|When I arrived at the
Conservatory at the appointed time I knew very little about Mr Makarenko except a handful
of facts: a brilliant conductor of the Opera House orchestra and a laureate of several
prestigious international competitions. I expected to see a man of at least fifty,
grey-haired, aloof. I saw a man who looked definitely younger than his thirty-seven years,
affable, approachable, agile, medium-height, almost skinny, with a friendliest of smiles.
He took me through a maze of corridors of the huge building of the Conservatory, looking
for a classroom where we could talk without being bothered. Though the time was late
afternoon, the place seemed to be at the height of musical activity. Students walked up
and down the stairs and long corridors, individually and in groups, gesticulating and
talking animatedly, sat here and there on stools and chairs near the doors, playing all
kinds of musical instruments, evidently having failed to find an empty room for their
practising; from behind many doors singing could be heard. Cacophonous pandemonium seemed
to rein supreme. After a prolonged search, we did manage to find a room with a lonely
accordion player in it who sulkily agreed to vacate it for some time to let us
talk. While the student was collecting his things, he grumbled under his breath something
about having to prepare for an exam. Mr Makarenko was all politeness,
expressed his apologies. The room had several chairs, two battered upright pianos. When we
settled down, my first question was:
Conservatory is surely full of life, so many nice young people eager to master the art of
music. What about attendance of the Opera House? Do people come to see operas and ballets
Makarenko: They sure do, probably even more than ever before.
And the low price for the tickets is only of a secondary consideration here. You see,
theres so much of ugliness of every kind around, so many troubles affecting
peoples life that no wonder they seek harmony, beauty, spirituality. And all of
these things are concentrated in the magnificent creation of human spirit the
opera. We have full houses regularly. I do believe that opera is the loftiest and greatest
achievements of human spirit. Opera is a combination of music, acting, singing,
choreography, scenery that in its turn blends the arts of painting and architecture, all
of it highly harmonious, highly perfected. No other art produces so much artistic effect
in such a concentrated form and so simultaneously.
WU: How does one become a conductor in the first
Makarenko: I was born into, as it were, a musical family. My
father is an opera singer, a tenor, now retired. He used to be a soloist of the Opera
House in Tbilisi, Georgia, than in Minsk. My mother used to be a ballet dancer, in Lviv.
Even my name has musical associations.
Makarenko: No, I dont mean it sounds particularly
musical. Ill explain. My fathers favourite opera was Chaikovskys The
Queen of Spades, and as you remember, the principal character of this opera, based on
Pushkins long poem of the same name, is called Herman. So I was
christened Herman. As long as I remember myself, I have always lived with music, in music.
In my childhood I was often present at performances of operas and ballets, I grew up, as
it were, standing in the wings of the stage, in the glow of the footlights. Music has
become an integral part of my being, music and I are inseparable.Believe it or not, but I
dreamt of becoming a conductor already at the age of three or four.
WU: Did you study music in Lviv?
Makarenko: No, I was taken to Kyiv where I was admitted to a
music school. It was a boarding school. It felt lonely without parents by my side, but I
gave myself totally to studying music. They dont teach conducting at a secondary
music school, but conducting was always paramount on my mind. In 1980, upon graduation on
top of my class, I was enrolled at Kyiv Music Conservatory and it took me ten years to
graduate. It took so long not because I was such a bad student, but because I studied at
two departments. First, it was the Piano Department, and then the Conductors
Department. You see, you cannot go to study conducting unless youve mastered a
musical instrument. In my case, it was the piano. I graduated from both departments summa
cum laude. The culminating point of the graduation is what is called a state
exam the final and most important exam that shows how qualified you are in
your subject. In 1990 I was immensely privileged to be given a chance to conduct the Opera
House orchestra as my final graduation exam. Seems I did well then, since I was invited to
come to work at the Opera House as a conductor. In fact, I had had a chance of conducting
the Opera House orchestra on several occasions beginning from 1987.
WU: Its utterly beyond my comprehension how a
conductor can control an orchestra of several dozens of musicians
Makarenko: Add to it the action and singing going on the
stage. Imagine, you are responsible for synchronic music action of two or three hundred
men and women! The supreme moment comes when you know you can inspire them, breathe
a divine spark into them. Its immensely gratifying to know that you can
do it, and do it well.
WU: One must experience a tremendous tension,
conducting a big orchestra and minding at the same time whats going on the stage.
Whats the best relaxation for you?
Makarenko: I dont drink, if Ive understood your
hint right. There are two things that provide me with the greatest relaxation: philosophy
and walks through the countryside and parks. Unfortunately, theres very little time
now for leisure strolls.
WU: I dont quite understand your remark about
philosophy. Do you mean to say you do some philosophizing or reading philosophy in your
spare time? And it relaxes you?
