Understanding classical music: hard but possible

Ксения Терентьева
17:58, 20 августа 2019
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С 4 по 9 августа 2019 года в этнографическом парке-музее «Этномир» (Калужская обл.) прошёл десятый Международный молодёжный лагерь «Диалог», организованный Национальным советом молодёжных и детских объединений России совместно с молодёжным департаментом Совета Европы — мне посчастливилось стать участницей данного лагеря. Его главная цель — идентификация понятия «Межкультурная коммуникация в XXI веке».

Возникает вопрос: как с этим связана моя деятельность в качестве музыкального журналиста? Я отвечу — непосредственно. Для того, чтобы это доказать, я решила взять интервью у одного из участников «Диалога» — Ильи Курсенко, международного молодёжного деятеля в сфере безопасности и прав человека. В данной беседе мы поговорили о дипломатии и музыке — отраслях, безусловно связанных со способностью понимать окружающий мир; поговорили о важности изучения музыкального искусства и о его роли в межкультурной коммуникации, о перспективах развития классической музыки в качестве связующего элемента для диалога человека с внешним миром.

What age did you first get into the classical music and how did it happen?

— When I was seven, my grandpa took me to auditions for admission in a state-sponsored musical school №6 in my town. I played a song which was called “twinkle-twinkle little star”. It was kind of strange but after that I got in. And I hated studying because I was forced to play and I never felt it as fun. I only enjoyed the trembling worries before the concerts and absolute adoration from adults after them. I quit the musical school at the age of twelve and was happy to say “goodbye” to the annoying curriculum. That time I preferred staying at home and watching typical Russian TV series which sound like: “Alyonka, a typical Russian country-girl who comes to Moscow searching for a better life, falls in love with a rich boy, afterwards his mother is against the marriage…”

How did you start to take it seriously? When did you feel different about classical music?

— The issue with today“s active audience is how we give up learning a lot of unexplored things that we have to learn as educated people. As for me, I always felt enchanted by the mysteries locked inside of classical pieces. I kept asking myself — when shall I become capable of understanding classical music. If some simple pop song like: “No, no need for words. No need for panic. This is our last day. On Titanic” is the only piece of music you are able to understand, I don”t know about others, though I would be ashamed to die and stand in front of whoever created me answering on what I had to do in my life and what to achieve. So there has always been the seed of this comprehension in me. I guess it was mainly my persistence to explore and to get the unique experience in learning about culture, going to theatres, making mistakes, sometimes not understanding anything. But the key change came when I met the right people — they were just as amateur in art as I was. Thereafter, sharing what we knew allowed us to grow on the fundamentals of mutual understanding. I guess, you should aim to look for the like-minded people whom you`ll be able to truly understand. And once you get everything you can from then — do the level up. Eventually, strive for the origins as to the end goal. It should be fully your ability to enhance the masterpiece you would like to listen to. Another thing I would like to indicate is that classical music is not about words. It“s the way to feel something you can”t feel through any other kinds of art. And this is why it’s great. Just let the classical music come into your life. Try to find your favourite composers. There is always someone you will exactly fall in love with, I guarantee.

Which composer was the first you fell in love with?

— Edward Elgar, I think. He is the British composer. Much of my love for him came with my general passion for the UK. I was so obsessed with British culture — I guess there couldn“t be more doubts left here why he was the one I couldn”t help but fall in love with. His “Pomp and Circumstance March No.1”, for example — when I close my eyes listening to it I feel like I find myself in the green landscapes on the North of England. He gives me the melancholy, the individualism and the asceticism I am seeking for countless months living alone in farther forests somewhere in the middle of Russia. And there is a special time of the year and special weather when I wake up in the morning and say to myself: today I`m drinking English tea, watching English dramas and listening to Edward Elgar.

When you realize the depth of classical music, do you feel that you are ready to discover new types of wordless communication for yourself and for the other people?

— Well, on a sensitive level yes, I could mysteriously look into someone`s eyes, although this works only when both of us are able to perceive classical music in the same way, when we can share the feelings locked in a piece of music and in ourselves. Therefore, I rather felt that I could communicate wordlessly not with others, but with myself. I could dive into the deeper caves of my soul, I could understand myself better. And, when I listen to the classical pieces, I feel alive, but very lonely. Unless I decide to invite some amazing characters living in my head to this amazing journey into the depths of my thoughts.

Which possibilities can you see in the way of introducing classical music into the multicultural dialog? How promising this area could be?

— First of all, I see it imperative to point out that classical music is primarily the heritage of the European civilization. At least this is the classical music that I mean when answering your questions. So for me, particularly, learning the depths of classical music was an essential part of my general comprehension of Europe. Every European country nowadays has its' renown heroes of classical music world, though there is the certain amount of composers from different countries across the world who have joined the family of musical geniuses. Anyway, I think that classical music could be compared with sports — isn`t each of them having their own language capable of uniting people from all over the world? For example, sports competition based on equality of opportunities and observance of general rules attract all people and serve as the ground for international communication. In comparison, classical music is accessible to understanding for a narrower circle of persons, for a smaller audience in general. But thanks to this, it opens up interesting and unpredictable opportunities, new facets of receptivity in intercultural dialogue. So, I believe it is a great topic for modern intercultural communication and I hope classical music will be able to fully realize its potential in this direction. International festivals, for example, are the illustration of such a dialogue. Moreover, truly great classical music forwards beyond any aspects that disconnect humankind. And it is yet the humans who need to grow spiritually and intellectually to decipher the mysteries hidden in the classical masterpieces. Isn’t it the large aim, the challenge worth bringing together the international community of interested individuals? I would look more towards to make classical music less scary for people who can`t perceive it sensitively from the first sound or chord. When the family of classical music lovers grows, everyone wins, I guess.

