26 June 2022

Sunday, 23:57


Maestro Rauf Abdullayev: "There is still much to be played. Music is waiting. And I do not want anything else"



He is a legendary conductor also known as a leader, creator, and icon. He turned 80, but he is young, energetic and working at full strength. Germany, Switzerland, Egypt, Turkey, Great Britain, USA... Uzeyir Hajibayov, Gara Garayev, Fikret Amirov, Arif Melikov, Khayyam Mirzazadeh, Dmitri Shostakovich, Johann S. Bach, Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber… He has given performances at the most prestigious music halls including the Royal Hall in London and the stages of Washington, DC. More than three hundred premieres and rare works of Azerbaijani and foreign composers conducted over fifty years of uninterrupted work. His colleagues note that during the tours, he remains a man of great soul. He never settles in a hotel until the whole orchestra is accommodated and can sacrifice his comfort to someone in trouble. He is constantly worried about the diet of his team members. Maybe this is part of the success. He is a man with fascinating charm, who is loved by the orchestra, choristers, singers, and instrumentalists. His orchestra has its own image, its own sound. Time seems to vanish during the performance. A violinist from Switzerland, Patricia Kopachinskaya, says about the maestro: "Behind the console, one can see a partner with strong will, impeccable and precise gesture. He is an amazingly soft and intelligent person."

Alexander Ivashkin, cellist, conductor, and musicologist from Great Britain: "Maestro gathered a wonderful team of like-minded people who understand him from a half-glance. A special conversation is his unusually plastic and expressive hands. Maestro is truly unique in his performance."

Tatiana Rexroth, musicologist from Germany: "Not only Azerbaijan, but the entire world culture can be proud of such a conductor as Rauf Abdullayev."

The interpretations of the maestro continue to amaze modern composers. After listening to his piano concert (solo part by Rena Rzayeva, who published an excellent book about Rauf Abdullayev) in 1993 in the Baku Philharmonic, Austrian composer Ulf-Dieter Soika decided that he would request the Azerbaijani conductor to conduct his opera as well. In 2002, the Austrian opera based on the plot of Azerbaijani fairy tale Leyla's Dream was staged in Vienna. Maestro Rauf Abdullayev was conducting. All four premieres were great success.

In 1972, Soviet and American pianist and music teacher, one of the best interpreters of Chopin's music, Bella Davidovich, gave a concert in her native city of Baku before traveling abroad. Niyazi flatly refused to conduct the concert of the traitor, because Bella was going to emigrate from the Union. Then Rauf Abdullaev took the lead. The creative collaboration of the two Baku musicians continues to this day.

Yet another memorable story from the past. Baku was expecting Mozart's Requiem by the Yurlov Choral Chapel in Baku. The city was excited, as the Requiem had not been performed in Baku for twenty years. Niyazi was ill and there was nobody to conduct the score. The elder brother of Rauf Abdullayev, Kamal, who had been working as a conductor in Moscow at that time, was asked to come to Baku. Kamal called his brother in Azerbaijan and tells him about a great opportunity to prove himself. Maestro refused because of his poor familiarity with the score and got scolded by his older brother. During the following two days, Rauf Abdullayev learned one of the most difficult scores and brilliantly conducted the concert. His whole life is all about working on the score and performing it with his orchestra.

People's Artist of Azerbaijan, laureate of State and President prizes, professor, art director and chief conductor of the Uzeyir Hajibeyov State Symphonic Orchestra, Rauf Abdullayev kindly agreed to give an interview to Region Plus.

How did you become a conductor?

I have an older brother, a conductor who had studied conductorship in Moscow, and had worked there for many years.

How did all three brothers, Kamal, Azer and you, become musicians?

Professor Kamal Abdullayev was the main conductor of the opera theatre in Baku in 1950-1962. For many years, he has been the chief conductor of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater in Moscow. He also taught symphonic conducting at the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music. Azer is an oboist who completed his graduate and postgraduate studies from the Moscow Conservatory with cum laude. He has been the head of wind and percussion bands of the Baku Conservatory for almost 35 years. Azer is also the author of manual on theory and practice of oboe performance, almost the first such manual in the Union. My grandfather was from Shusha. He was a successful businessman, who patronized the music with all his heart. Such celebrities as Jabbar Garyagdy, Seyid Shushinsky, Gurban Primov used to gather at our house often. Unsurpassed tarist of his time, Sadikhjan, was our relative also. My grandfather used to admire the talent of young Bulbul, invited him to weddings, and presented him a belt with gold ornaments on one of them. I told this story to Polad (Bulbuloglu, Bulbul’s son), and he confirmed the fact. My mother was a gifted person, she loved music and would often take us to all the performances and concerts. I finished the conservatory earlier than expected with honors in Baku in the class of Professor Farida Guliyeva, but I felt that the piano was small to me. The conducting school in Leningrad has always been famous, and I decided to continue my education there. My teacher was Nikolai Rabinovich and I always said that Kolya did not teach to conduct, he taught music.

You had many amazing moments in your life such as your meeting with Gara Garayev. His last letter to you is well known, where he said: "I do not feel scared for the music conducted by Rauf." You are considered the best interpreter of his music...

The letter is called Life is struggle. I have always felt his support in my younger years. If we talk about my encounters, I also had excellent relations with Jovdat Hajiyev. I was the first conductor to perform his Fifth Symphony. We also were friends with Sultan Hajibayov.

What is your daily routine?

