Alan Buribayev: “I want for us to grow as performers and for our audience to grow with us”.

Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Alan Buribayev is famous not only in his homeland, but also far beyond its borders. On March 16, the Chief Conductor of the Astana Opera will present at the opera house’s Main Hall the grand premiere of G. Mahler’s Symphony No.2 (‘Resurrection Symphony’). In a fascinating conversation, the celebrated maestro talks about the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, world religions, philosophy, the theory of reincarnation and what it means to be human.


– Alan Askarovich, what makes this work special for you personally? How important is the music of G. Mahler for your repertoire?

– You know, I play a lot of G. Mahler and I have repeatedly performed almost all of his symphonies, including Das Lied von der Erde(The Song of the Earth). I am deeply touched by humanism and high ideas of this composer. In his works, G. Mahler first and foremost addresses the human soul. He not only asks the questions that concern every one of us, but also tries to give answers to them, to find the path of spiritual development of society.

Symphony No.2 is about why this life is given to us, what we want to accomplish on this earth and what we will leave behind. Is death the end of everything or is there something beyond it? At the same time, he deviates from the generally accepted views – the Christian concept of the Last Judgment, Paradise and Hell – and seeks an answer in philosophy, in modern German thought, namely, in the creative work of Friedrich Nietzsche, whom all outstanding intellectuals of the time ‘ran mad’ after. The concept of ‘eternal return’, of which F. Nietzsche talks about in his book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None’, excited G. Mahler. The result is an interesting mixture – German mysticism and philosophy, Hindu mythology, Vedas, and the idea of ​​reincarnation. It is the music of grand, cosmically universal, global ideas.

– What are the features of performing Symphony No.2?

– This is a wonderful work, which is difficult to play technically. G. Mahler was an outstanding conductor, thoroughly knew the instruments’ capabilities and wrote so that the musicians worked on wear and tear. He said that he does not write for the instruments conveniently. He required the violinists to ‘choke’ on the highest notes, and the flutists to ‘puff and pant’ at the lowest. Moreover, G. Mahler’s change of musical tempos is very spontaneous, just like manifestations of our thoughts and feelings. We cannot fail to note the richness of the musical language of this composer, the amazing depth of his works. Performing the Austrian classic is a colossal event and we are thoroughly preparing for it.

G. Mahler simultaneously gives not one theme, but five. Therefore, the artist, while playing his own theme, must carefully listen to the other four, look at the conductor and at the same time incorporate a part of his soul into the performance. It is incredibly difficult, but it only mobilizes and inspires our musicians. I really want for us to grow as performers, for our audience to grow with us and to rejoice, looking at us and our successes.

– How is the preparation going?

– The Astana Opera has a wonderful symphony orchestra. As you know, the opera house’s artists underwent rigorous audition process. Despite the fact that the collective encountered this music for the first time, they are very good at it. After one performance of this composition at the morning rehearsal, in the evening the orchestra had a completely different sound. This concert will allow us to reach a different level of professionalism; an orchestra that performs the music of Gustav Mahler has a special significance and status in the world music community.

When you achieve success in an endeavor, you want to conquer more and more new heights, set new tasks. Thus, on August 19, within the framework of the ‘EXPO-2017’ program, we will present the most monumental of G. Mahler’s works – the legendary Symphony No.8, called ‘Symphony of a Thousand’.

– As you have noted, this music is not easy to perform. If during the work process you see that the orchestra musicians are tired, how do you defuse the situation?

– Perhaps one of the main components of successful work with the orchestra is the ability to switch the musicians’ attention to new performing tasks. And, of course, a good joke or a witty remark can also be quite appropriate. I try to make even the difficult and, certainly, productive work not monotonous, but pleasurable.

– What does the music of this composer mean in the world symphonic repertoire?

– Gustav Mahler was a universally thinking person. Each of his symphonies is an attempt to comprehend the world. In the last 50 years, the music of the Austrian classic has become more and more widespread. The fact is that when the Nazis and Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in the 1930s, as he was a Jew, for a long time his compositions could not be played at all. Unfortunately, all this is part of human history. Only in the 1950s the musical community turned to G. Mahler’s creative work again. The rediscovery of these works suddenly stunned the society. Colossal scale, the significance of concepts… Mahler’s symphonies turned out to be more relevant than ever. According to statistics, the most popular composer in Western Europe is L. van Beethoven. However, according to a recent study, in 2011 – the year of G. Mahler’s hundred-year anniversary – Mahler was played more than Beethoven. That is, today it suddenly became possible to talk about an entire culture of Mahler, and there are followers, people who only want to listen to Mahler and nothing else. I am very glad that we, along with all the world’s leading orchestras, are also turning to G. Mahler’s music.

– Please tell us about what is happening in your creative life. Do you plan to perform Mahler’s music at other venues in the near future?

– Gustav Mahler is a composer who accompanies you all your life. Last year I played the first five of his symphonies and the upcoming concert at the Astana Opera is very important for me. I love this music endlessly and hope to play it throughout my entire career as a conductor.

On February 24 was my debut concert at the Teatro Carlo Felice in the Italian city of Genoa, and on March 3 a performance with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin took place at the world’s most prestigious concert hall – the Berliner Philharmoniker. Every invitation to perform in Berlin is, for me, a great musician’s celebration and, at the same time, an internal report, an exam. After that, on March 11, I will conduct A. Zhubanov and L. Khamidi’s opera Abai at the Astana Opera staged by the famous Italian director Giancarlo del Monaco.

– Do you manage to rest with such busy schedule? Also, how do you prefer to rest?

– When one is constantly on the road and maintaining a busy concert schedule, being with your family is definitely the best vacation. It’s when I am at home that I feel really good.

Let us note that on March 16, in addition to the symphony orchestra, the Astana Opera Chorus and famous operatic primas Maira Mukhamedkyzy and Dina Khamzina will be performing at the premiere of G. Mahler’s Symphony No.2 (‘Resurrection Symphony’) at the opera house’s Main Hall. Chief Choirmaster – Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Dautov.

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