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Direct Talk



Oleg Serdobolsky on Ravil Martynov,
for the 70th anniversary of the conductor

“Conductors live long unless they die early.” I heard this aphorism once from Ilya Alexandrovich Musin, the grand old man of St. Petersburg’s school of conducting who even at the age of 90 stepped to the podium of European orchestras, and not once. However, his student Ravil Martynov, People’s Artist of Russia, lived a mere 58 years on this planet (1946-2004). But he left behind a lasting and thankful memory with fellow musicians and music lovers.

It was under his conductorship that the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra led by him for eighteen years was given the title “Academic,” became entitled to its season concerts at the Grand Hall of the Philharmonic, and made several tours, among which was the unprecedented two-month tour of 47 cities of America with six programs of Russian classics.

Ravil was a congenial soul to me, with his unlocked heart, good temper, and ability to enjoy life, in which he found his vocation quite early. And today, when we are remembering the maestro, I feel like leafing through the old journalist pad containing records of my talks with this amazing man.


RAVIL MARTYNOV. It was mere chance that I became a conductor. My parents had no relation to this occupation. Everything could have gone differently if I did not live on Petrovskaya Spit in my childhood. Trolley-bus No. 7 has its terminus there, and the Home of Stage Veterans was close nearby. I remember well a handsome old lady who was about one hundred years old at that time. I was friends with her dog Wisla, a German sheep dog who permitted me to ride on her back. Once I was riding in the Seven across Palace Bridge with my granny, yelling some song so loud that the whole trolley-bus could hear me. Granny began to calm me down. Now that old lady from the Home of Stage Veterans came to my defense and advised that I be taken to the choir school of the Cappella, the Choir Chapel. Its house across Palace Square was just one of those I could see through the trolley-bus window. They took me there. I passed my exams, entered the school, and went on singing away from nine o’clock in the morning on. Then I got into piano. Later, in my Conservatory years when I had to do side jobs for living, I was invited as concert master to the class of opera and symphony conducting. In the beginning, students conduct not an orchestra but two pianos. But even at that stage it could well be seen who of them was hopeless. Well, getting to classes with such mediocrities I felt overwhelming desire to do something so that they would not torture me. To make a long story short, it is to them that I am obliged for stepping up to the conductor’s podium myself.

He studied first in the Leningrad Conservatory and then in the Moscow Conservatory, majoring first in Choir and then in Opera and Symphony Conducting. Remembers Ravil’s wife Tatiana Martynova: a request came from the Ministry of Culture of Russia offering to choose whether he wished to undergo probation training with Karajan or with Mravinsky. And Ravil chose Evgeny Alexandrovich without hesitation, although he had to wait for a whole year to get a trainee place.


R. M. When I was a probation trainee with Evgeny Alexandrovich, he confessed to me once, “All my life I dreamed of conducting with a curtain behind me. Well, at least a curtain made of net lace so that I would not distract the audience from music.” His ascetism is also understandable. When on the podium, he was afraid to bring chaos into the orchestra, to destroy harmony.

Once he asked me what in my opinion was most important in the job of a conductor. I spent many words, but none of them satisfied him. Finally he felt pity on me and answered himself: “ATMOSPHERE.” The conductor must create an atmosphere!... He quarreled with sound engineers all his life. He did not trust engineering, believing that it adds something foreign to the sound. Whereas, nothing could have been added to his performance. Those who wanted to improve him always made things worse. It was impossible to improve him... They called him a dictator. But this did not prevent him from taking care of orchestra musicians. He knew everyone. Once after a rehearsal he told me, “Hear this French horn... What a divine sound!... He must be helped; he lives in a communal flat.” And one more important point is: No one, even of those who did not like Mravinsky, ever called him a bad professional.

And we must give him credit, for he taught many.

The repertoire of Ravil Martynov was really limitless, including all symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich. The music of Mahler and Rachmaninoff was very close to him. He was a permanent participant of the Petersburg Musical Spring festival, and many composers of our days heard their symphonic opuses for the first time at his concerts. The maestro had a rare gift to make orchestra musicians contributors to his interpretations.


