Sergey Michailovitch Kolobkov
Conducted by Friedrich Lips and Herbert
Russian Gnessin Academy of Music, Moscow,
14/15 December 2002
This Celebrity Interview co-incides with
the 75th birthday of Sergey Michailovitch Kolobkov who has had an highly
distinguished career in music and an important role in the development of the
bayan culture of Russia which has impacted so enormously on the development of
accordion all over the world.
Q. Sergey Michailovitch, what age did you
first start learning the accordion?
A. I had my first contact with professional
musicians even before the war, I was nine or ten years old at that time.
Everything started in the house of the sappers in the district of Moskvorezky
of the city of Moscow in which a musical circle had established itself. I
studied at the child school of music in the Voronzovsky street about two years
later. So my education started.
Q. Was the accordion the first instrument
A. When I was three or four years old, my
father took a little harmonica home. He wasn't a musician himself but driver by
profession, afterwards mechanic in a car factory but he liked to play on the
harmonica. Later he started to teach me. He probably bought a bayan in 1938 or
Q. Tell us a little about the town/city
where you were born, and where in Russia, it is located?
A. I was born in the village of Korsako,
situated 80 kilometers from Moscow in the area of Kalushky. Once this area was
part of the area of Kalushsky, then it belonged to Moscow again. Nowadays it is
the district of Shukovsky in the area of Kalushsky. I was born there and after
a year we settled down in Moscow. Therefore I am practically Moscovite.
Q. Did your parents play an important part
in your early music education?
A. Of course, as all parents. My father
played on the harmonica and my mother knew many folk songs which she sang to me
very well. Later I heard other variations of the songs by Pirogov and
Ruslanova. All that ones my mother had sung to me remained in my memory until
today. Such as my parents played an important role in my further life and
existence, this beginning was also very essential for my future.
Q. Tell us about your first teachers?
A. Peter (or Viktor) Lukic was my teacher
in the child school of music. After this I studied with Vladimir Jakubovsky in
the music junior high. He was wrapped up in his work and gave to us, his
pupils, very much in professional regard. We played in duets or ensembles, he
made transcriptions himself, not only etudes by Chopin, Prokofjev’s “Classic
symphony”, Schubert’s “Military March”, but also many other classic works. I
studied with Jakubovsky in the music junior high for two years, then I was
referred further to Vladimir Tjurikov. He is a trained pianist and taught at
the conservatory. He was at the front in a concert brigade, played on the piano
accordion and made transcriptions for bayan. I remember that he mastered the
English language very well. There was an excellent library in the house of
Tjurikov. With him I finished the music junior high. My memories of the music
junior high are generally very clear. Wonderful musicians, later famous
personalities and well-known pedagogues took care of us., e.g. Anaida
Sumbatjan, leading pedagogue at the central school of music and our pedagogical
chief at the music junior high at that time. Or Anna Michaltchi, Rachmaninov’s
teacher. We received a high academic education. Why do I always say that we
need more academic atmosphere? Simply because I was absorbing everything in
myself through this.
Q. Please describe your middle and higher
A. I completed the junior high rather
early, in 1945 after three years. There wasn't a high education on the bayan at
that time yet. In October 1945 I entered the Ossipov orchestra, started to work
there. And the department of folk instruments was opened at the Gnessin
institute in 1948. I entered there when I was already a leader of a bayan
ensembles in the orchestra. Such serious people as concert master Boris Tichonov,
substitute of concert master Miromanov, entered from the orchestra at that
time. We already had work experience: three years in the Ossipov orchestra,
appearances with important singers and musicians. Together we started to build
up the faculty where it was very important that Yuri Muromzev, Elena Gnessina
and Aleksandr Iljuchin gave us their support. I had to work in the Ossipov
orchestra and to study at the institute at the same time.
My bayan teacher was Viktor
Gorochov. I don't know which education he had as a bayanist but I know that he
went through the theoretical faculty of the conservatory in Sverdlovsk. He
played bayan in the Mossovjet theater. He died rather early but already after
the end of my education. I studied conducting with Aleksandr Ivanov-Radkevitch.
