They say you do not really like composing the symphonies, despite the fact that you yourself is the author of a number of symphonic pieces. How did this happen?
– Once I was interviewed by a magazine. They had to come up with a title – and I jokingly offered them one: “This will be a symphony”. I haven’t written a single symphony since that time. Not because I couldn’t. It was rather because I felt that a large piece, comprising of four large parts, lasting at least 35-45 minutes each does not really relate to the modern understanding of music. Therefore, I decided to try out concertos – a solo with orchestra. I’ve written ten concertos for violin, three concertos for piano, another two concertos for cello, one concerto for viola and oboe, as well as one concerto for the whole orchestra. Most of these concertos last about 15 minutes, some are slightly longer. I was trying to grant these pieces the same range of emotions that we’ve earlier had in classic symphonies. When I give out interviews, I am often asked what I do at the moment. I really would not want to answer such questions. Somehow it every time when I slip out some particulars of my work, it either becomes suddenly difficult to work on that specific piece or I just fail to complete it. That is exactly what happened to my promise that “this will be a symphony”.
How do you measure success of a large symphonic piece, or let me put it this way - is it even possible to measure such thing at all?
– Success largely depends on the skills and talents of the composer. I am trying to produce quality work; I transform my ideas into feelings, emotions, tensions, worries or distress. It is hardly possible to fully predict the result of your hard work. Frequently success of the piece is dependent on a number of external factors, such as the orchestra, conductor, acoustics of that exact specific performance hall, mood of the public, you wouldn’t believe – even the weather matters.
How well do you know your audience? Would you be able to foretell that some pieces will be well received while other wouldn’t? Or do you think your public is unpredictable?
– Yes, I would say sometimes they may be rather unpredictable. On one occasion my piece wars performed at certain concert and it had a very warm reception. After just three days the same piece was performed by the same soloist, the same orchestra, and, surprisingly – it was performed for nearly identical audience. I was expecting a triumph, and instead i failed miserably. From that time onwards, when I sit in a hall and listen to my music, I subconsciously prepare myself for a failure – and it is always a pleasant surprise to have been wrong in that.
If you cannot really foresee what makes the piece a hit, then who are those listeners, who come to listen to your less known pieces? For instance, what about the symphony which you wanted to create. Could you describe us the personality of those people?
– Some of my very serious creations, which I expected to be an absolute hit, did not really have much of a success, and vice versa – the pieces which I dreaded to be intolerable for my audience, turned out be a sensation. They’d ask for an encore – I certainly haven’t expected that. The audience may be very diverse, with a very complex mood.
Has your audience ever disappointed you? Have you ever been upset with your listeners? Despite modern turbulent times, the number of people coming to listen to your music does not drop.
– I’ve been always writing my music for my listeners. I always want to how do they react and how do they feel about my work. I am frequently present at recitals or concerts, and I love to observe conductors and their work, I try to take a closer look at the audience’s face expressions. It is not a secret that every composer dreams to see his audience being moved by his music. For an artist it is the highest appraisal and satisfaction.
If we talk about the foreign audience, which of your pieces were received the best? Emotionally, perhaps?
– I try to never distinguish between Ukrainian and foreign public. Sometimes, the impact of my music may be different. Once I held a recital in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington – and a strict, picky and demanding musical critic was present at this recital. He was dreaded by more than few artists and musicians. The next day after the this recital, he published his review in Washington Post, where he admitted that he was swapped off his feet by my music, and despite that it was his first contact with Ukrainian music, he will do his best in order to learn more about it. Needless to say, I was really flattered.
What about the “Spanish dance”?
– This piece was composed as a part of a play called “Stone Lord”, written by [Ukrainian writer] Lesya Ukrayinka. Spanish simply adored the play. Additionally, Valeriy Sokolov, a very talented violinist recorded a video, that has received many views on YouTube.
You’ve frequently written music for theatre and cinema. Was this your shortest way to reach your audience? How did it happen, that your masterpieces became popularised via theatre and cinema, rather then at live recitals?
– This is not entirely true. I’ve earned my fame after I scored music for the movie shot by Sergiy Paradzhanov, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”. However, my scoring for “High Pass”, a theme which I called “Melody”, has been previously performed a lot with various orchestras. During this time “Melody” became very popular and was loved by the public. One of the greatest composers in human history, Giuseppe Verdi, once said that he felt truly popular when his music was performed by a street musician. Not in the slightest am I trying to share some of Verdi’s fame, but my “Melody” has been performed in at least 50 different variations. I sometimes hear it being played on the tube. Sometimes, orchestras perform “Melody” as an encore, without even announcing its author.
You’ve personally witnessed several generations of listeners with different musical preferences. Musical researchers have split your professional career into several periods: neo-folklore, neo-romanticism, neo-classical and so on. Is there anything that surprises you in this pattern? Tell us about the music circles, that you’ve involved with the most?
