a violinist's journey
Mark Baranov has been Assistant Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for most of his thirty-eight year tenure with the orchestra. This December, he will be stepping down from the position but continue to serve as a member of the first violin section. Highlights of his international career include a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Moscow’s renowned Gnessin Academy of Music and appointment as Co-Concertmaster of the Moscow Radio Symphony under Gennady Rozhdesvensky. Baranov has performed as soloist and chamber musician in the US, Europe, Russia with such groups as the Moscow Radio String Quartet and Nonette Ensemble, where they gave the Russian premiere of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. In California, Baranov is a member of Trio West and a frequent collaborator at the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series of contemporary music. He spoke with Editor Leonne Lewis about prestigious conductors and their orchestras.
SOME MEMORIES OF THE TIME YOU SPENT AS CO-CONCERTMASTER OF THE MOSCOW RADIO SYMPHONY UNDER GENNADY ROZHDESVENSKY.
Rozhdesvensky was a very good conductor, intelligent and even wrote books on culture such as, Triangles, which is about music, architecture, and the arts (Slovo, 2001). And by the way, he is married to the distinguished Russian pianist Viktoria Postnikova, who performs with major orchestras worldwide. When I played with the Moscow Radio Symphony we gave the premiere of Shostakovich Symphony No. 15, with the composer’s son Maxim conducting. Rozhdesvensky liked contemporary music and programmed works by Stravinsky, Prokofieff, Orff, Webern, Hindemith, as well as premieres of Russian composers. His gestures were very eloquent, perhaps because he practiced in front of mirrors in his home. He was not the kind of conductor that just waved his hands, because the result was different. There are a lot of good conductors, but not so many great ones – those that, with beats and gestures, create an exotic orchestral sound world. That depends on a conductor’s personality and talent, as some are more active, some have more imagination and emotional involvement.
DID YOU HAVE A LOT OF GUEST CONDUCTORS WITH THE MOSCOW RADIO SYMPHONY?
Yes, mostly from eastern Europe, but Kurt Masur visited many times. Also Dimitri Tiomkin, who was a producer, composer, conductor in America. He came to Russia to record music for the film Tchaikovsky (1969), which he arranged and conducted. (Tiomkin’s film scores include It’s a Wonderful Life and High Noon). I don’t differentiate between European or Russian conductors because teachers in Russia came mostly from Europe, so there really isn’t a Russian school of playing or conducting. There are also differences in the kinds of tempi conductors use. For example, some younger conductors are faster, older ones become wiser and need time to express themselves. Later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I worked with Carlo Maria Giulini and sometimes he took very slow tempi but the orchestra sounded like no one else.
WHAT ABOUT CONDUCTORS OF THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC YOU HAVE WORKED UNDER IN REHEARSAL AND PERFORMANCE?
Some conductors rehearse very well, and you are impressed. Sometimes, after those kinds of rehearsals, you expect something better during the concert, but quite often it doesn’t happen. For example, I played many times with Kurt Sanderling at the LA Philharmonic and his rehearsals were unbelievable. He was so knowledgeable as he showed us how to do what he wanted with the notes and phrasing. But at night I felt he was very tight and didn’t improve on what he did at the rehearsal. He was very shy, timid, and perhaps reluctant to open himself. Some conductors rehearse ok, but during the concert they become actors with an orchestra. Zubin Mehta was this way. He conducts in concert much better than in rehearsals. Rozhdesvensky was also that way. The music is part of the show, which also impresses the audience.
WHAT ABOUT ANDRE PREVIN’S STINT WITH THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC? (1985-1989)
Previn was music director of the LA Philharmonic and a very knowledgeable, elegant, clean conductor. He was an excellent pianist, played Mozart concertos with the orchestra, which were impeccable. But sometimes his style of conducting didn’t leave a great musical impression.
HOW DID THE ORCHESTRA RESPOND TO ESA-PEKKA SALONEN, PARTICULARLY HIS PROGRAMMING CONTEMPORARY MUSIC OR NEW MUSIC? (1992-2009)
Salonen was with the orchestra for seventeen years and he came very young and grew up of course in repertoire and with his technique. He rehearsed very well, heard all the wrong notes and he corrected intonation, ensemble. In my opinion, he is a leading exponent of contemporary music, which is why he conducts so many works like Messiaen’s complex opera Saint Francis of Assisi, which we played at the Salzburg Festival. But his taste for contemporary music was a little too much for Los Angeles audiences, because they are not yet ready for a whole concert of this idiom. Many people prefer to listen to Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner, Mahler.
YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT CARLO MARIA GIULINI. (1978-1984)
I consider myself very lucky to have started in the LA Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta who was a fantastic conductor (1962-1978). Giulini was next, and he became an icon for me – his appearance, gestures, motions were impressive.
He was a magical conductor, and after he gave the first gesture, a different quality of sound could be heard from the orchestra, just like Italian or French violins have a different sound. During that time, Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas were frequent guest conductors and often watched Giulini conduct many times. Simon remarked that he could never achieve such results from an orchestra. Sometimes Giulini’s tempi were slow, but his slow sounded so beautiful, mellow, deep. Some members of the orchestra were indifferent to him, because they felt his interpretations were too sluggish. Sergiu Celibidache also conducted in this way, with a special kind of slowness. The audience just loved Giulini and gave him standing ovations for ten or fifteen minutes after every concert. I remember that when the LA Philharmonic was on tour in Florence, the orchestra played a Mahler symphony and the audience applauded for ten minutes. When the orchestra left the stage, Giulini returned for many curtain calls. I am very lucky to have started my career in America with great conductors like Zubin Mehta and Giulini and am finishing my career here with another great conductor, Dudamel.
AND WHAT ABOUT GUSTAVO DUDAMEL, WHOM YOU ARE CURRENTLY PLAYING UNDER? (2009-)
Dudamel reminds me of Giulini, but is younger and more energetic. He conducts classical, romantic, contemporary music, which makes a great impression because of his amazing memory and because he is a very nice and modest person. His rehearsals are valuable because they are so detailed and helpful. When we go on tour, the audience buys tickets in advance because they want to experience his musical personality. He uses his left hand in a very expressive way, like a ballet dancer, which I mentioned to him and he remarked that his teachers suggested he watch outstanding dancers perform. Dudamel is an extremely talented, generous, modest person. For example, he always bows on stage within the orchestra, not alone, as he considers the orchestra a part of his instrument. I think the only limitation he has is time, because he is so busy with our orchestra, his Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, guest appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, La Scala, among others. Everywhere he goes, success follows.
YOU HAVE BEEN CO-CONCERTMASTER AND ASSISTANT CONCERTMASTER OF ORCHESTRAS FOR MANY YEARS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES INVOLVED, IN TERMS OF LEADERSHIP AND MUSICIANSHIP?
A concertmaster talks about bowing, fingering, what kind of sound quality, obeys the conductor’s requirements and requests, which are mentioned during rehearsal. But for me, the most important thing is for the concertmaster to be a nice person – not arrogant or mean. This is much better and will achieve more results. Of course, a concertmaster must be a very good violinist and a strong, respectful leader. But, I think everyone in the section does almost the same job with almost the same responsibility. Most important is for the concertmaster to have good respect from the section. I prefer a great violinist with a good personality.
WHAT ARE AMONG THE MOST CHALLENGING SOLOS YOU HAVE PLAYED AS CO-CONCERTMASTER AND SOLOIST WITH THE MOSCOW RADIO SYMPHONY AND LA PHILHARMONIC?
I’ve played solos from Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Capriccio espagnole by Rimsky-Korsakov, Swan Lake, Tzigane of Ravel, among others. I was soloist in works such as Beethoven’s Romances, Op. 40 and Op. 50, and music from the film Schindler’s List. It’s a pleasure but also hard work and a lot of nerves, because solos don’t happen all the time or at every performance.
CAN YOU MENTION A MUSICAL MISHAP BY CONDUCTOR OR SOLOIST DURING A PERFORMANCE?
I have never experienced any in this country because everyone is nearly one hundred percent. I remember the LA Philharmonic played with Erich Leinsdorf on tour in Mexico City. He was an excellent conductor and at that time very famous. During a concert, he did some strange gesture with his hands and right away the orchestra fell apart. In the next second or two he used another gesture to put everything back together and we finished well. That shows an orchestra’s ability to react immediately to a conductor’s motions. Leinsdorf was very upset after the concert and blamed the orchestra, of course.
YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC.
I want to participate in the centennial celebration of the LA Philharmonic, at the start of the 2018-2019 season, and then I will retire. I think the orchestra has a great future, especially with Dudamel and our performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Another reason the orchestra has a bright future is because of Deborah Borda, the LA Philharmonic’s President. We are lucky to have her because under her leadership, the orchestra became financially very strong. She is a financial genius and also a great manager and organizer. I admire her. Many orchestras are in bad condition financially, but we are in great shape.
WHAT VIOLIN DO YOU USE?
I play a Carlo Antonio Testore of 1740, which belongs to the LA Philharmonic’s instrument collection, and also play my own Giovanni Battista Ceruti of 1813, the last great Italian maker. I have too many bows but prefer to use a Sartory.