Violinist and Producer
The Moscow-based violinist is intent on bringing Russian contemporary music the audience it deserves.
Violinist and producer Roman Mints is a man on a mission. A CD of works by composer Leonid Desyatnikov has just been released on his Quartz Music label, which he hopes will give his Russian compatriot the success in the West that has eluded him for his whole career. Despite being championed by artists such as Gidon Kremer and Andrey Boreyko, and even though his works have been performed at the Bolshoi (the first composer to be commissioned by the opera house in 26 years), the name Desyatnikov is recognised by just a few devotees of Russian music in West:‘He’s always chosen to follow his own course,’ Mints explains. ‘His works are more reflective on the history of music rather than avant-garde.’
As a young composer, Mints explains, Desyatnikov refused to bend to the wishes of the Russian authorities, ‘which at the time was not so fruitful in terms of getting commissions’. Even after the end of the Cold War, when he received the Bolshoi commission, he turned in a work dealing with cloning, stem-cell research and the legacies of Stalin and Khrushchev. It led to street protests, legal challenges – and a Golden Mask award a year later. ‘Although his music is very tonal, the tonality is more complicated than minimalists like Glass or Nyman,’ Mints goes on. ‘It’s full of allusions and quotations, and to understand him you’d have to know at least as much music as he does!’ Mints, too, has a background in politically driven programming; in 2002 he co-directed a ‘Suppressed Music’ project in Russia, resulting in a CD and book of composers working under totalitarian regimes around the world. ‘The statement we were trying to make was that such regimes are essentially the same,’ he recalls. ‘For Russian music, there was a lack of contact with the West – which wasn’t totally negative, as some things happened here because we were unaware of the developments over there – but in some respects we’re still catching up.We’re still excited by historically informed performance, for instance,whereas in the West it’s now normal practice. ‘With contemporary music, on the other hand, there isn’t much of a scene because there’s virtually no commissioning,’ he continues. ‘The only choices for young Russian composers are to live abroad, to win some international competitions so they can get some commissions, or to write a score for a movie.’
Desyatnikov has written several film soundtracks, many of which are now performed in their own right. His theme for the film Moscow Nights, arranged for string ensemble by Mints, is a centrepiece of the new release, The Leaden Echo, which also features works for oboe, two pianos, and a setting of the eponymous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Mints has been manager of Quartz Music since 2007, when its founder Chris Craker moved to Sony BMG, and has kept it an artist-led label, encouraging artists to bring cherished projects to Quartz for them to decide on. ‘I have plans to do a solo album of Ysay¨e in a way that hasn’t been tried before,’ he reveals. ‘It’s different from what’s been written in the music but I feel quite strongly about it. It’ll be a close co-operation with the producer for what I want to hear.’
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