'I love my country to this day - probably more than it loves me'
Alexander Raskatov: 'The bigger the country, the greater the gravitation that it has. I wonder if the citizens of Luxembourg could have nostalgia for their country'
For composer Alexander Raskatov, there’s no place like mother Russia, but he is still delighted to see one of his works get its premiere in Dundalk tonight
‘So many inexplicable things happen,” says Russian composer Alexander Raskatov, when I ask how his Monk’s Music has come to be premiered under the auspices of the Louth Contemporary Music Society in Dundalk. “But nothing happens, as French people say, par hazard.” Raskatov has lived abroad for two decades – he now lives in Paris – but the idea for Monk’s Music took hold in his native Moscow at an 80th birthday of Borodin Quartet cellist Valentin Berlinsky.
“We came to the conclusion that it would be interesting to try to approach the heroism of Franz Joseph Haydn with his Seven Last Words, an incredible piece of music which takes a whole concert, seven Adagios, one after the other. I told him I would like to try to approach this great musical mountain – that I wanted to put some vocal solos, a monodic Russian prayer by bass or baritone, between the adagios.”
The idea was for the sung sections to have a flavour of the music of the Orthodox Church. “I like very much one, as we say in Russian, starets, old man, a hermit, Silouan . . . a simple Russian man, a peasant who came to Mount Athos. He died in 1938. He wrote some fantastic religious texts, which came from his heart. Valentin Berlinsky was very, very interested, and gave me the green light to write the piece.”
But Berlinsky’s health, and internal troubles with the quartet delayed any premiere. Then, after Berlinsky died in 2008, the idea of performing the piece seemed to have died, too. “When I became acquainted with Eamonn Quinn, he proposed to put the piece on in Dundalk. And I didn’t hesitate.” So, instead of being performed in a big hall at the Moscow Conservatory, it will be in a Dundalk church. “I didn’t want to write a stylisation or imitation of classical style. And I didn’t want to write something that was technically complicated. For me, the most important thing was to write a kind of ascetic music, without any external effects – interior music.”
His original plan was to dedicate the work to the memory of a composer who played an important role in his life, Alfred Schnittke, who died in 1998. He was asked by the composer’s widow to complete the sketches for Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony, which, after a debilitating stroke, the composer wrote with his left hand. To this, Raskatov added a Nunc Dimittis of his own, which also carries a Schnittke dedication, and he’s not quite sure that it would be right to have two memorials.
Raskatov was still in his 20s when he met Schnittke. “He supported me very much. Our first meeting was in 1979, after the performance of a piece of mine for viola solo. He came to me and told me so many interesting and important and encouraging things. I was quite young. The hall was half-empty. His coming to me to say things that were personal and profound made a really big impression. He also supported me when I joined the Union of Soviet Composers. And, most importantly, his music influenced me a lot in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The last time I spoke to him, I think it was 1992, he was still able to talk by phone. He was in Hamburg, and said he would love to return to Moscow. It was his dream to come back to his country.”