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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Oleksandr RODIN: “I compose what I hear inside of me”

Candid talk with the author of the music for the ballet Seasons of the Year. Love as it is, whose premiere caused a sensation
5 February, 2014 - 18:29
Oleksandr RODIN

This joint creative project of the Kyiv Municipal Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet for Children and Youth and Kyiv Modern Ballet evoked a great deal of interest among the audience and critics. The idea is a brainchild of Oleksii Busko, who is also the production’s choreographer and staging director. His partner is Anastasia Kharchenko, his colleague from Kyiv Modern Ballet. The play uses the music of Oleksandr Rodin, modern Ukrainian composer. Not only did conductor Serhii Holubnychy choose five orchestra musicians from the Municipal Opera (Olha Lepko, Klavdia Shteinberh, Hennadii Kanaiev, Iryna Yakovchenko, Kateryna Kuptsova), but also created a mini orchestra, which is able to make complicated things clear, make forte and piano, major and minor the intonations of the actions and tempo and rhythm of the music the plot-and-drama pulse of the play. The scarce set design, which includes a table and two stools, was effectively complemented by videos (assembled and projected by Maria Pustovalova and Dmytro Diordiichuk), as if the heroes leaf through their family photo album and want to understand why they failed to preserve their love. Relationships of a man and a woman are changeable like seasons of the year, they are incomprehensible and unpredictable.

The name of Oleksandr Rodin, a composer and pianist, graduate of the Odesa-based Nezhdanova Conservatoire is well known in music circles. He has a certain circle of admirers among people interested in modern music processes. But there is nothing better for a composer than when the audience gets to know his work via theater. For the possibility to bring it to broad audience it is quite a painful topic today for those who take up composing serious music. The maestro has to fight for every work, although he is member of the National Union of Composers of Ukraine, two-time laureate of international competitions of composers in France, winner of prizes of theater festivals for best music work for drama performances, including Ternopil Theater Evenings, Slavic Theater Evenings (Gomel, Belarus), Golden Tarasyk (Chernihiv), as well as a fellowship of the Kyiv Mayor “For personal contribution to the development of the city and high achievement in social life.” Besides, Oleksandr Rodin is known as an actor of theater and cinema; he has played in several TV series. Our conversation with the maestro referred to different hypostases of creative work (musician, actor, and composer) and synthesis of art.

When you watch the play Seasons of the Year, you seem to do a many-dimensional puzzle. You give space to the performers, and the audience can make its own conclusions about the true love story presented on the stage.

“The right to interpret the music material, this time choreographic interpretation, belongs to the staging director. I like what Oleksii Busko does. That is the reason why I turned to him, this was my initiative. I saw his dancing performances and they impressed me with the feeling of reproduction of some long-standing problems. Later, when the video pieces were added, which did not illustrate the live performance, but supplemented and dramatized what was taking place on the stage, in particular with the participation of the chamber orchestra (which according to the director’s idea was present on stage as well), everything became a harmonious genre combination. On the whole, Alexander Scriabin’s idea of synthesis of all kinds and genres of art is close to me. Hopefully, some day it will find a convincing implementation.”

When you compose, do you always know what it will be, a ballet, an opera, or anything else?

“The dramaturgy of music demands a certain plot, a development, which goes from the beginning to the end. But this time my work took a different turn, the way an artist makes a sketch for his future picture. In this case everything started, I can say, from the end, with the Winter part. I saw it the main topic of the work. But at first I created it as an independent theme for an experimental music-drama play based on Jean Cocteau’s play The Human Voice, with the participation of the artiste of the theater of operetta Asia Sereda-Holdun. It was a piano version, and I was performing it myself. Later, after the event, the topic did not let me go. I heard it with my ‘inner ear’ in a cello interpretation. I started to develop it and understood that I was creating a kind of a philosophical conclusion, which I was yet to make and define: a conclusion of what? At some point it became clear to me that those should have been the seasons of the year, an eternal and inexhaustible topic, because it is directly associated with human life, with its stages from a clean sheet to the last line. It cannot be written over in a perfectly even way – there will be confident strokes, timid outlines, logical exposition, and absurd and nervous scrabble. Like a person from birth to death gets overgrown with knowledge and circumstances, which as well change, transform, and after all, in the end, when there is no one to dodge, the person is what s/he is, in the same way the main topic of the work is at first outlined, gradually assembled, gets overgrown with something, and becomes clear only in the final.

“Some of my colleagues compose melodious music on purpose, others on purpose reject the melody as an archaism. I compose what I can hear inside of me. Moreover, with time the desire to dodge vanishes.”

Have you dodged?

“I did not do this intentionally. It was a part of my exploration path. For example, in youth, when I was fond of avant-gardism, I in fact drove away the melodies, because it was not fashionable.”

When did you take shape as a composer? A pianist by profession, you are also involved in acting. Are there any levers, internal or external, which bring you to the “highway” direction, although another path could have been easier and more advantageous?

“I have always wanted to create something of my own. Back in the time when I was a student of the Chernihiv Music College, I had luck to get the experience which became, as I think, determinative for me. At that time I composed music for a play, in which I also performed. During the rehearsals I observed the work of the director, who when he showed to actors what he wanted from them, got into character so well that in my opinion could play any of the characters. Later I asked him why he did not perform, because he was good at it. He told me, ‘You know, I can play anyone better or worse. But not more than that. What I want the most is to stage plays.’ At that time I did not understand him. For a stage is a direct contact with the audience. As I was preparing myself for the career of a pianist, I caught myself thinking as well that I can perform everything, maybe worse or better, maybe not like Horowitz or Richter. But here is the thing: ‘maybe not like someone else,’ because as a professional I am able to recreate the music material, comprehend the idea and philosophy of the composer. But I felt it was not enough for me, because I had something inside of me which wanted to come out. This need to express cannot be overcome. It is left only to hope that it is not empty. You need to be born an artist, like a musician.”

Another painful problem. How many composers have to wait for scenic embodiment of their works, especially big forms, to no avail? Is it familiar to you?

“Yes, of course. I am waiting, too. I have a big ballet based on the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos Dangerous Liaisons, I composed about seven years ago. I also have a Requiem for chorus and soloists. Fortunately, we have a functioning National Association of Composers and music festivals, where I have an opportunity to perform some small symphonic works. I am lucky, because I am married to Alla Rodina, a singer, a soloist of the National Opera of Ukraine. I compose many things specifically for her, for her voice. I cannot but compose, because I can always hear her voice inside of me, as it is singing something, and I only have to write down marks on a musical staff. It is the greatest happiness for me when Alla performs my works. For example, at the Easter Festival she sang my Mass for soprano and orchestra in an amazing way in a Lutheran church. However, I had to create a version for a string quartet (I was not able to gather an orchestra). She and I have recorded a cantata to Charles Baudelaire’s poem ‘The Death of Lovers.’ So, my dreams come true, maybe not all of them, but the most essential ones.”