- And what if you fail to get into the school of music? – asked me our general eduaction school’s headmaster Pavel Yefimovich Khaldei.
- Then I’ll return to you, – I replied simple-mindedly.
- I’m afraid you might not be able to, – tactfully remarked Pavel Yefimovich.
I entered the Ippolitov-Ivanov School of Music (now the Ippolitov-Ivanov State Musical Pedagogical Institute) after finishing two primary schools, music and comprehensive. The The Sergie Prokofiev Children’s School of Music I had finished was ranked among the best in Moscow. However, I did not plan from the very start to confine my life to music and considered the “Ippolitovka” a temporary refuge. Starting from the conscious age, I had always wanted to be a diplomat. I did not like an unfriendly atmosphere at the comprehensive school. And I was attracted by the atmosphere reigning at the Ippolitovka, with its teachers and students united by love of music. It was like a ray of light in the darkness. Although I was frightened by the necessity to perform on stage, I finally chose the lesser evil. Besides, my teacher, Olga Zimina tried to persuade me to enter the Ippollitovka.
Olga Petrovna Zimina comes of a family of old Moscow intelligentsia. Once I used to take her classes at her flat in Myaskovsky Street in Old Arbat (actually, it was not a one-family flat, but just two tiny adjoining rooms in a community flat). Then her parents were still alive – Pyotr Nokolayevich and Nadezhda Ivanovna, both alumni of the Petrograd Conservatoire. I took Olga Petrovna’s classes from as early as when I was five and studied at the children’s music school’s preparatory department. She taught both at the children’s and Ippolitov-Ivanov schools of music. So, my entering Ippolitovka looked fairly natural.
I entered the Ippolitov-Ivanov School of Music in summer 1969. At a preliminary examination I played the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto. Accompanying me on the second grand piano was Olga Petrovna.
How did you find our school? – asked me Marina Solodovnik, Olga Petrovna’s another pupil who was already a second-year student by then (she later became an outstanding pianist and moved toIsrael). Here you can leave your coat in our unattended cloak-room, – she went on to say, – and you can be sure no one will take it. Except through absent-mindedness maybe, – she added. Indeed, the then Ippolitivka was noted, first of all, for its creative and friendly atmosphere where everything was permeated with piety to music.
Then at the head of Ippolitovka was Yelena Konstantinovna Gedevanova, another representative of Russian old intelligentsia (by the way, among her pupils there were such Russian pop-stars as Lyudmila Zykina and Alla Pugacheva). Also, the school was said to be patronized by the then USSR culture minister Yekaterina Furtseva. Thanks to her, in particular, we always had high-quality grand pianos, mainly, August Förster.
As soon as I found myself at Ippolitovka, I was immediately loaded with so called “social work”. Eventually, I became a Komsomol organizer at the School’s Piano Department. Besides, thanks to my appearance, I would often act like the “young Lenin” in literary musical shows staged to mark various historical anniversaries. In the events devoted to the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR I, again, thanks to my appearance, represented Lithuania (which, apparently, hinted at my kindred with Gediminovich princes). Vera Nikitichna Zlobina, who headed the department, was my adviser in the field of “social work”. She was a strict and still openhearted person, a vocalist by profession. By the way, she had been a frequent performer at the front during the Second World War.
The school’s basic wealth is its teachers. I will tell you about them in the order of my coming to them as a pupil.
Olga Petrovna Zimina was my piano teacher throughout my musical studies. Pianistically, she is a follower of the schoolof Alexander Borisovich Goldenweiser. I am not a musician by profession, but I still keep my pianistic shape. My repertoire includes quite a number of pieces, especially by Beethoven. I have especially been noted for my performance of his 17th piano sonata’s 3d movement. I also play Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, etc. And all this thanks to Olga Petrovna. We still maintain the very warmest relations. When in the company of her pupils, she, until recently, would never deny herself the pleasure of taking a sip of good cognac. On November 29th, 2014, Olga Petrovna Zimina turned 90.
