“I want Russia to be the cello center of the world”
Vasiliy Stepanov was born in Kazan in 1994. He graduated from the Kazan Musical College named after I.V. Aukhadeev (class of teacher Oksana Bystrova). Graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory (class of People's Artist of the USSR, Professor Natalya Shakhovskaya, Honoured Artist of Russia Boris Andrianov), he graduated from the assistantship (class of Honoured Artist of Russia Boris Andrianov) in 2020. In 2018-2020 he did an internship at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofia in Madrid (class of Prof. Jens Peter Maintz). He is currently a teacher at the Gnesin Russian Academy of Music. Winner of the Mravinsky International competition for youth (St. Petersburg, 2012).Winner at the International Competition "Riga Classic Strings" (Latvia, 2018).The 2nd Prize Award at the 3rd All-Russian music competition (Moscow, 2018).
Vasiliy started studying music at the age of seven. And today, at the age of 26, he is an actively touring successful musician. He has performed recitals in Europe, the USA, South Korea, Japan, and Tanzania. His musical idol and example of unsurpassed cello sound is Mstislav Rostropovich. Therefore, in his work, the musician takes responsibility for the "fate" of each sound produced with his bow. Vasiliy Stepanov strives to achieve the right sound not only in music, but also... in cooking. And, in addition, he is seriously thinking about the country's geocultural interests - to make Russia the cello center of the world.
Vasiliy Stepanov: I was born into a non-musical family, but by some miracle (apparently, the love and talent of my parents) I ended up in music. I was not a child prodigy, but I remember the love and boundless attraction to music from my earliest days. That's what has always driven me.
The St. Petersburg Music House (SPDM): Did you have to overcome yourself or was music lessons a joy?
Vasiliy Stepanov: When you're a child, if you're good at something, you do it by intuition first, and then you comprehend it with your brain. But then, the opposite can happen - nature can fade, especially in adolescence (I notice it in my students). And if rationality takes precedence over the heart, irreversible changes can happen. Of course, the more I studied, the more the moment of overcoming increased, but I am grateful to my first teacher, Oksana Bystrova, who helped me not to lose my love for music on the way to comprehending the craft.
SPDM: Why cello?
Vasiliy Stepanov: It was destiny. My love story with this instrument is absolutely life-changing. In simpler terms, at the music school there was an assignment, the head mistress offered to go into cello class. After two or three months, we were already inseparable. I started performing early enough. To be sure, as early as first grade I was going on stage, and, by the way, I was doing it with a lot of enthusiasm. My first serious gig, however, was with an orchestra at a competition in Nizhnekamsk (a small town in Tatarstan, known for its oil refining industry). That's where I played Vivaldi concerto. I was totally enthralled by playing with orchestra. I remember being so happy that I was obscenely staring into the audience, if not gazing. A member of the jury told me about it later: “That's no way to behave during a performance.”
SPDM: What did moving from Kazan to Moscow and studying there give you? What ties you to St. Petersburg?
Vasiliy Stepanov: Kazan is a wonderful city, it's just amazingly good there now. The city is blooming rapidly, local authorities are working on it. But I had to develop myself. My youthful aspirations prompted me to try my hand in the class of the outstanding Natalia Nikolaevna Shakhovskaya. Relocation, of course, completely changed my life. It became clear that there was no turning back. Although, I must admit that I spent the first year at the Conservatory badly - I was lazy and studied terribly, as a result I failed quickly in my studies (there were failed exams). After moving from Kazan, I plunged into a world of serious competition, even though I got into the conservatory with top grades. I should have worked even harder, but I didn't realize it right away, I was in academic debt. But then I took up the study and graduated with honors from the Conservatory.
In 2012 I was lucky enough to get into St. Petersburg Music House's projects, and since then I've been in St. Petersburg a lot. While Moscow is an endless race, being in St. Petersburg, I enjoy the city every minute. The city has it. I love it very much.
SPDM: Internship at the Escuela Superior de Música de Madrid - the most important lessons learned there
Vasiliy Stepanov: Perhaps the most important thing I realized in Madrid was that I didn't really want to leave Russia. I realized that I couldn't live away from my homeland. I wanted to challenge myself, to try something different: a different language, a different air, a different mentality. My inner world expanded, naturally, but wherever I am, my heart remains in Russia. Among other things, in Madrid (and in many other countries) there is not a shred of the conditions that are necessary for a musician to develop, while we have them. Especially in the current pandemic context. Now there is just silence. Orchestras are silent, theaters fire artists, what about students. Let them come to us.
