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Vladislav Sokolov – conversations with masters

Interview with V. Sokolov 1968 Soviet choirmaster

Vladislav Sokolov, outstanding Soviet choirmaster, conductor, teacherDecember 28, 1968 marks the 60th anniversary of one of the best Soviet choral conductors - People's Artist of the USSR, Professor Vladislav Gennadievich Sokolov. V. G. Sokolov devoted more than 30 years of his life to the development of national musical culture. Even as a child, he sang in the choirs of the city of Rybinsk, and then, having decided to devote himself to music, he studied piano at the Moscow Music College named after Scriabin, at the conducting and choral department of the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied under the direction of G. A. Dmitrevsky. Successful completion of the conservatory (Sokolov's name is included on the Board of Honor) coincided with the organization of a children's choir at the Central House (later Institute) of artistic education for children. Under Sokolov's leadership, this exemplary team achieved significant achievements. Since 1956, he has headed the State Moscow Choir, which he organized - the youngest professional choir in the Russian Federation, which has gained wide popularity both in our country and abroad. He toured with great success in Sweden, the GDR, and Japan. V. G. Sokolov’s teaching activity at the Moscow Conservatory has continued for more than 30 years. He trained such famous choral masters as F. Lukin, S. Kazansky, N. Kutuzov and others. Sokolov is the author of the book “Working with the Choir,” which was published in its third edition in 1967.

We recently talked with Vladislav Gennadievich Sokolov about some problems of modern choral art.

— Vladislav Gennadievich, one of the brightest pages of our choral art is associated with your name - the creation and activities of the State Moscow Choir. How did this team arise and develop?

- Of course, I am pleased that you remember my beloved child. But it, like any beloved child, gives its parents both a lot of pleasure and a lot of concern. The latter is connected, first of all, with the fact that we strived and strive to have our own creative face, different from other choral groups. And it's not that simple....

If we talk about the Moscow Choir, I would like to first remind you of its background. It began with the IV World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest in 1953. Then the Moscow student choir, led by me, performed at the festival. We had difficult tasks ahead of us. First of all, we had to represent Soviet academic choral art with all the diverse complex that lies behind this concept. And at the same time, the student body had to appear as an exponent of the spiritual world of Soviet youth with its patriotism, masculinity, optimism, inquisitiveness, and emotionality. These two sides were supposed to merge together in the art of the choir. To what extent have we succeeded? It seems that the choir made a good impression then. In any case, he was awarded first prize at the competition. I was especially pleased that, in addition to the prize, the choir received a special prize for the expressiveness of its performance.

The Moscow Choir, so to speak, is the ideological and artistic successor of that student... Now it is a state professional group; it has been around for twelve years. True, the choir includes artists of “non-student” age, but the spirit of youth, in my opinion, has been preserved in the group.

— Everyone knows that you devote a lot of energy to amateur choral art - you participate in the jury, conduct large combined choirs at various shows and decades, advise amateur performance leaders. What is your opinion about the connection between professional and amateur art, about the possibilities of their mutual enrichment?

— This question is quite complicated when it comes to choral singing, about dividing it into professional and amateur. In other genres, such a “watershed” lies more or less clearly. Let’s take classical ballet as an example: here, in my opinion, we cannot talk about “pulling up”, about the mass approach of amateur performances to professional art. The path of educating a ballet master is too complicated and difficult; Here, of course, we need professional training and working conditions.

The situation is somewhat different with choral art. After all, singing, as such, is generally closer to the people, more accessible. Possessing a small voice, and most importantly, a love and desire to join the great art, a lover of singing can become an active performer by participating in a good amateur choir. And we have such choirs. For example, the Moscow Youth and Students Choir, the Leningrad University Choir, the city amateur choir of Saratov and many others. They sing excellently and perform complex and interesting programs and individual works in concerts. Here we can talk about shortcomings in terms of the quality of the material itself, voices, but from the point of view of expressiveness, passion - everything is done in these groups at the highest artistic level.

