Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Krill Timofeev of the Rastrelli Cello Quartet

Interview with cellist Kirill Timofeev of the Rastrelli Cello Quartet

"If you hear it in your heart, you can do everything on the instrument." - Kirill Timofeev

To listen to the audio: Timofeev interview

From left to right above: Kirill Timofeev, Kira Kraftzoff, Sergio Drabkin, and Misha Degtjareff.

Web site: Rastrelli Cello Quartet

I had the pleasure of chatting recently with cellist Kirill Timofeev of the Rastrelli Cello Quartet, whose new CD, Cello Effect, is out now.

MF: What inspired the name of your quartet?

KT: The three of us were born in Saint Petersburg, and we chose the name because Rastrelli was the Italian architect who built the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, a very famous building in Saint Petersburg. Anyone who has been there will understand me, because it has a kind of symbolic meaning.

MF: I read in your liner notes that Kira had to persuade Sergio that it was a good idea to form a cello quartet, and Sergio came back and said, “Are you kidding?”

KT: Yes, I remember! [laughs] I thought it could be big fun to play, let's say, unconventional repertoire with my friends. My colleagues and I were ready to rehearse endlessly and take plenty of time, and to experiment as wellwith the sound, with the written form, and to try to do some improvisation, which is not usual for classical musicians, to play something not written in the score. At the first moment we didn’t know what to expect, but from the first days we started to understand that it’s not about playing cello—that we should actually forget the instrument, forget the cello itself, and just realize the sound of whatever instrumental voice we could imagine.

MF: So you have to transcribe most of what you perform?

KT: Yes, everything we play is not originally written for the cello quartet, it’s arrangements by our member Sergio Drabkin. Every year he’s improving himself. It’s incredible! Now he does really great things for us. The Prokofiev he did a couple of years ago, I really love it. I never could imagine that a cello quartet could play such a piece written for a huge orchestra. We understand what he means with his arrangements, and that’s also important.

MF: You’ve been together for fifteen years?

KT: I think thirteen would be more correct. We started in 2002 and played our first gig in Germany on Constance Lake, in the small town of Meersburg. Then we had a small pause, and started again in 2003 to play actively together.

MF: Is there a theme that guided the choice of pieces in Cello Effect?

KT: I thought we could change something—I don’t want to say, in the musical world, but we could change something in the minds of classical musicians. You can play everything you love. There was a film about this, Butterfly Effect. And with everything we are doing we hope to change something in the future. With this CD we’re trying to send the message: Let’s do this. It’s possible. Everything is possible. If you hear it in your heart, you can do everything on the instrument. It’s not important which instrument you’re playing; you just have to hear it in yourself. It’s the main idea of our quartet. We’ve recorded six CDs, and we produced them in Russia. This is the first one that will get a bit of advertisement, probably. This label, Genuin, is a very good label with good musicians and good quality. We had a great sound engineer, Christopher Tarnov. I love his work. We recorded the CD one and a half years ago, and it was ready only on the second of October. It took more than a year to get all the rights together for each piece. It was a lot of work—not musical work, but the organization, the process of doing that.

MF: Do you collaborate on the arrangements, or is that mostly what Sergio does?

KT: Good question. Sergio writes for us, and he knows all our special skills, of course—he knows us very well, and actually it fits very well for every one of us, what he is writing. But musically I would say it’s about ninety percent of his creative job, and we just check some small mistakes or something. But very often after that we sometimes change things during rehearsal. We can play additional notes or chords to increase the sound, to get more overtones and these kinds of things. You can only understand it in the process of playing. But his musical idea is behind every arrangement.

MF: I really love the bossa nova pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

KT: Yes, Desafinado means “slightly out of tune” in Portuguese. Jobim made a small joke. At the time bossa nova was not taken seriously by the musical world.

MF: I loved your Take Five. Do you do it as an encore?

KT: We play it very often in our concerts at the end, because everyone plays an improvisation. After every improvisation we introduce each member of the quartet. It’s nice to end the concert with this piece.

MF: Oh, like a cadenza?

KT: Yes, actually a cadenza should be improvisation. If you play Baroque music, you don’t play everything exactly the same in every concert. It’s a little bit different.

MF: In your bio it says you studied ancient music. Do perform it much?

KT: It’s not very often now, because I play modern cello with the steel strings. But of course when you play the old music you have all these rules. Everything you learn, you can try to use even on a modern instrument. I think now it’s not as important as twenty years ago. There are many musicians like Pieter Wispelweyhe plays on a modern cello, but he knows how to pronounce Baroque phrases. Extreme Baroque time is over, I think. Now there are many well-educated musicians. At the time there was a reaction against these huge Mahler orchestras playing Bach or Vivaldi, you know. But of course it’s very nice to have a Baroque cello with the good strings, but if you’re traveling a lot and playing different programs, you can’t take two cellos with you.

MF: The picture on the CD is funny, with you guys holding the cellos on your shoulders.

KT: It was fun, yes! We had a good photographer in Saint Petersburg, Alexei Fodorov. He’s our good friend.

MF: It does imply that you work hard at what you do.

KT: If you visited our rehearsals you would be deadly bored, because we spend seventy or eighty percent of the time working on intonation, and finding a nice sound altogether. We prepare in the basement all the time. If you have a good basement, of course, you can rend the air with your ideas. If you have the greatest ideas but they don’t work, then no one will hear!

MF: Do you have a conductor?

KT: Kira Kraftzoff is the leader. He mainly plays the first voice, or the first violin. Sometimes we change the roles. I would say I’m probably the viola player most of the time. If we change our voices it’s very hard, because I used to play some double tunes to get them in tune and so on, and it’s not so easy, probably, if you never did it before. But every partiture is very interesting to work on.

