The meaning and importance of "style" in performin - Personal experience

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby Vladimir Vladimirov » Wed Jan 03, 2007 9:20 am

The meaning and importance of “STYLE” in performance.
(Personal experience: very long and very boring like always)

Before 1981 I had a fantastically nice and interesting life: I was a pianist free-lancer. Everyone knows that two things always poison our life: our bosses and our employees. And in these the sweetest years of my life I had no one boss above and no one employee under myself. My specialty was musical “911”: any time of day and night I was ready to call taxi and immediately arrive to airport because some other pianist by some reasons could not fly. I was on “red list” of many concert organizations because they never heard from me single “NO” ever.

It was not easy. One time I almost died because of my “YES”. TV called me and asked if I could play tomorrow at 8 p.m. “Waltz” from Faust in Liszt transcription. I knew that any “NO” automatically moves you into “black list”. People on TV have a lot of other pianists listed in their books, and they will never waste their time for “NO” pianist again. Therefore after my “YES” I immediately went for shopping because I never even heard this Liszt transcription before. I had good luck to find this piece, but almost fainted when counted its pages: 41 or 43 (I do not remember exactly today but still can play this piece right now if somebody needs because this adventure is unforgettable for me).

I put mattresses and blankets on my piano and worked without break the all 23 hours that I had before the broadcasting on TV. Between us I can tell that in fact I missed 3 pages during this my performance but I always reserve for my self “emergency restart” points in my pieces and never am afraid of my normal human forgetfulness because of these points. So nobody noticed this my skipping and the host of TV program congratulated me with the words that could make me to faint again: “The Ministry of Culture Board was happy with your performance! What is happening with you? Didn’t you know that X. (famous pianist) refused to play in our program and took sick leave just by this reason, when this inspection of our program by Ministry of Culture became known to us?”

The longer I live – the more obvious it is for me that all our accidents are not accidental.
A few months later I came too late for exams in St. Petersburg Conservatory (I was detained for observation in epidemic zone). Rector Serebryakov took a pity on me and called his Admission Board to listen to me for “no more than 30 minutes”, because exams were finished already and I had no one chance in this year (this audition was just to console me with the dreams about the “possible future”). After 30 minutes Prof. Serebryakov told me: It is a pity that you did not arrive on time – “I see that you are used to play not just for chairs in the hall, like many of our students. But I can not do anything for you: The Ministry gave us money only for 2 post graduate students and we have accepted them already.
Though, you still have one only chance: right now, in your presence I will call do the Deputy Minister Kochetkov and tell him about our situation”. This conversation with Deputy Minister took 20 seconds. Kochetkov said: “I remember him, I watched him on TV a few weeks ago. I will give you money for him”. These words absolutely changed the whole my life.

But in 1981 my “sweet life” bumped against the very scary problem. I was called to police department and was given an “Official Warning” that I will be arrested and deported at least for 101 km. from Moscow in accordance with the acting Law. Because “somebody reported me to them” as a “parasite – sponger”.

“How much do you earn per year, comrade Colonel- Lieutenant?” - I asked the Head of Police Department. “7 200 USD” – He answered (In Russian roubles, of course). “I can bring to you my pay slips for $ 12 000 in this year and prove that I did not work (had no concerts) only 19 days during the whole year” – I objected. Comrade Colonel-Lieutenant told me that he does not care about all my concerts and he is not an accountant to look at my pay slips, because he is simply policeman instead. And he will prove this to me very effectively if I will be not employed “in a normal way” within the next 30 days.

It was almost impossible to find any job for pianist in Moscow overcrowded with them but I was lucky to meet one famous singer, who brought me to her boss in Moscow Philharmonics and “told to give me job”. In this way, I started in 1981 my “normal employment” with salary $2160 (after my previous $ 12 000) a year and 7 hours of coaching a day in the same cell instead of flying everywhere.

However, eventually I was noticed and started my concerts again “under the roof” of official employment, however it did not last too long because I “was noticed” again. In 1986 the boss of Piano Department Mr. Skavronsky invited me “for a serious conversation”. He explained to me that he appreciates my efforts to be a good and reliable employee, but unfortunately this is not enough for concert organization: each performer must have a talent above all. And he really regrets to tell me that my talent (in his and above him bosses’ opinion) “does not match in any way my huge income” from my concerts, while some other brilliant performers have no concerts at all. So I have to help him and my concert organization: I must tell to the people, who called me for concerts, that I can not arrive, and recommend to them other pianist from the list, that he will give to me, instead.
He was very disappointed when I declined this generous offer.