R. M. Sometimes, there’s antagonism between the conductor and his orchestra, if only because many of the musicians sitting in front of him had dreamed of standing on the conductor’s podium themselves. And they joke, too, among themselves that the best conductor is the one who is not in life anymore. And as to beginners, they can hardly bear them at all. When I was young, I worked in the Kazan Orchestra. The musicians met me almost with hostility. But I was firm and I had my way, although not without effort, forgiving no trifles. The first concert’s day is memorable because while I saw strange faces in front of me, they all played excellently. In three or four months, the orchestra grew to like me, although I was not on friendly footing with any of them. But I did not understand why I dislike being thus liked by them. At the end of the season, we by chance played the same program that we had at the beginning. After the concert, there was a queue formed towards me, they all smiled to me and said compliments. But I was killed by their playing, which was lousy. Later, when I became Mravinsky’s probation trainee, I told him this story. He smiled a little and remarked, “Why, the orchestra does not have to like the conductor. They must respect him — and fear him a bit, too.”

Parallel to his work in Petersburg, Ravil Martynov led the symphony orchestra of Rostov-on-Don, and cooperated with one of the orchestras of the Republic of Korea. He had a feeling of personal responsibility for performance of each score. After each concert, even a most successful one, he analyzed every point where he seemed to fail. And how quick-witted he was in most unpredictable situations, one may judge for instance by this nearly anecdotic story.


R. M. Even one word from a foreign language can help out a lot sometimes. I learned this from my own experience, when a fearful episode happened at my concert in the Philharmonic, to a full house. Under the auspices of the State Concert Organization, a Japanese pianist came to St. Petersburg. We were to perform a concerto of Mozart. At the rehearsal, she played just fluently, nothing more. But at the night performance I became very nervous from the very first bars, because she turned into an automat, which could break down at any moment. Near the end she began playing in a wrong key and stopped. The terrible point about it was that the orchestra could not help her out in that situation. And at that moment, suddenly I remembered the Japanese word HAJIME KARA. This is how a karate referee commands to restart the fight. The Japanese looked at me with crazy eyes. I said to her, “Hajime kara!” and heard her answer, in Russian: “What a nightmare!” She started playing the finale again, and we dragged to the end somehow. But since then, watching karate fights on TV, I always shudder when I hear that Japanese word.

Reviewers emphasized temperament, artistry, and charm in Ravil Martynov’s performing manner. He was totally free of any jealousy, he could rejoice in other people’s successes, and put much heart and soul in raising his multiple disciples. Among them are Vasily Petrenko, Gintaras Rinkevičius , Oleg Soldatov, Arvo Volmer, Anatoly Rybalko, and Valery Voronin... They fully acquired from their teacher the main professional feature, which is honesty in music. This is how Ravil wanted to title his notes about Mravinsky, as told me himself. This is how I would like to title these notes about him, too.



Petersburg’s Mozartianas of Alexander Rudin

The day before the opening concert of the Mozartianas in Petersburg, Season 2, to be played in the Minor Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on February 9, conductor and soloist Alexander Rudin communicated his thoughts on the forthcoming event to the website of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra.

— Mr. Rudin, could you say a couple of words about the Mozartianas in Petersburg cycle, and your cooperation with SPSSO?

— The cycle’s idea is on the surface to start with, but on the other hand it always remains fresh. It is especially pleasant that the word Mozartiana means not only performing Mozart’s music as such, but also style, easiness, and interpretation in general. I think this word is, in a sense, the creative credo of the orchestra. I see a flexible team of performers at rehearsals willing not to play the music of the 18th and early 19th century in the framework of out harsh and leaden tradition... As to our cooperation: It’s the second time I arrive with a similar, although we also address Schubert this time. The first performance was a pleasure.

— You perform music in different manners, authentic or traditional, depending on the opus. How do you think Mozart should be performed?