Alexander Saidovich Fakhmi was a fascinating person who, unfortunately, was destined to leave this world too soon. He taught us piano ensemble. Of small stature, swarthy, lively, there was something in him resembling our poet Alexander Pushkin (incidentally, both are of Arabic origin). Despite the communist regime reigning around and our tender age, he addressed us in no other way but as “gentlemen”. For the first lesson, I and my partner brought him Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I remember how he immediately stopped us and parodied our discordant performance of the famous “theme of fate knocking at the door”. “Quack-quack-quack-quack” – he said, imitating croaking frogs. Guided by Alexander Saidovich, we eventually learned to play together and “breathe” together. The audience was impressed by our vigorous performance of Rakhmaninov’s “Russian Rhapsody” at the final exam concert.
Emilia Mikhailovna Liebgott taught us piano accompaniment for vocalists. Then, in early 1970s, she was a thin old lady of small stature. Practically, she was the 20th century’s contemporary. Emilia Mikhailovna once recalled how a Red Army commanding officer was courting her in 1918 during the Civil War in the city of Yekaterinoslav. She graduated from the Leningrad Conservatoire as a pianist, where she studied under Leonid Nikolayev. Then at the head of the conservatoire was the famous composer Alexander Glazunov. As the legend goes, he came up to her after the degree examination, stroked her head and said “What a pity I haven’t heard you before”. Emilia Mikhailovna died relatively recently at the age of 99.
To accompany a vocalist is a special art, which cannot be mastered by everyone. Judging by what can be heard on the radio, I am afraid the art of piano accompaniment has come to an end without trace. So, this little old lady not only kept these secrets, but could pass them on to those who could adopt them. And she did it with a good deal of tact. Before making any criticism, she always hesitated for a while to pick up appropriate words, so as not to inadvertently hurt the pupil. But sometimes, she would compliment one. When I had accompanied Rakhmaninov’s romance “Oh Do Not Yearn for Me”, she said “you’ve hit the nail on the head”.
Natalya Nikolayevna Pavlova (Rozhdestvenckaya) taught me the secrets of playing piano accompaniment for instruments other than the piano, that is, chamber music ensemble. This is also an art that cannot be mastered by anyone. At the lesson, she would light a “Belomorkanal” cigarette of which she immediately would forget, so it would soon go out. Natalya Nikolayevna would again light it after some time, and in such a way one cigarette would last her several lessons.
Yet another unforgettable person was Lyubov Davydovna Gingold. She taught us musical literature, in particular, German romantics, starting with Beethoven. An aquiline nose, short haircut, the fire in her eyes, she herself somewhat resembles Beethoven. She would pace the classroom, with her eyes turned inward, her head slightly bent down, and her right hand supporting her chin. I remember ringing silence at her lessons. To concentrate, she would always ask to close all windows, even in the heat.
Our class teacher was Lidia Izrailevna Fichtenholz, a wonderful pianist, pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus. She was largely known as an accompanist for her bother, violinist Mikhail Fichtenholz, although she would give her solo recitals as well from time to time. But even when she played the accompaniment, nearly everyone would come to listen specifically to her. In everyday life, Lidia Izrailevna Fichtenholz was a very companiable person, one of us through and through, if one may put it that way, and you could any time have a heart-to-heart talk with her. For all that, she was a communist party member… On the other hand, there had to be someone there, given the circumstances.
Among events of that time especially memorable for me is Olga Petrovna Zimina’s class’s guest performances in the capital city of Karelia, Petrozavodsk. A moral and organizational support was provided to us by the composer H.-R. Sinisalo. We got a very warm welcome, and that was one of my successful appearances before the audience. When I finished (that was Debussy’s prelude “What the West Wind has seen”), enthusiastic listeners ran up to me to congratulate. It was early spring, both in our lives and around. Lake Onega was still covered with ice. We walked much around the city. And I remember how almost all of us once suddenly met at an Orthodox church during the service. That may have been a sign. But a sign of what?