A few weeks later I was called to play for “Artistic Council” of the Piano Department. I played Mozart “Fantasia in C Minor” and mentioned above “Waltz” from Faust Gounod-Liszt. It took half an hour, but the discussion “with the closed doors” took for them about 2 hours (I was kept outside, in corridor). Eventually doors opened and all of the members of the Board passed me with the heads turned from me away, they even did not want to look at me. Especially painful for me was the turned away from me head of the most beautiful lady-pianist I ever saw in my life (member of this council, I have no right to mention the name of one of the most prominent pianists of the world, who stood on his knees before her and begged to marry him, but was rejected (the whole Conservatory knew about this). She preferred a really wonderful violinist, who died after only a few years of their marriage). She was a very friendly to me (before this audition) since our (with her) playing together exams and concerts in Conservatory. I realize that I am not a gentleman, but I forgot and forgave all the members of this Council except her. And I retaliated to her “in the same currency”. Being in 1991 a Head Administrator of a Culture program of Inauguration of The first President of Russia B.Yeltsyn, I hired her with her charming daughter-violinist to perform before B.Yeltsyn and M.Gorbachev (they played brilliantly), but I did not say her one word giving all the artists envelopes. I sent my secretary to do it instead. “She asked: don’t you remember her?” – My secretary told me. Of course, I remember her for the whole my life.

After all the members passed me in a funeral like silence a very nice gentleman and a really good pianist Igor Khudoley embraced me friendly and invited to have a seat and talk. He told to me that my case is a very unusual one. Usually they have to fire pianists because these pianists played with a lot of “accidents”, while I played “smoothly”. Sometimes pianists can not play from memory – I had no problem here. However my way to play was absolutely unacceptable because of my STYLE: I played “everything upside down”. For example, instead of “confident, firm step on the first 2 pages” I played “absolutely not logical search for rescue”. I was really amazed with Igor’s sensitivity in music.

“Igor” – I told him - “How could you feel exactly, what I meant playing this. For me this Fantasia is a collision of Human and Destiny with tragedy at the end. And the whole this Fantasia is about search for happiness and crash of each hope that this Human had during the whole this piece. About which confidence can we speak, if Mozart changed the key of his music almost in each of the bars (especially on the mentioned first 2 pages) and the first time (in C minor Fantasia!) we hear real, stable C minor on the last page only?”.

“You have no right to play Mozart like Beethoven” – Igor said, “You do not understand how important is STYLE in any performance! Each year I am invited for Mozart Festivals to Salzburg and other places in the world. Believe me, all of Mozart’s connoisseurs would be shocked if you once played for them like you played for us”.

Like many other musicians, I always can hear: does somebody speak to me sincerely or this is hypocrisy. I knew Igor as an honest person and I was sure he told to me what he really thought. I never played this Fantasia again since 1986 up to 2006, when I placed my recording in “AUDITION ROOM”, but still did not listen to it self – it is too difficult for me and I do not expect that I play impromptu-performance today better than when I was preparing for my audition specially over 4 months. I was just waiting: what other pianists will say about it.

A few weeks later I was called to play special “inspection – audition” and 3 professors of Moscow Conservatory: Gornostayeva, Voskresensky and Merzhanov found me incompatible with the Soviet Style and Soviet Standards of Performing. They took from me my license to play concerts, and by mere coincidence their children at the same moment were given job in “my” Philharmonics. I was really shocked with another coincidence later, when one of these professors’ children - daughter of Prof. Voskresensky died then (in car crash) in a few hundred meters from the University in South Africa where I worked at that time. She arrived from “my” Philharmonics to South Africa to accompany some good Russian cellist (he survived).

Fortunately (for me), USSR in 1986 was still existing and I played my “appeal-test” before Higher Commission of USSR (above the Russian) Ministry of Culture. They were surprised that I was the only pianist in Russia, who could not pass “inspection” in 1986, and gave me my license back. They even increased my “fee for concert”. So, that time I played better.

A few years later I played an “Evening of Mozart’s Sonatas” in South Africa. After I finished, some very impressively looking gentleman with 3 ladies approached me with the words: “Where did you get all these charming arrangements of Mozart?” I told that I did not play any arrangements, I played original sonatas by Mozart”. Gentleman got slightly angry and told me that he and these ladies are absolutely wrong persons to joke on this matter with them. He introduced himself and gave me his visiting card of professor of Vienna Conservatory, the others were his daughter – lecturer, and another daughter - student of the named Conservatory, and another lady was a German pianist (I do not remember from which city).

“Sorry, Sir” – he told, - “We know each note of any Sonata by Mozart”. I invited them to check me. They sat around me and looked at my books, and played for them all “my” sonatas again. “I never could imagine that style of performance can change the music to such extend!” – Gentleman said, “Could you make for us your recordings, please?”. I told them it is impossible, because 2 days before them some movie-shooting group tried to include me in their film (I did not mind).But security officer stopped them and called General Manager of the company, which invited me for 3 month contract. G.M. declared me a “property of the company” and asked such a price for my play (if I saw some times this money for my performances), that “cinema” gave up and preferred to use their own artist, playing piano “mute”, they pasted somebody’s recording over later.

After a short discussion with other ladies in German (they did not know, that I knew German much-much better than English) they gave me USD 650 (in local currency) and expressed hope that I will play these Sonatas in Vienna one day. Who knows, maybe I will have this luck in my life?