SPDM: How is your repertoire formed? Your top five favorite composers or compositions
Vasiliy Stepanov: The repertoire is often shaped by demand. If performing with an orchestra, you are usually asked to play something specific. Despite the fact that my repertoire with orchestra is already extensive and I play all the "very best" compositions, and many of them more than once a season, there are still some gaps. Much wonderful music has been written for cello, and so much more will be written! With chamber concerts, it's a little easier - you usually create your own repertoire for season, several programs. Although in my case any combination is possible, the main thing is that the listener does not have a feeling of overload. I always keep it in mind, because the mission of a performer is to leave something in the audience's heart. As for my top five favorite compositions, I've asked myself that question more than once. When I play myself, I fall in love with any composition. With some composition may be love at first sight, with another - love and ease, and sometimes the relationship does not develop smoothly at once, but then there is affection.
It is easier, as a listener, to name a list of your favorite music. It certainly includes more than five pieces, but Pergolesi Stabat Mater, Mozart Requiem and Symphony No. 25 (especially as performed by the Rudolf Barshai Orchestra!), Mahler Symphony No. 2 as read by Valery Gergiev, all Passions by Bach (provided all the ones we know can be considered to be by him). I can listen to these compositions almost endlessly.
SPDM: One of your recent performances was at the Capella in the Music of Stars where you performed Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra. . How important is this piece and this composer in your work?
Vasiliy Stepanov: Prokofiev was Mozart of the Soviet music. I love him very much, he has no empty notes. Prokofiev's scores are filled not only with supreme mastery, but also with incredible vitality. I played the complete symphony-concerto with orchestra for the first time in my life. The work is very challenging, probably one of the most challenging in terms of the number and sophistication of techniques. I'm very happy that my personal premiere took place in this way.
SPDM: It's common knowledge that the same instrument sounds different with different performers. What sort of sound do you want to achieve? And whose cello, in your opinion, sounds like some kind of magic, a miracle?
Vasiliy Stepanov: From the first days of my acquaintance with cello and to this day, my idol of cello sound is Mstislav Rostropovich. I don't know how he did it, but I always want to get even close to the energy and depth of his cello. And he played not one, but many, and they all sounded fabulous. I'll put it this way: the musician's sound gives it away. What kind of person you are, that's what you sound like. And the broader your inner world, the deeper your thoughts and the kinder your heart, the better your sound. In my case, Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin greatly influenced my approach to sound. Instilled a lack of responsibility for every note. I used to play it beautifully, but now I try to think more about the content of the sound, about its "fate" at each moment.
SPDM: This spring, as a SPDM soloist, you performed Alexander Tchaikovsky's Cello Concerto at the North Caucasus Philharmonic. Do you often play contemporary composers?
Vasiliy Stepanov: It's been a dream of mine for a long time. Alexander Tchaikovsky is already our “classic.” He is known all over the world and his music is at the top of the list of contemporary authors. I love a lot of his compositions, and I play not just the concerto. It's a tremendous blessing and thank him for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to perform this concert. The music is amazing. I try to play contemporary authors as often as possible, the fate of our business depends on it. I am even friends with many serious composers, and I support young and talented ones whenever possible. We can't do without composers, and they can't do without us.
SPDM: Do you listen to contemporary music: rock, folk, techno, rap...?
Vasiliy Stepanov: If it's talented, it's bound to resonate with me. Whether it lasts long depends on the degree of talent of the composition, if I may say so. I almost never listen to 21st century pop music. Nothing good ever came up. But if you call "Queen" or "Led Zeppelin" contemporary music, then yes, I like to listen to that. In my opinion, anything that has passed through time and history will always be contemporary. So in all areas of art. Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Bosch, Van der Meer and hundreds of other authors are still relevant today. And they ever will.
SPDM: Any hobbies that aren't music?
Vasiliy Stepanov: There are two completely opposite - cooking and exercising. I cook different things. When I have time, I experiment. With seasonings, for example. Trying to find "notes" that will blend and enhance each other. To me, there is some overlap in music and cooking. Sometimes, with just a little spice, an ordinary stew might sound like a real symphonic score. I do sports in a gym, and I also swim there. I try to keep my muscles toned. I am an amateur at both cooking and sports (I cook better, to be honest), but "amateur" comes from the word “love”, so I immerse myself in both of these activities with love.
SPDM: Tell us about your professional dreams
Vasiliy Stepanov: Of course, I love to dream. I don't think you can find a musician without dreams. Yes, our country is rich in every sense, especially in talent, so there are a huge number of artists and groups with whom you want to perform and be friends. And also, I'll tell you a secret, I want Russia to be the cello center of the world.