‘There aren’t big honoraria for serious music in our country in general’

Elmir Nizamov on his talk with Putin, meeting with Minnikhanov and music

‘There aren’t big honoraria for serious music in our country in general’

The last week of March was uncommonly rich in events for Tatarstan’s most sought-after young composer Elmir Nizamov, 34. He became one of the three laureates of the Russian president’s award for young artists in 2020, talked with Vladimir Putin online and personally met with Rustam Minnikhanov. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, the merited artist of the Republic of Tatarstan told us about the problem he tabled in his conversation with Russia’s leader, talked about salaries in music and problems in the sphere.

“It is necessary to work on the system of orders, public contracts too”

The main news about you was recently linked with Putin. In reply to your speech, the president set a task of improving systemic support for composers in Russia. Are you proud of yourself?

(Editor’s Note: During the meeting of the Russian president with laureates of awards in culture and art on Thursday, Elmir Nizamov addressed Putin. He noted that the school of composers made a big leap in the Soviet era, however, according to him, now the Russian Federation doesn’t have systemic support for people of this profession. “I will ask [Russian Minister of Culture] Mrs Lyubimova to provide me with corresponding proposals,” the president responded. “It is necessary to create a support system for composers, especially young composers,” he said).

Yes, in this case, I am proud of it. Hopefully, there will be some positive dynamics after my words. The talk with the country’s president inspired me very much.

How do you think young composers should be supported? Are we, first of all, talking about financial issues and public contracts or is a quota to perform young composers’ music needed?

(Editor’s Note: During the meeting with the Russian president, Nizamov complained that artists, including orchestras and theatres, usually cautiously accept young composers’ compositions because they fear failure).

This matter is very complex and big. And Mr Putin confirmed that big and systemic work was needed in this sphere. Such issues should be discussed collectively, together with members of the Composers’ Union, representatives of leading concert venues of the country to find necessary forms of support. I would like the inclusion of compositions of composers who live now to concert programme to become normal, I would like it to be a norm to order compositions from them. If all music groups of our country perform compositions of at least one modern-day composer... They all will start to sound immediately, you know!

Of course, it is necessary to work on the system of orders, public contracts too. Moreover, it is necessary to provide some hours on TV, for instance, to make a programme with a premiere of a contemporary composer’s composition. Unfortunately, there is almost no contemporary music on the radio. It is necessary that music start conquering the media space. Integrated work is needed here. I tasked myself with defining the problem, delivering the concerns of all our music community to the head of the state.

Hopefully, there will be some positive dynamics after my words. The talk with the country’s president inspired me very much

“50,000 for a big symphony is the ceiling”

Can a young modern-day composer earn his or her living if there is no system of public contracts? For instance, what’s composer Nizamov’s main income? Is this money enough to live a normal life? According to your social media, you bought a home in Kazan only last year...

Yes, I bought the flat as private property in 2020. Composer Nizamov lives mainly thanks to theatre music, pop music. Songs, music to plays and films somehow help one to survive on incomes from music. But one has to learn how to adjust to it, not everybody can do this. A composer’s certain mobility is needed here.

Moreover, music as a type of art should develop too. Otherwise, we won’t have symphonies, concerts, chamber music, we will have nothing, everything will stay only for cinema and theatre. And this is under a big question. When the culture minister said that cinematographers were waiting for us, I agree that cinema has always been a good site for a composer both from a perspective of PR and money. But not everybody can become a film composer, it is just one of the forms.

To understand the amounts... How much money did you earn for the song Star of Hope for Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes series compared to a symphony?

It is very big work to write symphonic music. From my experience, I can say that such a composition can cost as much as a song. And not because the song is very expensive but because a symphony is evaluated so cheaply. There aren’t big honoraria for serious music in our country in general. 20-50,000 per a big symphony is the ceiling. This is impossible! What do 30,000 mean today?

It is nearly the average monthly wage here...

Yes, a composer can be writing this symphony for six months. Moreover, before that, a person studies this speciality for so long, develops his talent. We are talking about good music, not graphomaniacs. Moreover, these 30,000 may not be systemic. Somebody will get it, while many will get nothing at all. In other words, there is no system. You did something proactively, agreed, there can be some honorarium. But the whole sector can’t work this way.

There aren’t big honoraria for serious music in our country in general. 20-50,000 per a big symphony is the ceiling. This is impossible! What do 30,000 mean today?

Though the meeting with Putin wasn’t face-to-face but online, it was seen you were notably nervous. How did you morally prepare to raise this issue in front of the country’s president?

I think it would be easier for me to meet offline in the room. Firstly, it was a live transmission in front of the whole country. I had a big number of cameras and people in front of me. I seem to be sitting at the piano and talking only on TV. But when the president calls your name and addresses you first, it is very exciting. I didn’t even understand what the format and tone of the talk should be like. I talked as I talked, it went as it went.

