Speakeast with - Fyodor Cherniavsky

DeKalb Symphony's new conductor

Following the death of longtime conductor Tom Anderson, the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra begins its 2006-2007 season under the musical direction of conductor Fyodor Cherniavsky. The season opens this weekend with "Happy Birthday Wolfie & Dmitri!," celebrating the anniversaries of Mozart (250 years) and Shostakovich (100 years).</
What were you doing before you took over as the new music director and conductor at the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra?</
I was working as a freelance conductor doing guest conducting in the region and simultaneously active as a recording producer for classical music CDs. Also the broadcast recording producer for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra audio broadcasts that they do of all their concerts during the season. There's a broadcast on locally, statewide, and nationwide, and even a few international ones, too. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is getting quite a bit of audio coverage in that space. I supervise the recordings for those broadcasts. ... We also do special projects as needed, and one of them is the MLK, the King celebration concert. That's an annual thing that's broadcast nationwide.</
What of what the DSO has been do you hope to preserve?</
I think the traditional core repertoire of orchestral masterpieces, in an accessible setting for the pleasure of the audience, but also introducing stimulating new programming ideas that both stretch the orchestra and the audience. But it's basically a balanced approach to programming. Different styles and contrasting styles and different combinations of different things.</
What new possibilities do you see for the DSO?</
I would like ... to explore the smaller combinations of instruments that can come out into the community, outreach into the community ... just to raise the profile of the orchestra so that people are more aware of the exciting concerts that we provide for the community. And strengthening the organization as well; that's an ongoing process so there's all kinds of possibilities opening out as the organization develops.</
The DSO is a mostly volunteer operation. How does that change the dynamic for you compared to conducting an all-professional symphony?</
Because it's largely amateur and volunteer, it means that the people who belong to the orchestra are members because they really want to perform music. ... It's not work, it's not their professional work, but it's something that they love to do and it's something very meaningful that they have in their lives. So there's tremendous loyalty to the orchestra. ... So what you get is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of dedication and a willingness to excel with all these different ability levels. So it's really a different energy to a situation where people are just paid to be there and that's their work, and very often in orchestras when you're not working you want to do something different. These people are actually making a choice where this is the avenue of their outlet of musical expression for them in their lives.</
Tell me about the works you'll be conducting in this first concert.</
As it happens, this year we've got two established great composers whose anniversaries fall during this year. It's Shostakovich — his birthday is the day before our concert, that would have been his 100th birthday. Mozart's was earlier this year in late January, so there's been a lot of coverage of Mozart performances all over the world, but Shostakovich is just beginning to crank up now. Since we have our first concert — an all-orchestra without any featured soloists — we decided to feature our four principal winds. They will have a platform as soloists performing before the orchestra. ...</
We have a tradition of starting the season with "The Star-Spangled Banner," which the audience will rise and we will sing. And then after that we have Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," which is really a celebratory work which commemorates the October Revolution in the Soviet Union, so it's very ebullient, has a lot of fanfare.</
After that, we'll do the Mozart ["Sinfonia Concertante"]. And then in the second half, we're going to do the first symphony by Shostakovich, which really launched his career and put him on the map. He actually wrote it when he was 19 years old as a graduation piece, which is pretty amazing. I think that it sort of gives us an insight into the creative imagination of a precocious teenager living in the Communist system. It's very inventive and inspired. It's quite a challenge. It's not performed enough and contains a lot of his future stylistic preoccupations. You can hear marching, these sort of goose-stepping Soviet soldiers marching, and you can hear dislocated waltzes and this sort of isolation of the bleak cold landscape — very Russian. It's got some real darkness to it and also some just incredible excitement to it that involves the whole orchestra and the brass and the winds and the strings with very powerful moments. He even has a piano part in it that Shostakovich played himself in the first performances of it.</
If we brought Mozart and Shostakovich into the 21st century, what toys would they want for their birthdays?</
I think that they would like a set of portable headphones with a CD player so that they can travel around and listen to their favorite recordings. I can't see them sitting in front of a computer. They're on the move. Mozart was certainly always touring and traveling and performing, so he was on the go. So I think he needs to have something that he can take with him. I suppose an iPod would do, but I think he would be happy with a CD player.</
I think with Shostakovich, since he was ... pretty well stuck in the Soviet Union working under repressive conditions, I would think he would like a superior sound system because I think he would like to hear these monumental works with just a great, great audio fidelity. We should give him just the best, most powerful sound system ... and he can install that wherever he's working.</
What CDs should we give Shostakovich for his collection?</
CDs of his compatriots like Prokofiev, all the early 20th-century Soviet composers that were ... having to contend with the politicians dictating what sort of music they should write. ... He would like to have that music. But I think there were other composers, too. Benjamin Britain ... he had tremendous admiration of him.</
What composers do you most admire?</
My tastes in music are definitely very broad-based. My knowledge sort of ranges from Renaissance times to classical into modern times. They're all the recognized greats I love. So it's always difficult to pick one composer against another.</
Messiaen. Messiaen is a French composer that died not long ago but his music is absolutely incredible. I think it's sort of ritualistic, and it incorporates Indian rhythms and African rhythms. East meets West, really. And he combines different languages in music. And he's got this affinity for incorporating birds song as an access to the divine. Very large-scale works. They're often not performed; they're very hard to prepare.</
Also, Beethoven with his forcefulness and sort of revolutionary spirit.</
And in modern times, the Second Viennese School. ... I had some training in performances of those. Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. ...</
I also like many contemporary composers. We'll have Alvin Singleton in November. I like working with composers to be their advocate and also to translate their music into a performance.</
Outside of classical music, what music do you like?</
I do love jazz. I love the energy; I think it's a very creative field. I like the contemporary jazz where it starts to cross the border into contemporary music. There's a whole area there that I think is really exciting.</
There's so many forms that I love, like opera. I think there's a lot going on in contemporary opera that's very interesting. I love the connection with the theater as well.

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