Victor Petrovich Vlasov – An interview with the Composer and Bayanist

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Victor Vlasov is a versatile and active composer. His reluctance to travel may limit his fame however his works have gained widespread recognition. Victor Vlassov has honoured me with his friendship and the interview that follows took place at his house in Odessa where I had the help of the young Iryna Serotiuk, his student and formidable accordionist, as translator. “A native of Cherkassky region of Ukraine my parents after their marriage had to move to Zabaikaly region of Russia because of my father who joined the Soviet Army in 1931. So I was born in Russia in 1936 at Shilka town of Chitinskaya region. I’d like to say that all the members of my family loved music very much. My father Peter Vlasov played the balalaika by ear. My mother Maria Vlasova was a member of local choir. One of my grandfathers (paternal), played the harmonica, another one (maternal) played the violin. During the years of the Second World War (1939-45) and even after (until 1953) my family lived in Mongolian People’s Republic within the structure of the Soviet Army. In 1955 all my family moved to Odessa, the big and important port on the Black Sea. This city is famous for it’s musical traditions. Such great musicians as S. Rihter, D. Oistrackh, E. Gilels and many others were born and worked there. From 1955 I worked in Odessa’s Philarmonic society as a solo-bayanist. At first I was a member of the Song and Dance Company, after of the variety instrumental jazz ensemble. During that time I crossed all the territory of the ex-Soviet Union giving concerts. From 1965 I strated working in Odessa Musical Academy as a professor. Even now I’m always on the move due to the organization of Master classes, membership of juries, performing, my lectures in Moskow, Saint-Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov, Lvov, Ufa, Kurgan and others. In recent years my concerts have been held in such countries as Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey.”