I was glad that I managed to deliver what I wanted. Of course, I forgot to say something, I said something not in the way I wanted. But I delivered the message, and I was heard. Most importantly, it wasn’t just an intimate talk, the meeting was crowned with specific results. For me, it is the first experience of this kind, and I completed my mission.

When I heard I got the award, I was simply speechless. I thought: ‘That’s it, this has happened. This means you follow the correct path, comrade Nizamov’

How did you learn you became a laureate of the Russian president’s award? Where were you? What was your reaction?

I was at home, sitting in front of the computer and working. And the phone was luckily lying in front of me. In the evening, I received a call from the Russian President’s Apparatus. I was warned that the announcement would take place a few days later and asked me not to tell anybody about it.

When I heard I got the award, I was simply speechless. I thought: ‘That’s it, this has happened. This means you follow the correct path, comrade Nizamov’.

“Mr Minnikhanov promised to think about a musical theatre”

If we continue talking about the series of important meetings, you talked with Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov in Kazan on Friday. Was it just a pleasant talk or did you table problems too?

Of course, I thanked Mr Minnikhanov personally. My victory wouldn’t be possible without support over these years. One composer can’t stage all operas, compositions. People have to believe you, give you a chance of showing this all. This is why I thanked the president of the republic for this and said that it was our common victory.

Of course, in continuation of our talk with Mr Putin, I voiced the issue of support for contemporary music and composers, but from another angle.

I have been saying for long that Tatarstan, Kazan need a musical theatre where our composers’ compositions could be performed very much. Compositions are created, some of them are performed, but literally one or two times. And they cannot be seen simply on a regular basis. I raised this problem.

Moreover, we have plenty of artists who aren’t used as much as they could be. Also, the theatre could create additional jobs for musicians. They agreed with me. This topic isn’t so new, in fact, I have already talked about it. And we discussed this with Mr Minnikhanov considering new nuances. He assured me that they would think about it. I was offered several options. We’ll see how it goes.

The premiere of your national musical Golden Kazan staged by Mikhail Panjavidze took place on the stage of the opera theatre in late 2020. How was the experience on such a stage?

Golden Kazan is a very complex and large project where a lot of invited artists and musicians are involved. And it would be hard to show it once a week in the musical theatre. But if a musical theatre with its company appeared in Kazan, it could be easier to realise. While the Jalil Theatre does its work — classic music plays onstage, there are contemporary stagings too. But to fully meet the existing demand, of course, a musical theatre is needed.

‘Golden Kazan’ is a very complex and large project where a lot of invited artists and musicians are involved. And it would be hard to show it once in a week in the musical theatre. But if a musical theatre with its company appeared in Kazan, it could be easier to realise

Why move from Tatarstan? I feel I am needed here”

Does the status of the most sought-after Tatarstan composer encourage or burden you?

Of course, it encourages me because many of my ideas become a reality. And at the same time, it feels like I have to work more to comply.

We can say you promote Tatar culture but you were born in Ulyanovsk. Then you studied in Kazan but, as you said yourself, you create art everywhere. Still, where is your homeland?

Ulyanovsk is my home town where I was born and made my first steps, I graduated from school. It is my birthplace. Kazan is the city where I fulfilled myself as a composer. It is my home.

Perhaps I call Kazan my home, not homeland. It is my home literally and figuratively. I thank the republic for support. I am often asked why I don’t go. I reply: ‘What for? If I can do what love here'. A person should stay in a place where he is needed. Here I feel I am needed.

Globally, Russia is my homeland, of course. I feel comfortable in Moscow too, I have a lot of friends, colleagues, projects there. In fact, the music stage is my homeland. My homeland is where the stage is. The rehearsal hall, orchestra — here the musician is in his element.

You call the stage your homeland. What do you feel when you hear your music in the hall or backstage? Do you simply let it go and enjoy the moment, observe the spectators’ reaction or how does this happen?

When a composition is performed for the first time, of course, I am very concerned. I observe musicians, look at spectators and my relatives’ reaction. Whereas when a composition has sounded many times, I know I am the author, it lives its own life.

In fact, the music stage is my homeland. My homeland is where the stage is. The rehearsal hall, orchestra — here the musician is in his element

“I learn from Tatar classics”

Speaking about your art, many write about it as a new branch in Tatar music. Do you think this definition fits and how would you characterise your style yourself?

To be honest, it is hard for me to characterise my style because I constantly do experiments. Of course, there are some tendencies in songs, theatre art, symphonies. Any composer in general is a new style. Any person who does something new, writes sincerely creates a new style in any case. Anyway, it is a new era now. And I live in another era than Tatar composers who lived in the 70-80s of the past century. Naturally, I have a bit different style.

Did classic Tatar composers’ music still influence your art? Who is closer to you?

It does, their art is reflected in mine. I learn from them, study how and what they did. I do the same but in my own way.