I sleep five hours a day, although the Germans think that it would be better to take at least a half hour nap after sixty. I wake up at seven in the morning, do some gymnastics and have a light breakfast. I definitely look through the score, which I am going to rehearse that day. Then I go to work. From ten to two, I have a rehearsal. I come first to my concerts and rehearsals. As I am the main conductor, I have to solve some questions related to the production as well.

You have a special sense of accompaniment, perhaps since your birth.

It is not easy, you know. Sometimes we go straight to the concert after two rehearsals. Other times it takes only one rehearsal to be ready for the concert. Soloists are all different - each plays his or her part differently. Adapting to this game requires a special sense. I do not like the word "accompaniment". I would rather say ‘playing music’. I believe a symphony orchestra is the most powerful tool in instrumental music able to influence the audiences. In Soviet times, we traveled a lot around the country to play classical music: Ganja, Lankaran and so on. You should have to see how the people accepted us there! Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Gara Garaev, Fikret Amirov are our hereditary capital.

Charity is one of strong sides as a conductor, when you give concerts in order to help sick children.

Unfortunately, this does not happen as often as we would like. Conducting is a mission. I am ready to play charity concerts systematically.

As Rostropovich said: "A conductor simply has to be a human."

I do not like hangouts or talking beautifully about music. This is alien to me. I do my best at the concert, then I lock myself up. After each concert, Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, for instance, would go the bank of the Rhine, stood there alone for a long time alone looking at passing waters and thinking. He avoided people...

When did you first get behind the console?

In 1965. It was La Traviata, followed by Chopiniana and Paquita. Wherever I was, I did not leave the opera.

Working in Ankara at the Opera and Ballet Theater, you were twice awarded the title of Best Conductor of the Year for the first ever performances of Lady with Camellias and Three Musketeers in Turkey. You are called one of the best interpreters of Uzeyir-bey. Where do you work more interestingly: in a philharmonic orchestra or theatre?

For me, the opera is everything! The opera conductor is the highest category. To perform, for example, Verdi’s operas, the conductor needs a maximum. He must have a special temperament and be a significant person. He is also an artist who lives the life of all the characters. It is an indescribable feeling to conduct an opera! The conductor becomes the main person leading a huge mass of people both above and below the scene. Everything depends on him! To rehearse everything separately with the singers, the choir, the orchestra, then combine everything into a single piece of art. When you reach the expected result, you are happy! I experienced something similar in Turkey, where I conducted Wagner's Lohengrin. The feeling that you manage all this stuff is like hovering.

Over twenty years of work in the Azerbaijan and Ankara theaters, you have conducted thirty operas and twenty ballets of composers from different eras, directions and national schools. They say that you never discuss with the author the music you are going to perform.

If the composer is not alive, then I am guided by the well-known traditions of performing his music. If the composer is alive, then I work with him in close contact. We look at the score together, he talks about his wishes, visions of the opus, I ask him questions. For me, the main thing is to fulfill what the author wrote. This is the same principle followed by all great conductors. It is difficult to keep all this music in my head. Hence the scores, which serve this purpose. As you know, Wagner and Berlioz conducted without scores. But Hans von Bülow believed that "a score in his head is better than his head in the score". Sometimes score puts you in trouble - one needs visual and psychological communication with orchestra staff.

When did you first come to the stage of the Philharmonic?

My concert was back in 1966. It was the Oxford symphony of Haydn and Shostakovich's Tenth symphony were performed. It was a success. We had many problems and difficulties with the avant-garde violin concerto by Gara Garayev, which was performed in Baku only seventeen years after the Moscow premiere. For a soloist, I chose a student of the Azerbaijan Conservatory, Bogdanovsky, who brilliantly performed the violin part. The Symphony Orchestra of the Opera and Ballet Theater, supplemented by young musicians of the Chamber Orchestra of the Conservatory, by my graduates, perfectly coped with the performance. But this was after the death of Gara Garayev. The same is true for his Goya, which the author dedicated to me and was premiered in Moscow.

Your children did not follow your footsteps, did they?...

They studied until the seventh grade of the music school. That was all. I am sort of democratic in this respect, I did not force them. True, it also happens that talent is revealed later, as many such cases in history. My son still reproaches me, regrets that he is not a conductor.

Do you have disciples and followers?

I do. One of them is the son of tarist Ramiz Guliyev, Eyyub, with whom I worked before his departure for study in St. Petersburg. The other one is a refugee from Shusha, Fuad Ibrahimov, who played viola in our orchestra. Then we recommended him to continue his studies in Germany.

What will you do in the future?

I do not know. I want to play music, not only the written one, but also the one that is being written. Such authors are always welcome. If we talk about the world music, I have scores galore waiting for me! Look how much music is not played yet, music is waiting. And I do not want anything else.

How do you spend your spare time?

Watching sport programs on TV. Except football, I like table tennis, I am a candidate for master of sports in tennis. Chess is part of my life. I also play volleyball and basketball. During my years at the conservatory, we were very athletic. I read a lot of musical literature focusing on author’s biography, era, style of works that I am going to conduct. After all, self-education is great!

Rauf Janbakhshiyevich, on behalf of our magazine, I would like to congratulate you on your anniversary and the Istiglal Order, which you certainly deserve. We wish you health and creative success.



"... We all know his (Rauf Abdullaev, R+) contribution to symphonic music in Azerbaijan, his past and current activities. I think there will be more in the future", said an outstanding statesman and great connoisseur of music and art Heydar Aliyev, highly appreciating the activities of the Azerbaijani conductor Rauf Abdullayev.