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18 April 2021

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čt, 11.10.2018

“HIGHER CULTURE HAS NO MONETARY VALUE”

bmir, Business mir #15 - 2010-01 MAIL PRINT 
Sergei Skripka was just 14 years old when he was struck by a revelation while riding the trolleybus in Kharkov.
He suddenly knew his inevitable destiny – “If I don’t become a symphony orchestra conductor, I will die”.
What had started as an ordinary day defined the course of the great maestro’s life and Skripka insists that, “I have long been convinced that our lives are directed by fate.” It certainly would appear to be the case for Sergei Skripka. He was awarded the prized title of “People’s Artist of Russia” and works as a professor while holding the positions of Art Director and Chief Conductor at the Russian State Symphony Cinema Orchestra. Skripka will be celebrating his 60th birthday this year and another landmark event as well – 85 years ago his orchestra replaced the pianist at the Ars Cinema in Arbat, Moscow. Since that autumn of 1924, the orchestra has recorded the soundtracks for thousands of Russian films.
Maestro Skripka, after that revelation on the trolleybus, was it really impossible for you to imagine becoming anything else than an orchestra conductor? I didn’t have a choice in the matter as of that point in time, although there were some detours along the way. We all have a purpose in life. Fate is a fact of life and as a fatalist, I believe that it manifests itself to everyone - you simply have to recognise it when you are given the insight.
I have always loved music. I studied choir in Kharkov and began working as a choir master, but never lost sight of my symphony orchestra ambitions.
I composed a work entitled “Art and Cybernetics”, which finally gave me the opportunity to pursue the goal that I had always longed to achieve. It won a national youth contest award and I travelled to Ulyanovsk in 1970 with other contest winners. That’s how I met Irina Pomortseva from the Ministry of Culture, who was intrigued by my work and asked me about my future plans.
I told her that I wanted to be a symphony conductor and she replied, “Then come to Moscow, and I’ll introduce you to Dimitriadi”.
I nearly fainted and immediately agreed to go, as the great conductor and teacher Odissei Dimitriadi was a god-like figure to me.
I auditioned for Dimitriadi in Moscow and he allowed me to join his class.
I was so thrilled! But when the time came for my studies to begin, Dimitriadi had left to become the chief opera conductor in Tbilisi. I was so desperate that I sought Irina Pomortseva’s help again and she introduced me to another famous conductor and teacher, Leo Ginzburg.
Leo Moritsevich and Dimitriadi were different in almost every way. Dimitriadi was an openhearted and friendly Greek raised in the Georgian manner and Ginzburg was always extremely distant.
Ginzburg and I became much closer over time – his vision deteriorated with age, he had trouble walking and towards the end of his life I cared for him like a nurse.
Ginzburg did so much for me over the years. I felt so indebted to him that in return, I did everything I could for him until the very day he died.
So, after auditioning me, inviting me to study with him and promising me time to practice with an orchestra, Ginzburg had me pass an exam. He apparently forgot all about the promise he had made earlier and I found myself in front of an orchestra for the first time in my life at that exam. A dreadful feeling indeed - choir masters and symphony orchestra conductors are very different… it’s like comparing notebook paper to fancy, embossed stationary… I was admitted and Fate’s winding road led me to the destiny I had decided on long before. How could anyone have predicted where winning a contest that had nothing to do with symphonic music would lead me? I have worked with this orchestra since the 1970s, for more than 30 years now.
What differentiates a good conductor from an outstanding one? The difference lies in an individual’s talent, just as it does in any profession.
In perseverance as well, which is a crucial element in discerning genius. Do you think that Mozart, whose talent became apparent at infancy, had an easy time of it? He literally worked himself to death.
I truly believe that when Nature demands it, greater powers join forces to produce unique talents like great composers and outstanding conductors. These exceptional individuals express themselves in the only way they can – by constantly working and exhausting themselves at the task in striving to be all they can be.
Aside from the indispensable talent and personal calling the profession demands, every conductor is obligated to constantly pour through and ponder over reams of musical material in seeking the base for creating something innovative.
Consider that Beethoven’s brilliant music is written in code, encrypted in musical notation. Now imagine that a conductor must attempt to understand, revive and achieve the composer’s genius to the point of daring to reinterpret it for contemporary audiences.
Some succeed – with stunning results on the listeners – but others fail, although they faithfully follow the notes.
As the leader of a cinema orchestra, logic demands that you discuss your favourite film.
I have many favourites. I adore “Kin-dzadza”; it was such a treat to work on that film. I also love Eldar Ryazanov’s films.
I enjoyed working on “Garazh” (The Garage) – it was the first work I did with the director – and on “Zhestoky Romans” (A Cruel Romance), which is my absolute favourite Ryazanov film.
I worked with Leonid Gaidai on “Sportloto-82” and “Za spichkami” (Borrowing Matchsticks).
I have worked with many directors.
I worked with Mark Zakharov on “Tot Samy Munchhausen” (The Very Same Munchhausen), “Ubit Drakona” (To Kill a Dragon) and “Formula Lyubvi” (Formula of Love).
The difficulty in recording soundtracks for film stems from having to work without rehearsals. Once the sheet music is distributed, it is immediately played and recorded - everything is always done at the last minute. Only rarely does work on a musical film begin with recording the soundtrack. As a musician, my job is to instill music with accents and character so I must be able to do it.
Have there been films you found difficult? Yes - Georgy Danelia’s film “Slezy Kapali” (Tears Were Falling) was completely mad. The entire film, and it is 100 minutes long, is based on music.