Makarenko: Both, philosophizing, as you put it, and reading
philosophical works. At one point in my career, I realized that philosophy is something I
cant live without, the way I cant live without music. So, in 1995, I enrolled
in post-graduate studies and now I am writing a doctoral dissertation: Philosophy of Music
in the Philosophical Systems of Irrationalism of the 18th-19th centuries. A particular
attention has been paid to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Richard Wagner. For me music and
philosophy have become inseparable. Music is a philosophy of emotions. Philosophy is music
of thought. Both make up the phenomenon known as spirituality. Philosophy and music seem,
at the first glance, to be polar manifestations of the human spirit, but they are a unity,
in the same sense that day and night are a unity, good and evil. Without one, theres
no room for the other.
WU: So, apparently your doctorate has not interfered
with your career of a conductor.
Makarenko: In no way. In September, as you know, I took part
in the International Conductors Competition in Switzerland. I was the only conductor
representing Ukraine. Its a very tough competition, with points being given to you
not only by the jury but also by all the musicians of the orchestra you conduct. If
politically or economically Ukraine is known but little in the world, culturally Ukraine
is getting to be known better. Im very proud of the fact that my modest success at
international competitions contributes to familiarizing the world with Ukrainian cultural
achievements. Then, there was Canada, the International Festival of Arts in Montreal. We
performed La Voix Humaine by the French composer Francis Poulenc. Its an extremely
difficult mono-opera, that is an opera with only one singer. Tetyana Pyminova was the
singer, Oksana Yaremchuk, an undergraduate of our Conservatory, was the accompanist. From
Canada, I went to the USA, to Texas Tech University which has an excellent music school.
There I conducted Madame Butterfly, Il Tabarro by Puccini, Carmen by Bizet, Il Nozze di
Figaro by Mozart, Die Fledermaus (the Bat) by Iohann Strauss the Younger. I enjoyed
conducting there and it seems to me a good rapport was established between me and the
orchestras I conducted. Its tremendously important to make a good impression upon
the orchestra, and in most cases, its an impression at first sight. If
you are accepted by the orchestra than youll be able to bring across your ideas to
the musicians, your interpretation of this or that musical piece, if not well, then
youre likely to fail.
WU: Im sorry for going from the lofty spiritual
subjects down to earth. All these trips of yours must be pretty costly. Who pays all the
expenses, you yourself?
Makarenko: Of course not! Without sponsors, I would have
never been able to do it! The Inter-Policy Insurance Company (President Yevhen Utkin,
Executive Director Volodymyr Pestenkov) and Kvazar-Micro Company (President Valentyn
Honcharenko), both of them in Kyiv, have been kind enough to make all my recent trips
WU: You seem to be very happy with what youre
doing. Do you consider yourself lucky to have chosen a conductors carer?
Makarenko: Very much so. Yes, Ive been lucky with the
family that encouraged my musical inclinations, Ive been lucky with the teachers and
people Ive worked with. I cant help mentioning Roman Kofman, a professor of
the Conservatory, who taught me so much. Than there was the late Oleh Ryabov, an opera
conductor, who used to work at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and knew and worked with such
grandees of the twentieth-century music as Rozhdestvensky, Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya. My
gratitude to Oleh Ryabov is great indeed; it was he who introduced me to the awesome art
of conducting an opera orchestra.
WU: May I ask you a personal question? Are you
Makarenko: Yes, I am, and I have a son of four. My wife is
not a musician, shes a graduate of a foreign-languages college in Kyiv. One of my
greatest regrets is a lack of time to bring up my son in the love of music, the way it
happened with me and my parents. I hope he catches on.
WU: I always wondered what an attitude a person like
you, a superb musician to the core, might have towards pop music?
Makarenko: Well, its there, many people enjoy listening
to it, so it has a full right to exist, though, frankly, I find so many pop songs
extremely primitive. I cant listen to them, I just get annoyed. But its all a
matter of taste. You cant force people to love opera, can you? But I do hope that
more and more people will come to understand that opera is the supreme manifestation of
all the arts, both performing and visual.
WU: Thank you so much for your time and for making me
and hopefully many readers of WU will look at opera, music and philosophy from quite a
Makarenko: Youre most welcome. And thank you.
P.S. Talking to Mr Makarenko gave me a great emotional
uplift, and a new hope. Regular full houses at the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine,
the Conservatory of Music teeming with students eager to master music, a Ukrainian
conductor named a laureate and well-received in many parts of the world it all
means that no matter what economic hardships Ukraine may be facing, culture and lofty
spirituality are kept up at a high level, to a great extent thanks to people like the
opera conductor Herman Makarenko.