Interview with Igor Naidin from Borodin Quartet



Borodin Quartet: a well digested tradition of 70 years

Interview by Sanat Deliorman
The Borodin Quartet, originally called the Moscow Conservatoire Quartet, was founded by Mstislav Rostropovich on cello (after few weeks replaced by Valentin Berlinsky), Rostislav Dubinsky and Nina Barshai on first and second violins and Rudolf Barshai on viola. Now the group celebrates the landmark 70th anniversary, performing all over the world with dates in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Istanbul, Montreal, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Warsaw, London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Miami, Philadelphia, Berlin, Zurich and Vienna; with performances at international festivals. So, in the evening of 4th June 2015, the new generation members of the legendary quartet (Ruben Aharonian, Sergey Lomovsky, Igor Naidin and Vladimir Balshin) were in Istanbul with Boris Berezovsky, one of the most powerful piano virtiosi of our times, to privilege the 43rd Istanbul Music Festival with a rarely played Dvořák programme (the two piano quintets in A Major, B. 28 and B. 155) and to calibrate our ears with the finest and the most entrancing string touch and timbre in the auditorium of Hagia Irene Concert Hall.

That evening, after the group’s tiringly long rehearsal and minutes before they get on stage to receive their “Lifetime Achievement Award”, we had the chance to hold a short yet enlightening interview with Igor Naidin in the garden of Topkapi Palace.

What has changed in Borodin Quartet in 70 years in terms of the group sound? Has there been any change in timbre and in the playing style? Or are you proud that everything stayed the same?
It is impossible to stay the same. Firstly, it is physically impossible, because we are different people. We have different hands, different instruments. So the sound definitely somehow becomes different from generation to generation. But if we mention about the style, we believe we don’t do the same, yet we have a similar way of seeing and performing things and a similar approach to music, if we think of the pieces we have been performing throughout the last 70 years. And also it depends on the audience. Some audience prefer the sound of the first generation, some prefer the second or the third. But when we listen to all recordings we still hear great similarities, which we call the traditions, the approach and the style.
It’s interesting to hear that the audience give such differing feedbacks.
Of course they do. Some poeple laughed at the third generation. And I was never able to perceive the next generations. I was brought up with the second generation and I received that knowledge. This is a matter of preference of audiences. But whether the audiences like this and other line ups is secondary.
We remain in the same group but with different people. Yet, since the quartet was ceaselessly playing for 70 years -with members changing only one by one- each newcomer was kind of absorbing and getting to know the personal position he is replacing, all the durations, styles, soundmaking and anything from general ideas to the smallest details, thus he was able to perform in the way the previous member would perform. Otherwise no new member would be accepted in the group. But at the same time, since he was a new person this brought something new. This has been smooth process.
Recently you are recording the full cycle of Shostakovich string works. What is the difference now for you?
It will be the first time all 15 quartets will be recorded in one project. Because previous CD recordings were made on the basis of one-by-one. Even in the well-known existing quartets recorded by Melodiya, they had taken some from live recordings. These were absolutely outstanding recordings done in 1970s and 80s. And they recorded only 13 quartets, because there were only 13 at that time.
This new project is realized thanks to our collaboration with Decca who was interested to have all string quartet music by Shostakovich. Tjere will be quartets, the pieces, the piano quartet and something else. We started the project already. We recorded the first CD and next one is to go within a couple of years I hope.
How did you meet Berezovsky? Can you describe your musical partnership with him shortly?
We have collaborated with him not for many years. But we worked for a few years already and indeed we know him since many years because of his career. He is absolutely an outstanding musician. As you will hear tonight, he is a wonderful partner. And he plays chamber music a lot. Definitely he is one of the very few best pianists nowadays. And each time we are absolutely happy to perform with him.

Ruben Aharonian receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Borodin Quartet.
Photographed by Ali Güler 

How is the present connection of the group with Mr. Dubinsky? Well if you don’t want you don’t have to answer but, what do you think, as an observer, about his book Stormy Applause? Would you think that such a book could also have some blessing in disguise?
The book never had a positive effect on the group. It was never published in Russian. I read its English original. I learnt those information first from the quartet members then from the book. The two are a little bit different. Mr. Belinsky used to say: “The book is full of semi-truths.” But at the same time we all and Mr. Belinky’s previous generation know and should understand that since Mr. Dubinsky immigrated to the States, he wouldn’t be able to write a difrerent kind of book. So this kind of negative approach, particularly to the authorities, was inevitable. Of course everybody has some negative moments in their lives, but...
But Borodin Quartet is also like a family so they should inevitably have such moments in its memories.
He wrote it long time ago, not so long after he left the group. He is the very first violinist and one of founders of the group. And he will keep being this person, one of the best quartet members who ever played. They started the tradition of the group. So the book is of secondary importance. Nobody remembers about the book. It was a temporary book for the logic of that time.
Has the Russian institutions changed their policies about instrument loaning? Has there been any amendment so far?
It is still the same. If you want one instrument you can take it, but now we now own our own instruments for a few years. And we are happy with them.
Would you be interested in a documentary film to be recorded about the Borodin Quartet? Have you received any such proposal up to now?
There has been some filmed, but in Russian, and since they are not on youtube you cannot watch it online. They are in private archives. And there is no recent proposal, for we are too busy perfoming and recoding Shostakovich. Maybe for the next anniverasy (he laughs).
Photographed by Ali Güler 

Are you still not very optimistic about new composers? Haven’t there been any cases which melted the ice?
Well we have commissioned a couple of pieces but as a rather old-fashioned group we seldom perform contemporary music.
Have you ever had the chance to listen and play any Adnan Saygun Quartet?
No, I haven’t.
Can you tell us in which concert hall you feel at home the most? 
In many of them.
But specifically?
This is a difficult question. It is impossible to feel not at home if the acoustic qualities are superb. Beause under such favourable circumstances, you can feel, you can control and enjoy the music. Then you feel at home on the stage. I can count many such halls in Amsterdam, Moscow, St. Petersburg. There are also some Japanese venues I think of now. And of course, most of the Finnish halls.
Now I have to rush to stage. Hope people won’t shout at us if we are late, like they do in Russia and in Italy (he laughs).
I don’t think they would do. Thank you so much Mr. Naidin. 
Cover photo by Ali Güler 

Igor Naidin and Sanat Deliorman, Topkapi Palace, 04.06.2015
Photographed by Ali Güler




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