Russian Contemporary Music: Yuri Kasparov.


If you ever had the pleasure of buying those Olympia CDs that attempted to present some very interesting but rarely explored Russian music, you might have heard the name (Olympia went out of business and its CDs are now a great rarity).

I happened upon Kasparov’s solo bassoon piece this morning and thought I’d read up on him a bit. I found this wonderful student recording on the all-mighty you-tubes (give it a listen, it ends nicely despite some awkward camera work):

And then there is a nice clip from a French program over here:

And, yes, those are your regular cartoons on TV – many great composers in the Soviet times wrote music for films and cartoons. That’s why I turned out so well – drop your idiotic “Baby Mozart” and put on some Weinberg or Myaskovsky.

And here’s some Edison Denisov, Kasparov’s teacher, who is more known in the West, I think:

12 thoughts on “Russian Contemporary Music: Yuri Kasparov.

  1. Beautiful piece, I agree, and so glad to discover it. What a brilliant choice of trio–tenor sax, marimba and piano–they blend but are all definitely solo instruments, unlike what has always been looked for in chamber music. For me, the ending has a too-marked kind of sharp punctuation–it comes across as slightly curt or brusque–and, although I don’t really find that it matters that much, it’s such a truly sensual piece that an ending that just sort of eased and oozed off into a sort of ‘worldly-wise normal’ would have made the piece have a more ravishing shape.

    Will get to the other YouTube later. Now that was really a good piece.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was reading all day about Edison Denisov (sometimes Denissov in French transliteration) and found a short documentary about him (in Russian). Interesting figure – studied mathematics, composed a bit, decided to send some of his works to Shostakovich in 1950 and he actually responded and basically encouraged him to go to Conservatoire and be a composer.

    Denisov was Kasparov’s teacher (he taught instrumentation at Moscow Conservatoire, they wouldn’t let him teach composition, I guess he was too avant-garde).

    I’m with you on the strange but somehow working combination of instruments – there’s a kind of conversation going on, it seems, and all three blend quite nicely while maintaining their unique sound.

  3. The Denisov also marvelous, exhilirating is the word, it’s thick and light at the same time–fresh as spring, if I may be so boldly hackneyed. Some idea of the best American jazz comes in, a little Coltrane here and there, some Chick Corea in the piano (all that glinting and the ‘Busoni’ here is much more to my taste than that Cecil Taylor cognate you put up last week, which was like Spaghetti with Prune-Mud Sauce or something. Also, jazz pianists like Red Garland, who I think used to work with Coltrane, and McCoy Tyner, still alive and whom I heard in concert in 2001. Not that it was ever the ‘sound-world’ overtly, but rather that it’s jazzy in another way, of course the sax makes it partly happen that way, and so it seems to exist between two musics.

    Just to quickly answer here your comment about the philosopher elitism on the other thread, we had talked about this some at John’s a couple of months ago, and the real answer is that that ‘fortressing’ that people in any field do to a degree in which they’re actually using it just for posturing, is that it’s not really necessary anyway to protect the citadels from the barbarians in the most important, secret ways: There really are aspects that the specialists, the most professional, will always know that nobody outside them can know–even if the professional articulated them. Dance is a perfect example again: No matter what one understands about the ‘meaning’ of the work and how deeply one goes, the body of the dancer knows something much more intimate about the work that you can never know. Therefore, the smug protests are probably revealing of an expertise that is highly-developed, but not Olympianly-developed, viz., if it were so Olympian, it could all the more imperious by not advertising itself in vulgar smugness. Most of us in whatever field have been guilty of this, but the higher we go, we stop needing to use this, because what difference really in that than in ordinary conspicuous consumption (except the latter has physical evidence to prove itself)?

  4. btw, the Elliott Carter Piano Sonata (I believe there is just one) I also worked on in a rather desultory way for a few weeks once, but never played in public, has some overtly jazzy sounds, but this is not what he’s best at. He’s THE ultimate American WASP composer, and he’s very good, even if I’ve never heard anything I really loved. But, as for jazzy sounds in concert music, this is much better done IMO by lesser composers like Leonard Bernstein, as in his ‘Age of Anxiety’, which is his Second Symphony (almost a piano concerto, and the original recording with Lukas Foss is stunning), and based on Auden’s poem. There are long jazzy-soundking pieces, although my mind’s a blank at the moment. Duke Ellington’s long versions of ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘Sophisticated Lady’, with the old cabaret singer simply known as ‘Yvonne’, are gorgeous, but they’re not concerned with anything but very long luscious colorations of the tunes, not classical structure; although he may have written something more formal (but it’s not his jazz version of ‘Nutcracker Suite’, which is the only thing of Ellington I don’t like, and I dislike it so much I think it grotesque: You hear ‘Dance of the Reed-Flutes’ in this literal but sleazy-sounding way, I can’t believe anybody ever paid any attention to it.).

    • I like Carter’s string quartets, especially the fifth (I think it’s the last one) – they are quite “nervous” and fit the mood. Similar to Schnittke’s quartets (there’s a great Kronos Quartet recording I like). Unfortunately, I’m very weak in the jazz music – sometimes I hear something and I like it, so I get it, but I have no systematic knowledge of any sort.