Singing is undoubtedly the most accessible form of music making. People who have been singing since childhood often join amateur groups. Here we touch upon the most important problem - children's musical education, the basis of which is certainly choral education, and above all in secondary schools. There have been many encouraging developments in this area recently. Still, much remains to be done to achieve a sharp rise in the level of choral singing in schools. I will not say anything new if I remind you once again that we still lack qualified teaching staff.

— The face of any musical group is determined primarily by its repertoire. How does the repertoire of the Moscow State Choir develop?

— We try not to isolate ourselves in any one area. Our repertoire is divided into more or less strictly defined sections. Let's start with Russian classics. These are the choirs of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Taneyev, the cantata “Spring”, and “Three Russian Songs” by Rachmaninov and much more. From foreign music, we often perform Mozart's Requiem, Brahms and Schumann choirs. Hindemith's choirs can also be included here.

The section of Soviet choral music is significant in volume - by the way, it is growing. We are proud that with our participation such a large-scale work as “Requiem” by Dmitry Kabalevsky was born. We worked with enthusiasm on “Ivan the Terrible” by Sergei Prokofiev. The choir maintains close contacts with many Soviet composers, including young people. Flyarkovsky, Boyko, Snetkov, Peskov write for us... I would like to mention the recent premiere of “Songs Escaped from Hell” by Alexander Flyarkovsky. It was a very difficult work - the composer decided to convey specific African melodies and rhythms using choral sound. Active participation in the creation of this composition, in my opinion, contributed to the improvement of the skills of the choir artists.

Now - about the performance of folk music. The choir masters the folklore riches of different countries, but in the foreground, of course, is Russian music. I must say that this section of our repertoire is in special “demand” during foreign tours. So, performing in Japan, we dedicated the entire second part of the program to Russian folk songs: it is significant that Japanese concert organizations insisted on this.

A very important section of our programs are songs by Soviet composers, written for performance by a soloist or, at best, with a small choral chorus. After all, when performed solo, songs, even the most heroic ones, often acquire a tinge of excessive lyricism. And we wanted to try to give such songs, through the means of choral art, the flavor of the highest, collective citizenship. And something has been achieved in this direction. For example, I arranged Alexander Dolukhanyan’s excellent song “And We Will Live at That Time” for the choir. The soloist remained, the accompaniment remained, but a choral sound appeared, a word spoken by the choir, and the song sounded as if on behalf of the people... The author himself was satisfied with this performing version.

Or let’s remember other popular songs - “Voice of the Earth” by Arkady Ostrovsky, “Prometheus” and “Never!” Oscar Feltsman and even the purely pop “The Best City on Earth” by Arno Babajanyan. The choir somehow “removes” the touch of variety from the performance, which can be completely dispensed with here. And epic solo songs (such as Mokrousov’s “Broad are you, dear Russia”) acquire even greater significance in the choir. I will add that many amateur groups followed us along the path of choral transformation of Soviet song.

— However, such diversity of the repertoire apparently requires different styles of performance from the group?

This is a very subtle problem. Of course, compositions that differ in style each time require a different approach to interpretation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the academic choir should have its own sphere of artistic expression. There is a line between academic and folk sound, and this line should not be crossed. At the same time, an academic choir must have such a range of singing style that will give it the opportunity to correctly perform Mozart’s “Requiem”, Brahms’ “In the Silence of the Night” and the Russian song “Something is ringing, something is ringing on our bell tower." When singers sing a cheerful, comic Russian folk song, of course, it is necessary to “open up” the sound, but again within the limits of an academic manner.

— From what sources is the choir’s repertoire replenished? Are there any untapped reserves here? How do you feel about your search in the field of early choral music?

— I'll start with the last question. Revealing the riches of ancient Russian music is a wonderful endeavor. And we just need to thank the initiators of this matter. I think that it will develop in the future.

