SERGEI BERINSKY (1946‑1998)
In 1990 I received a telephone call:
– “Hello! This is the composer Sergei Berinsky speaking. We don’t know each other. I have just returned from Astrakhan, where one of the composers there has asked me to deliver his work for bayan.
As is well known, as a result of my guest appearances in concert tours composers often give me their works either by hand or by post – hoping for a performance. I have never refused to consider them: so why this time? As in the words of the contemporary Russian poet Mayakovsky: “… for the sake of a single work a thousand tons of verbal ore may have to be smelted”. Berinsky was himself quite well known at the time, so I asked him directly:
“And perhaps you could write something for me yourself?”
“Oh!” replied my caller, with surprise in his characteristically deep voice, “an interesting question! But why not? I have not yet written,for the bayan. It could be very interesting.”
So with one chance telephone conversation began our acquaintance and creative friendship, which lasted eight years until his premature death. He wrote the first work very quickly in 1990, and it was originally called “Partita” for bayan in four movements: 1 – Cadence, 2 – Thus Spake Zarathustra, 3 – Chorale, 4 – Lullaby. Shortly afterwards Sergei decided to call the whole Partita “Thus Spake Zarathustra “, and the second movement became a “Dance”. Naturally it was necessary to make some corrections to the final version of the text, but I was amazed at Berinsky’s intimate knowledge of the bayan: the composition had the right feeling for the instrument, and contained the authentic sound of the bayan. From his first work onwards Berinksy’s sound world was very attractive to me. His thoughts were always boldly expressed and with clear intonation. Musical ideas are developed with a broad brush and with a raw nerve. If there is passion – then it is expressed without reservation, if sorrow and suffering – then the whole universe should be filled with it. His tone colours compel the performer on stage to “die not in pretence, but for real”. The artistic aspirations of his works were very important to him — as shown even in their titles: “Bells of Warsaw”, “Psalms of David”, “… And the Sky is Darkened“ (Apocalypse, Chapter 6), “… Thus Spake Zarathustra” … He was very familiar with biblical texts, and in his external appearance reminded me of biblical characters.
I remember how splendidly he ran his “Sergei Berinsky Club”. His monologues bubbled with new ideas, original thoughts and brief spontaneous humour. Club meetings took place monthly in “Musicalnaya Gostinaya Doma Shuvalovoy” (a salon adjoining the Gnessin Institute. Ed.) and were attended by the musical elite of Moscow.
In the course of his activities as editor of the newspaper “Musicalnaya Academiya” Sergei Berinsky had discussions with well known composers and interviewed them. He would invite speakers to his seminars to open with an informal dialogue, and hisquestions were just as interesting as their answers: sometimes his questions degenerated into his own little explanatory monologues in which his intellect was scarcely hidden.
In 1991 on his own initiative Berinsky wrote “Il Dolce Dolore” (“Sweet Pain”) for my Duo with the famous cellist, Vladimir Tonkha.
In 1991 I was invited on to the jury of the International Hugo Herrmann Competition in the German town of Witten. During the competition its organiser, Wolfgang Eschenbacher, President of the Deutscher Akkordeonlehrerverband (German Accordion Teachers’ Association), came to me with the request to commission two duets — bayan in combination with an orchestral instrument — from two Russian composers for the next competition. As the composers were to receive a fee for this, I gladly passed this commission to Cyril Volkov (he wrote “Homage to Thomas von Celano”(1) for cello and bayan) and Sergei Berinsky. Sergei wrote “Sempre maiore!” for oboe and bayan in the style of the Indian Raga. Both works were warmly received by the organisers. I am always pleased to be able to help my composer friends. The composition of a work is, after all, a serious creative business, which must be remunerated accordingly. Unfortunately, it is human nature to take rather than to give: write something, and perhaps I will play it. I consider the system of commissioning compositions as very sensible, although practically all works written for me were written out of friend-ship or thanks or personal sympathy.
Soon afterwards there emerged a really unusual work, “Three Pieces in a Bad Style” (1992) for bayan and microphone, in which the microphone was used to strengthen the composer’s intention in the direction of an extremely naturalistic sonority. I should mention that, besides the biblical motives, the strikingly positive masculine opening stood out as the main feature of this work.