  5. Gershwin, of course, and surely Bernstein got a lot of inspiration from him. I consider ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, ‘An American in Paris’, and the ‘Concerto in F’ all very important works, and love the latter. That was possibly the best thing Earl Wild did, I had the old 60s lp of it for a long time, then lost it. He died in Jan. or Feb., I met him once for about an hour, was considering studying with him, but decided not to. He would have definitely ‘mainstreamed’ me, though, and that was the last opportunity for that. I would have never done the Boulez and never done my own projects, as Wild was very conventional in most ways, but really could play. The Concerto in F is no day at the beach. Plus, ‘Porgy and Bess’ is unique. Critics always seem to point at ‘flaws’ in these works, which seems a bit superfluous, because in works unlike anything anyone else had written, something is bound to seem to have flaws. But Gershwin is one of the great American composers. The block that was once Tin Pan Alley is still there, although it is slated tentatively for demolition, and I’ve been there in the last couple of years. The thing I remember most is being able to see the room where Gershwin did song-plugging for Fred and Adele Astaire in the teens and/or 20s. There are not even visible old faded signs from the period, though, because it became part of the Garment District, and even though that still exists, there’s nothing of it on that block except old signs painted on the brick walls for furriers, etc., Gergenfeld, etc.,

    • I also love Copland. I should listen to him more though. Alex Ross has a nice section on Copeland in his The Rest Is Noise, including the story of Reagan campaign using Copeland tunes for some of their commercials – Ross ironizes: Yes, gay Communist Copland providing music for Reagan, if only they did they research. But I guess he’s perfectly American as much as Gershwin, right?

  6. Oh yes, Copland can be great, and he and Virgil Thomson ‘vied’ for the ‘American sound’. Copland’s the greater composer usually, but Thomson did write a couple of marvelous film scores, one for the beautiful ‘Louisiana Story’, about the little Cajun boy who meets the Standard Oil guys as they encroach on the bayous (it’s very period piece, but marvelous, and Thomson’s score won either an Oscar, a Pulitzer, or both) and earlier ‘The River’, which has wonderful images of rural American, esp. the Mississippi River, during the Depression. Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring: Ballet for Martha’ will always be his greatest for me, not least because of the unbelievable genius she brought toward the choreography (you really ought to get hold of this DVD, it’s very accessible, and also has her ‘Night Journey’, about Oedipus and Jocasta, to William Schuman’s music–these are the only important films she ever allowed of her own dancing, and she was pushing 60 when she did them). I heard a few years ago some remarks on a film about Copland he made about writing for ‘Martha, a rather prim person’ (well, that’s a relative way to describe this thoroughly voracious appetite of a woman who was a force of nature if there ever was one–tried to drink herself to death when she was 80, only to live 17 more years, and do another 20 or so works. She is an exception to all rules, didn’t even start dancing till age 25). Met him also, backstage at a concert when I was 18, but only a minute or two, and played a short piece of his. Copland also wrote a fine film score, for ‘The Red Pony’, based on Steinbeck’s novel, with Robert Mitchum young and superb, and, of all things, Myrna Loy out in the wilderness. Now that you bring him up, I realize I have never explored his music very thoroughly at all. Also, for the ‘American Romanticism sound’ is the Roy Harris 3rd Symphony, his most well-known work.

    Gershwin is also unique for the fact that his tunes are perhaps more nimble and deft than any of the early musical comedy writers: Sometimes Cole Porter or Richard Rodgers will do something brilliant, but they also wrote a lot of inferior smarmy stuff (although some of Rodgers’s smarmy is good, as in ‘South Pacific’), and neither was an important composer of concert music, I don’t consider ‘Victory at Sea’ to be up there with the Gershwin pieces i mentioned. I do, however, think some of Menotti’s light operas are quite good, and also very American in a unique way, but he is often dismissed. ‘The Saint of Bleecker Street’ is like nothing else, and so is ‘The Medium’, of which there is a movie with very young Anna Maria Alberghetti, which I think excellent. That’s the one that has the song ‘Monica, Monica dance the dance’, which she sings as if by the deaf-mute Toby, who loves her, as if he’s singing it to her–it’s perfect.

    But thanks for putting up these Russian music YouTubes. I know very little, and will look forward to more. Will also look up some of the things I mentioned before and see if there are some youTubes. I DID look up Cicero in several places but found no mention of music thus far.

  7. Little late to seeing this, but agree that all of the Olympia catalogue is worth exploring, not least the Kancheli symphonies. There is also some stuff by Vyacheslav Artyomov on Olympia that is worth exploring, if you’ve not already discovered it. On a slightly different note, has Avet Terterian ever crossed your radar?

    • These Olympia CDs are becoming quite a rarity though. They had that nice niche with their recordings and although a lot of similar stuff is being put out, it’s still sad they disappeared.

      No, I haven’t heard of Terterian, or I can’t think of it now if I did. The last name looks Armenian. I will look him up. I do like Kancheli, although I haven’t listened to him very attentively lately as I’m in my Luigi Nono phase.

  8. Yes, Terterian is Armenian. Shares some similarities with Kancheli (both supported by Djansug Kakhidze), though a bit more percussive. Symphony 3 is a good place to start.

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