— I like it when they play any music putting aside clichés, false traditions, or later accretions, when they play Classicist music without Romanticist or post-Romanticist accretions, without that excessive heaviness. Of course it is good to be based on the text, while perceiving its spirit rather than its letter, and that’s where the difficulty lies. On the one hand, the text dominates, but on the other hand, it’s guidance, not an order. Hence the problem of authenticity. One must be true as much as possible. But where is the true thing? Everyone sees it their own way.

— You’ll be both soloist and conductor in the forthcoming concert. What challenges or advantages do you have performing in such double capacity?

— There are advantages, and there are challenges too. One challenge is that there are many musicians in the orchestra. When there are many winds, you don’t always have time to show the introductions; if for example the music is not so well-known, not everybody responds equally. But there is an advantage in it too. Sometimes, the conductor is an excessive component in such music, especially when his views differ from those of the soloist. If it is so, it’s a total disaster! Basically, this music, music of Mozart or Haydn, was performed without a conductor as a rule. The conductor was either sitting at the harpsichord or performing as concertmaster. In fact it is ensemble music; it does not require a person on a high podium, with thunder and lightning in his menacing look. It is music of mutual confidence. The inconvenience is that not all of us are accustomed to hearing or playing in an ensemble.

— Do you like St. Petersburg, our audience, our concert venues?

— But of course! It’s a pleasure to revisit here. I’m a native of Moscow, but I really love Petersburg. The venues are excellent! In particular the hall where we are going to play is exceptionally favorable for such music. I think in such fantastic hall one should play without any aggression, easily... just the way this city was designed. Indeed, the music suits it. I feel Petersburg helps its musicians to play such music (laughs).



Dear colleagues, Orchestra’s friends, music lovers, and partners!

On behalf of the St. Petersburg State Symphony, one of the best orchestras in our city and in Russia, I wish you all the very best in the coming New Year. I wish you a cheerful mind, health, luck... and all those simple but so important “earthly” pleasures. As for us, we will be giving you, just as in all the years before, those heavenly pleasures that we need no less than any other things in life.

The outgoing year happened to be rich in creative achievements for SPSSO. All of our concerts in several venues of St. Petersburg and on tours in the United States, Finland, and Belgium were played to a full house and with great success. The orchestra performed an ample symphonic repertoire under the baton of conductors recognized worldwide; prominent instrument soloists and singers became our partners.

In the forthcoming year, we will still be treating you to interesting programs, brilliant soloists and conductors, and informative discussions of the art of music. As soon as in February, the Orchestra will continue the Mozartianas in Petersburg concert cycle loved by Petersburg’s audience; our 2016-2017 season subscription series will be on sale in March; we will surely celebrate, together with you, the anniversary of the great Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev; we will please you with unexpected crossover-style programs; and we will prepare educational musical meeting for children’s audiences.

In 2016, SPSSO intends to set off on several tours abroad. They are waiting for us in Latin America and Korea, in Austria, Italy, and Finland. But our greatest concern is Petersburg’s music lovers — and development of the art of music in Petersburg.

Happy New Year, dear friends, and see you soon!

Yuri Serov, Director, SPSSO



The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra started selling season tickets for the 2015-2016 concert series in the Mirror Hall of Princes Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. Currently, the hall is closed for repair; you will see it this autumn fresher and prettier, with its infrastructure much improved. Undoubtedly, the splendid acoustic of the Mirror Hall will remain unchanged, and this means that music lovers will enjoy the sounds of classic repertoire masterpieces at full breath. So we have prepared a lot of interesting things for Petersburg’s audience.

Traditionally, Season Ticket No. 1 is for the young audience. In this season it is diversified and educative as never before; it is probably among the most interesting ones over the last several years. A journey around the world with a symphony orchestra, a story of how the music language can describe operation of various machines and equipment, the medieval legend of the traveling musician from Hameln, life of Beethoven, musical zoo on the Fontanka River — these are the main topics of these fascinating meetings with boys and girls of Petersburg in the Mirror Hall.

Season Ticket No. 2 opens a world of popular classics to our listeners. They will be able to take their mind off cares and problems for one hour in the very heart of the Northern Capital, in the company of known and loved symphonic pieces. The concert titles: “Tunes of the Soviet Land,” “My Carmen,” “The Viennese Joys,” “Mozart and Salieri,” “A Broadway on the Fontanka,” or “Concert as a Gift” speak for themselves.

