"The further away from present days the music is, the stronger it resonates with me"
Arseniya Sibileva was born in Moscow. She began to study music at the F. Chopin Children's School of Music (class of Honored Artist of Russia Sofia Mikhno), then graduated from the F. Chopin College (class of Honored Artist of Russia, Professor Asya Kushner, Honored Artist of Russia, Professor Sergei Kravchenko). Since 2019 she is a student at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatoire (class of Honored Artist of the RSFSR, Professor Sergey Kravchenko). By the age of 20, Arseniya had won a number of high professional awards at international and Russian national competitions. She won in the Delphic Youth Games of Russia and the CIS in 2018 and 2019. She won in the 2nd Jumeirah Sounds international competition (Dubai, UAE, 2018). She won in the 15th International Competition for Young Musicians in the category "Strings" (Moscow, 2019). In 2020, she became the winner at the 7th International Strings Competition for Soloists "Young Russia-Europe" (online) and a laureate of the 3rd Prize Award at the 4th Leonid Kogan International Competition for Young Violinists (Brussels, Belgium).
Arseniya was born into a family of musicians. The violin, you might say, was a kind of "family" instrument. Her mother and grandfather played violin. And that the girl would inherit a love for music was obvious, perhaps to everyone but Arseniya herself...
Arseniya Sibileva: Music is the only thing that I was not interested in as a child. I showed no interest in the house piano, or my mother's violin, or any kind of doodle. When all the children sang, I kept silent. My mother was desperate when, at the age of 3, I declared quite definitely that I would never take up music. You cannot force a child, but you can outsmart it. I really wanted a swivel chair. And my mother promised that as soon as I learned to play the Grasshopper on piano, she would buy me a chair like that. I immediately said, " Show me." I coped with that quickly. My mother got her hopes up and showed me Brahms' Lullaby, then Bach's Prelude in C major... I got involved quietly and spent 15 minutes at the piano every day by arrangement. But that was not enough for my mum. She often told me that pianos were wonderful instruments, but that they were too mechanical, with a lot of mediating things from your fingers to the strings (keys, wooden levers...), and that they looked more like furniture than musical instruments. Apparently, the aesthetic aspect appealed to me, so at the age of 6 I picked up the violin, and at 7 I wanted to go to music school for myself. And since then, there was no way to take the violin away from me. And it all started with a swivel chair, which, by the way, I still do not have. Since I was not going to regular school, I really enjoyed my lessons at the music school. The person of the first tutor is of course extremely important here - I was lucky to find myself in the warm nest of Marietta Tadjatovna Chaldranian, principal of the F.Chopin Music School, who immediately understood that there could not be a better tutor for me than Sofia Lvovna Mikhno. Their patience, love for music and confidence in my abilities made my journey through life irreversible. The Chopin School and then the Chopin College became my Alma Mater.
St. Petersburg Music House (SPDM): How were your first performances? How did the audience receive you, how did you rate your own performances?
Arseniya Sibileva: I had the luck to have one of my first performances, well into my second year of violin studies, at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. It was a Chopin School and College Recital. I was 8 years old, and I was the youngest participant in the concert. The Grand Hall was completely sold out, but I remember, when I finished playing, trying to spot my dad in the audience and I could not find him. Consequently, I was not concerned with evaluating my performance. I didn't really judge myself when I was little, but always took for granted what my mother and Sofia Lvovna would say after my performance. When I was little, I had a long braid, and during performances it would sometimes swing behind my back. One day I was on stage and there was a whisper in the audience: "What a braid!". And after that recital, my tutor said to me, "You must play so that nobody even thinks about your braid." It was then that I first wondered what kind of state the music should immerse the audience in.
SPDM: How many hours a day do you practise, roughly?
Arseniya Sibileva: It is always different. As long as there are no concerts coming up, I practice at least 2-3 hours. And when getting ready for a competition or a performance, I practice as much as I have time, which can be a whole day, six to eight hours or more. With breaks, of course. In general, I practise every day until I get some place, some passage.
SPDM: You took part in the recently completed "Summer Academy" by Music House in the Crimea. How was the session overall? What is it that you learned from these workshops?
Arseniya Sibileva: The Summer Academy is a great joy for all participants. Lower Oreanda is a paradise for productive practice and professional growth. Every day you get lessons with a professor, with a concertmaster. There are classes overlooking the sea where you can practice all day and not get tired because you don't feel like you're missing a thing, the sea is right outside the window. The closing recitals, so sincere and at the same time demanding, are a gift for audiences and performers alike. And then there are painting lessons!
St. Petersburg Music House came into my life as a divine gift. Here I met a caring attitude that is so rare nowadays, unprecedented generosity, impeccable organization, a wise mentor and tutor in the person of Mikhail Khanonovich Gantvarg. It is so great that Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin came up with the idea of setting up Music House, and was able to make it happen! After all, think about it, not only do we have the chance to play our repertoire in preparation for international competitions, which in itself is just superb, but the friendships and professional relationships that emerge when we tour and rehearse together with Russia's most talented young musicians are invaluable.
SPDM: As part On September 15, you are to open the season of the "Musical Team of Russia" at the Tula Philharmonic. Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1 is a serious test even for musicians with very solid experience. Was it technically and emotionally difficult?