– It is true that musical preferences tend to change with time – sometimes very drastically. This surely does have its impact on composer, however, I do believe that composers are ought to have enough backbone and develop their own unique style. This is exactly what i long for. I have to say, I did experience a period in my musical career, when I did not really like romantic music. Tchaikovsky, Chopin and other composer were labelled as the art of “bourgeoisie”, which was not seen very well in Soviet Union. Additionally, their music wasn’t viewed well on the West either – critics claimed their music was too sentimental, too backward, too boring. We are talking about the time preceding the Second World War. In the early 20thcentury composers had their heart set on complicating the music harmony. One could clearly notice this from the works of Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofyev, Shostakovich, and Lyatoshynskiy. They were followed by a generation of avant-garde, and then public’s preferences changed again. It is almost like it had gone in circles – nowadays Chopin and Tchaikovsky are one of the most popular composers.
Borys Lyatoshynskyy, Ukrainian composer of the first half of the 20th century, has not been known too in Europe. Even today today his name does not always ring a bell in professional musical circles. Would you say that Myroslav Skoryk, Ukrainian composer of the second half of the 20th century is known better?
– I wouldn’t know, you see. We have lived in different times, and as you can imagine it was related to the Soviet Union. As I said earlier, there was a tendency to spice up the musical harmony, in order to make the music more intense. These tendencies were not received well in the Soviet Union. In 1948, Soviet government passed a legislation that would punish composers, who would dare to play around the style. Many people were in danger, many have lost their jobs. I am talking about Shostakovich, Prokofyev, and Lyatoshynskyy. Today Shostakovich and Prokofyev are known better than Lyatoshynskyy. Until certain point those Russian composers were already famous in Europe, but Ukrainian weren’t. If we talk about modern musical expression, at that time Ukraine has been suffering some sort of a musical stagnation. Local composers have really criticised Borys Lyatkoshynskyy. Soviet government would not let him travel abroad. His creations were marginalised and pushed away into the furthest corners of Soviet musical scene. Nowadays his music is being revived, appreciated and recognised. In the times of global expressionism Lyatoshynskyy’s music was too melodic, while in Soviet Union he was accused of being way too expressionist. It is difficult to grasp this today, but would you believe it – a person was jailed just because he used wrong accords?!
When I’ve been schooled in Lviv, I studied with Professor Roman Simovych, who himself studied in Vienna and Prague, where he certainly had more freedom in his interpretations. Several Lviv composers were also educated in Vienna or Prague. Their music was interesting, but not too expressionist. When 1948 came, Roman Simovych also had difficulties with his work – he was so scared that the Soviet government may find out about his earlier works, which he, it seems, has burnt all of his music sheets, worried that he may be thrown into prison. He was right in his worries – many Ukrainian composers were indeed thrown into prison.
When I studied with him, we fell out at some point, because I had a different understanding and perception of music. I’ve used several accords which he didn’t consider appropriate for that piece and he has kicked me out of his class. You have to understand - that was how much people were afraid of the 1948 legislation. Soon those times have passed. It seems like public’s fear of expressionism is also a matter of the past. Today music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern will be received differently. Each musical era has its own thing, its charisma, but I am trying to follow my own style. I “fluctuate along with the party line”, as they used to joke in the old days.
Your art and emotional perception were, perhaps, influenced by the Lviv musical circles, as well as your subsequent residency in Kemerovo? Did it influence your worldview, as a young artist?
– Sure it did. I commenced my studies in a post-war period, when people still had a fresh memory of Poland and Austria. Lviv had raised a magnificent piano and theory music school. I had a great teacher of solfeggio – Gregory Terletskiy. He is the one, who had practically made me composer, he is the person I owe my interest in melodic phrases to. Before I started my school, I was composing on some short verses from Bukvar[Ukrainian alphabet book]. When i went to school, my relative, Solomiya Krushelnytska, noticed that I had a perfect pitch and she’s sent me to a music school. Terletskyy has ordered all the primary school students to compose melodies, on some verse or a play. I have to say, I’ve mastered this very well. Moreover, he has turned me into a “music ward”, who would walk around the room to see if anyone was singing out of tune. This is how it has all started. When I ended up in Siberia, I had decent teachers over there. One of my teachers was from Moscow, she was convicted and sent into exile in Siberia. Another teacher, from Lviv, was also convicted and exiled. But even there the music culture has been kept at an adequate level. My father had a great interest in music, he looked after me. I remember how once we had an opera troupe visiting us from Ulan-Ude. They held plays for ten days in a row. My father insisted that i attend every single one of them – it was a way or learning in that environment, and I made a perfect use of it.
Have you ever returned to Siberia, a place where life brought you in your childhood years?
– Yes, indeed – I returned in 1970s. There was an event held in Kemerovo by the Composers Union. At that point I was secretary of the USSR Composers Union in Moscow, so I’ve inquired if I could come along – and I did. They provided us with a car, and along with several other composers, we’ve left for Siberia. Kemerovo has had a lot of convicted and exiled artists, but in the school were I studied we only had a class of bayan [Russian accordion] and some ethnic instruments. As far as I remember, we did not even have a piano back then.
