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A few minutes with an oboist.

The oboist Vilem Veverka (1978) is emerging as one of the most striking performers of the coming generation. He is all the more interesting as a musician for the fact that he systematically devotes much of his energies to the expert performance of contemporary music, which is still far from usual even among young performers. In the following interview, V. Veverka talks with one of the most important of living Czech composers, Marek Kopelent (1932). This was not their first meeting--it was Veverka appeared as soloist for the Czech premiere of Kopelent's oboe concerto A Few Minutes with an Oboist (1972), and gave a marvellous performance. It is typical of the Czech Republic, in which the communist regime systematically suppressed practically all expressions of modern art, that two musicians apparently divided by a generational gulf can easily find a common language. This is because they share a continuing degree of marginalisation. Not even in today's free society is the place of contemporary music assured and automatic either in music schools or elsewhere ...

We were brought together when we met at the guest seminar given by Heinz Holliger at the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU) in 2001. He recognised your great talent and you astonished me too with your performance of Baroque music. But you are captivated by contemporary music. Why?

There are several important factors at work here. Above all, playing contemporary music is something related to my education and profession, it is something I should get to know.

Second, the music of the 1950s and 1960s involved an extraordinary advance in technique, and you have to get to grips with it. It develops not just your capabilities as a player, but your personality. And I think my generation is the first that can play these pieces here freely and publicly.

Finally, performing contemporary music I have a virtually absolute degree of freedom, and I'm not bound by conventions and traditions. In fact I can take this approach to Baroque or any other music as well, but of course on the condition that I know and respect the rules of style, of the time.

The pianist Radoslav Kvapil says that through performing my Ballade he reached a new understanding when interpreting the classics, and he found that getting to know contemporary music opened up entirely new horizons in terms of sound, technique and ideas. I sometimes ask myself how musicians who have no experience with the modern can be creative. Do you agree?

Yes. But the fact is that some people find it enough to know the alphabet up to the letter T and don't need to know what comes next, because ultimately they can get by even without higher musical education.

Do you think HAMU [The Prague Music Faculty] provides sufficient training for the performance of modern music, by which I mean from the 1950s-1960s onwards?

For me personally HAMU did provide space for performance of modern music, and not just at my final concert, where I presented the Czech premiere of B. A. Zimmerman's concerto. I appreciate that because on academic soil there is an educated and critical public. On the other hand, in trying to get to know this area of music a student can sometimes feel like an autodidact, with the teacher simply offering alternative approaches to the piece, and acting as its first critic.

I was thinking of technical training--whether Berio's Sequenza VII and suchlike were in the study plan?

On the face of it not at all, but when you go in for international competitions you obviously can't avoid it. And by the way, the Wind Instrument Department is the best in terms of attitude to contemporary music.

I have heard that a teacher had no idea what to do with the notation of multiphonic sound in a part ...

I think it very much depends on how keen a student is--whether he or she can manage to draw the teacher into the study of contemporary pieces.

How do you see the current relationship between the conservatories and HAMU, or what should it be ideally?

The conservatory is something like the first stage, the take-off strip for a musical career, but it is only at HAMU that the process of maturing as a musician begins--as if you were starting again from the beginning but the rate of progress is much faster. And you could say that conservatory is a sort of luxury training and I very much dislike it that some disciplines start at 15 years, since this tends to make young people one-sided, if not to lead to professional idiotism.

Is it possible to get by with only conservatory training?

There are cases like that. Those people usually end up in orchestras or teaching at basic music schools.

But I believe HAMU graduates predominate in orchestras as solo instrumentalists?

Oh definitely. But I was thinking more of string players. And real life is different from what is often proclaimed. In fact HAMU is not just a training for a soloist career.

Let me come back to contemporary music. Can I then deduce that the conservatory is not equipped to teach the new techniques, and that if HAMU is not equipped either, then this kind of learning will drop out of the educational process?

In a way yes. It's up to the student to provoke the teacher, and we can't expect the teacher to take the initiative. I played Stockhausen's In Freundschaft while still at the conservatory, but you go to HAMU and there nobody expects that from you. On the other hand, when I was defending my diploma dissertation on the new technical possibilities of the oboe I was told that everyone knew what I was writing about, that it was already known here in the 1960s, but since the public had no interest in it, people stopped trying to do it ...

They said everything had been played here? Berio's Sequenza VII for Solo Oboe is from the end of the 1960s. So what kind of answer was that?

I was told it had just vanished. They said the public didn't want to listen to this music and we are no pioneers ...

