What does music mean to you personally?
Life. How empty life would be without it. I started studying astronomy when 7 and Palaeontology when 10. Chemistry, physics and theoretical physics were added soon afterwards. I loved understanding the universe around me but something was missing. It was only when music entered my life at age 15 that this missing quality was found. As a result my scientific creativity took flight.
Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?
Not entirely. The mathematical roots of rhythm and harmony ground music in reality. Music of the spheres, if you like. Fantasy is needed to perceive those roots, give birth to new music and nurture it. A composer must solidly understand the roots of music in order to liberate their imagination; the more they learn the more their creative spirit can soar to the heavens.
If you were not a professional musician, would you have been?
Astronomer / theoretical physicist or sci-fi author / philosopher. They are my next strongest passions.
The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?
No, there is a resurgence in good music. It is picking up slowly but audiences of all ages have steadily been getting fed up with the failed experiments of atonality and the disastrous way in which popular music has degenerated over the last 40 years. This is leading to a revolution, slowly and painfully being fought, but as the world’s populations and problems multiply more and more people are searching for something meaningful.
What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?
Personally I am optimistic that if our species solves its big problems – overpopulation, overproduction and plundering of Earth’s resources, war, poverty, famine, inequality and selfishness – we will liberate ourselves from all the junk we have created. There will be a huge vacuum where all that junk was, and we will need something important and meaningful to go forward into a new era. Classical music will take flight as one of the most important and significant foundations upon which a noble and civilized future will depend. It will guide all of us in everything we do.
When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?
The way in which classical music reaches out to people has gone through a revolution. Part of this is due to technology, but also how teachers, performers and composers approach and involve their audience. The image of a bearded (or wigged) man locked away scrawling out a beautiful concerto or symphony whilst living in abject poverty has been replaced by smiling, clean-shaven men and beautiful women of all ages and ethnic groups, enjoying themselves as they perform music and engage with the listener. It is acquiring glamour in the public eye and social conscience (like the East-West Divan Orchestra, Chineke Foundation, Simon Bolivar Orchestra and Challenge The Stats).
Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? What’s the role of creativity in the musical process for you?
I believe that everyone needs to be more creative. Problems facing us in terms of non-renewable energy, pollution, famine, overpopulation and internal conflict need us as a species to think differently if we are to progress and survive into a bright new future. Without creativity we will be putting our heads in the sand. Solutions are possible but only through re-thinking our core behavior. Every composer knows this already, every time they launch themselves into a new work. Creativity is essential for our intellectual faculties to achieve full potential.
Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?
It’s already happening. The younger generation will be drawn to classical music if all around them it is enjoyed, accepted and supported. As soon as governments, society, parents and schools withdraw support and enthusiasm many children get left out. Only very strong characters will see through this neglect and understand the beauty and importance of classical music. The rest just need a gentle prod in the right direction. Society must lead by example. I work as a teacher of violin, viola, cello, piano and theory and deliver these ideals in every lesson.
Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favourite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?
It differs for each work. I saw and heard symphony 3 in a dream. I created Symphony 5 through extemporization at the keyboard. Kullervo was a work of love and dedication to my favourite composer. Symphony 9 came from my emotions, from the heart. My Ukrainian, Russian and Scandinavian works were inspired by those beautiful lands. Symphony 18 proceeded from my love of Bruckner’s music and Francesca Da Rimini was in answer to a challenge from my good friend and composer Quinn Mason. My favourite, however, is my Symphony 19 ‘Icelandic’ – in this work the themes are powerful, the orchestration my absolute best, harmonies completely apposite and the structures inevitable. Emotionally it strides forth conquering all resistance and that is the frame of mind I was in when writing it.
We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?
Great; when I started buying Sibelius LPs I loved the covers – snow-drenched forests, mountains, sunsets and sunrises, ice floes. I listened to the music looking at the record covers, transfixed. For several of my own works I have written short poetic phrases, and my videos are always accompanied by pictures that reflect the music’s character.
Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?
Yes; listen. Don’t just hear, don’t just use your ears. Listen; use your mind. Imagine what you are hearing is your work, unfolding from your imagination millisecond by millisecond. Learn an instrument and music theory with a passion so that you understand these sounds and how incredible the composers and performers are. But even if you discover you are not destined to be a performer or theory master, go on listening all your life. Keep discovering new works and composers, new interpretations and cross-referencing them. Your life will always be full no matter what happens to you or what work you end up doing.
Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?
This is unfortunate, Anna. You know, I am currently writing a novel in which our whole society is questioned and everything about us re-evaluated. Great art should never be prey to money, big business or flashy sales gimmicks. It cheapens it and takes something beautiful away – intrinsic nobility of the art. When we do this we lose sight of quality and what art should be; the highest expression of the mind, shared with all humanity. When setting down my works my focus is sound, not money or fame. A composer must construct music, not a bank balance, or they will be in danger of losing sight and purpose. A composer must have this integrity or their creations will suffer.
Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?
Not really; I want people to enjoy my music, to hear what is innovative in it and what I have adapted from others. I want them to appreciate the work that has gone into it and to hear /perceive it as mine.
What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?
Symphony 22. I experiment on a regular basis (almost every work). Sometimes I turn structures on their heads or replace scherzos with a march. I frequently create works that are based in two keys. I love to create original structural approaches and tinkering with surprising harmonies; symphony 7 has a chord with all 12 notes arranged in such a way it is acceptable. In symphonies 4, 5 and 13 there are polytonal sections that are alien, but lovely and interesting, never hideous or atonal. I regularly juxtapose unrelated keys convincingly. Symphony 22 will be modular and based on tone rows. And because I love strong themes and beautiful exotic harmonies I will make the tone rows sound pleasant and generate pleasant harmonies. It will make sense tonally.