I hope that our choir will be able to introduce listeners to examples of such music. The concert program we are planning, dedicated to the evolution of Russian songwriting, starting from ancient cants to urban Russian songs, also seems interesting to me. Recently there was a premiere that we prepared in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Komsomol. This is like the history of the Komsomol in songs - from 1918 to the present day.

We should perform the best works of foreign music more often. Let’s start with the work of Carl Orff, whose cantata “Catulli Carmina” we recently performed. There is a lot of excellent and still very rarely heard music in our country by Poulenc, Milhaud, and Hindemith. At the same time, I would like to warn against a one-sided passion only for antiquity and foreign “new products”. By the way, I noticed that in the West they have a rather cool attitude towards the music of the romantics of the 19th century. And such a trend can only impoverish the performers’ repertoire and narrow the listeners’ horizons.

— What requirements, in your opinion, should modern choral music meet? There are special tasks here...

Yes of course. The capabilities of the choir are more limited than those of the orchestra, but even here tireless searches are needed. After all, time passes and much of what until recently seemed ordinary to the listener, and to us, is today perceived completely without difficulty. Let me at least refer to the works of Hindemith: even my children sing his six romances now! We are happy to perform choral works with sharp sounds, fresh harmonies, and unusual rhythmic patterns. This, of course, does not apply to such, so to speak, new “works”, where essentially there is no music at all.

— Among the many awards that you have received, there is one that is not quite usual for a musician - this is a medal named after the outstanding Russian teacher K. Ushinsky. Please tell us why it was awarded to you?

— The award of this medal in 1961 marked the 25th anniversary of my work with the children’s choir of the Institute of Artistic Education. This medal is especially dear to me, as it was awarded for high performance in the field of teaching. I really love working with children. I remember how I myself sang in the children's choir, which was directed by my father. And yet, I feel a special sense of gratitude: after all, forty years ago I began my work as a choirmaster at a school with children. You can say that as a choral conductor I was brought up in the children's choir. And now I am repaying my debt to the younger generation, working at the Institute of Artistic Education on a voluntary basis.

— We touched upon the problem of music education... What role, in your opinion, should be given here to sources of mass musical information - radio, television?

— It would seem that this is very clear and simple: radio and television are simply obliged, designed to contribute to the aesthetic education of Soviet people. But this does not always happen. However, it is not so difficult to express critical wishes; it is more difficult to take some effective measures. We often complain that there is too much entertainment music on the radio. It's right. But it is also true that such music has a very wide circle of fans. After all, you can’t tell them: don’t listen to hits, go listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. What is needed here is not administrative bans on light music (which in itself can be of good quality), but persistent, painstaking work. Of course, both radio and television should pay more attention to the promotion of serious, and in particular choral music. But I must say that the decisive stage in preparing the audience is aesthetic education in school. Cultivating musical taste in a more or less mature person is a much more difficult task than similar work with a ten-year-old teenager. And television and radio should further strengthen the foundation.

— What do you think about the widespread hobby for small amateur vocal ensembles, singing with a guitar and the like?

In itself, this is not so bad. The question is in the repertoire and quality of performance. I have heard many vocal ensembles - they sing excellently. But lately it has also happened: a “pop song competition” is broadcast, but there is no song itself in the true sense of the word. Instead, there is rhythmic melodic recitation, some individual emotional intonations... But there is simply no worthwhile singing.

— Nowadays, choral conductors often stand at the controls of a symphony orchestra. What is your opinion on this matter?

— I think that this is possible and even desirable if the choir plays the main role in the work. This is quite natural. And I “sin” with this when conducting such works as Mozart’s “Requiem,” Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” and “Olaf Trygvason,” Rachmaninoff’s “Spring” and “Three Russian Songs,” and Mussorgsky’s symphonic choruses. Usually in such cases I frankly tell the orchestra members: “I am the choirmaster and will conduct the choir. Help us please". And the orchestra treats this with complete confidence. Of course, you must have certain professional knowledge and skills in symphony conducting. But I don’t undertake conducting symphonic works.

L. Grigoriev, J. Platek
Musical Life, No. 21 1968

***

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