After all, I would like to say that very big importance was attached to the
first course of the chair. There were outstanding musicians, conductors of the
Bolshoj theater and state orchestras like Simin, Sacharov, later Ogarkov,
Drushinin, Sergey Gortchakov and Vladimir Degtjarenko.
Q. Do you have any lasting impressions from
A. Vladimir Tjurikov left a strong
impression on me through his creative atmosphere he surrounded us with.
Vladimir Jakubovsky was a great enthusiast, an extremely intelligent person, he
has given very much to me. Viktor Gorochov impressed me very much with his
great enthusiasm. Although I didn't study directly with Elena Gnessina and Yuri
Muromzev, the frequent contact with them also left its traces. In the music
junior high the contacts with pianists Anaida Sumbatjan and Anna Michaltchi
remained in my memory.
Q. You were in your teens when the Gnessin
Institute accepted the accordion in 1946. Tell us what you know about this and
the tutors at that time!
A. Of course the Gnessin’s were very
progressive people, revolutionaries in the best meaning of the word. And thanks
to the character and authority of Elena Gnessina a chair for folk instruments
was opened at the institute. At that time, one had to be very courageous to
dare such a step and, first of all, the academic council had to be
Yuri Vladomirowitsch Muromzew also had very progressive views and a double
education. As a pianist he had gone through with Igumnov, as a conductor with
Gauk.He was in the war and came back with military awards. He and Elena
Gnessina left a deep impression on me.
Q. You were there during the development of
the bayan from being purely a folk instrument to a serious concert instrument?
This was a period of enormous development of repertoire, instrument design and
teaching process. Tell us about this fascinating period?
A. During my studies at the music school,
the music junior high and at the institute I already experienced the
professional development of the bayan. On the other hand the identity of an
instrument determines its repertoire. There weren't so many very artistic works
despite the concerts of Klementjev, Rubzov and Sotnikov at that time. The works
of Tchaikin and Shishakov appeared later. Regarding artists, Kusnjezov, Popkov
and Danilov formed the first bayan trio, of course. Both classic works
and transcriptions of folk songs belonged to their repertoire. Their excellent
interpretations had a high academic level. In the final of his fourth symphony
Tchaikovsky used the folk song “The birch was standing on the field”, in the
second symphony the Ukrainian song “The crane”, but one mustn't call this folklore.
This is valid also there.
And the Ossipov orchestra
performed works by Budashkin, Cholminov, Kulikov, Vasilenko, Russian classical
music and romances. Ivan Panitsky made excellent transcriptions. The Duo
Shalajev/Krilov appeared later. But the rather fast development as an academic
instrument in the chamber music started only during the last two, three decades
although this breakthrough had already begun in Tchaikin’s works with his well
known Sonata Nr 1 and Concert for Bayan and Orchestra. Friedrich Lips is now
continuing this breakthrough.
Q. Is there any teacher or artist to whom
you would like to pay particular tribute, for their inspirational effect on
your musical career.
A. The atmosphere at the institute and in
the Ossipow orchestra exerted the strongest influence on me, I was also very
much impressed by the work with such outstanding singers as Aleksandr Pirogov,
Maria Maksakova, Lydia Ruslanova, Ivan Koslowsky. I absorbed all this into
myself, this was also part of my education.
Q. Tell us how your accordion solo
performing career began and some of the most memorable highlights? Solo
Recordings and TV appearances? Premiere Performances?
A. My career as an artist started with the
Ossipov orchestra. I remember that I had to play for Viktor Sergeyevitch
Smirnov on October 18th, 1945. After we recorded quite a lot of works for the
radio, e.g. Rubzov’s Concert for bayan and orchestra and Konjajev’s Concert
piece, among the solo recordings Rubinstein’s “Valse Caprice” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s
“Flight of the bumble-bee”. As I remember, there was a TV-recording with the
gusli player Bsjevolod Beljajevsky.
Q. You became a teacher at the Gnessin
Institute? Tell us how that came about?
A. After having finished my studies at the
institute in 1953 Aleksandr Iljuchin and Yuri Muromzew invited me to become
teacher of the chair. After all, I had a good relationship with both Aleksandr
Iljuchin, Yuri Muromzev and Elena Gnessina. I started to teach bayan and
after the festival in 1957 Iljuchin suggested me to become conductor of the
orchestra for folk instruments. So it came that conducting was predominating
particularly since I was an orchestra musician.