I had musical scores, but without the slightest instrumental notation. Just imagine Danelia standing in front of the screen, singing a leit-motif. I had to listen and memorise the tune he sang while an orchestra of 13 professional musicians stood by, each of them awaiting my instructions on the music they were supposed to play… We record the soundtracks for between 50 and 60 movies every year, and the situations differ from one film to another.
But film is a living art form and an orchestra adds atmosphere and depth to the limits imposed by a movie screen’s physical dimensions. I sincerely believe that cinema is gravitating more towards soundtracks than images, striving for the most realistic sound possible.
What does the cinema orchestra mean to you? It means a lot; it is everything I have achieved in the course of my career.
I was destined to become a conductor.
My long connection to film and cinema orchestra was accidental, but providential.
Have you never had any doubts? I have had my doubts, but for purely administrative reasons. At one point in the mid-1990s, a useless man was appointed as the orchestra’s director and tried to ruin all the hard work we had put in over the years. He placed his own people, who weren’t very skilled musicians, to lead all the orchestra’s groups. That’s when I thought about leaving but he was quickly dismissed, thank God! Unfortunately, his tenure gave him enough time to wreck havoc in the orchestra’s archive, and many musical scores were lost. Indeed, we still have a very good library that contains handwritten sheet music for 9,000 films.
It’s a huge part of our national cinema’s heritage that we have fortunately managed to preserve.
Musicians believe that they each have a unique talent and personal vision. How can so many individualists work cooperatively in a big orchestra? Well, the ideal scenario is an orchestra that gathers like-minded people who are devoted to music and trust their conductor.
Still, it’s often necessary to explain your ideas to someone – to persuade an individual to follow a composition’s musical structure and build an image. If everyone works in synchronicity successfully, everything naturally falls into place. Actually, a conductor must be iron willed and have a very strong personality. He should have an anaconda’s stare; eyes that musicians understand they had better obey.
How much does a symphony orchestra member earn? About nine or ten thousand roubles; a pittance in Moscow. Orchestras usually get grants and can offer their musicians decent bonuses, but not in our case as we still don’t get any subsidies. We used to be part of the State Committee for Cinematography and, as its only orchestra, our status was clearly defined. Once the Ministry of Culture took control, we became one of a score of orchestras, and no one knew what to do with us. The Ministry kept asking us about things like audience, concerts and ticket sales. But we don’t do concerts, because we serve a different purpose. Our concerts are studio recordings and our audience is the millions of people who watch films.
Films don’t bring in a lot of money anymore, and that’s partially due to video piracy. Aside from a few exceptional successes, the mediocre qualities of today’s Russian films generate low box office receipts. There is nothing comparable to “Zhestoky Romans” or “Beregis Avtomobilya” (Watch Out for the Automobile) in Russian film these days.
We are Moscow’s oldest symphony orchestra and should be referred to in glowing terms, notwithstanding the talented musicians who form its ranks.
But for now the situation is very complicated.
Once we have financing like other orchestras, everything will fall into place.
What is happening to culture in Russia? There are some small glimmers of hope, but the reasons for culture’s generally deplorable status are blatantly obvious.
Culture, and especially culture in its highest sense, has no monetary value on today’s market.
Pop music is still an option for today’s carefree youth; dancing to good pop music is the right thing for them to do.
I am fond of Zemfira and Bratya Grim myself… But Art in the greater sense remains invaluable and still exists in works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. Higher culture has no monetary value and should serve a higher purpose – bringing out the best in man, creating the real elite that have nothing to do with net worth. Every society produces a small percentage of this type of individual – engendering all kinds of great artists and some nefarious elements as well, it’s true. Art should be supportive of this vulnerable minority and awaken the public’s souls, but Art needs support as well.
One can curse the old system endlessly; but it did support the arts. There were orchestras and choirs – every “Palace of Culture” (soviet cultural centre, T.N.) had 20–30 teams – and the policy worked to guide people in the right direction. For some reason, society generates destructive forces, just like the principle of entropy in physics. One could best describe Art today as a low-quality product designed for mass-market appeal; melodies thrown together on a synthesiser that debase audiences.
People don’t have a feeling of bonding as a group and real public opinion has been replaced by promotional events – quality isn’t a consideration.
Only real art can support creativity in an individual and society. But it is insane to demand that it should be profitable. It is aberrant that you cannot hear symphonic music on any state-owned TV channel. All you can see are cloned series, mediocre music and filth, or horror movies.
Where do you see the glimmers of hope then? People are coming back to concert halls and they want to listen to quality music. I have worked as the local orchestra’s conductor in Zhukovsky, a town near Moscow, for several years. We usually play for a full house. A normal symphony orchestra is an expensive toy, but it brings order to your brain and awakens creativity. Art is food for the brain, it gives you a purpose and a sense of yourself, it gives you hope; in other words, it helps people to come closer to understanding the purpose of life.
I don’t see any indication that our government is supporting the positive trend at this point in time.
But I am an optimist, and I hope the situation will change sooner or later – but the poet Nikolai Nekrasov’s words spring to mind, “It’s a pity neither of us will live to see that beautiful time…” The situation is too bad now.
Do you think you have fulfilled your purpose in life? No, I feel like everything started just yesterday and I’m only beginning to see the bigger picture. I still have a lot to do for my orchestra. As for my creative goals, I hope to conduct a Brahms, and I have never conducted a Mahler. There are a lot of things I would like to try.
bmir, Business mir #15 - 2010-01  MAIL PRINT 
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