The piano state examination was a severe trial to me. The trepidation that crept upon me in this connection was shared by other graduates. “My life consists of 2 parts, “before the state exam” and “thereafter”, – this is how one of my fellow students expressed this overall feeling. Subsequently, I would arrive at the conclusion that, after all, art is an activity, which is not quite natural for Man. But I had nowhere to retreat at the time, and I had to go through it. The examination board was headed by the outstanding pianist Mikhail Voskresensky, who, too, was an alumnus of this educational institution. I got “five”, but this mark was rather “honoris causa” and hardly reflected the true quality of my performance.
After graduating from the Ippolitov-Ivanov School of Music I did step off the musical path. But it was not the International Relations College that I entered next, as it had originally been planned. Instead, it was Lomonosov Moscow State University, faculty of philosophy. I just wanted to “dig deeper” into reality. As our poet Boris Pasternak put it, “In everything I seek to grasp the fundamental…” I remember how Boris Yakovlevich Zemlyansky, then one of the leading teachers at Ippolitovka, reproached me: “Have you really fallen out of love with music?” What could I answer? Perhaps, something like: “music is my friend, but Truth is a greater friend”.
Indeed, music has never become an end in itself to me. Rather, it is a vehicle for expressing subtle human emotions, which otherwise, perhaps, could not show. The Greeks were right, laying gymnastics, music, and mathematics as a foundation of bringing up a harmonious Man. Besides, in its loftiest places, music manages to express and perpetuate a certain Ideal, maybe an unreachable One, but Which is still worth aspiring to.
PS. In 2011, my fellow student of O. P. Zimina’s class, the diversely talented Misha Portnoi (Wayger) left this world. I can remember how many years ago he shyly joined our creative team and how, under Olga Petrovna’s heedful guidance, his talents blossomed out. Having received a superb classical training, Misha tried his hand at other genres, including jazz and light music. Till the end of his days, he run a children’s puppet theatre, for which he himself composed and staged shows. He was noted for curiosity and inquisitiveness, which led him far beyond the limits of music and art in general. He worked as a journalist and even as a newspaper’s editor-in-chief for some time. He was a television presenter and the author of a number of thought-provoking films, including the sensational “The Great Mystery of Water” (then I nicknamed him the “Russian Thales”). Misha took part in various scientific expeditions, and he could be found both in the cozy Europe, and in the impenetrable jungle of Africa or lofty mountains of Latina America. In his late period, he became increasingly keen on the problems of the meaning of life, of death and immortality, of which he wrote in one his poems:
- We cannot grasp the divine proportion,
- Nor can we measure the size of eternity.
- And yet, three questions haunt our mind:
- Where are we from? What for? Where do we go?
Our last talk with Misha was about his travel to Russia’s far-eastern republic of Buryatia, where he was shaken by the sight of the undecayed body of a Buddhist monk, who had formally died many years ago, but actually was not completely dead, but perpetuated, sitting in deep meditation. Misha did not die completely either: the memory of him lingers in our hearts.
PPS. Neither can I help telling you about my yet another outstanding fellow student in Olga Zimina’s class, Sergei Reshetov. In his younger days, he was called a “rising star” of Russian pianism. After finishing the Ippolitov-Ivanov School, he entered and graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire, including postgraduate courses there, his piano teacher being Lev Naumov. Later, he headed for some time the Ippolitov-Ivanov School’s piano department. Despite his reputation as a concert pianist, he suffered from dreadful stage fright and found relief in teaching. A shining example of erudition, he was a continuer of the “enlightened pianism” tradition cultivated by Heinrich Neuhaus. At his lessons, general cultural and even philosophical issues would organically entwine in discussing the purely technical aspects of artistic performance. He did not have weak students, and he would find an individual approach to each, maximally tapping his or her potential. Each of his piano class recitals represented a cascade of revelations.
Sergei did not spare himself and made excessive demands on himself which ran counter to his physical capabilities. His health condition was also undermined by his enviers’ and ill-wishers’ intrigues, and an unhappy marriage. He was severely ill in the declining years of his life and passed away before turning 60.
He was a romantic in the depth of his heart. But his romanticism was not “classical”, but rather late romanticism, and he did not entertain hopes of attaining happiness in this world. Schubert and Brahms were his favourite composers.