In the eight years of our association Berinsky wrote eight major works for bayan – solo and ensembles, sometimes on his own initiative, but sometimes also on mine. I remember I once rang him, in order to make the following suggestion:
“Sergei, what do you think of the idea of writing “Apocalypse“ for bayan and symphony orchestra?”
“Oh! What an idea! And why ‘Apocalypse’ exactly?”
“Well, only because my surname is contained in this word (apocalypse, apocalips … But generally though, it is a powerful theme.”
In the evening we had another telephone conversation:
“Friedrich, today I was nearly run over by a tram.”
“How did this happen?”
“The whole day long I was deep in thought about your idea concerning the ‘Apocalypse’. I was so enthusiastic about it that when crossing the street I did not even notice the passing tram. “
He wrote his Symphony No 3 “… And the Sky is Darkened” (Apocalypse, Chapter 6) for bayan and symphony orchestra in 1993. The premiere took place in Yekaterinburg with the Urals Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its Principal Conductor, Dmitry Liss; later we per-formed the symphony with the same orchestra in Moscow, in the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Subsequently there were performances of the symphony in Kemerovo (conductor: Yuri Nikolayevsky) and in Izmir, Turkey (conductor: Alpaslan Ertungealp). While still working on the symphony, I warned Sergei against using the bayan with the full volume of the orchestra. It appears that the bayan is a loud instrument, but in fact, its sound is drowned when the orchestra is playing at full volume. I have often discussed this with Vladimir Tonkha: “Play more softly!” he was always asking me. After the concert we had feed-back from the audience: the bayan was too quiet. It is a fact that the bayan sounds loud when one is close to it, yet often the hall is not filled with its sound. We have in the bayan about a thousand “free reeds”, but the resonance chambers are very small. In contrast, on the cello and violin, for example, there are only four strings, but there is more resonance space where the note is produced. Sergei understood very well how to overcome these difficulties; his instrumentation did not drown the living sound of the bayan, and in the climax the microphone was switched on to great effect.
The trio for soprano, bayan and piano – “Miserere” – Lord, Have Mercy on Us (1993) – was an unexpected gift, dedicated to my son, Svyatoslav Lips, and me. In my opinion, the composer succeeded in combining the tone colours of the bayan and the piano, which are difficult to combine. Neither of the two instrumental parts has the character of an accompaniment; together with the voice the three parts run parallel, which produces a very powerful biblical image, to which each part makes a striking contribution. We performed the premiere of this work and the CD recording with the magnificent singer, Tatyana Kuindshy.
In 1996 an international competition was organised for bayan and accordion players in the Spanish town of Arrasate on the initiative of the Accordion Association of the Basque province of Guipuzcoa. The organisers put to me the idea that a Russian composer should write a new work as a compulsory piece for one of the next competitions.
I thought immediately of Berinsky, especially as his “Partita” had already achieved great popularity in Spain. Sergei responded very quickly to this suggestion, and soon the piece entitled “Cinema” was finished (1997). It was dedicated to the Italian composer, Nino Rota, who was well known because of his lovely tunes and work in co-operation with the great film director, Frederico Fellini. The piece contains much cinematic imagery and by using the performer’s own voice, is a little eccentric.
Another major work – “Seascape” for violin and bayan – was composed by Berinsky after visiting the Odessa Music Festival:
“Friedrich, as you know, in Odessa there is a wonderful duet, Lena and Vanya Yergiev. I like them very much. I promised to write something for them.”
Because of Sergei’s fertile creative imagination the bayan part of the manuscript of this piece needed some changes, which we did together. Holding the instrument in my hands, I proposed a number of variations to him, and he chose the best of them. The work became very picturesque: a refined sound painting, as though he were painting a picture of a splendid seascape: in the bayan part the swaying and gigantic power of the endless water level, whilst the violin brings elements of life into scene, for example, the screaming of the seagulls. There were two premieres: in Italy at the International Music Festival in the town of Portogruaro, where I played “Seascape’ with Sergei’s daughter, the excellent violinist, Julia Berinskaya, and in Odessa where Lena and Vanya Yergiev played it.
In 1996 Berinsky wrote the piece “Light Waves” for two bayans. This was my idea:
“Sergei, I would like a piece where I begin, sitting on the stage, then suddenly the full sound of a second instrument must break in over the audience. My partner must take his/her seat inconspicuously opposite me at the far end of the hall. Everything must be unexpected, then it is bound to have an effect.”