  1. Victor, what are your most important and famous compositions? Generally speaking about compositions for bayan, I can say that during 50 years of composing I created three concertos for bayan and orchestra, “Suite-Symphony”, “Sonata-Extemporization for bayan and percussion instruments”, suite “Five views of Gulag State”, triptych concertos on the theme of picture of I. Bosch “Doomstag”, “In Constellations of Centarus”, “Infinito” for bayan and chamber orchestra, “In the labyrinths of the soul or terra incognito”. Besides these I have composed a great number of concert pieces (chamber, folk, variety, jazz). I have also written two operas (“the Snow Queen” by H. Andersen and “White Rosses” by S. Tsveig), music for theatre performances, for full-length, short and many documentary films, a lot of songs, romances, instrumental pieces for clarinet, oboe, bandoura, balalaika, domra and different kinds of instrumental ensembles.
  2. How old were you when you began to study music? When did you touch the bayan for the first time? After the Second World War I lived with my family at Mongolia. In 1947 a two-row button “armonica” was bought by my family. My aunty Marina (sister of my mother) played it by ear and taught me to do it also. When she saw that I was successfull, she advised my parents to buy me a bayan, which has much more possibilities. So in 1948 I began to play the bayan by ear. One year later using a self teaching book I studied notation but was still learning alone. There were no musical schools in Mongolia. In 1953 my family moved to the Odessa region (Belgorod – Dnestrovsk). There I began at last to study at a musical school with a teacher, Savinkov. Afterwards, I worked at Odessa’s Philarmonic society. When I finished Livov’s Musical Academy I was taught by professor U. Obertuk just like such other great bayan performers as: V. Golubnichy, U. Kovalohuk, V. Balik, laureates of the competition in Klingenthal, which was the most important accordion award.
  3. When did you create your first composition and when was it published for the first time? My first compositions for bayan that may be considered professional was “Theme and variations” of Ukrainian popular folk song “Oh, in front of the forest”. It was written in 1961 especially for me to perform it at exams at Livov’s Musical Academy. This piece was published in 1967 in a collective edition “Play on the bayan” After, it was republished in other editions and enjoyed wide popularity beyond just pupils of the musical schools and colleges in return my second creation “At the Fair” was quickly evaluated by famous bayan performers V. Besfamilnov and A. Belayev and included at their repertoire.
  4. You love to compose and also play the bayan. How you connect the two things? It’s very difficult to explain. I think it is the state of my soul and even much more then this. The bayan became for me the instrument and the possibility to transform my creative and emotional energy to life and art. As a performer I possess the bayan freely moving throught all the modes and tonalities. Using the bayan I create the music for symphonic orchestra, jazz ensembles; even operas I created using bayan. Practically it suites me to do the things for which many other composers use piano.
  5. How did you spend your performer activities during the ex USSR period? I can speak about it just like an representative of the ex- USSR. I’d like to say that after the Second World War the popularity of bayan and accordion was great. As folk instruments bayan and accordeon were esteemed by Soviet Society much more than other instruments. In everyday use like, during holidays, on festivals, in folk orchestras and ensembles it was irreplacable. It was used for dances and songs (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarassian etc) successfully. Academic performances were just starting at that time. Such great masters like V. Besfamilnov, A. Belayer, Y. Kazakov began their activity in those years. During their concerts audience were packed. At their repertoire already were, besides folk pieces, eccentric compositions of N. Chaikin, A. Kholminov, U. Shishakov, M. Miaskov. Working at the Philarmonic Society I had to play all those compositions. Sometimes I had to accompany singers with the bayan, playing the long arias, in cases where there were no piano in the hall.
  6. What kinds of musical genres do you prefer? In my opinion the predilections for musical genres changes as time passes. At the end of the 50’s, beginning of 60’s it was a kind of fashion for the large form of compositions. At that time I created two concertos for bayan and orchestra, and also many concert pieces, folkloristic treatments, fantasies. In contemporary music short compositions (10-12 min) are widely diffused and written in thorough form, when composer can show his view at any phenomen or give a generalized picture of any event; for example “De profundis” by S. Gubaidulina, “Flashing” by A. Nordheim etc. I don’t know if is it a kind of fashion or just that time demands it, but such music was written, it was heard everywhere. More recently I created such compositions like “Telephone conversation”, “Infinito”, “in Constellation of Centarus” etc. It was the first half of your question speaking about primary genres which are maybe united by axis: genre-form. Speaking about secondary genres instrumental music, opera, music for cinema, we can see another picture. My creativity begins with music for bayan and after that songs and romances. In the middle of the 60’s, I began an active work in the genre of cinema music, variety jazz, avant-garde music etc. in the middle of the 90’s, I began to write for the different kinds of musical theatre (opera, musical comedy) and now I’ve got a liking for bayan and chamber orchestra.
  7. You are a bayanist. What others instruments do you play? As I’ve already said, bayan is everything for me. It replaces for me all the other instruments. So I don’t possess any other instruments. True to say three years ago I received a bandoneon as a gift, sometimes I try to play it by ear popular songs.
  8. Creating your music what instrument do you use at first? Bayan or piano, or any other instrument? I’ve already answered this question. I’m always using bayan. Only if a composition was created for specifically piano or any other instrument I use piano.
  9. What do you think the prospects are for the bayan in different genres? I think that bayan which is inimitable in it’s possibilities has a long-range future. There are many composers that only begin to open bayan for themeselves as a bearer of special orchestra and solo colour. So if the great Austrian composer Alben Berg in the 1921 opera “Wozzeck” used accordeon for the scene in tavern trying really to transmit that sound’s surroundings, so today many composers use bayan and accordeon as a certain bearer of an aesthetically musical beginning. I think also I must say that at my solo opera “White roses” uses bayan as a solo instrument in chamber orchestra score.
  10. Today in Europe and USA at musical schools and academies there are less students then yesterday. It seems to be that young people aren’t interested by playing musical instruments. Maybe it’s the same situation in your country? I can speak about it only with regards to bayan and accordeon. It’s evident because of the new ways of their development now. I’m speaking about their future academic development and orienting to original repertoire, a new realization by performers is happening towards the real nature of these instruments. Not all of them are really to go by this way, but here special devotion and enthusiasm are really needed. So those who keep to traditional orientation (popular music, folklore, veriety music) feel that they don’t especially need to study at musical collages and academies. The second thing is that today’s generation of young people are pragmatic. They understand what creative potential is needed to be successful in life is to enter into music art at a high level. I think in the future there will be less musicians but they will be better educated.
  11. How can you describe to Italians the musical world of Ukraine? What do you think about the Italian school of bayan and accordeon? What do you think about Italian accordeon factories? It’s very difficult to represent musical world of such big country as Ukraine in a small article. Ukrainian nation which was begun by Kiev Russ and which is the root of all the eastern slavs, and has rich musical traditions, but thats another conversation. I can say a few words about bayan and accordion world of Ukraine. Performing of these instruments began not only in Ukraine, ex-USSR, but in the whole world by such a great musician as V. Besfamilnov, who promoted during 50’s-70’s of 20th century, bayan as a solo academic instrument. He was the first performer of many new original compositions of ukrainian composers. Many compositions were composed specially for him and devoted to him. Today they are already the classics for the bayan. Afterwards, the new generation of performens appeared: S. Grinchenko, V. Mourza, P. Fenyuk, Y. Kovalchuk, etc. Variety art of accordeon is successfully propagandized by Y. Tabachnik now. Here I’d especially highlight the ukrainian bayanist V. Mourza, who is a performer of almost all my compositions for bayan for 20 years. Preparation of highly-qualified specialists is going on in five musical academies of Ukraine. Such preparation was organized at different periods and still being organized by M. Gelys, M. Obertukhin, H. Ryzol, V. Besfamilnov, A. Semeshko, N. Davidov, V. Voyevodin etc. And now what about Italian bayan and accordion school: such names W. Beltrami, G. Marcosignori, P. Principe, C. Jacomucci are widely known as great performers and composers. But the greatest achievement of Italian bayan and accordeon school was the possibility to inspire such a great composer of 20th century as Luciano Berio to create compositions for accordion. What about Italian accordeon factories: Italy is the one of the world leaders. As I remember all the musicians who have had the possibility to get an accordeon or bayan from Italian companies say respectable things about it. And it’s worth it. Directly speaking before the appearance of soviet instruments “Jupiter” and “Appassionata” nobody could compete with italian production. And now it’s really respected and demanded in our country. Many high level performers use italian instruments. Such facts mean a lot.
  12. Which music compositions are you creating now? What are your creative projects? I have a number of compositions which have not been performed yet. Such as “Concerto-Symphony” for bayan and chamber orchestra in three parts. Now I’m going to organize the “premiere” of it. The part of bayan will be performed by my graduate student S. Brikailo. Besides this, I have solo-opera “White Roses” which has not yet been produced. Here I need a very strong soprano. I hope I’ll conduct this opera soon. In spite of my age I like to play the bayan. It’s because of some creative innovations. So in 2005 I recorded the compact disk which was named “Victor Vlasov” Five improvisations for bayan with tape-recorder band in style of jazz-rocktechno. Now i’m planning to record few compositions for bayan, double bass and percussion instruments in jazz modality. My concept of jazz modality, unlike traditional jazz, has some rapid and free improvisation, linked to melody and harmony taken from the key. My best regards to the readers of Strumenti&Musica.

by Mirco Patarini

Autore: Gianluca Bibiani

Gianluca Bibiani ha scritto 1207 articoli.

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