Interview based on a conversation with Philippe Olivier for Piano Le Magazine
English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian? German, French, because she shares her life between Germany and Paris? Talking to Elena Rozanova should start by choosing the right language. But, like many Russian people, she loves speaking French and we love her CDs published by Harmonia Mundi, in particular the one dedicated to Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Ravel in which she plays Les Miroirs or her latest one dedicated to Rachmaninov, published by Satirino records. Her strong personality not only forces respect but also provokes admiration. The same happens with her CDs with the violinists Graf Mourja or Svetlin Roussev, which have won, may press awards. Before reaching the age of thirty she had been awarded prizes at various international piano competitions such as the Eduard Flipse in Rotterdam and the Long-Thibaud in Paris. She is the founder of a Piano Trio, which was awarded the prize for the best interpretation of a contemporary work at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Festival. She travels all the time.
Does being a Russian pianist today mean that you feel overshadowed by the art of pianists such as Emil Guilels, Heinrich Neuhaus, Tatiana Nikolaieva or Sviatoslav Richter ?
Certainly. In my case, I feel related to them through Odessa, city of many family roots... But I was trained as a pianist in Moscow, first at the Gnessine School and then at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. I had fabulous teachers, with incredible inner richness. They could teach until midnight and make the pupils work with a tenacity incredible for European people. But I am afraid they already belong to the past. Russia has changed so much in the last ten years.For better or for worse?For better and for worse. I belong to the last generation to have known the Iron Curtain. One must remember that, at that time, international competitions were the only mean Russian students had not only to play but also to travel and to have a better life.
I soon discovered the freedom of thought and movement. I was lucky to be born in an artists’ family, a family of intellectuals who cared to give a good education to their children. Musique was always there and part of my life since my very first years. I owe to my parents the choice of my profession, although I did not see it as such at the time. Both of them performed regularly at the time and did not leave me a choice.
My father was a teacher at the Music University in Moscow. For him, as for thousands of others, reading was the only way to escape the system, to maintain contact with the Western world. My mother always had French friends. Because of that, I have had at times problems with the police. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled. People started to talk. My father is Jewish and he told me about the monstrous humiliations my grandparents suffered. He told me about the harshness of his own destiny, of his struggle to be admitted at the Conservatory in Odessa. Only one Jew could be admitted...
Today, in Russia, people seem crazy. Nothing works, as it should. And all this, with the unusual reality of freedom. People who have acquired immense fortunes live in an atmosphere of intellectual and spiritual emptiness. They do not hesitate to hire university teachers to teach music or languages to their children.You feel deeply Russian.
Why don't you live in your country ?
When I left, I left because there was no freedom. It is not true any longer... I left because my paternal grandparents could never leave the Soviet Union, because they never had the opportunity to travel, to discover the rest of the world. I also had the chance to win a scholarship to study abroad and this is how I discovered Paris. Then, life just followed its course. Maybe today, I wouldn't leave Russia. I feel that my place is there and I am sincerely sad not to be there. I would like to live in the city where I grew up, Moscow. France is now my second fatherland. I am in between France and Russia, in the same way as the Russian people who came to France after the 1917 Revolution.
Isn't it an old feeling that you share with Gogol, Turgenev and Solzhenitsyn ?
You are absolutely right. The suffering of Russian people who live outside their country is well known. I am filled with an invisible sadness. One cannot touch it; it is light as a feather but always there. It has something of the sadness of the writer Milan Kundera. Your favourite composers are Janáček, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich. Why?When I discovered Janáček I was intrigued by his character, his rage at not being acknowledged by his fellow composers. I was fascinated by his nostalgia about the past. From a musical point of view, I admire the wild aspect of his works and the way folklore is always present. Janáček is a Natürmensch. A man in his primeval state, living in empty spaces, walking amongst birch trees. A sort of savage, with a touch of Dostoevsky, but as well full of Ostrovsky and Tolstoy, as they have always existed in the Slav world. I also like his romantic side.
Rachmaninov’s soul is the one of old Russia. We dream about it today. Reproofs against him, such as he would have done anything to be celebrated by Hollywood, do not make sense. They testify of a wrong way to approach the musical phenomenom, an unwanted intellectualism. Rachmaninov is music in all its splendour: first feelings, art and then intelligence. These cannot be dissociated but the priority is on sensitivity.His works show as well an over-excited pianist, in particular in his quintessential Fourth Concerto, the only one he revised at length while he lived in the United States. This was in 1941. This is the work of some sort of mad man. It is played much less frequently than the other three because its content is disturbing. It reveals Rachmaninov's sufferings, his frustration at not being able to be in Russia. He feels like screaming because he has been deprived of the snow, the wind, the mud, the ringing bells of the monasteries, the tea and the chi, a popular soup. I know these sentiments so well and feel them violently.
In his music, Shostakovich not only reveals in own genius but also the tragic destiny of his time and his country, which is mine. When I perform it, I am telling its history, as an historian would do. I feel it is my mission.
If I had to define why I would prefer one or other composer, I would obviously say it is because I have the impression of identifying myself with them or there story, with all due respect.