Maxim Rysanov interview
Emerging Ukrainian viola star Maxim Rysanov tells William Lane about his hellish Hong Kong programme
Charismatic and virtuosic, Maxim Rysanov, one of the world’s hottest global viola starlets, comes to town this fortnight, performing solo as part of the Premiere Performances Recital Series as well as taking on the great Bartok Viola Concerto with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Ahead of his arrival, the Ukrainian chats to us about his challenging programme, his enviable viola and his penchant for new music.
Hi Maxim! A burning question we always have for violists: did you start by playing the violin or viola?
I started on the violin. Nobody would think of giving a six-year-old child a viola. Not in the Soviet Union. There was always a system which says that the viola should be given to a 13 or 14-year-old, when a child is big enough for the instrument.
Why did you choose the viola? A career as a viola soloist is a dangerous choice! Or is it?
It was a risky choice, yes, but I like challenges...
You play a 1780 Guadagnini, which is an amazing viola. How did you get your hands on it?
‘El Soldato’ was brought for me from Canada by a London dealer, Florian Leonhardt. Then he lent the instrument to me until I found the money. Finally, the Elisa Mathilde Foundation bought the viola and I’ve played on it since.
Can you tell us a little more about the music in your recital programme on September 20? It’s a very colourful programme.
The Martinu sonata is played rather rarely. It’s a very positive work too, with a few places reflecting the composer’s occasional confutative character. The second half is dedicated to French music, with some very popular works, including Debussy, Ravel and Faure, crossed with a modern classic Richard Dubugnon. His Incantatio will finish the concert.
Five of the works in your programme are arrangements – by yourself and by others. Can you tell us a little more about the relationship between arrangements and the works in this programme which have been specifically written for the viola?
Martinu and Dubugnon love the viola. Bach was a viola player too! Research actually shows that Bach’s famous Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello were actually written for a different instrument that sounds as low as the cello but is held on the shoulder. An instrument called the ‘shoulder cello’, which doesn’t exist these days. Obviously, the closest thing we have is the viola.
The Dubugnon work is the newest composition in the programme. Did you commission it? What do you think the mandate is for performers to add new works to the repertoire?
After I met Richard [Dubugnon] at a festival in Holland and played his Piano Quartet, I asked him to write something for me. A few months later, Incantatio was sent to me via email. I looked at it, knowing that it is very challenging. I loved it!
The viola repertoire is relatively new, although there are some great early concertos. What are the challenges of performing new music, as opposed to the more standard repertoire?
When I play a standard repertoire, I try to think of it as new. It gives me freedom! Like if I have the chance to call the composer and ask him ‘do you mind if I phrase this differently?’ Sometimes composers can be very demanding in wanting their works to be played only in one way, just how it says in the music. But when they hear a very convincing performance, even if some things are not how they imagined it, they will be happy. I love the co-operative process!
You’re also playing the great Bartok Concerto with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta on September 22. Can you tell us about your relationship with this concerto?
I’ve played the Bartok Concerto a lot, since I was 16 or 17. But I’m not tired of it at all. I think this is a great work and the more I play it the more it opens up for me, the more I understand it. Especially the first movement – there are so many layers. It’s amazing!
Bartok’s Concerto was left unfinished at his death, and Tibor Serly and Csaba Erdelyi have finished their own editions. Do you have any interest to do your own?
I am not a composer. When I do my arrangements, I only adopt the viola part and rarely interfere with the score. Bartok finished the whole concerto but didn’t finalise the orchestration. Also some of the viola passages were unreasonably hard and Serly made a more effective version for the violist and for the orchestra. I once had to learn the ‘original’ solo part and when I went back to the Serly version, I kept two notes in from the original. I thought it was a bit more interesting.
Maxim Rysanov is in recital at City Hall on Thu Sep 20 & with the HK Sinfonietta at City Hall on Sat Sep 22. Tickets: 2734 9009; urbtix.hk.