MF: I thought I heard the theme from Mission: Impossible in there somewhere?

KT: Kira played it, probably, on this recording. His is the last improvisation in Take Five, and he used this Mission: Impossible. It’s just fun!

MF: You started playing at age five, is that right?

KT: Yes, quite early. The three of us were at the same school, but not at the same time. Misha Degtjareff and I were classmates. I’ve known him for thirty-one years. It’s incredible. And Kira is seven years older than we are. I was fourteen when I met him, when he was the assistant of our professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He gave us some master classes, and he gave me so much power. It was so interesting. He changed so many things in my art of playing. I’m very thankful to him, because I think he gave me a really good chance. It’s always important, especially in this age, to get the fresh influence of a really good musician. And it’s not only technical things, of course. His technique is very relaxed, and probably he gave me this feeling of enjoying playing the instrument. You should relax and play, and it sounds well after that. It should not be work at all, and so on. But of course the idea of making music on such a level, it brought me quite far along. Of course there are some details, but they are not so interesting probably—working on the left hand or the right hand and so on, all this technical stuff.

MF: Where do you perform next?

KT: We play the day after tomorrow in this town in Siberia, Irkutzk. It’s very far away!

MF: Is it cold there?

KT: It’s about minus fourteen or something like that.

MF: I bet it’s a beautiful hall.

KT: Yes, you never know what is awaiting you. I think it’s a pretty good hall, and it’s very well organized.

MF: How do you adapt to different halls?

KT: You automatically change your sound. If it’s a huge hall with a big reverberation, you play differently than in a small room. But I don’t think acoustics are so important. You hear the acoustics in the first couple of minutes. After that you hear what the musician is doing inside of this context. It’s more important what’s happening musically, than if it’s a big or a small room. I don’t care, actually, so much about such things.

MF: How much rehearsal time do you get?

KT: This time we have a rehearsal the same day of the concert. I prefer to come one day before, at least, but it’s not always possible.

MF: Are you selling your new CD at the concert?

KT: After the concert you can sell them and sign autographs for the public. It’s a good opportunity to get in touch with the people as well.

MF: What does the rest of your tour look like?

KT: After Irkutsk we go to Finland and play in Helsinki, then we play at the Gasteig in Munich. The Glazonov Foundation is the organizer. Then we play in Tübingen, close to Stuttgart in the south of Germany. Then we have a couple of weeks’ pause, but we start in January a huge tour with the clarinet player Giora Feidman. We play about forty concerts with him in Germany. It’s big fun, and he’s a great musician. Very interesting work.

MF: How did you get started? Were your parents musicians?

KT: Some of us yes, some of us no, but my parents are not musicians. They studied mountain engineering—I don’t know exactly how you call it in America. They were dreaming of getting music into their home, and they wanted the cello especially. They love cello. The guys’ parents are musicians. It is always the decision of the parents, actually, because to start to learn it professionally, it’s not only fun, it’s quite hard work. A small child needs someone who will push him a bit; it’s important. You need to learn the skills quite early. If you start at eight, it’s still okay. If you start later, it’s a little bit hard. Everything is possible, but it’s not so easy. There are some physical skills, the fine motor skills that should be natural, like part of your instinct. If you learn it later you can do this, but it’s not really part of your body. But it’s possible. It’s more like sport, maybe.

MF: I haven’t seen you perform yet, but do you move a lot with the cello? Is it a kind of swaying thing you do?

KT: If you play some swinging stuff you cannot do it without moving yourself. It’s normal. Actually I think you just don’t have to stop. If you want, just move. It must be natural. I don’t think about it, it just happens. There are some pieces that are so calm and relaxed, you don’t have to show each other anything. You’re breathing together, and it’s enough. Other times you should dance maybe, a little! I think the cello is the most natural instrument to play. If you’re relaxed when you play, you can play nine or ten hours a day, it’s no problem. But probably because of the lack of movement, you should maybe take up jogging. It’s like anyone who sits much or is driving a car all the time. But somehow I don’t feel tired after playing the cello. I can be tired because I gave much power, musically, but not because of playing. It’s very nice.

MF: It’s an emotional thing too, right?

KT: Yes, very much. It’s a kind of energetic exchange with the public. It’s great! Everyone is important. The public and the musicians do something together.

MF: Do you have a favorite piece on the CD?

KT: I like Desafinado, like you, and I like the Prokofiev very much. It’s the seventh CD we’ve recorded together. Previously everyone was satisfied with some things and disagreed with other pieces. In this case, for me personally, I like all the tracks. It’s the first time in my life I can say I really agree with it, and therefore I started contacting the broadcasting companies because it’s just good! I just send it everywhere, because I love it! I want as many people as possible to hear it and enjoy this music. I love to share it. We did everything we could on this one. Everyone tried to give his best. We had a really good time recording it. I’m happy with the label we chose, Genuin Classics. They’re trying to put us in some magazines. It’s a kind of collaboration, and it’s nice. It’s the first time someone has done this for us. In America we had a good manager, Bill Capone, for about seven years. We played about two hundred concerts, about twelve times.

MF: In America? I missed it!

KT: But never in Seattle, unfortunately. But now he wants to make his agency smaller and concentrate on a very few musicians. But he did a very good job for us. He gave us the possibility for us to perform. I couldn’t organize it myself. Even if I could, I would spend so much time for this, it’s impossible.

MF: When are you coming back to the States?

KT: Actually I don’t know. First of all we need someone to represent us. Musicians who come from Europe have agencies there. It’s easier for the local presenter, too, because they know with whom they should communicate about contracts and stuff. We never took care of such things. We just came and played!