A few weeks later some group of tourists took chairs closer to me and they were smiling and looking into my eyes, when I was playing my “program of slow and relaxing music” in accordance with my contract with the resort company. I was very uncomfortable with their smiling because this day was my double-shift day: 13 hours of pure music from 11 a.m. till 01 a.m. (with several breaks for meal) and I did not keep enough slow and relaxing songs in my head to play “without repeats during the day”. So, I played Chopin studies instead, missing dramatic minor, of course, in a very “slow, relaxing tempo”. I cheated my managers in this way many times, but after this performance all these ladies and gentlemen tapped my shoulders and told that they never expected to get such a fun in South Africa. All of them were lecturers of Madrid conservatory.

I think that is enough for this time. Other stories with the conclusion will come later.

Happy New Year to all my readers! Cheer! Vladimir Dounin. January 01. 2007

PS from January 3. 2007
Two days ago I was going to continue this topic with other stories about the style in piano performing. However, today it does not make sense anymore because I quitted the music and sold my piano. Now I can not wait to start my new job as a Head of the Style Police Squad in my city instead. I am given an exclusive right to shut down any restaurant and arrest its chef and owner if they have any discrepancies with my own ideas about: what is the right style in food?

I realize that each of you wants to quit the music and take my job as well. You have calculated, of course, expected lump sum of my entire “roll back”, bribes, gifts etc. from the owners to prevent shutting down and reopening their businesses. Sorry, it is too late, ladies and gentlemen! I went over the limit on my credit cards but you can hear from TV and read in newspapers that I am (not you) “the undoubtedly best connoisseur of style out of all contemporary living on the planet”.

Picture this: you had a wonderful dinner in Italian restaurant. You are going to enjoy your last dessert and drink the last glass of Champaign. You are naïve and you do not know what I know from my spies already: the salad was rather in French style and Ice-cream was not in Neapolitan but rather in Sicilian style. This is the reason why I swarm in with my uniformed guys with guns shooting warning shots and shouting: “Freeze! Style Police!”

We arrest and drag away the owner with chef and then my guys put their pistols to the head of each guest and force them to swallow purgative pills. Nobody has right to leave the restaurant before the result of action of these pills will be obvious. How do you feel about this?

Don't you want to say that you do not care about any STYLE in your food as long as you enjoyed your meal and were not given a raw, uncooked cat instead of fried chicken?
This is exactly the same what we have in music. Music in our lives is simply a food. Only this is the food for our ears, mind, heart and soul instead of mouth and stomach.

I was lucky to work with and listen to many big and great musicians. I am sure that all of them knew the word “style” but I can not remember that any of them mentioned it even once. Always I heard this word only from the “small but stinky” ones. This word is like a sting of scorpion: small and useless insect can easily attack and hurt with this sting any big and good human or animal. Because nobody knows exactly: what is “in style” and what is “beyond the style”, and especially, where is the border between “the right style” and my personal taste, which is not the Law for you and for her yet, by the way.

The Chinese communist dictator Mao-Tse-Tung (newly hanged dictator was an innocent child in comparison to this guy) wrote the book of his quotes, which each Chinese had to know by heart. The first sentence was “The gun creates the power!”

The originally good and useful word “style”, as it is used in contemporary environment, is only the mentioned gun in hands of musical dictators and a lash of slavery in our musical world-wide totalitarian concentration camp.(Read my “I am free” in PERFORMANCE)

With my best wishes (of FREEDOM – first),

Vladimir Dounin
Vladimir Vladimirov
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jul 14, 2005 12:47 am
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:29 am

Yes, long, but anything but boring.
User avatar

Postby Stretto » Fri Jan 05, 2007 8:56 am


Thanks for sharing your stories. They are very interesting and shed light on what people go through that we don't even realize. We in the United States don't often hear these experiences. It's important to hear such stories so we don't take for granted what we do have.

Have you ever written a book on your experiences? You should consider it if you haven't.
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Postby Glissando88keys » Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:16 pm

Stretto wrote:Vladimir,

Have you ever written a book on your experiences? You should consider it if you haven't.

...and what a fascinating and enlightening book it would be!

I agree. We really never hear about how pianists in other countries must suffer for their music.

Our own system of rules and regulations concerning competitions and the use of appropriate recital material may seem overly strict and stringent, but it pales, by comparison.

Vladimir, if you ever get "fed up" with your current position as Head of Style Police, your relevant experience and transferrable skills may qualify you for a position as Head of Fashion Police. The requirements for this position are as follows:
*Detention of those whose manner of dress is inconsistent with the prevailing fashion trends
*On - the - spot arrests of those persons guilty of wearing white shoes after Labor Day
*Death by hanging for those men whose ties or suit lapels are not of the proper width in accordance with GQ edicts
*Public flogging of those men whose suits bear the label, 100% Polyester
*Enforcing starvation diets and concurrent manual labor on exercise torture machines for anyone found weighing in at 1 ounce more than maximum allowable weight for height according to insurance industry standard charts
*Anyone guilty of any fashion "mistake" is subject to fine, imprisonment or both.

I could go on... :p

Edited By Glissando88keys on 1168141939
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