Timur Ismagilov

Composer and pianist



Timur Ismagilov was born in 1982 in Ufa (Bashkortostan, Russia). As a child he taught himself to play all the musical instruments that were available at home: the piano and different types of accordion (bayan, talyanka, saratovskaya). He also performed and recorded as a singer of Tatar and Bashkir songs.

Ismagilov started to compose music at the age of 11 and attended Rustem Sabitov's composition class in 1995–2000. He graduated from the Lyceum of Ufa State Institute of Arts (Lyudmila Alexeeva's piano class). In 2005 he graduated from Alexander Tchaikovsky's composition class at the Moscow Conservatory.

In 2005–2008 he took a postgraduate course in the conservatory (his scientific advisor was Svetlana Savenko). The result was a musicological work titled "DSCH. Sketch of a Monograph about the Monogram". An article based on this study was published in Berlin in 2013.

In 2004–2006 Ismagilov kept "the Diary of a Young Composer" on Vladimir Shahidzhanyan's website, besides he composed and recorded music for the latter's computer program "SOLO: Touch Typing Tutor" (100 piano pieces). In 2006 he founded the Sviatoslav Richter's memorial website. He has been organizing contemporary music concerts since 2010, and became one of the composers interviewed by Dmitry Bavilskiy for the book "To be called for: Conversations with contemporary composers" (published in 2014).

Timur Ismagilov's catalogue lists more than fifty works. In his music he combines various composition techniques with a sustained interest in traditional Tatar and Bashkir melodic language. Besides composing his own pieces, Ismagilov has made about 600 arrangements for different sets of instruments.



What does music mean to you personally?

A lot of things. Consolation, inspiration, communication, love. Work and rest, cognition of reality and self-knowledge, religion in the meaning of "reconnection".

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

Not quite. Of course, you need imagination to compose music. Before you create anything, you have to imagine it. But composition is primarily the structuring of sounds. I think it was Stravinsky who talked about the right notes in the right sequence. You create your own sound world. And it must be built in such a way that it does not crumble like a house of cards and does not disappear like a mirage.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

I would have been a Buddhist monk.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

No, I'm not. When I go to concerts, I see people of all ages among the audience, including many young people. I think the reports about the death of classical music are greatly exaggerated.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

I think that music, in addition to music itself as the art of combining sounds (this is its main component), has several functions, roles and meanings.

Music is a universal language. You may not be a Finn, but you can love and understand the symphonies of Sibelius. Therefore, music can – and should! – unite people. Today, in the conditions of increasing disunity and confrontation, this is especially important.

Music is one of the ways to get to know yourself and the world around you. This works both on external and deep levels.

When I was composing the piano arrangement of a Japanese song, I watched several documentaries about Japan. It broadened my horizons. In addition, I saw that there is a lot in common between my native Tatar (and Bashkir) folk music and Japanese. Here we are back to the unifying role of music.

I recently completed a piece for chamber ensemble titled "Fuga Idearum". Fuga idearum is actually a psychiatric term. It means a sharp acceleration of thinking with incessant change from one unfinished thought to another. This is one of the manifestations of a manic phase in bipolar disorder.

While working on this piece, I was thinking about an episode of mania which I experienced twenty years ago. I was reading my diaries from that period, and thinking a lot. All this, as well as the creative process itself, allowed me to integrate and harmonize my personal experience.

Let's get back to music in general. I think it is able to soften hearts, make people kinder. Thanks to it, we become more capable of empathy, compassion for others.

All these components, as well as those that I have not named, contribute to the transformation of both the person and the surrounding reality. But the role of music itself, it seems to me, has not changed too much compared to the twentieth century.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Yes, we can if we want to.

First of all, primary musical education plays a huge role here. Russia has a national system of children's music schools. The vast majority of those who studied in them will not become professional musicians. But over time they will join the ranks of classical concert listeners.

Secondly, in terms of attracting young people to classics, highly evocative music can be of great help. For example, "Peter and the Wolf" by Prokofiev or "The Carnival of the Animals" by Saint-Saëns.

You can also get young people interested by the composer's personality and details of their biography.

Besides, you might watch Disney's "Fantasia" with your children and ask them which music they liked best. Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung" can be associated with "The Lord of the Rings".

To sum up, there are a lot of ways to introduce young people to classics.

The main thing is to not simplify the music itself, making it trivial, to avoid downright "explanation". I hate it when illustrative labels are attached to music works. For example, Beethoven's so-called Moonlight Sonata. No, there is no moonlit night in the first movement!

Finally, I want to say something else. If you didn't get into classical music as a child or in your teens, it's okay. You can discover it in adulthood. And if that doesn't happen, it's not a tragedy either. The whole world does not revolve around classical music.

Tell us about your creative process.

It always flows in very different ways. Although, perhaps, you can identify some patterns.

I get ignited by an idea very quickly. If it's a piano miniature, then most often I compose it in one sitting. Once I even composed three pieces in one day (two of them were included in my 24 Preludes cycle). I wrote the music of my cello concerto in a week.

On the other hand, I quite often work persistently, composing several bars a day (as many as I'm lucky that day). This is usually the case with works for orchestra or chamber ensemble.

There are also quite peculiar cases. For example, in December 2020, I was tormented by insomnia; I couldn't fall asleep for hours. On one of those nights, an intonation-harmonic complex arose in my mind. It began to develop against my will. In the morning I only had to write down the finished fragment and continue it. Then it all happened again, and again. So in a few days and sleepless nights the piano piece titled "Loneliness" appeared. In a sense, I can say that it wrote itself.

By the way, in general I think that at a certain point while working on a piece, the composer should let go of the reins of control. You should allow the musical material to develop as it wants. If you follow a rigidly designed plan, you will inevitably fix your limitations established in the music. About my best compositions, I can often say: "It wasn't written by me, it formed spontaneously".

What is your favorite piece (written by you)?

In 2011, I wrote the piano piece "Йәшен" based on a brilliant poem by Rashit Nazarov (1944 – 2006). The eighteen-year-old poet used the polysemantic Bashkir word "йәшен" as the only rhyme. The poem consists of six lines, each line ends with that word, but it carries a different meaning every time (except the last line, which is a repeat of the first one).

It's not difficult to guess that it is almost impossible to translate this poem from Bashkir adequately. However, I'll try to convey at least the general meaning.

Love – you would say, it is like a bolt of lightning.

It cares not, does not ask for anyone's age,

Engulfs both old and young in an unquenchable flame.

Should you be afraid of getting burned – run, you! hide!

But see that your eyes do not shed tears after!

Love – you would say, it is like a bolt of lightning.

I have known this poem by heart since my youth and I had long intended to set it to music. But the text itself is so strong that I didn't want to embody it in vocal form. As a result, I opted for recitation with music.

I think it is the best thing I've ever written.


Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

To be honest, I still have a feeling that I'm not quite out of my teens yet. Therefore, I will refrain from giving advice to the youth.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

It's the last thing on my mind at that moment. But I usually take into account the laws of listeners’ perception.

What projects are coming up?

Recently I started composing a large piano cycle "Songs of the World". The first book has already been completed. It includes my arrangements of Ukrainian, Japanese, Finnish, Spanish and German folk songs. To be continued.

Unfortunately, Russia is now moving towards international isolation. I, on the other hand, want to explore the treasures of folklore from different countries.