As I think, when you talk about classical music, you mean mostly geniuses of the 19th century. Do you know the iconic names in the history of serious music of the first or second half of the 20th century?

— It“s not at all. Well, I might have disclosed my especial admiration of Romanticism, indeed, my heart is touched by Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, List, Beethoven; I see romanticism in the nature of my own psychology, this is why they have become the closet friends of mine. In no regard, however, I wished to draw attention singularly to them, no, God forbid! Certainly, not only the 20th, but also the 18th and the 17th centuries had their great names, their great works that we can listen to and learn. They are the treasury for us in which we can wander in amazement of great minds of the past and future centuries. As for the 20th century, it”s one of the centuries full of controversies, dramas and revivals. This is a special time, and it would be difficult for me to talk about it, covering certain points and at the same time, leaving others unattended. Let me just say that for me Dmitry Shostakovich is the most iconic composer of the century. This is just my subjective opinion and it’s amazing when others have their own. It was so exciting for me to learn, for example, about his fate, about problems that he faced, pursuing what he believed in, while the State (much reassembling what Orwell had foreseen in 1984) seemed to have its own ambitions for the genius of Shostakovich. Once learned of his biography I could no longer remain indifferent. I was deeply shocked by what this person had to go through during his life.

What advices could you give to youth who’d like to discover the world of classical music for themselves?

— My most important piece of advice is to stop thinking that you want to understand classical music, you just have to listen to as many pieces as possible in order to work with your inner world. This work is not about the understanding, but about the feeling — when I say this, I rely, first of all, on my own experience. I’m not a genius, I’m an ordinary man with my usual annoying daily routine — I have to study, hurry, make breakfast, I try to have some friends in life and watch love series to get closer to what loving creatures feel. I am not Mozart and I do not have to be a real Mozart to become friends with high examples of the art of classical music. I can give you a real key — this music will truly open when you study all the other aspects of the era to which this music belongs to. You have to learn more about history, literature, other arts and all other forms of culture to better catch this connection with a particular musical composition. As for me, I am really fond of Romanticism. Romantic music, let’s remember, is not the same with Justin Bieber songs like “If I was your boyfriend”, it is the reflection of the dominant XIX century idea that a person in his freedom is equal to any natural phenomena, and in his thoughts he can surpass any discoveries of rationalism.

You must be aware of the most influential ideas in the world that have guided humanity throughout past and present centuries. Classical music is nothing more than an attempt to find answers to many world-wide questions that have plagued mankind for centuries in a row: Who am I? Who is God? What is Death? What is Love? Where is Heaven? Where is Hell? Do realise that classical music is the different state of mind. You have to switch from primitive “If I was your boyfriend I`d never let you go…” to move away from the vulgarity of thinking. Classical music is like a “brush” to clean yourself, it“s like a shower for your soul. It”s the world where you think about things higher, more evolutional, more difficult to understand. It`s the point when you move from the level of “No, no need for words, No need for panic — It is my last day, on Titanic” to some more immortal substances — to the world of classical ideas. Tell yourself it’s time to stop sitting exclusively inside the world of pop songs that repeat themselves in your head all over and over again. I do listen to some pop and I enjoy it. But to be honest, the more I enhance classical music, the more I like to turn off the radio when some primitive and meaningless song sounds in it. And then I just start listening to my favourite composers — Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Schubert.

One more tip — classical music does not end in beautiful music halls, and you don’t need to wear a tuxedo or prom dress to listen to it. Classical music is about sharpening all the channels of your receptivity, believing your own feelings and making the most comfortable way of doing it for you. If you want to lie down on the dining table, if you feel that it gives you enough freedom to be yourself with this music — just do it. I did this a couple of times, and it made me feel better when I learned to break the boundaries of my usual perception of classical pieces. In conclusion, I would like to say that any dialogue — with classical music, with other people begins with yourself. If you learn how to understand yourself, you will understand what signals can help you achieve competent interaction with the outside world.


Ilya Kursenko is engaged into the international civil service as one of the most active Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) Youth Group members, focused on the role of the youth in non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives. His primary focus is leading the research project on CTBTO & Sustainable Development: CTBTO International Monitoring System Contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water in Indian Ocean.

In addition to his service for the CTBTO Youth Group, Ilya recently completed a traineeship with the Council of Europe Program Office in the Russian Federation where he was engaged to support the launch of the pilot project “Co-operation on the implementation of the Russian Federation National Action Strategy for Women (2017-2022)”.

Whilst pursuing his BA in International Affairs from the Kazan Federal University, Ilya delivered a research thesis “History of Arms Control agreements and the legal framework developed” incorporating the English-based sources never translated to Russian previously. Along with academic work Ilya Kursenko works as the Board member for Strategic Development of the European Youth Parliament Russia.

Ilya was also part of the CTBTO’s Youth Group representation at the 73 United Nations General Assembly where he interviewed Ms Angela Kane, the former UN High Representative on Disarmament Affairs.

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