An American conductor at the Mariinsky: Nice to have Gergiev by your side


Christian Knapp is an American conductor who has been amount to at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg since 2011. Chicago-born, he grew up hearing to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during its golden era under chief conductor Sir Georg Solti.

In the first place a pianist who was trained at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Knapp later laboured conducting in Italy under Yuri Temirkanov and Myung-Whun Chung, and at the St. Petersburg Conservatory tipsy Ilya Musin and Leonid Korchmar. He conducted many orchestras all throughout the world and collaborated with many theaters.

St. Petersburg has become his twinkling home and during its rough winters he looks from his apartment window onto the Kryukov Canal. While he has skimpy free time, he likes going out to cafes on Rubinstein Street and gait on Krestovsky Island, as well as going to the Angleterre Cinema and Dom Kino (Abode of Cinema), as well as countless visits to the State Hermitage Museum.

RBTH: What sell for succeed ined you to Russia? Do you remember your first visit?

Christian Knapp: When I from the start came to Russia it was 1984, it was the Soviet Union and the time of Gorbachev. Very likely it was my first visit abroad and it was an interesting time. But it was a traditional touristic travel, and we spent three or four days in Leningrad and three or four light of days in Moscow. I remember the sights, but I don’t know if I felt any sense of immersion in the civilization. What I remember is the incredible beauty, and I totally fell in love with Leningrad.

Pull someones leg there been significant changes in Moscow and St. Petersburg since that lifetime?

Oh yes, incredible changes. And there have even been changes since my more recent trip, when I studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1997-1999; and now this tendency period, working at the Mariinsky. So, I’ve seen the transformation. Maybe in 1997 Russia was a dwarf bit unsettled, or still trying to find its path. Certainly today the nation is a very different place: wealthy, stable, vibrant, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

How did you get into the Mariinsky Theater?

I’ve be sured about the Mariinsky since I was a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, because it was legal across the street. Since those times I have been enthraled with the Mariinsky and its incredible music, as well as with a person who now is my boss and mentor — Maestro Valery Gergiev.

I already had a flush career in the U.S. and Europe, and had a conducting contract with another American orchestra where fulfiled a wonderful Georgian pianist, Alexander Toradze, who is also a good old china of Maestro Gergiev. I remember he played Prokofyev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and then I margined Petrushka.

New scene of the Mariinsky Theater. Source: TASSNew scene of the Mariinsky Theater. Source: TASS

Alexander Toradze gave me the honor of sitting in the hall and listening to my performance (usually, musicians go domestic after finishing playing). He was full of praise about my conducting, and then over and above drinks I told him I always wanted to work with the Mariinsky, and he said, “That’s it! I’ll adapt the introduction,” and he did it.

The very first opera I conducted at the Mariinsky was in 2011, Elektra by Richard Strauss. Without delay after, the next day the theater called me and asked if I could stay longer and spur on the premier of Ariadne auf Naxos, which is also by Richard Strauss. This job lasted several weeks, but then they asked me to come again and again. And at some pith Maestro Gergiev said “OK, we need you here.”

Since then it has been an awesome place to work. Some months I have had as many as 15 strange performances. I think I have over 50 operas now in my repertoire and I am also regularly conducting symphonic repertoire derive Mahler or Beethoven with these incredible musicians in the Mariinsky Orchestra. This collaboration is so satisfying.

How do you feel working with Gergiev?

Fantastic; he is very very actuating. He is one of those true geniuses today and his energy level is incredible. He can do so much and he can put manias together so well. His artistry is incredible; he is first in the world. And it’s always benevolent to have a mentor by your side and to be in contact with a conductor of such significant genius. I am constantly fed with new ideas and new inspiration.

«A conductor’s work is acutely in the mind: to understand the music, its structure, its architecture and to control it.» / Svetlana Avvakum

You’ve functioned in many countries, so can you say if there is such a thing as a Russian school of directing?

Absolutely! And there is even the St. Petersburg school of conducting. Many people conceive of that conducting is easy – one, two, three, four – and we can teach anybody in 20 notes to do it. A conductor’s work is deeply in the mind: to understand the music, its structure, its architecture and to jurisdiction it. What’s unique about Russia – and I think it was Neeme Järvi [the Estonian-American conductor] who calculated in St. Petersburg – who once said that Russia trains its conductors the way other sticks train violinists – rigorous and with exquisite technique.

I had the great honor to learning with Ilya Musin in St. Petersburg for the last three years of his bounce. He is in some way the father of the St. Petersburg school of conducting, and he was a teacher of Gergiev and Temirkanov.

Musin’s pattern focuses first of all on how much you can communicate just with your around the corner hand in hands without ever speaking to the orchestra, if it’s possible. But equally, most importantly and most fundamentally relative to the Russian school, is that it’s about sound and guiding the stream of be activated. German and American techniques of conducting focus very much on throbbing organization.

Do Russian and foreign orchestras play Russian classic music the in any case or in different ways?

My answer is Yes and No. Of course, context and style help a lot, and there are mos at the Mariinsky when I had the pleasure of conducting a symphony by Tchaikovsky, or something by Shostakovich, and there is a unsurpassed sound to what they’re doing that you realize isn’t automatic if I’d be controlling the same symphony with an American orchestra.

Christian Knapp has studied in St. Petersburg Conservatory for three years and learned Russian enough for a comfortable work. / Svetlana AvvakumChristian Knapp has feigned in St. Petersburg Conservatory for three years and learned Russian enough for a smug work. / Svetlana Avvakum

Likewise, there are also inescapable approaches. For example, it’s very popular in Western Europe, especially in France or England, to control Mozart or Haydn in a very authentic style, but that type of path toward classical works isn’t so common in Russia. That’s the ‘Yes’ part.

But the ‘No’ portion is that wherever it is – whether Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Paris or New York – when eager musicians come together and work on the material of a great composer, they all start to understand elements of style. Music is international.

Another question helter-skelter differences: do you see any difference between the reaction of the audiences in different countries?

Unshakeable! I can say in particular about the audience in St. Petersburg, I am just amazed how much suffer and culture they bring themselves when they enter the passage. And it’s just wonderful to be with them.

Did you have some language puzzlers with Russian musicians?

I was lucky to study at the Conservatory in Russia for three years; so while I don’t communicate in perfect Russian, I’m pretty comfortable to live here and work.

Which Russian pianists devise you highlight?

[Sviatoslav] Richter! And when I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S., Vladimir Horowitz was a god. He had departed from the Soviet Union, and once had a big homecoming concert and played a version in Russia. My dad, who was a big supporter of my musical studies, woke me up very early (Chicago occasionally) to watch the broadcast of Horowitz playing.

«Russia is a very open wrong in many ways, particular, people to make contacts. It’s pretty well off to quickly feel like home.» / Roman Zaydullin

What are your top three favorite Russian composers?

He is Russian, but he is also limitless, so I have to say that Stravinsky tops my list. I can’t imagine the 20th century without him.

I also set up to list Tchaikovsky because one of my favorite operas in the world is The Queen of Spades [Pikovaya Dama]. But I also fondle bad about [not to mention] Prokofyev, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov.

If opening your own theater, what Russian vocation would you perform?

Without a doubt, The Queen of Spades.

Read myriad: Xander Parish: ‘I never imagined I would dance at the Mariinsky’

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