Season Ticket No. 3 is philharmonic in its spirit and format, plunging you straight-out into the world of high art: large symphonic canvases performed by an excellent symphony orchestra under the baton of renowned conductors, and piano and violin concertos featuring young soloists of Petersburg. The programs include opuses by the giants of the genre: Serge Rachmaninoff, Jan Sibelius, Edvard Grieg, Peter Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and Johannes Brahms.

Detailed information on all concerts and performers can be seen on the Orchestra’s website; the tickets are sold in the box office of Princes Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. The contact phones are +7 (812) 310-70-80 (Orchestra) or +7 (812) 315-52-36 (box office).

Yuri Serov, Director, SPSSO



The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra is starting a cycle of concerts titled “Petersburg Mozartianas,” about Mozart and his times, about contemporaries, predecessors and successors of the Austrian genius. For our orchestra this is a fantastic opportunity to play classics, to feel in rehearsals and onstage some creative instants associated with the most profound achievements of human spirit, to plunge into inimitable stylistics of the classical art, and to meet excellent interpreters, conductors and soloists. For Petersburg’s audience, our Mozartianas mean touching the roots of the art of music, meetings with superb musicians from different countries, with widely known works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, and with music not so often played in St. Petersburg.

On March 4, Irish pianist Michael O’Rourke loved by St. Petersburg’s audience will perform in the Minor Hall of the Philharmonic the inspired and perfect piano concerto in C minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and in the second part of the concert you will hear the “Eroica” Symphony No. 3, a powerful creation by Ludwig van Beethoven, towering even among other Beethoven’s monumental opuses in its amazing power and élan. That night, SPSSO will perform under the baton of Slovakian maestro Peter Feranec. He belongs to the most remarkable musicians of his generation, has worked with many leading orchestras worldwide, and has headed the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

As part of the cycle, the Minor Hall of the Philharmonic will see on April 3 a presentation of the St. Petersburg Sinfonietta , the chamber orchestra of SPSSO. The ensemble’s artistic director Chingiz Osmanov, a concert master of the “greater” orchestra and a most talented Petersburg’s violinist, will present a carefully selected and very curious program where Bach, and Mozart, and Tchaikovsky will be found.

On April 14, outstanding Russian musician Alexander Rudin will perform with the Orchestra in the Minor Hall of the Philharmonic. This renowned conductor and brilliant cellist, connoisseur and researcher of classical traditions in the art of music will submit to the audience works of Mozart’s antagonist Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s teacher Joseph Haydn, and Mozart’s last, and most colossal, Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter.”

We do hope that the programs of “Petersburg Mozartianas” will win the attention of music lovers of our city, and the thrilling journey to the world of classics will last also in future concert seasons.

Yuri Serov, Director, SPSSO



Dear colleagues, friends of the Orchestra, music lovers, and partners!

Heartiest New Year 2015 greetings from the team of SPSSO! We wish you health, joy, and fantastic musical impressions! It will not be an easy year for our country, but encounters with music will make it better, brighter, and kinder.

The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra has very interesting creative plans for 2015. We will start a cycle of concerts named Mozartianas in Petersburg, where the city’s audience will hear the most beautiful masterpieces of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the “God of Music,” and his contemporaries and followers. The Orchestra’s partners will be excellent soloists and conductors from several countries worldwide. SPSSO will join the celebration of the 175th anniversary of Peter Tchaikovsky; on May 7, the birthday of the great Russian composer, the ensemble will give a concert in the Grand Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. In the upcoming year we will continue our subscription series in Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace attracting more and more people in town, and celebrate Alexander Pushkin’s birthday with an evening of music and poetry. In March and May, according to the established tradition, we will contribute to the most iconic festivals of contemporary music hosted by St. Petersburg — “From Avant-garde to Our Days” and “Petersburg Musical Spring;” throughout the concert season we will continue musical education for schoolchildren of St. Petersburg.