As always, Sergei coped brilliantly with this commission in a very short time. I played the premiere in the concert hall of the Groningen Conservatory (Netherlands), together with the well known Dutch accordion player, Mini Dekkers (this duet is dedicated to both of us). The Russian premiere took place at my Jubilee concert in December 1998 in the concert hall of the Russian Gnessin Music Academy with my pupil, Alexander Sevastyan, who has won prizes at many international competitions.
In early 1997 Serge conveyed to me by telephone his opinion on my plan with regard to arranging a composer concert for him:
“You know, Friedrich, I have written so much music, but there has never yet been an evening concert with my works. Can you take part in one and play a few of my pieces?”
Of course, I agreed. However, as autumn approached, many musicians who had already agreed to take part in the concert were now cancelling for various reasons. In fact, it is not easy to organise a concert with several colleagues: every performer has his/her own diary with many other commitments. Sergei was naturally downcast and rang me:
“What shall I do? All my hope now rests on you!”
One of his remarks on the telephone struck me particularly:
“Friedrich, I have a very good relationship with you, because there are always some positive impulses coming from you.”
I thought about this for a while and then suggested to him that my recital, planned for 16 November 1997 in the concert hall of the Russian Gnessin Music Academy as a subscription concert “The Gnessin Academy Presents”, be organised as a bayan evening, in which his works for solo bayan alternate with chamber works; thus a composer concert with works by Sergei Berinsky would emerge. This was a way out of an awkward situation, and Sergei agreed, beaming with joy. This idea of course was not without a certain amount of risk. Pianistssometimes play composer programmes with works by Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven … but this concert would be that of a bayan player, consisting of music by a contemporary composer, who was not yet well known and who in general was being played for the first time. As is well known, many years ago I had an opportunity to play in a similar concert with works by a single composer. That was the concert in memory of Vladislav Solotaryov in 1976. In this situation one can only rely on the reputation of the performer and the composer to obtain an audience.
The programme for this concert was: Part 1: Partita “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (solo), “Il Dolce Dolore” (“Sweet Pain”) (cello and bayan), “Miserere” (soprano, bayan and piano); Part 2: “Three Pieces in a Bad Style” (solo), “Seascape” (violin and bayan) and “Cinema” (solo). The concert attracted more people than the hall could accommodate. Sergei, whose composer evenings were not expected to be sold out, was probably excited to find no seat available for himself and stood somewhere in the gallery. After the concert he joked:
“Friedrich, there was a bigger audience at your concert than at all my previous concerts put together!”
At that time Berinsky was terminally ill, and I was glad that the success of this concert brightened up his existence a little.
To my great regret, our creative partnership, which gave me (and I hope, him as well) so many exciting moments (I should mention dialogues, thoughts and the emergence of new ideas), and produced positive results, came to an end as unexpectedly as it had begun.
Sergei did not teach composition at a college; in spite of this, he was a born teacher. Indeed, I would say that he was a teacher who stood at the peak of a whole school of thought. This was demonstrated by the interest of many young composers from different towns in his master classes in the Artists’ House in Ivanovo (100 km S.E. of Moscow. Ed.) He had the broad thought of a professor and provided stimulus to new thinking and thought of himself as a leader.
As far as the bayan is concerned, he made an important contribution to our repertoire, both in quantity and in the emergence of a new cycle of visual images and a fresh musical language. On his unconventional view of the bayan Berinsky expressed himself in a very interesting way, talking of the bayan in an interview for the newspaper “Narodnik” (1997, No 3), where he said:
“the Bayan is an instrument ´from another planet’. It has a distant, even celestial tone colour, but a living breath; like a being from another world. One can say about the bayan that it is like `Quasimodo’ with a tragic soul, completely enharmonic, it has is human breath, but an inhuman voice, and this must be seen as its peculiarity as well as its merit. “
He wrote tonal music with a modern sensitivity to intonation and rhythm. In view of his major contribution to Russian chamber and orchestral music, his music was included in a concert in one of the Moscow Festivals. It was announced in the press that this concert was dedicated to “the works of outstanding deceased Russian composers” and three names were given: Dmitri Shostakovich, Alfred Schnittke and Sergei Berinsky. By his premature death he was denied broad recognition in Russia and, unfortunately, in the international domain as well. To achieve this, an artist has to live a long life nowadays, especially in Russia. However, his works and the quality of his thought will certainly earn him in the future his due place in musical history. The interest of well known musicians (conductors, members of ensembles and soloists) will guarantee this. Finally, I would like to quote an aphorism of Sergei Berinsky’s, an uncompromising thought, which reverberates with the same strength as his music.
