The colourful threads of different traditions

Issue #1 • 1644

Dmitri Yanov – Yanovsky is one of those modern composers in Uzbekistan whose work is well known far outside the country. He is known not only as a writer of music, but also as the man whose tireless activities are responsible for the existence within the country of a musical project that is one of the most important and the only one of its kind – the Ilhom – XX International Festival of Modern Music. D. Yanov-Yanovsky is the festival’s founder and artistic director.

“The most striking thing is the skill with which, from colourful threads originating from very different traditions and influences, he weaves a musical fabric that is always refined, splendidly arranged and vividly individual.” That is how the well-known British composer Gerald McBurney describes D. Yanov-Yanovsky, who is one of the most interesting writers representing the Uzbekistan school of composers today.

Dmitri’s very first experiments as a composer were successful. The years of study at the Tashkent Conservatoire, where he studied composition in the class of his father, Feliks Yanov – Yanovsky, were marked by major achievements. In 1983, his cantata “The Masters” came third in a young composers’ competition in Moscow. In 1985, also in Moscow, D. Yanov-Yanovsky was awarded the first prize for a string quartet piece and an incentive prize for a piano concerto. In the same year, at the 19th film festival in Alma-Ata, the composer won a prize for the music he wrote for the cartoon “The Golden Leaf”. The 1990s brought D. Yanov-Yanovsky a series of triumphs at international competitions – second prize at the international competition for spiritual music in Fribourg (Switzerland) for his composition “Lacrimosa” in 1991; the main prize at the Alea III composers’ contest in Boston (USA) for his work “Presentiment” and the best music prize at the film festival in Nantes (France) for the musical arrangement of the film “Kammi”, both in 1992; and the “Gryphon” prize of the Union of Cinematographers of Uzbekistan for the music he wrote, together with Feliks Yanov-Yanovsky, for the “History of Islam” cartoon series in 1995.

D. Yanov – Yanovsky’s triumphs in various contests are only the outward landmarks of his activities, although they do confirm the fruitfulness of the composer’s work. Only the music can give an idea of the value of what the composer creates. His compositions are performed at numerous international festivals by world-renowned musicians and orchestras. These include Dawn Upshaw, the American singer, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma (USA), who is extremely popular at the moment in America and the West, the harpsichordist Elizabeth Chojnacka (France), the percussionist Gert Sorensen (Denmark), the Kronos Quartet (USA), the Arditi Quartet (UK), the Xenia ensemble (Italy) and the orchestra of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. CDs of the composer’s music have been released in Italy, France and the USA. It would be a good thing if his compositions were played more often in our country too.

The depth of content in D. Yanov – Yanovsky’s music is combined with an originality of conception that gives rise to new and unusual forms. Hence the poetical names of his works – “Sotto Voce” (In A Quiet voice), “Ad Amorem” (To Love), “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light), “Ritual”, “Contact”, “Awakening” and “The Music of Dreams”. There seems to be music in the very names. One composition has only an ellipsis mark (…) as its title. In it, the composer used lines by Pushkin or rather phrases from them. But he combined them in such a way that the verses took on a completely new colouring, a different meaning, and sound as if they were written today rather than in the 19th century. A somewhat different experiment by the writer can be seen in “Madrigal”, written for the cello, in which the musician not only plays, but reads the text as well.

The composer himself regards it as superfluous to explain the meaning of the titles of his works. One of the undoubted merits of his music is its unusually vivid figurative nature, its ability to evoke vivid visual associations in the listeners’ imaginations. Maybe that is one of the reasons for the composer’s successful work in films and the theatre. D. Yanov-Yanovsky has written music for over forty feature films, documentaries and cartoons, as well as nearly twenty theatrical productions. The film “Kya Dya”, for which he wrote the music, won prizes at seven international festivals and was shown in a review of the best films at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Performances for which D. Yanov – Yanovsky wrote the music are staged at theatres in various countries. For example, the play “The Imperial Madman” formed part of the repertoire of the Moscow Drama Theatre. Music for the play “The House that Swift Built” (produced by M. Vayl) was written for the Ilhom Theatre. Together with the modern American ballet group Shapiro and Smith Dance, the same theatre carried out a further project, a filmed stage performance of “Babylon Hotel”, commissioned by the organisers of the European international theatre festival in Recklinghausen (Germany), where its premiere took place in 1997. The productions “Girl with Matches” and “A Parable of Granted Love”, set to music by D. Yanov – Yanovsky, vividly heralded a new departure at the capital’s Youth Theatre: what would seem to be the most necessary component in any dramatic production – words, a text – are missing from them. On the other hand, such theatrical elements as scene changes, choreography and, of course, music come to the fore. It is the music that sets the rhythm of the action, determines its nature and is largely responsible for the success of the production as a whole.

The composer and the theatre’s artistic director, Nabi Abdurahmanov, collaborated closely over the productions “The Canvas Measurer”, “The Constellation of Omar Khayyam”, “Princess Turandot” and “Tartuffe”, which confirmed the Youth Theatre’s status as an original and entertaining theatre. A sense of the miraculous is a prerequisite for understanding any kind of art. A bewitching atmosphere arises when D. Yanov – Yanovsky’s compositions are being played. One of the reasons for this is the textured, timbred features of his work, which is structured in such a way that it all but obliterates the boundary between sound and silence. These come to be almost equivalent concepts because we have the impression that not only the music, but also the space around us can be heard. The title of one of the composer’s works, “The Resounding Darkness”, is indicative of this. What is more, the sound space of the compositions also possesses exciting properties because it is not just a “finished product” of creation, as it were, but it seems to be coming into being right there and then, as though being born before our very eyes. A sense of improvisation is typical of D. Yanov – Yanovsky’s compositions. “Presentiment”, for example, intended for a chamber orchestra and a tape recorder, is structured in this way: from a saturated, but “vague” space there gradually appear increasingly definite melodic phrases. Following this long preparation, the intonations of the muezzin’s call to prayer, recorded on tape and processed so as to sound as though they are being produced by a choir rather than just one man, burst through triumphantly.

Anyone listening to the composer’s works feels that he is a co-participant in the mystical act of creation – the birth of Harmony from Chaos. D. Yanov-Yanovsky has produced a number of compositions that reveal his link with the traditions of Uzbek music. In the “Takyr” works for percussion instruments and a string orchestra and in “The Music of Dreams” for the harpsichord, chang and tape recorder, Uzbek intonations are given an original treatment and are heard in an unexpected context. D. Yanov – Yanovsky is able to extract from traditional instruments sounds and intonations that are not typical of them. Or, on the contrary, he uses devices to produce the sound of some traditional Uzbek instrument. For instance, several compositions from the “Chang Music” cycle for various instruments are structured in this way. The chang seems to be playing in them, although, in fact, it is not present at all.

In January 2002, D. Yanov – Yanovsky represented Uzbekistan’s musical art in Europe, where his composition “Night Music: a Voice in the Foliage” was performed with great success in the concert halls of Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam as part of the international “Silk Road” project. This work, as well as others by the same composer, shows how much a talented person can benefit from contact with the cultures of different peoples.

Author: Lola Uralova

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