Letter from Brian Eno to Anton Batagov
June 21 1996
Thank you very much for sending me the CD (Ravel). I was very impressed by the absolutely beautiful playing, and proud to be connected with it in some small way. It’s very kind of you to mention me on the cover.
I completely endorse your feelings about the world of classical music. There is so much strength of feeling, talent and energy there – but somehow it makes absolutely no difference to anything. Why is that? How has it happened that classical music has become so insulated from our lives and our thinking? I said in an interview last year (in WIRED) that I wouldn’t mind if I never heard another piece of classical music in my life, so decadent is the whole scene for me. I find it hard to listen to that music without also hearing all the social pretensions and the sense of superiority that has become connected with it. I can’t hear an orchestra without being aware of the caste system that it represents, the old and deadly metaphor of top-down social control bound up inside it. I realize this is my problem – nothing to do with the music, perhaps.
I know there is great intelligence in classical music, but, because of those prejudices, I am very rarely able to hear it. Your recording is therefore special: I find it direct, moving and completely fascinating. I don’t hear it as ‘classical music’ – just as music. I don’t hear someone showing off how clever they can be, but instead someone inside the music, an explorer discovering intricate new feelings. It makes me realize I’ve never really ‘heard’ Ravel before. Best wishes with your future work. I think this is a great recording.
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Prelude
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Fugue
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Forlane
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Rigaudon
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Menuet
- Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin: Toccata
- Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit: Ondine
- Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit: Le gibet
- Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit: Scarbo
- Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales
I understand that it is very strange that I am no longer a classical concert pianist. It seems especially strange when you are listening to my recordings of Ravel or Messiaen. Frankly speaking, I have never been a classical pianist in the traditional sense of the word, even at the age of 21 when I was sitting in the Radio House studio #1 and recording Ravel [This recording documents the last time Batagov ever performed Ravel]. At the same time Brian Eno was sitting in studio #3 next door working with the indie-rock band “Zvuki Mu” and I saw much more in common between Ravel and Brian Eno, Ravel and minimalism, Ravel and contemporary music as a whole than between Ravel and the way his works are supposed to be performed.
I think that today’s world of classical music is a perfect factory producing perfect playing machines. They are absolutely identical, technically impeccable and loaded with equal abilities of getting all the prizes in all competitions. It’s great fun for the public, an illusion of serious music life and a chance to put on your evening suit and go to Carnegie (or Tchaikovsky) Hall to listen to a newly-baked graduate and have a glass of champagne during intermission. Every young musician dreams of becoming a part of this Global System. Everyone knows what must be done to get There: what to play, how to play, where to play, etc. If you are There, you will have a concert schedule and a necessity to play the same set of classical compositions for the rest of your life. You need not know anything about XXth Century Music, art, culture, philosophy; just practice and play as if nothing has happened since the early years of Rachmaninoff.
When I was about 14 I began to realize that something in this System was absolutely unacceptable for me. I couldn’t play a piece just because it was difficult and it was prestigious to play it. I couldn’t accept that there were only two types of music: a “competition piece” (for example Stravinsky’s Petrushka – not because you like Stravinsky but because it is very difficult technically) and a “piece not for competitions” (like Brahms’ Phantasien, op.116). I could play something only when I had a feeling that this music had been written by myself. And I started looking for “my” music in the classical repertoire. I discovered that XXth century music attracted me much more than the traditional piano literature. I played a lot of piano and chamber music from Prokofiev to Schnittke, studied orchestral scores, listened to hundreds of records. At the same time I played jazz and was deeply interested in “good” rock music; I must confess that sometimes a new record of Genesis or Peter Gabriel was more important for me than, say, a new work by Stockhausen. My first compositions written at the age of 15 were a strange mixture of Hindemith and Keith Emerson.
Later at the Moscow Conservatory I made several “correct” steps towards the System and received several competition awards. But my second “half” which belonged to John Cage, to minimalism and to the REAL music life, said “no”. These two worlds turned out to be absolutely incompatible. It doesn’t mean that classical music no longer exists for me. The main question about it is the same: what is “my” music? In this sense the recording of Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge was a unique experience for me. This composition is “absolute” music, and most music seems to be nothing when compared to it. How about The Well Tempered Clavier ? I am afraid that it will last about ten hours if I dare to record it. I think there is no need to explain why studio recording is better than live performance. Glenn Gould explained and proved everything. He was absolutely right.
Anton Batagov Moscow, 17 Feb. 1996. : ANTON BATAGOV (October10.1965, Moscow-) studied with Anna Kantor and Tatiana Nikolayeva. Prize-winner at four competitions: Concertino-Prague (1981), the All-Soviet Piano Competition (1985), the Tchaikovsky Competition (1986) and the Sydney International Piano Competition. Performances in Russia, most European countries and the U.S.A Batagov met Messiaen, to whom he confessed that his tempi for the Vingt Regards were slower than those indicated. Messiaen smiled and replied, “They can never be too slow!” Batagov recorded the cycle on three CDs. He is the first Russian musician to playJohn Cage, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Tom Johnson. He performed new Russian music by Vladimir Martyinov, Ivan Sokolov, Sergei Zagny, George Peletsis, Alexander Rabinovitch and others. His creative position is opposite that of a “philharmonic tuxedo pianist”. A focal point of Batagov’s concert and recording concepts is its link to the art of performance in the post-Cagean era, which cancels boundaries between the notions performance and composition by viewing all existing musical practices, from ancient music to rock culture, as potential elements which may be used when performing virtually any piece of music regardless of time and style. He composes (for electronic and acoustic instruments) works for movies, theater and other media. His post minimalist aesthetic “might be mapped between Philip Glass’ hot urban jungle and Morton Feldman’s icy alpine heights”. (Moscow Tribune). Batagov’s music is a continuation of the old Russian music tradition and may be unmistakably labeled as Russian. He is one of the leaders and organizers of Alternativa , the annual international new music festival in Moscow. Arbiter will soon publish batagov’s recording of bach’s Art of the Fugue.