“Works of music are basically an attempt to perpetuate one’s life’s energy in the beautiful form of the free flow of life”
(1) Thomas von Celano was a medieval Italian monk and is the author of the well known theme of dark forces – “Dies Irae”.
Bayan Works by Sergei Berinsky
1990 – “Thus Spake Zarathustra” – Partita for bayan in four parts. Total playing time: 14:51. Premiere: 1991, Brussels (Botany Concert Hall, Friedrich Lips). Recording on `”Thus Spake Zarathustra”, LIPS CD 006, Austria, and “Thus Spake Zarathustra” – 000 “East Wind”, Moscow, Friedrich Lips, bayan. Published by the “Muzyka” publishing house, in Volume 3 “The 20th Century Bayan Players of the 21st Century”, Moscow, 2000 and by “Karthause-Schmülling“, Germany
1991 – “II Dolce Dolore” – for cello and bay an. Total playing time: 10:27. Premiere: 1991 in the concert hall of the Russian Gnessin Music Academy (Vladimir Tonkha, cello, Friedrich Lips, bayan). Recording on “River of Love”, LIPS CD 011, Austria, and “River of Love” – 000 “East Wind”, Moscow. Performers: Vladimir Tonkha, Friedrich Lips. Manuscript.
1992 – “Sempre maiore! (quasi Raga)” – for oboe and bayan. Total playing time: 7:00. Premiere: 2.4.1997 in Vienna (Alfred Hartel, oboe; Heinrich Biegenzahn, accordion). Published by Augemus-Musikverlag (music publishers), Bochum, Germany, 2001.
1992 – “Three Pieces in ‘Bad’ Style” – for bayan. Total playing time: 14:50. Premiere: 1993 in Moscow (concert hall of the Glinka State Music Museum). Recording on “Snowfall by Night” LIPS CD 008, Austria, and “Snowfall by Night” – 000 “East Wind”, Moscow, Soloist: Friedrich Lips. Manuscript,
1993 – Symphony No 3 for Bayan and Large Symphony Orchestra “… And the Sky is Darkened” (Apocalypse, Chapter 6)
Total playing time: 21:30, Premiere: 1996 in the concert hall of the Yekaterinburg Philharmonia and in the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow (Ural Symphony Orchestra, conductor:. Dmitri Liss, soloist: Friedrich Lips). Recording on “Apocalypse“, LIPS CD 009, Austria. Performers: Ural Symphony -Orchestra, conductor: Dmitri Liss, soloist: Friedrich Lips. Published by the “Composer Publishing House, Moscow, 2001.
1993 – “Miserere” for soprano, bayan and piano. Total playing time: 8:37. Premiere: 10%4 in the concert hall of the Russian Gnessin Music Academy (Tatyana Kuindshy, soprano, Friedrich Lips, bayan, Svyatoslav Lips. piano). Recording on “Miserere”, LIPS CD 014. Austria, and “Miserere” – 000 “East Wind”, Moscow. Manuscript.
1996 – “Seascape” – poem for violin and bayan. Total playing time: 14:00. Premiere in Portogruaro, Italy (Julia Berinskaya, violin: Friedrich Lips, bayan). Recording on “River of Love”, LIPS CD 01 1, Austria, and “River of Love” – 000 “East Wind“, Moscow. Published by the “Muzyka publishing house, in Volume 7 “The 20th Century to Bayan Players of the 21st Century”. Moscow 2004.
1996 – “Light Waves” – for two bayans. Total playing time: 7:00. Premiere: 1997 in the concert hall of the Groningen Conservatory, The Netherlands. (Performers: Mini Dekkers and Friedrich Lips). Manuscript.
1997 – “Cinema” – for bayan. Total playing time: 8:06. Premiere: 1997 in the concert hall of the Russian Gnessin Music Academy (soloist: Friedrich Lips). Recording on “Cinema”, LIPS CD 012, Austria, and “Cinema” – 000 “East Wind”, Moscow. Published by the “Muzyka” publishing house, in Volume 6 “The 20th Century to Bayan Players of the 21st Century”, Moscow, 2003.