmitted from ear to ear, not from notes to notes. Only one nuance of piano and pianissimo may refer to about ten variations in Beethoven's world, with one underscore, with two and three. One cannot find them in well-liked "Western" publications, they are simply not there. Beethoven was the first in using dynamics as something isolated. Sometimes his dynamics goes against music, which gives it incredible share of humanity. But he was the first in music who talked about the importance of an individual and without false modesty said: "I want my music to make people better".
The destiny of a performing musician is sad and unique at the same time – to step back from the self-performer and move to himself as self-reproducer, re-enactor of the historical moment. This is sad, because sometimes you want to play beautifully, without thinking about the consequences. However, it is dangerous, you can wallow in narcissism.
We must not forget the main thing: eventually, any reading of musical canvas should be relevant to modern ear. Due to a huge number of styles, experiments and the general trend of turning our proffession into business industry, today a musician can easily get lost and be disappointed in his profession. To prevent this, we need new and better model of musical education, where the musician profile may be defined at an early stage and introduced to the idea of importance of what he has a bent for.
In my opinion, if you do not tell a child who studies music, that he is primarily a soloist, and all others (teachers, members of the orchestra, chamber musicians) are "secondary" professions, everyone can find his vocation. Otherwise there is an unnecessary competition at an early age, and false interest zest.
Orchestra and its musician are both delightful and responsible. Teacher has even greater responsibility. Chamber music is pleasure that requires total dedication.
SPMH: Dmitry, you regularly perform within the St. Petersburg Music House projects - have there been any amusing incidents on your performances, any interesting events, etc.?
Dmitry Smirnov: Interesting cases sometimes occur and generally they happen precisely in those moments when you think that everything goes smoothly.
In 2014, at concert in Kislovodsk, I performed Shostakovich's Second Violin Concerto with the Safonov Orchestra on the historical stage in the Philharmonic Organ Hall. In the first part, the stunning cellist Alexander Ramm performed Elgar's Concerto and I went to the Hall to listen. I was very impressed. Without looking at the time, I went to the artist room to tune the violin and missed the third bell. I was still in the dressing room, when the manager came running to me with the words: "You have been announced a long time ago! What's the matter?". I ran to the stage, and I and the the conductor Alim Shakhmametyev simply burst into the Hall. Just at that moment, one of the listeners said loudly: "Musicians on tour did not finish their beer." Not quite a regular beginning. Fortunately our people are understanding and we all got a laugh.
SPMH: On June 23, 2017 in the English Hall you performed Paganini`s Caprices, on March 17, 2018 in Kislovodsk you will perform Mozart Second Concerto and his Violin Rondo. What caused such a choice of compositions? How do you put the compositions together into single program?
Dmitry Smirnov: Mozart's Concerto was the proposal of Sergey Pavlovich Roldugin. Rondo was added to this program much later and, in my opinion, it enriched this concert. I thank Sergey Pavlovich for this opportunity.
It seems to me that Mozart's Concerto K.211 in D Major is completely undeservedly ignored, it is unique and very cheerful, with that sort of Haydn's humour. The second part is absolutely brilliant – it's a little love, and a bit of confusion, and a little melancholy. Mozart's violin repertoire can serve as the basis for an opera.
Kislovodsk audience is very hospitable and receptive. The Russian audience is generally very good. I'll tell you a secret –audience is good everywhere. And if children come, it is a great joy for musicians. Children understand us.
While configuring the program, I try to take into account, first of all, my interest in it. Also, it is necessary to study in detail the program of a concert venue in order to lend the maximum variety. I notice that many musicians often have interest in certain programs. excitement for Mstislav Weinberg, Roslavts, rare pieces of the XX century and the Baroque, the minimalists, has already passed. I think, soon, something new will be found in romantics. Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Fore and their contemporaries wrote a lot, you can dig deeper. For example, Bruckner quintet is incredibly beautiful but seldom performed; Russian music has so many interesting pieces but they are not known by the general audience. All one can do is wait who will first start to record them on vein strings and at a quick pace.
Concerning "Paganini and Contemporaries", it was an experiment that was born into the program. The Music House approved this risky idea, but in the end, it turned out to be interesting to the audience, that is always very pleasant and important.
SPMH: You play the Nicolas Lupo`s violin from 1801. Do you know the history of your instrument?
Dmitry Smirnov: Lupo`s instrument, thanks to the St. Petersburg Music House, came into my hands a year and a half ago. Frankly, I was not interested in its history so far, since the old instrument needs a lot of care and a very careful adjustment. French instruments, in my opinion, are more whimsical than Italian ones, but sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised on stage. As far as I know, nobody played on my violin for a while.
SPMH: David Oistrakh played chess well, Yasha Heifetz is known as tennis and ping-pong fan, and do you have a hobby?
Dmitry Smirnov: Probably, most of all I like to work hard, and then to make a good meal. Well, seriously, basically, all hobbies are somehow connected with music: I make transcriptions, I like to listen the records and write down notes. At the moment I'm studying - I have some unhealthy passion to learn playing another musical instrument. My sister learned to play the flute, and that flute sounded at our home. Now my sister studies fashion design, and the flute lies at home. It seemed funny to me, and I decided to master the flute. Alone, without outside help, I want to understand how this instrument sounds.
SPMH: In your opinion, what are the significant differences in the musician's educational process in Russia and abroad?
Dmitry Smirnov: To compare education in Russia and abroad is difficult for me, because in Russia I studied only at ten-grades secondary school in St. Petersburg. I had wonderful teachers, but, alas, I took from them much less than I could. Lessons of my violin class professor Elena Ivanovna Zaitseva have always been in priority. Now I have to master other subjects – harmony, history, literature, and I now remember that all this knowledge was given to us in school, but not all of us absorbed it.
The European education system is much older. Those things, through which we pass now, there have long been passed.
My current observations on musical instrumental education suggest the following thought. The Russian educational institutions, in contrast to the European ones, make emphasis on the hours of instrument play. And this is good, the level of instrumentalists is very high. In Europe and the United States, major emphasis is theory, which is also very good. Everything else goes leisurely. A huge plus of studying in Europe is easier access to literature about music and notes. Some doctrines and treatises have simply not yet been translated into Russian. Many musicians in Russia and faculties of Russian universities are now actively engaged in filling this gap. I already have my own specific ideas about some books that have been published in recent years.