A formal education is not always the necessary component for a successful career.
“I was really lucky,” says young Russian conductor Konstantin Chudovsky (32). “I never studied in a music school, and as a result I love music immensely.
“Some of my childhood friends hated music so much after graduating from a music high school, that they never touched the instrument again.”
Chudovsky is about to make his Israeli debut, leading the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion through Rachmaninoff’s The Bells symphony between July 5 and 9.
The story of Chudovsky, who serves as the chief conductor of the Santiago de Chile Opera Theater and enjoys a globe-trotting career as a freelance conductor, is far from usual.
His parents did not know what to do with him to help him find the right path for the future. Growing up in Moscow, he was a far from good student at high school: He took private piano lessons and studied Chinese at a Lyceum for Far Eastern studies. But since military service in Russia is compulsory – only those who study for an academic degree are exempt – he decided to enter the famous Gnessin State Musical College of Moscow.
“God sent me wonderful tutors, who prepared me for entry exams,” he says. “At the exam, I played Fantaisie-Impromptu, by Chopin, so wildly that my future teacher probably thought that I was mad and would crush furniture when I finish the performance. Conducting was the only specialization, for which I could aspire – as a pianist, I could not compete with other kids: Although I enjoyed it a lot, it was not of a professional standard.”
The major shock came when he, at his third course in the college, was asked by a teacher to conduct a piece silently, without a pianist (which serves as an orchestra for students).
“Although the piece was not announced, just after a few bars the professor said: ‘Oh, this is the “Coronation Scene” from Boris Godunov,’” he recalls. “I was stunned.
For me, this meant that through the movements of conductor’s hands, one can learn the epoch, the composer, the piece and the fragment. This is when I realized how magical conducting is, and that this is what I want to do. And I’m living with this feeling even now.”
Chudovsky, who then continued his music studies at the Moscow Conservatory, describes his life as a series of happy events.
“I was lucky with teachers, great conductors, Vladimir Ponkin and Gennady Rozhdestvensky among them. The latter invited me to be the only student to conduct at his 75th-birthday concert,” he says.
“Rozhdestvensky gave a push to my career. For seven years, I worked at the Helikon Opera Theater in Moscow, first as a pianist and then as a conductor. This was great for learning: The theater does not have a constant orchestra, the rehearsals are few and you never know who will come to the performance each night, so they will play what you show to them on the spot.”
Chudovsky says that he conducts without anything.
“No stand (I am quite tall), no baton, no score, so if my enemies want to stop me from conducting, they should shoot me, because there is absolutely nothing to steal,” he laughs.
He does not use baton because “a conductor should not talk much, because music is not verbal, and with your hands you can express everything, you draw, you sculpture music.”
When asked if conducting is about being able to speak with your hands, he answered.
“Not exactly. Imagine you win a Stradivari instrument. Potentially, it can produce a great sound, but you need to know how to play it. Conducting is magic, it is – among other things – about your ability to transfer to the orchestra players your understanding of the piece, your emotion and to ignite them.”
In regards to how this is possible he says, “Again, this is hard to explain. But if the orchestra feels that you spent sleepless nights over the score, and you are honest in what you do and you love it, they will follow you.
“A conductor is not a dictator or an enemy of the players, just the opposite: On the mundane level, they all want to play well, and on the divine level – to create a great moving performance, which they will never forget, so if the conductor will help them achieve this, they will love him.
And this is how I build my relationship with orchestras all over the world.”
For the last five years Chudovsky conducted operas without a score, just from memory.
“At first I just wanted to try. People said – Arturo Toscanini could conduct without a score, but Toscaninis are not born everyday. But I tried and it worked, adding drive to the conducting experience. Yet there is more to it. Conducting without a score does not let you to slide into routine, and you have to know the score more profoundly, and if you have learned, that, say, the theme of the second clarinet expresses the doubts of the character, you will never forget it. The orchestra members, seeing that you know their parts better than they do, will learn them perfectly.”
He sums up: “For me, conducting without a score is like driving a big, expensive top quality Ferrari. People have built it and gave you a privilege to drive it. This is a great responsibility and tremendously exciting: You ride at high speed on the brink of the abyss, anything can happen at any moment, and you will either crash or win the race. I can’t imagine anything better than this.”
Heichal Hatarbut Rishon Lezion July 5 at 9 p.m., and July 8 and 9 at 8:30 p.m., Tel Aviv Opera July 7 at 9 p.m., For reservations call (03) 948-4840.