That's unbelievable. To be hiding the fact that during the repressive "normalisation" period (1970s and 1980s) such music was forbidden, and that it wasn't the public but the regime that didn't want it. And this is the sort of thing teachers are supposed to say to young musicians!

Absurd. But still I could present my teacher with your concerto, for example, and meet with interest and support. Of course it could happen that someone else would say--we're not going to play that ... But that was more in other disciplines. The pianists, for example--given the amount of older repertoire they mostly never even get to modern music. They don't even get up to the present at HAMU in the history of music. So how can you expect graduates to find their way in the music of the last fifty years? Tell me about your experiences working with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The orchestra is absolutely top in the field, if I can just sit among members of an orchestra like that it is the best school I could have--the chance to take look into "the kitchen" and have direct contact with first-rate players.

And what does it mean, exactly, being "top in the field"?

The orchestra has unusually good work conditions, and top conductors. The players are rewarded accordingly and the main thing is they so much enjoy the work. In this country some musicians, mainly ensemble orchestral players, act as if they thought that working in an orchestra was not a real, proper career for musician. The truth is the opposite.

Do you feel, for example, that Germans have less "musicality" than Czechs?

They are educated so that each knows more about music individually, and perhaps that actually gives them more "musicality" ...

I can see you hesitating over that term--it's bandied about a great deal in this country--what should we understand by it?

Maybe being able to translate the record of the composer's idea, the notation, into sound as effectively and authentically as possible.

Here we think of it more as meaning a higher level of spontaneity, emotionality ...

Yes, people tugging at the heartstrings ...

... and at the same time it is emphasised as a symbol of Czechness--isn't it that myth?

Most probably.

Have you had experience of music education in Germany?

I studied my main field and associated subjects for four years in Berlin at the Hanns Eisler Higher Music School. The kind of music that is a very exclusive thing here (for example the music of Isang Yun), is normal in Germany, even if this doesn't mean that everybody plays it there. There are a number of similarly good pieces still waiting for their Czech premieres and unfortunately I'm not in a position to get them a hearing myself, while the people who could have other cares or interests.

How long will you be in Berlin?

My scholarship with the Berlin Philharmonic ends in September 2005.

And what then?

I don't yet know. I shall certainly try to get a place in an orchestra. You can't make a living with solo playing, as is clear from the careers of the leading European oboists.

And at home?

At present there are no vacancies, and I don't even know whether there would be interest in me. Actually I have already tried several times ... Even though, if you work hard, even in this country you could achieve high-level goals. The situation here is very complex--a very small market and an unprepared public. But sometimes interesting opportunities still turn up ...


What specifically?

Recently I recorded Berio's Sequenza for Czech Radio, and now I'm going to record your concerto (A Few Minutes with an Oboist). The young composer Martin Hybler is writing a new concerto for me. I should be playing it in the spring of next year. These are great projects that are worth coming back for.

Do you want to leave?

I'm not thinking about it for the moment. It will depend on circumstances and opportunities. At the moment I don't see many here.

Do you make excursions into other musical genres?

Not really. I must confess that in that respect I'm conservative.

Do you agree with some of your contemporaries that music is one, just good or bad?

That's an over-simplification. What do we consider music? What the media presents isn't something I can't take seriously, and in any case the public thinks of modern music as something quite different. And I myself don't want to include everything under the heading "music".

You are probably talking about commercial music, but there is also music "between the opposite poles"--alternative, jazz ...

I accept jazz, certainly, especially when top musicians play it.

Good, so what about that "one music"?

It depends on quality--yes, even if it isn't serious music but I can still judge it through the lens of serious music.

Vilem Veverka

born on the 5th of February 1978 in Prague. After studying at the Prague Conservatory he started studies in 1999 with Libena Sequardtova at the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (HAMU), where he graduated this year. Concurrently, from 2000, he has been studing at the "Hanns Eisler" Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin with Prof. Dominik Wollenweber. He has been solo oboist of the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester, and in 2003 won a scholarship with the Orchestral Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ("the Karajan Academy").

His most important awards in competitions include 2nd Prize in the international Concertino Praga competition (1995) and 1st Prize in the 7th International Oboe Competition of Tokyo (2003).

He has been responsible for a series of Czech premieres of important pieces, including Karlheinz Stockhausen's In Freundschaft, Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra, Isang Yun's Rondel etc. He has been working with Czech Radio, for which he has recorded a series of important pieces of oboe repertoire.

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Title Annotation:interview
Author:Kopelent, Marek
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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