Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guest Blogger: Cellist Kirill Timofeev, the Rastrelli Cello Quartet

From left: Sergio Drabkin, Kira Kraftzoff, Kirill Timofeev and Mischa Degtjareff 

The members of the well-loved Rastrelli Cello Quartet have been traveling all over Europe and America this Spring with their "From Brahms to the Beatles" tour. Award-winning cellist Kirill Timofeev, born in St. Petersburg in 1978, has worked with a range of gifted artists, including Yuri Temirkanov.

 When we do recordings, our sound engineer Christopher Tarnow is like the fifth member of the group. In a session we play each piece all the way through, then we start working on it, trying to sound good together. It's all about playing together and expressing the same mood. Christopher's ears are very good, and he always understands when to stop us, and when to just let us play.

The sessions last a long time. It's hard not to fall asleep after five hours! It's even harder, maybe, to do the recording sessions than to do the performances! We usually have to do more than one take. A live recording is much better, because of the concert feeling and the drive. Our live recordings on YouTube are not as good as if we were recording the same pieces in the studio. It's another kind of job. We should think about the YouTube recordings and prepare them specially.

On this tour we're doing two programs: Brahms and Beatles, and James Bond 007, featuring a 12-minute medley of themes from the Bond movies. Tonight we'll play selections from Karl Davidoff's Beatles Songbook. I agree with Kira Kraftzoff that the Beatles were the first band to bring the whole world together. Without understanding a single word of the lyrics, you could hear their songs in Russia, in New Guinea, everywhere! My father had the Beatles' records and he played them a lot, so it became the music of my childhood as well. And I didn't understand a word! But that was not important, actually. I cared more about the music.

I really love the Beatles' songs. Each piece has a very special moment, if you're hearing it for the first time, when you're not sure where the music will lead you. They always choose another direction. They make a very simple thing very special. It's ingenious. Our arranger Sergio can touch this moment and exaggerate it sometimes. It would be better for you to hear it than for me to talk about it. It's something that distinguishes good music from pop music.

Funny enough, this is also true in the Brahms Hungarian Dances which we play tonight. Every piece is a simple dance, but they all have a special moment of genius. Therefore these pieces are still played, and they'll never become old. We've forgotten the bad music of Brahms' time. Nobody cares about it anymore! But really good stuff always stays alive. The similarities between Brahms and the Beatles occurred to me just this morning, and I think I should talk to my colleagues about it. Maybe we unconsciously chose to program them together.

In some of the Beatles' recordings that include strings, like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby, the studio musicians didn't take what they were doing very seriously. I think those pieces have the potential to be done in many different and interesting ways. Very often Beatles' covers are quite boring, except for the one by The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic. They did that recording in the 1970s, and it was revolutionary. No classical musicians had ever touched pop music before that. Now it's more common. The goal for us is to take each song and treat it like a jewel, like a classical piece.

Some people in our audience tonight will recognize their favorite Beatles' songs of course, and that's nice for them. But we're not necessarily trying to excite nostalgia or dreams of youth. We're playing this music for now, for the present. Tonight we're playing at Holy Names University, so we'll probably attract some younger people. It's one of our goals to show them that our music can be--I don't want to call it cool, but show that it's relevant to modern life, and that it's serious. Brahms' music is still modern, even though it was written 150 years ago. Maybe we'll attract some younger fans tonight! Four cellos are seldom heard together.

Funny enough, our youngest audiences are always in Russia. I don't really understand why. Maybe it's because the concerts start earlier, at seven. You invite your girlfriend to the classical concert and make a good impression, and later you can go to the disco! The whole situation is changing. It used to be classical musicians were thought of as snobby geniuses who didn't give interviews or talk to the audience. We don't feel that we're big stars, with our heads in the clouds. We love meeting the audience after the show! Staying at a hotel or eating in some restaurant, you don't have time to get in touch with people. After the concert it's really easy to start a conversation, and in America people are always ready to talk with us. It's great, I love it!

When I'm not on tour I live part of the time in Germany, and part of the time in St. Petersburg, where my wife lives. She's a doctor. It makes no sense for her to stay with me in Germany because I'm not at home much, I'm usually traveling. The quartet has a lot of gigs in Europe. But in Europe you can drive to them in a car!

I've been more or less on the road for the last six years. It's a great experience and a great chance to play for a lot of people and meet them. It's interesting to compare different countries. People who love culture are everywhere. They're the same, they understand each other, whether they're in Poland or Russia or Israel. They are much closer to one another than the politicians. I think things would be better if all the politicians would get together and sing some songs!

The world is very connected now. You can't just look at one country. We only know what we read, but politicians at the highest levels are discussing other things. They're global chess players. They can tell us about human rights, but they have their own agenda. To understand this situation I should at least study economics. I have no idea about economics! Nothing! I have no idea how it works! I can read various articles in German and in Russian, but why should I trust these people? Before giving an opinion about world events, the author should know their subject better than me.

I'm not here to give my opinion of things I know nothing about. My goal is to build bridges.

I want to thank our sound partner Christopher Tarnow, Jean Schreiber of Classics Alive Artists, and every presenter who invited us on this tour. These people really love the music. And thanks to the Meadowlark Music Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. We have a lot of good friends there. And there are so many others.

2018-04-20Chicago, IL USANortheastern Illinois University
2018-04-22Abingdon, VA USAAbingdon Church
2018-04-24Willow Valley, PA USAWillow Valley Community Center
2018-04-26Memphis, TN USAConcerts International
2018-04-27Augusta, GA USAHarry Jacobs Chamber Music Society
2018-04-28 7:30 PMSarasota FL USAArtist Series Concerts of Sarasota
2018-04-29 3 PMSarasota FL USAArtist Series Concerts of Sarasota
2018-05-04Lauffen DEAlte KelterFrom Brahms to Beatles
2018-05-13 17:00Darmstadt DECentralstationVon Brahms bis Beatles