I like Rustem Yakhin’s songwriting very much because, on the one hand, it is very folk art, on the other hand, it is very original. He found new forms, I admire the way he felt the word, combined this all in his music. I like Almaz Monasypov’s music very much. He seems to be a surprising composer for me. I feel some affinity with him. On the one hand, he wrote symphonies, he has a lot of complex music. Also, he had very bright songs. He could unite this all skilfully. Nazib Zhiganov is close to me with his scale.

“The cooperation with Sladkovsky became a springboard for me

How do you assess the contribution of Alexander Sladkovsky and the Tatarstan Symphony Orchestra in your establishment as a composer? In an interview with the conductor, on the one hand, he praised you, singled out the composition Celestial Movement he performed with the orchestra in Monte Carlo. On the other hand, he complained that there weren’t one among Tatarstan composers who could write a real encore for the orchestra like, for instance, the Tatarstan State Symphony Orchestra’s signature composition Figure of Tamerlane by Alexander Tchaikovsky...

He probably said so because such an encore, indeed, doesn’t exist now. If it existed, he wouldn’t have said so.

I am personally grateful to Mr Sladkovsky. A composer will never be able to climb the summit of symphony music without a conductor, an orchestra. One can’t write such music without performing it with a symphony orchestra. All great composers who wrote great symphony music had tandems with conductors. So for me, it is a great experience of working with the orchestra and the conductor.

After Sladkovsky began to perform my compositions with his orchestra in concert halls in Moscow, Tatarstan, Monaco, I immediately felt the attention to me not only as a young and talented but a truly serious composer. Many learnt about me after that, started to respect me. So the cooperation with Sladkovsky became a springboard for me. Also, when I submitted documents for the Russian presidential award, it was necessary to provide a list of works I did, various videos. And I provided several performances of my compositions by Sladvkosky’s orchestra. If I simply wrote this music and Sladkovsky’s orchestra didn’t play it, who would hear it? This is why I am very grateful to him for meeting each other during that period. And we still keep in touch. He congratulated me after the laureates of the award were announced.

Were the compositions performed by the Tatarstan State Symphony Orchestra written on Sladkovsky’s request?

Not all of them. Something had been written before we got acquainted. While I wrote something deliberately for the orchestra.

Photo: muzkarta.info
After Sladkovsky began to perform my compositions with his orchestra in halls in Moscow, Tatarstan, Monaco, I immediately felt the attention to not only as a young and talented but a truly serious composer

“I couldn’t write anything for months”

Do you have a fear that tomorrow you will wake up, and your gift of composing will disappear and you will not be able to write music anymore? Have you ever thought about what else could you do if this happens?

I have been thinking of this since I turned 16. I even had such a period you have described now at the age of 18. I couldn’t write anything for months. I thought: ‘That’s it, here we are’. Then a teacher gave me a task and said he was waiting for it from me the following week. And I got carried out, and everything returned to normality. And at that moment I understood that I should simply work. Do what you should do, and might happen what will happen.

If I come to think what else I could do... Now I am teaching in Composition Department in the Kazan Conservatory. It seems to me I know how to teach and explain. And teaching isn’t strange to me. It is my thing. The only thing is that now I am trying to find a balance between art and teaching so that I can do both.

I think you are a romantic. You believe that music can change people for the better in modern quite harsh reality...

Of course, I sincerely believe it. Music has always been with humans. In fact, humans haven’t changed dramatically since the appearance of music, art in general. Yes, we dress differently, we have gadgets, the Internet, a frenetic pace of life. But we fall in love as we used to fall in love, we become sad as we used to become sad, we cry as we used to cry. We are anyway humans. On the contrary, I become more convinced that a sound became something self-valuable for humans. People write this to me, they ask for notes, instrumental tracks, records where they can listen to my compositions. I usually play for journalists who are shooting me, while they say: ‘Gosh, how interesting this is. Is this still possible?’ Every time the reaction is real.

What do you like to listen to yourself? Do you still love Queen?

Yes, I do. I recently bought a vinyl player and try to listen to music on it. I recently purchased Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Ella Fitzgerald, I have a vinyl with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It is the music I have known well since my childhood. But now I seem to have familiarised myself with it again. I like the ritual very much — to choose and play vinyl.

In fact, humans haven’t changed dramatically since the appearance of music, art in general. Yes, we dress differently, we have gadgets, the Internet, a frenetic pace of life. But we fall in love as we used to fall in love, we become sad as we used to become sad, we cry as we used to cry. We are anyway humans

You can be interviewed almost every week because something is constantly happening. What are your next grandiose and big plans? At the moment, you were nominated for Golden Mask but don’t have the award yet. Do you have serious ambitions?

I don’t think about the Mask as such. I am thinking about doing something interesting in the theatre.

Now I am working on music for The Hunger play for adults for Ekiyat puppet theatre. On 18 September, I plan to have a recital in Zaryadie, Moscow. We will talk both with listeners and my compositions will be performed by a chamber orchestra. I am still working on the rest so that something interesting will appear.

What is music for you?

It is life, of course.

By Kristina Ivanova. Photo: Maksim Platonov