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Ilya Konovalov: For Grandfather there was Nothing More Important than the Theatre

February 08, 2017

The world-known violinist Ilya Konovalov will be the first musician to perform on the stage of the renovated Concert Hall of NOVAT. The concert master of Israel Symphony Orchestra, Ilya Konovalov is a grandson of the first chief conductor of the Novosibirsk opera and ballet theatre Isidor Zak. The smaller stage of NOVAT will be named after the Peoples Artist of the USSR. Ilya Konovalov told us about the influence of his grandfather who worked over 50 years in our Theatre:

This is by all means a very exciting event for our family. We are extremely grateful to the Theatre for such a decision. My grandfather did a lot for the Theatre: all his life belonged to it, and he had nothing more important than the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. This is why I consider this decision to be very logical.

You had an experience of performing with IsidorArkadievich. Do you remember that event?

Yes, certainly. That was my very first concert with an orchestra. I cant say exactly what year it was 1984 or 1985 but I remember that it was some holiday. Probably, the 7 of November. I played Vivaldi concerto. The concert took place in the Grand Hall of the Theatre, right in the orchestra pit. I was a small boy and was given a bench to stand on it. That was my first, and unfortunately, the last time when I played with my grandfather.

Could you share your memories about your grandfather? What kind of relations did you have?

He was an extremely decent person. He simply breathed the music. Not only music, but also literature, painting he was a real expert in it. You could always get an answer to any question. And, naturally, when I had a chance to play for him, that was a great honour. His tips and comments were always amazingly precise.

Did Isidor somehow influence your choice to play the violin?

No, that was my own choice. You probably remember the times when the head management of the Communist Party passed away one after another Tchernenko, Andropov? The first signal to the fact that something was wrong was the violin music. I started playing the piano, as both my grandfather and mother were pianists. I began my piano classes with Mary Lebenson. But when I heard such a plenty of violin music on TV, I told her that the grand piano was not able to weep as its done by the violin. And I got into Zakhar Brons hands.

How old were you by then?

I was seven years old. And by that time I already spent half a year as a pianist. That was the end of my pianistic career.

Do you feel as a representative of the world-known Novosibirsk violin school?

That was a phenomenon of no explanation. One of the greatest violin schools appeared in Siberia quite suddenly. And that was not only Zakhar Bron, but also Matvey Liberman who unfortunately passed away not long ago. What a great piano department there was. All that was done by phenomenal people, really great musicians.

You come to Novosibirsk approximately twice a year. Are you aware that you have a whole army of fans here?

Its very pleasant to know that. In my turn I belong to the army of fans of Novosibirsk. For me it is something very personal. I always hold my fingers crossed for Novosibirsk and try to follow all the events in the city.

What is your permanent place of residence now?

In Tel Aviv. I am the first concert master of Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, and a professor of Tel Aviv University.

Do you think you were destined to become a musician?

Evidently, yes. I tried to analyze it but realized that I never strived for anything else. I was never forced to go in for music.

Did you have a proper childhood?

No (smiling). I managed to watch The Brilliant Arm movie only by the time when I already worked in an orchestra in Israel. Those who are seriously into music, as well as in ballet or sports, are deprived of childhood.

You left Novosibirsk and Russia at quite an early age?

I was eighteen then.

Do you recognize yourself as a Siberian or a citizen of the world?

I dont believe in such thing as citizen of the world. Surely, I am as Siberian and a citizen of Novosibirsk. And of course a citizen of Russia. I dont think one can change this. It exists irrespective whether you want it or not. Those people who say I was that, and now I am this always tickle me. Your belonging is a subject of no shame. I am proud of being a Siberian. I am proud to be a citizen of Russia. I am proud to belong to the Russian violin school. I also have citizenship of another country but that was done for practical purposes, in order to simplify my work there. I never emigrated. I studied in Vienna, when I was 20, I won an audition for the position of the concert master of Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under baton of Zubin Mehta. Its a mall world, and the Earth is a big village. But with 100 per cent certainty I can say that there was no political subtext in my departure.

Back to the subject of the Concert Hall. Do you like the idea of an amphitheatre?

Yes, very much. Many concert halls have this problem the audience is not always able to see the stage. This is a big inconvenience. The visitors want not only to hear, but also watch the performance. One can listen to music in good quality in digital version. You can sit on you couch with a drink and enjoy the best performances. We are living in the time of unlimited possibilities. Here in Novosibirsk, people must have comfortable conditions. And an amphitheatre is just great for the audience.

You are going to open the second concert hall in Novosibirsk. The first one was the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Concert Hall named after Arnold Katz.

Yes, its absolutely consistent for me. There is even a kind of mystery in it. Both those persons my grandpa and Arnold Katz are both like grandfathers to me. The assistance and influence on my personality provided by Arnold Katz is not less than that one delivered by my grandfather. Not only because they were here together. Yet a schoolboy, I played all concertos that I learned with Arnold Mikhailovich. That was a unique opportunity as nowhere in the world you will meet such situation. Not only me but all good students played with Arnold Katz not with his assistants, but with him personally, and that is most important. At some decisive moment he found a teacher for me in Vienna Dora Schwarzberg.

They say Arnold Katz was a very tough person?

I think that was just a mask. The conductor should be a little bit harsh. Otherwise he is not a conductor. As well as my grandfather, he was a very kind and decent man.

Being the first concert master of the orchestra, did you borrow any features from your grandfather or from Arnold Katz?

Yes, from both of them. A real personality should be like a sponge that is able to absorb everything and analyze it in order to create something of his own. One must learn from everyone.