In 2015, the Orchestra will be touring much, with our concerts scheduled in the United States, France, Finland, Belgium, Holland, and China. On June 5, SPSSO will open the All-Russian Poetry Feast in Pushkin Hills.

We will be happy to see our dear listeners at the SPSSO concerts in the upcoming year, and will try to inform everybody of our plans and achievements well in advance.

Happy New Year, friends!

Yuri Serov, Director, SPSSO



Another, already 47th season of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra is nearing its end. It was not an easy one, as rather unexpected and very important changes in the ensemble’s organizational units took place. And although we need changes, life cannot remain at a standstill, and changes most often inspire moving ahead, still some psychological stress haunted the musicians for several months, starting from September 2013. The unstable situation in St. Petersburg’s orchestral life in general also had its effect.

But I believe that we came out of the crisis feeling fresher and healthier. The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra has built an excellent team of like-minded musicians, a strong alloy (as they used to say in the Soviet Union) of youth and experience, and the orchestra’s artists are ready to handle most challenging professional tasks. We have many interesting creative plans ahead of us, colorful programs, meetings with remarkable conductors and soloists, tours near and far abroad, and prestigious venues. Above all, SPSSO has its own audience, loyal and sympathetic, and we will continue to inspire the people of Petersburg, healing and soothing them, supporting and elating them with our art — isn’t this what music exists for?

I would like to thank the orchestra’s musicians and management personnel for successful work in these 10 months — and to wish everyone a good vacation in this cold summer of 2014, health, and positive state of mind for the next season. Stay tuned to our life at www.spb-orchestra.ru! I hope the forthcoming concert season will bring us only happy emotions.

Yuri Serov, Director, SPSSO



Dear friends,

the sale of subscriptions for the 2014/2015 season of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra started on Sunday, March 30. They have been already received by the ticket office of Princes Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace (41 Nevsky Prospekt) and will soon appear in the city’s ticket booths and with our distributors. You may see the concert programs and the cast lists on our website, or in the colorful brochure taken in the ticket booths or from the Orchestra’s representatives.

All the concerts will be in the admirable Mirror Hall of Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace. The programs are very diversified, replete with most impressive compositions, and extremely informative. As in previous years, we prepared several pleasant musical surprises for our children audience (Subscription No. 1 “Around the World in One Hour”) and for popular symphony music lovers (Subscription No. 2 “An Hour of Popular Classics for the Whole Family.”)

Our Third Subscription is intended for the broadest circles of Petersburgers taking keen interest in the art of music. All the five programs of the series feature both music well-known to us and several fresh, not “worn-out,” seldom-performed pieces. The partners to the SPSSO in the concerts will be excellent conductors and soloists from many countries worldwide. The programs of the cycle will be sure to fully demonstrate the Orchestra’s musicianship, and giving the listeners the joy of touching amazing samples of musical creativity.

Yuri Serov, Orchestra Intendant

Yuri Serov
Orchestra Intendant


Dear friends, colleagues, admirers and partners of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, I’m happy to greet you all on our new official website. No doubt, the web address www.spb-orchestra.ru will become not just a social network meeting place, or a page for current news or schedules of concerts, but a regular music magazine of the St. Petersburg SSO. 

Our orchestra is one of the most ambitious creative teams in St. Petersburg; this means our professional environment must be accessible and open to all music lovers of the northern capital. The orchestra has many interesting plans and projects, which we will surely share with all visitors of the rejuvenated website. We will be listening to your criticism and your wishes – after all we work for the city and the citizens, and your concerned response will help the orchestra to grow and develop. 

The St. Petersburg SSO has seen a full-scale rebranding in the recent two or three months. And while its creative component will not show up before the next season, our “icon” is already looking fresh and attractive due to the efforts of fantastic Petersburg designer Alexander Zakirov. 

I wish to thank the creators of the new webpage, and programmer Alexander Karpov first of all; they did a very professional job in a short time. I’m sure, our team’s enthusiasm and endeavors will be joined in by your attention to the Internet “child” of the Orchestra. 

See you soon, and more luck to you all in 2014!