Q. As a teacher at the Gnessin Institute,
you had students who later become very famous in their own right. Please tell
us about these students?
A. I had a rather large class with
numerous well-known performers, primarily Friedrich Lips, Yuri Vostrjelov and
Aleksandr Skljarov who are now our leading musicians, elite and authority. Yuri
Dranga made the Assistentura with me. Many of my graduates work in
conservatories, music junior highs, orchestras and as leaders of institutes
such as Pjotr Govorushko in St. Petersburg and Jevgeny Kolobov in Uljanowsk,
Q. You were one of the first teachers, to
be allowed to take young bayan artists to compete at international accordion
competitions? How did this come about and what were your first impressions of
these international events?
A. Which impressions? At competitions there
is nothing special. As soon as the program is known, the test piece, there is
only work, work and again work left. This is my whole impression. I remember
how seriously we prepared with Friedrich Lips for Klingenthal where he won
first price, the same with Vostrjelov for Leicester and with Skljarov for
Brugge. We prepared a work schedule, had breaks so that no overtiredness could
enter. It is necessary to divide up your strength carefully, finally a
competition contains both a culture of studies, having a rest and also diet. We
approached all this very seriously. Kolja Sobotchevsky is a very good performer
but he never participated in competitions.
Q. How were Russian candidates selected?
Tell us about the preparation of candidates in those early years of
A. In former times nationwide, so-called
all-Russian competitions used to take place. This tradition has been lost now.
Sometimes one also must hear: “Let’s go to the competition to warm up for a
concert”. My point of view is different, one must warm up somewhere at home,
but you have to go to the competition to win, to finish among the first. How
did this happen in former times? First we organized a competition in the chair
and determined the dignified candidates. I remember when the commission
gathered in the Little Hall under the chairmanship of Yuri Muromzev. Afterwards
we discussed very long which player we should recommend. Furthermore an
all-Russian tour was established to select candidates. An authority arose from
that procedure because the Gnessin institute was always expected to present
highest standards! Perhaps this sounds a bit too severe but our tradition was
founded on this. The selection happened that way and, as a rule, our bayanists
were always successful.
Q. How did winning an international
competition effect the lives of these young artists?
A. Of course the competition is a
milestone in the life of young artists. But it depends on the candidate which
ways, horizons and possibilities will open up for him in the future. Out of my
experience of many competitions I can say that there are many prize-winners,
however only few personalities. In a whole it can be said that the competition
is important for the musician, of course: he gets inspired, full of enthusiasm
Q. You were the editor of the famous series
of volumes “Bayan and Bayanists” about many aspects of the bayan culture. Tell
us about this famous series and your input?
A. I didn't work on this series of volumes
for a long time although I always took part in discussions about the articles
very actively . I think this is a remarkable input. There were both good
scientific essays and popular people forming articles. Briefly, it seems to me
that the series “Bayan and Bayanists” played a very important role in theory
and methodology of the bayan culture. This isn't just said in such a way, but
there was really deep, good material which was developed in thesis, work and
Q. You are widely respected for your years
as the conductor of the Ossipov Folk Orchestra which became world famous. How
were you selected to become the conductor?
A. When I finished my studies in 1953, a
competition was announced around the assistant of the conductor. I won this
competition, became assistant of the conductor and later also permanent
conductor. The orchestra supported me because I was an orchestra musician
myself. We had many concerts with great singers: Ruslanova, Pirogov, Sikina,
Q. When did you first tour outside Russia
conducting the Ossipov Folk Orchestra and to which countries?
A. I didn't go abroad with the Ossipov
orchestra. But we had tours to the whole world with the Moisejev ensemble. In a
whole I spent about eight years in this ensemble. We went to many countries:
USA, Europe, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. Performances took
place daily. One day N. Hekrasov was conducting, it was my turn the other day.
This orchestra had the highest standard, a high-class orchestra no matter which
kind of music was going to be performed.
