Alexey Kurbatov

by M. Sparks

Alexey Kurbatov has been contributing fresh and new works to the world of classical music since the young age of six. He works comfortably within all different genres of classical music including chamber music, symphonic literature, film music, and music for voice, violin, and piano. His ease in composition stems from a true desire to speak meaningfully to his audiences. Read below to discover more about this young composer. His person and his music are beautiful contributions to our society, and both are sure to leave a great legacy for us now and for the next generation of musicians.

Among the first of your compositions is music for a ballet. How were you inspired by the additional medium of dance? Did the story and dance dictate the music or was it the other way around?


It was the ballet "Katya and the Dwarfes." I wrote it at 6 years old. It was based on the plot of a fairy tale written by my grandmother. I do not remember the details well; after all, it was a very long time ago. But I remember that there were about 20 dance numbers altogether.


Can you describe your compositional process? Do you use the piano for composing, or do you prefer to not use any auxiliary instruments?


Basically, I use a computer and a midi keyboard. However, sometimes I write manually without a tool. The most difficult thing is to start writing something worthwhile.


Are there any particular composers from whom you draw inspiration?


Oh, there are a great variety. I like different music, from the earliest Ancient Greek samples to Ustvolskaya, Silvestrov, Steve Reich, progressive rock and trip-hop. On the whole, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky have had the greatest influence on me as a composer.


What is your opinion on so-called modern avant-garde music?


I love any music. If the composer is talented and the music is good, the subculture which he or she belongs to does not matter.


Did you have in mind certain pianists while composing your concerto for four pianos?


Yes, this concert was written by the order of the famous professor Voskresensky, with whom I once studied while at conservatory. So, I meant him as the performer of the first piano part, and myself as the second. The pianists chosen for the third and fourth parts were Yuri Favorin and Mikhail Turpanov.


Besides composing the massive concerto for four pianos, in what other ways are you pursuing innovation in your new music?


I did not pursue innovation. I would like to think that my music speaks a clear language to the people, while also having new content. It seems to me that the means by which I achieve this are not at all important.


Who, among performers, plays your music regularly nowadays?


There are many who perform my music. However, the most frequent performers include the pianists Vadim Kholodenko and Rem Urasin, violinists Nadezhda Artamonova and Gaik Kazazyan, the violist Sergei Poltavsky, and cellists Yevgeny Rumyantsev and Sergey Suvorov. These performers are especially dear to me. And I, myself, of course, often play my compositions.


Do you compose by commission?


Of course.


As a Russian composer, do you belong to the composers’ union? Are there any benefits?


No, I'm not a member of the composers' union. I do not know if it's right or not.


Do you affiliate yourself with a particular school or do you not believe in such associations?


On formal grounds, I belong to the conservative direction of academic music. However, I do not like this definition. As I said, I just want to talk about new content in a language that people understand.


Do you have any favorites among the works you have composed?


They are all like children to me.


How do you characterize the general art and music life in Russia nowadays?


In the large cities of Russia there are many interesting cultural events. In the province the situation is a bit worse but there are still some things happening here as well.

For example, every year I participate in the festival founded by the great Russian pianist Richter. This festival takes place in the tiny town of Tarusa. During the festival, the city's population triples.


Do you have an answer as to why some music masterpieces are forgotten, or lesser known, than others?


Oh, that's a difficult question. Indeed, there are many great composers, such as Atterberg, who are no less talented than Sibelius or Bruckner, however, not so often performed. The examples of Bach and Schubert make us hope that sooner or later such composers will get a worthy place in the history of world music.


If it were possible, which historical composer would you like to meet?


I think it's enough to love their music. I know for myself that the composer in real life is not so interesting as he or she may seem. Perhaps only with Rachmaninoff - he was a truly good man.


What is your opinion regarding musical personalities such as John Cage, Oleg Karavaichuk, Milton Babbitt, etc.? Do you share any of their philosophies or approaches?


You have listed very different musicians. Each of them certainly have great personalities, however, they are very far from me and what I do.


Are there any differences between the audiences in Russia versus those abroad? Where are people more accepting of new/modern music, and in particular, your music?


I have extensive correspondence with musicians from many countries who play my music. Thanks to the Internet, I have the opportunity to listen to different performances. I think, in general, my own audience is quite extensive and the same throughout the world. However, it's difficult for me to judge the situation with contemporary music as a whole, because, as I said, according to formal features, my music is not quite modern (although I do not agree with this).


What piece, or pieces, are you working on nowadays?


I am always very afraid to talk about my ongoing work. I just finished the 5th symphony. What's next is still a secret.


Leo Ornstein once said that no composer should pursue originality as there is a danger that he will start to imitate himself. Do you consider it important for a composer to be original? Why or why not?


I like Ornstein's music, and, in general, I agree with him. I'm not chasing originality.  However, it is important for me to give people something new to listen to while still using old means.


Who, in your opinion, is the most unfairly forgotten composer?


I would rather mention composers whose works are performed much less than they deserve. For me, I consider them to be Medtner, Atterberg, and Boris Tchaikovsky.


Do you classify your compositional style in any particular way (i.e. neo romanticism, neo classical, etc.)?


Critics attribute my style to neo-romanticism. The definition of post-neo-romanticism is closest to me.


Thank you so much for your time.


It’s been a pleasure.