Alexander talks to Ida Lichter
Today, with so much emphasis on the material side of life, music has an important role as a reminder of one’s inner world. It can open a door to this space, where universal truths, values and powerful feelings of love reside. When people come to listen to a concert, I think they unite in finding that inner resource.
It is difficult to define the mechanism of this process in words. When the performer is genuinely immersed, the music can be filled with great beauty and energy, and even the spaces between the notes are not experienced as empty. If performers are sincere, nothing will prevent them from being true to the music.
In that respect, Russian actor and theatre director, Stanislavski and his autobiography, My Life in Art, became an important influence on me. When Stanislavski wanted to act a certain part in a play, he would take a few months to try and adopt the traits of this character while continually questioning himself about the way this person would feel or act in a variety of situations. Ultimately, Stanislavski was hardly acting on stage, because he had transformed himself into the character he wanted to portray. I believe a similar technique can be applied while learning to interpret and perform a piece of music.
When a pianist stops observing or witnessing the performance, they are getting close to the “sense of truth” as described by Stanislavski. It is not an easy process, but I value it highly. An audience, if sensitive, can experience a greatly heightened emotional transmission if a musician plays while they are in that state of transformation. Perhaps this might explain why some performances can be accurate but not transformational, while others can move people to tears, even if they don’t understand why they are so touched. It is extraordinary that some performers can achieve it without specific training, knowledge or awareness, and in the absence of good technique or correct dynamics.
During a performance, musicians open up to the stream of music in ways that depend on their instincts, the acoustics, and the special communication between the audience and the music. This openness doesn’t happen every time I play, but I seek the means to achieve it during every performance. There might be certain limitations in the instrument or acoustics, but when I become aware of the profound connection between the audience, the music and myself, I feel completely rewarded.
When an orchestra or chamber music group comes together to play, there is a sense of unity in the teamwork and the flow of music. In contrast, the major factor in a solo recital is the intimacy. I believe this level of intimacy, reminiscent of the confessional, has a vital place today in a world that suffers from a lack of sincerity.
I grew up in the Ukraine and still value aspects of Russian culture, like the love of nature and music. Society was then dominated by Soviet era ideas, like autocratic teaching methods. The nine years I spent in Australia opened my eyes to a freedom of spirit, and our rights to individuality and independence.
Education, outlook, values and upbringing are linked to musical development and will show through in performance. No doubt, life experiences also play an important, although subtle, part in the development of a performing artist.
In order to understand specific pieces, it helps to be familiar with the environment and personal stresses on a composer at the time of writing. This information assists you in the preparation of a piece rather than the performance itself, when other factors come into play.
The way music can bring people of different cultures together is truly remarkable and I would like to believe it could have a positive role in politics. Some composers, who lived under Soviet oppression went along with the government but others, like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, were greatly affected by the crimes and brutality perpetrated by the Soviet regime. In their music, they managed to express political dissidence as well as the beauty and pain of life, especially in times of war and revolution.
In my view, Shostakovich tried and succeeded in exposing the deceit and injustice of the regime through sounds. In music laden with bold satire, he mocked the political circus that prevailed. At the same time, he was able to communicate the emotional and mental state of the Russian people. Some of the music is very bleak, like his String Quartet No. 13, which Shostakovich completed in 1970. When you hear this quartet, you are left with a strong feeling about the political oppression at the time, and I can’t help thinking that it would be a travesty if you walked out of a performance of this quartet and described it as a ‘lovely concert.’
Other composers have had major influences in different ways. Mozart brought great harmony, child-like sincerity and otherworldly purity. Beethoven taught us about his personal qualities of heroism and stoicism, and how he managed to deal with tragedy in his own life. Throughout the different periods associated with his musical development, his compositions reveal increasingly profound hope and faith in the human spirit. In Bach we find the foundation of classical music, universal meaning, and a musical manifestation of the Bible. It is the music of the gods and like Mozart’s compositions, Bach’s music is not entirely of this world.
The music of Chopin is a whole world of beauty, great suffering and sacrifice, full of soaring spiritual heights, acute happiness and sensitivity. Chopin is a never-ending musical journey for me, and I appreciate and love his music more and more.
Contemporary music can be very problematic. I recall learning a piece that was so difficult to count that a calculator proved necessary to follow 12 / 16 and 7 / 11 timing. When I heard the composer talk about how to play this piece, I was surprised to learn that he instructed musicians to imagine they were smoking a cigarette. The idea was to play the way smoke unfurls when you blow it out, in order to ensure there would be no structure and every performance would be different.
I find it difficult to judge the merit of much contemporary music but I suspect that the dissonance, which characterizes the music, reflects our highly mechanized, individualistic and cynical society.
Apparently research has shown that the study of music can assist intellectual development in children or even reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, and I look forward to more research into these fields.
Children who are taught music learn about the expression of emotions and therefore indirectly, a great deal about life. In this respect, it is the world where music takes you that is more important than individual pieces.
It is also possible to use music as an emotional outlet. I have always turned to music whenever I had a problem, as I could always express myself more comfortably in music than in words.
I don’t see music as some sort of religion but believe in its power as a positive force in society. As serious music has strong emotional and spiritual dimensions well beyond the intellectual, it can impact on the individual and on personal relations.
Music reflects human emotional life more than anything I know, and this power can lead to special moments of revelation in performance. At these times, I feel an intense, wondrous unity with the audience and almost forget I am on the stage. This intimate interaction cannot be reproduced in a recording.
 Konstantin Sergeevich Stanislavski, My Life in Art, Routledge (1974), ISBN 0878305505 (hardcover). University Press of the Pacific (2004) ISBN 1410216926 (paperback).
 Dmitri Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 138).
New Research Provides The First Solid Evidence That The Study Of Music Promotes Intellectual Development