What helped you not only to preserve your cultural and aesthetic identity, despite your exile and then your triumph, but to also solidly adhere to your own principles in music?
– You see, there is a problem. It depends on a character. I don’t want to praise myself. I was not an easy or well-behaved child, from an early age I was telling people what I had in mind, I expressed my own opinions. My parents had certain problems because of my character. At the same time, I have never been the person, who regularly gets involved in serious conflicts. I have rarely created idols. It is true, that I do love many different composers, but I have never been fully devoted to any of them. I liked different composers in different periods of my life. I was looking for my own style – I guess for a composer it is a normal thing to do.
Is there anyone, who you would say belongs to your own composing school?
– When I finished my studies in Moscow, I came to Lviv. I’ve been working there for three years and I’ve written my “Sonata for violin and piano”. Later, in 1963 I was admitted to the Composers Society. At one event I played this sonata with a violinist, Olha Parkhomenko – it was a great success. Rector of Kyiv Conservatory was amazed by this performance and he offered me a job in the capital. In 1966 I became a professor in the department of composition in Kyiv and from that time I’ve always been active in pedagogy. I did educate a lot of composers: Osvaldas Jonas Balakauskas, Yevhen Stankovych, Ivan Karabytsya, Oleh Kiva, Yaroslav Vereshchahin, Vadym Ilyin, Volodymyr Zubytskiy, Viktor Stepurko, Hanna Gavrylets, Bohdana Frolyak, Volodymyr Kozarenko, Ihor Kornilevych, Mykhaylo Shved, Viktor Telychko, Lesya Horova, Oksana Herasymenko. Many of them became well-known and accomplished musicians.
Since the 1960s you’ve interacted with and taught many generations of students, who came to you with different sets of skills, taught to them by musical secondary schools. Has this level evolved somehow? Is there anything that a modern musical education lacks?
– Composing has its own methods, which are followed by nearly everyone. The science of composition is based on a gradual learning of various forms (songs, melodies) and then moving onto more complicated pieces (sonatas, symphonies). I am trying not to influence my students’ style, I’ve never imposed my vision on them and I’ve never tried to modify their ways of self-expression. I am trying to be more technical. Maybe it is not the right thing to do, but at least all of my students have their own unique self. Composing is a technique, which is closely tied to the aesthetic self-expression. If pianist cannot move his fingers, he won’t be able to play. He has to perceive everything aesthetically. The most important thing in teaching composition is to teach your student the combination of technique and aesthetics. Things do not always come easily. Sometimes there are tensions – you wouldn’t do without those, would you? Sometimes I am happy about someone’s work, and sometimes I am not, because i think they could achieve more. I cannot magically turn those people into geniuses. But I can be a trigger, I can give them an incentive and they have to follow – everything is in their own hands though.
Throughout our conversation today you mentioned several times that at certain historical periods Ukrainian composers were deprived of many ways to express themselves. They were not free to use techniques, which were common elsewhere around the world. Has this isolationism had any impact on Ukrainian music?
– Nowadays everything is open. There are many genres; composers are free to choose whichever they like. Today everything is much simpler – previously everything was difficult, there was only one approved style and everyone had to adhere to it. In Ukraine, during the Soviet times, we had interesting composers who choose a unique route – Lyatoshynskiy, Revutskiy. Today their masterpieces are being brought back to life.
Considering the fact that the overall cultural level in Ukraine remain relatively low and the Ministry of Culture does not always have adequate policies, are you an optimist or pessimist when it comes to the state of culture and art in our country?
– It is fifty-fifty. Yes and no. I’m an optimist, because if composer is talented, he will get through despite all the obstacles. They can go abroad in order to fulfil their ambitions, and not necessarily only to earn some money. But it is hard to be Ukrainian composer, while living abroad. Our diaspora hasn’t produced many talented composers.
Do you listen to the modern music? Rap, for instance?
– Sometimes I do, but as it happens I haven’t developed much of an interest in it. I did listen to rap though. It seems like a by-product top me or maybe it’s my age talking.
Myroslav Skorykwas born on 13 July 1938 in Lviv. He is Ukrainian composer and musicologist, he has been granted an order of Hero of Ukraine, an honorary title of People’s Artist of Ukraine. He is the winner of Taras Shevchenko prize. Myroslav Skoryk has been the co-chair of National Union of Composers of Ukraine in 2006-2010. From 2011 to 2016 he has be the art director of Kyiv Opera House. He is the nephew of Solomiya Krushelnytska and graduate of Lviv Conservatory. He has been teaching in Kyiv Conservatory since 1960s. Skoryk is the author of a number of music masterpieces, including “Moses”, an opera, “Carpathian”, concerto for spy phonic orchestra, “Melody” for violin and orchestra. He scored music for many plays and nearly 40 movies, including “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” by Sergiy Pazaradzhanov and “High Pass” by Volodymyr Denysenko.