You only direct the music you need. Confinement has produced Beethoven addiction and he has mounted a tour of northern Spain with the Euskadi Symphony and the Third Symphony (La Heroica). It started on Saturday in San Sebastián and repeats tomorrow in Santander. His mix of sense of interpretation and humanistic discourse has musicians dazzled. Semyon Bychkov (Saint Petersburg, 67 years old) is one of those rare great directors who base his charisma on rigor and demand with the best manners: an example of radical artistic sense and goodness.
Question. Beethoven seems perfect to face covid-19. The pandemic has fallen into its centenary. Is it destiny?
Reply. It is the spirit we need. This has been a crisis that has affected us morally. His soul belongs to our time, because Beethoven suffered more than anyone can imagine. If we read his Heiligenstadt testament we understand that attitude: the greater the damage, the greater the effort must be to overcome it.
Q. Is it a motivator from the abyss?
R. His genius is according to the degree of his feelings. Everything magnifies: pain, but also happiness or improvement. That happened to Beethoven. It was great in everything; nothing was normal or predictable. That is why his music speaks to us more clearly today, because we are predisposed to receive it.
P. More than something great, today we long for what we previously considered normal.
A. It is like that ... Absolutely. The old normal is our dream. I passed the confinement in the house that we have in the French Basque Country. In order to direct I have made it a condition that it be a Beethoven program. And I see that whoever listens to us needs the same. It is a virus of another character.
Q. We long for the old normality, but weren't we already confused, defeated, manipulated, anxious?
R. Tremendously. For that concert that I tell you, they asked me for a kind of declaration of principles and I wrote this: “We must stop alienating nature and be aware that we belong to it. We squeeze it and forget to thank him ”.
Q. In that spirit, wouldn't that song to nature that is La Pastoral be a better fit ?
R. For me it is the most difficult. I didn't dare until I was 40 years old. I was afraid of spoiling it. The others talk about more abstract issues, this one is concrete. Therefore, more complex.
Q. Are there composers that you can do without?
R. I do not direct music that I do not need to live. I can live without Prokofiev, although I like to hear it.
Q. With Tchaikovsky you have a specific project. He says we know what the Russians can tell us about him, but it is scary that a Kremlin minister of culture did not recognize that he was homosexual: he simply said that he had not found the right woman. Is it not to tremble?
A. That was in 2014! XXI century. Tchaikovsky is God to the Russians, like Verdi to the Italians. And God must be perfect. The story that some built for him maintains that he was neither homosexual nor committed suicide.
Q. Speaking of gods. Jesus Christ did not find the right woman either.
R. Maybe it was not perfect ... The discussion is absurd. Also, they weren't instantly legends. They had to fight hard and prevail to become myths.
Q. You were born in Russia, you soon moved to the United States and you have a house in the French Basque Country. How does the stillness of confinement affect you?
R. I have my roots. Someone once told me that I had a low level of gravitation.
Q. As an astronaut?
A. It has to do with something simple. The only thing that keeps me centered and grounded is the art: not using it, but serving it. It haunts me. It keeps me fit and humble.
P. Humble? I do not think of a conductor, forgive me.
R. Why not? Humility consists in recognizing that the greatness of the works and the composers is above. It has nothing to do with being weak. It is knowing who you are with respect to a Beethoven or Mahler symphony and giving yourself with all your might. There are works that I have not wanted to face because I do not feel prepared. I had great teachers who put it into my head that the more skills and virtues you show, the greater the degree of demand.
Q. And perfection or the ideal?
R. Perfection is adapting to what you are looking for at all times. Then it evaporates. The next day is another. Inspiration appears at a specific moment and goes away.
Q. It must be exhausting.
A. No! It is absolute happiness!
Q. When was the last time you found it?
A. I don't remember. We continually seek it; appears and we recognize it. You never know You know the feeling it produces when you find it, but not exactly the moment. It is something mystical and mysterious. Or, if you want, like a toothache. You know you've had it, but you don't remember where in your mouth.