Mark Gorenstein’s interview

Mark Gorenstein

Russian conductor Mark Gorenstein

Mark Gorenstein: “It’s the conductor who sets the sound of any orchestra”

On October 5, 2006 the Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra reached the age of 70 years. The band, then known as the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, first appeared on stage in the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on October 5, 1936, headed by a distinguished conductor Alexander Gauk.

Throughout the orchestra’s history, a number of outstanding musicians worked with it (including Natan Rakhlin, Konstantin Ivanov and Yevgeni Svetlanov) or gave joint concerts (Yehudi Menuhin, Vladimir Horowitz, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter and many others).

On September 25, 2006 – Dmitry Shostakovich’s centenary celebration – Mstislav Rostropovich joined the Svetlanov Orchestra to play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor, the one this orchestra, then conducted by Yevgeni Mravinsky, premiered in 1943.

In 2006 the Orchestra celebrated a double jubilee – 70 years since its foundation and its artistic director and chief conductor Mark Gorenstein’s 60th birthday. On September 2, 2006 Mark Gorenstein was awarded the Order “For Merit to the Fatherland”, 4th class by the Edict of the President of Russian Federation.

On the jubilee eve the conductor agreed to give the interview to Marina Kuklinskaya of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

– 70 years for an orchestra – is that a lot or not?

– Generally, it is the age of maturity. The cast becomes constant, with only minor staff rotations caused by natural aging. But the Svetlanov Orchestra had to live through some very serious hardships with musicians leaving for other bands and non-creative issues like the “war” against Yevgeni Svetlanov occurring. Back in 2002, when I joined the Svetlanov Orhestra, there were 70 new musicians in the cast – the orchestra was in fact rebuilt from scratch.

– Did you consider becoming the conductor of the SO, when you heard it playing for the first time?

– It was in Chișinău somewhere back in the 1960-s when I heard the Orchestra playing on the radio. The “Melodiya” record company later issued the “Best performers” series of LPs. I listened to the Svetlanov Orchestra playing Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and decided that if I ever to conduct an orchestra it would be this one. The sound and the rendering were fantastic.

When I worked with the Bolshoi Theater, I used to get invitations to work with other bands, including Kirill Kondrashin’s Philarmonic Orchestra. However, I refused to leave the Bolshoi for anything but the Svetlanov Orchestra, and my patience was rewarded –I joined it and worked for 9 years as a member of the cast.

– How did your conducting career develop?

– I owe my first concert to Natan Rakhlin, the then-head of the Symphony Orchestra of the Gabdulla Tukay Philharmonic of the TASSR. I launched a formal request to be allowed to conduct the concert, and Rakhlin approved it with a note: “I don’t know this conductor, but let him try”.

This was a debut of mine. Later in the 1980-90s, I worked with many orchestras all over the world, including the MAV Symphony Orchestra in Budapest and the Busan Symphony Orchestra in the Republic of Korea. I also created the State Symphony Orchestra Novaya Rossiya, and in 2002 became the art director and chief conductor of the Svetlanov Orchestra.

– Today there are over twenty orchestras in Moscow only. What makes the Svetlanov Orchestra stand out of them all?

– Alas, not all of these orchestras are real creative teams. Today musicians work with one band after another, rarely thinking about the problems of a band as a consistent creative entity. However, it’s the conductor who sets the sound of any orchestra. According to one old Furtwängler’s saying, “A strange thing: one conductor makes the Vienna Philharmonic sound like a marching band, and the other makes the marching band sound like the Vienna Philharmonic.”

– What creative challenges do you offer as a head of the orchestra?

– First of all, the orchestra must play with proper technical skills – mind the balance in ensemble acting, watch the accents and so on. Interesting rendering is possible only when it’s based upon proper skills. The chief conductor should work on it every day, because any touring conductor will need only a couple of chords to understand if the orchestra and the chief conductor are professionals.

Concerning the repertoire, the band of this class must be able to play any music. Speaking about me personally, I prefer romantic and modern music. We’ve recently premiered some wonderful compositions of Rodion Shchedrin, Vladislav Kazenin. It is also a great pleasure to work at Giya Kancheli’s creations.

– What are your thoughts regarding the program of the jubilee season?

– We’re going to give subscription concerts in the Big Hall of Moscow Conservatory and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. Many musicians volunteered to play with the Svetlanov Orchestra, and, to let everyone in, we even have to break with our tradition and play the concerts with two soloists instead of only one. We will give 4 concerts dedicated to the artistic directors of the Orchestra – Gauk, Rakhlin, Ivanov, Svetlanov, and one dedicated to my own 60 years’ jubilee.