Q . List some of your most interesting and
important performances both as a soloist, performer in folk ensembles, and as
the conductor of the Ossipov Folk Orchestra. Describe your most
"unusual" or "humorous" performance situation/s?
A. We were on tour in Stavropol when Dmitry
Ossipov died in Moscow. But we had the daily concert in the big concert hall. I
was conducting, Lydia Ruslanova was soloist. Full of tears, she sang the song
“The hundred year old lime”, the orchestra sobbed, nobody did not understand
anything in the hall. The whole concert proceeded in the atmosphere of
unbelievable tension. I will remember this concert my whole life.
Another experience: P.I.
Tschaikowsky’s “Snow White” with the Little Theater, the Jurlow-choir and Irina
Archipova was to be performed without rehearsal. It was the daily concert in
the Tchaikovsky Hall. Suddenly the conductor Gnutov fell ill. And I as a young
man strode to the conductor's stand. The concert master Kapitonov showed to the
whole choir from the sceneries: look at me, Kapitonov, because nobody really
knew what would happen on stage. But after the performance, choir and orchestra
gave to me their applause! All of us remembered this concert at that time.
These were probably the most memorable occurrences on the stage.
Q. You have had an enormous impact on the
development of the bayan culture in Russia through your important
administrative positions as the Rector of the Gnessin Institute and also as the
Vice-Minister of Culture? How did you achieve such important administrative
and political positions?
A. First I was head of the chair of folk
instruments, then also secretary of the party organization. When Muromzev went
to the Bolshoj theater Vladimir Minin became principal. He offered me the place
of a deputy rector. In a whole I was about eight years deputy rector besides my
teaching. With the time the situation developed so that Minin left and for
about two years I took over the agendas of a principal particularly since all
threads of the leadership and the knowledge around the institute ran together
with me as the first deputy rector. Suddenly the secretary of culture and then
the ministerial committee invited me to cooperate in the department. I refused
as my activity field was located in the institute, there I had grown up, I had
built up and I knew everything. They invited me into the soviet ministerial
committee twice, I refused twice, but then, however, I had to agree to become
finally Russian Vice-Minister of Culture, curator for all questions of the
music art. I remained in this function three and a half years. There was much
work to be done: competitions of academic and traditional choirs, ensembles,
symphony orchestras, different festivals, Days of Russia in Kirgistan, Georgia,
Three and a half years passed and I
came back again to the Gnessin institute as a principal in 1984. I must confess
that the work in the department was of great use for me: new knowledge,
experience in leadership work, contacts, relationships. I attained experience
in administrative work, far away from creative one, but also very important.
Q. What are some of the most important
development decisions that you were able to implement in your career? What is
your proudest achievement?
A. First of all, it was a great success
that the Gnessin Institute became Russia’s Gnessin Academy of Music. Now we
are academy for already ten years and in one row with Russia’s leading
universities of music: Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory was first, then St.
Petersburg’s Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory and finally it was up to us, the
Russian Gnessin Academy of Music. I also would like to add the opening of new
fields of study and branches here. We also organize great competitions and
festivals. I think these were remarkable activities. I am proud of all this
which will remain in my memory for sure.
Q. How have the political changes in
Russia over the last 15 years effected your profession?
A. I continued my work, like all others
also. Of course there are difficulties as now everything is very different from
former times. When I was principal it was also difficult, of course. But I
tried to get stability in the institute as it is the main task of the
administrator to guarantee the necessary conditions for the work. And of course
the moral atmosphere, our Gnessin’s traditions, with my whole strength I did my
best to maintain them, and it is wonderful that they continue. The situation is
stabilizing itself now, in certain regard one gets used to the conditions. No,
I wouldn't like to say that the atmosphere at the academy breaks somehow, but
this is good traditional work.
Q. In the future, where do you see the
accordion fitting into the overall musical scene?
A. Nowadays the bayan has obtained a high
standard and everybody must support Friedrich Lips in his most valuable and
talented work with composers. We have to consolidate this breakthrough and
further support Friedrich Lips with young strengths so that this work could
develop in all directions: in the art of performance, in the work with
composers, in holding symposia, meetings and round tables. Nowadays one must
not simply sit and play on the bayan.
Sergey Michailovitch, thank you for this