Arseniya Sibileva: Yes, this is very exciting. When I was learning this Concerto, out of despair, I drew a portrait of Paganini right on the wall. It looked like an icon, and I felt as if the spirit of Paganini should come to me and I would play like him. I do not know if it helped me or not, but I end up playing this concerto. Of course, there are such great people of my age as Ravil Islyamov, who said: "Paganini Concerto? What is the problem there? Well, except for Sauret Cadenza..." I cannot really put my finger on it, because it was a lot of work for me, and not even because it is more difficult than the others, it is part of the great Paganini myth, and that means a lot. I love this music, it's festive, light, virtuosic and joyful (for the most part), which is something everyone has been missing lately. I can only imagine what this Concerto sounded like as performed by Paganini, I only know that it is half a tone higher in the original and, apart from Paganini himself, no violinist could play it, so they transposed Concerto into D major. In the Soviet film about Paganini, Concerto sounds in E flat major, but when Kogan's hands are shown close-up, you can see that he plays half a tone lower, like everyone else. It was the sound engineers who changed the key. What kind of musician was he, Niccolò Paganini, if no one can still play just the notes he wrote?
SPDM: You play an early 18th-century violin by Italian violin-maker Gaetano Pasta, provided by St. Petersburg Music House. What is your opinion of the voice of this instrument?
Arseniya Sibileva: Many thanks to Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin for such an irreplaceable experience - playing an Italian violin. You immediately start hearing differently, practicing differently. The violin becomes your teacher and it tells you a lot of nuances: the dynamics, the phrasing, the bow pressure... But you don't feel it right away. It's not just a matter of greater technical possibilities, but also of the timbre itself. Only now I have realized that for pieces such as Beethoven's sonatas, Mozart's concertos and Bach's sonatas and partitas it is pointless to try to find the perfection I need when playing a simple violin, the depth of sound simply cannot be achieved, although the technical possibilities might be the same. When, a year ago at a masterclass with Mikhail Gantvarg at the "River of Talents" project, I could never get double flageolets in a passage, he let me play this violin and said: "... you can do it on it!". And indeed, I did it.
SPDM: In the list of famous violinists of past centuries there are hardly 2-3 female names; from about the middle of the 20th century onwards there has been a remarkable improvement, but even today the score is still unequal. Why do you think the violin was a "boys' instrument" for many years?
Arseniya Sibileva: I don't think that the ability to feel and understand music deeply is only a boy's privilege. This is a spiritual experience, at this level people are not different from each other or from God. The fact that there have been few female names in the history of music is explained by the fact that women had a different function in society, and from a social point of view their main value was family. But the world is changing, opening up new opportunities, including for women's creativity. From my point of view, women have only one weakness: when we think too much about form, content is lost. It is very important to a woman how she looks when she performs, and this takes a lot of energy. And those who manage to triumph over this weakness rise to a high level of creativity. And if you look at the prominent musicians today, you do not know who is outnumbered.
SPDM: Which performers are your role models?
Arseniya Sibileva: My reference points change very quickly. While I was at school, I listened to audio recordings of Kogan, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Menuhin, Perelman - these are great musicians. Overall, I find each particular piece to be ideally performed by different violinists. When I played Sibelius Concerto in the 3rd round at the Delphic Games in Rostov-on-Don, just before I stepped on stage, I listened to it performed by Viktoria Mullova. Oistrakh inspired me before playing Beethoven's sonatas, Heifetz had the best of Sarasate's Gypsy Tunes When I entered the conservatory I started listening to a lot of young contemporary musicians and learned a lot from them, such as Tatsuki Narita, Clara Jumi-Kang, In Mo Yang, Svetlin Rusev and others. But Mikhail Khanonovich has unfolded my musical preferences, and now again it seems to me that 20th-century performers have more weight than modern ones. At the moment I watch and listen to Kogan and Philipp Hirschhorn most of all.
SPDM: What is your favorite violin repertoire in the world?
Arseniya Sibileva: My favorite composer is the one whose piece I am currently playing. When you begin to delve into classical composers' creations, even music that was not that important to you before, when you immerse yourself in it, you begin to realise that it's really beautiful. Each composer is a different world to live in, to immerse yourself in. I had a Bach time, I had a Paganini time, I was experiencing the depth of Sibelius. I can't say that one is better than the other. But in any case, I think that, first of all, it is classic and romantic until the middle of the 20th century. And mostly cantilena. Violin, after all, is meant to sing, to inspire, it is made for melody, just like human voice.
SPDM: What, besides the classics, would you like to perform?
Arseniya Sibileva: I am very fond of Hindustani music (which is a classical music movement of Northern India). It is perhaps only in this tradition that there is a profound philosophical connection between music and nature. The concept of "raga" is untranslatable, and as Indian musicians say, it is easier to explain what "raga" is not. Each melodic stroke, interval and resolution is linked to natural phenomena: cry of a bird, rain, beginning of autumn - these images reveal emotion and spiritualize each sound. I also love the early Baroque; I love ancient folk English and Celtic melodies. The further away from present days the music is, the stronger it resonates with me.
SPDM: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Arseniya Sibileva: I liked many things as a child: drawing, dancing, acrobatics, handicrafts, learning ancient languages, theatre and I just loved going for walks in the park. But violin took up more and more space in my life every year and gradually overshadowed all other passions. But I don't part with my favorite activities like old toys, almost all of them I have taken with me into adulthood.