Interview: Kirill Karabits
"Classical music is the music that can change the world.” Kirill Karabits, the principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, spoke with us about his grandiose release of Boris Lyatoshynsky's symphonic works, his passion for undiscovered music and his mission to tell the world about it.
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Let's start with your latest release. Maybe you could tell more about how you decided to make this recording?
We've started this series with a British recording company Chandos and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It’s called the 'Voices from the East', and the idea of this series is to record some lesser-known music from post-Soviet countries. The first recording was made 1 year ago and featured the music of a composer from Azerbaijan, Kara Karayev, during his centenary year. Now we are releasing the second CD featuring the music of Boris Lyatoshynsky. He was my father’s teacher, I grew up with this music, so it’s really a part of me. Lyatoshynsky is the key figure in the Ukrainian symphonic music so I couldn’t avoid recording his music, especially in this series. It is not so known in the world, and I wanted to make a statement by recording the original version of his Symphony No. 3. I think his music is similar to what Britten is to British music – Symphony No. 3 can be called a symbolic work for Ukrainian music and not only in the 20th century, but in general.
How did the musicians from the Bournemouth Orchestra receive Lyatoshynsky's music during the rehearsals and was it a difficult process?
Not at all! They immediately got into it. The musical language is very accessible, it’s very well written, it has some very strong connections to Mussorgsky, for example. Lyatoshynsky doesn’t imitate them, he has an absolutely unique musical language but if you hear something for the first time, you intuitively try to place this music in a certain context. This is what happened in Bournemouth. And now I will be performing this symphony all around the world, and this recording will enable it because it's easier to propose something that has been recorded and people have heard it.
Did you ever think about recording other Lyatoshynsky's symphonies ?
This is not my goal to record all of them. I know his symphonies well and I have conducted some of them, but what matters to me most is the quality of releases – not the quantity. His symphonies were recorded already, there is a famous cycle made by Theodore Kuchar some years ago on Naxos. We performed this symphony in the UK last year, and the reception was absolutely overwhelming. So let’s see what happens with this recording. Sometimes it works better to record only one work, and then people are interested to hear more music. I want to do it only with a very strong purpose, and at this moment this recording is enough for making a very strong statement about his symphonies and Ukrainian music in general.
Historically, I feel that Ukrainian music has been quite underrepresented, maybe with a few exceptions nowadays. Do you think the situation is changing and people start to pay attention more?
It’s a very profound problem for us, Ukrainians, who work in music. I think everyone has to try to change the situation, instead of just sitting and waiting for something to happen. I think the best I can do as a conductor is to find the right context for performing Ukrainian music and to perform it well. But I agree that it is underrepresented, because there are no publishers in Ukraine. This is not my job to present the editions and make them accessible to people around the world. There are no institutions and today’s government doesn’t do anything to improve the situation. Sometimes culture is considered as something that requires a lot of investment, but actually doesn’t bring anything. And it's absolutely wrong in my opinion. I always say: if a country can prove that it has a unique culture, then this country has the right to exist. If it doesn’t have the culture, then it becomes just a territory. Ukraine can offer some really interesting symphonic music, and a part of my mission is to perform it and to tell the world about it.
I read that you used to play piano and compose when you were a student. Do you still have passion for composing?
I did compose in my student years, but then conducting took over. My father was an important composer and I don’t want to repeat his life. I want to have my own life. [laughs] There is enough music written but not enough good interpretations. If you don’t perform the music well, it might not get out of the paper that it is written on. A very important part of discovering the music is a good performance.
Ivan Karabits is a very well-known name in the history of Ukrainian music, and you've recorded his Concertos for Orchestra a few years ago. Do you have plans to record more of his music in the future?
Yes, I do. I would love to have more time to do this sort of work and maybe become a music publisher one day, or start a record label which will do all these things. Of course, I am looking for good opportunities to make good music accessible to people. That’s why I made a choice to become a conductor. Unfortunately time is very limited with all the guest conducting, and right now I don't have time to do everything I'd like to do.
Has your relationship with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra changed during these ten years as a Chief Conductor?
I know them very well, we’ve done lots of projects together. It wasn’t my goal to change them, but it just happened naturally. For sure, 10 years ago they didn’t know a lot of composers that they know now, and Lyatoshynsky is one of them. I think, they have also changed me because in 10 years I’ve conducted at least 100 performances with them. There is a lot of competition in British orchestras, so they maintain very high quality and famous for being very receptive and quick. It has been really fantastic for me to be there for so long, and to have developed such a positive relationship. A little bit less in the beginning, but now there is a kind of trust between us. If I bring a composer that they have no idea about, and even the country where the composer comes from, they are still curious about it. I think, it's a huge achievement! [laughs]
Do you usually get approached by the labels with offers to make a specific recording, or is it the other way around?
It’s all a subject of discussion. Chandos wants to make people discover less known, great music from Eastern Europe, so I think it will be very interesting series and our interests meet very well. They are excited, because they feel a lot of attention, and they feel that they are contributing to something that's worth it. I am very grateful that they’ve taken a risk. You never know where you will end up when you start recording completely unknown music.
Do you like the process of making a recording?
Recording became more of a promotion today, but not when you do projects like this. Because I think this project has both: it is a promotion, but it also has a very strong idea behind it. For orchestras like Bournemouth which are based in the region, not all of their concerts are exposed and not everybody can come and listen to their performance of Lyatoshynsky in Bristol, for example. But recordings make this possible. Recordings tell the world what they are doing and when the orchestras records something it means that they prioritize certain music and that builds a profile for an orchestra. It’s a promotion that we need. Because our purpose as musicians is to perform music for others. And when people are curious, they are looking for new discoveries.
Can you give any advice for the future generation of young conductors?
Well, that’s a very difficult question. Conducting is a very strange profession and it’s very difficult to describe what one has to do to become a conductor. If you don’t know what to do and you think that conducting is a glamorous thing to do, think about it twice. Because it is more difficult and more challenging than you think. Only do that if you cannot imagine your life without conducting. That’s the only advice I can give you.
Can you share your thoughts about the future of classical music?
The world is changing. The ways how people listen to the music and how music remains a part of their lives is very different than before. We used to have LPs, then we had CDs, and nowadays we are all streaming music. It's a dramatic change! One has to be very clever and take this into consideration when talking about classical music. The way of presenting classical music is very different than even 5 years ago. We are living in the time with hundreds of Beethoven's Symphonies performances on YouTube, so it’s easy to get lost. But classical music is not dying and will never die. It has always been something that is not made absolutely for everybody. But I believe that classical music is the music that can change the world.