Saskia Constantinou first met and interviewed Dmitry Sitkovetsky ten years ago, and was pleased to welcome him back and catch up on the years…
Your career has flourished and progressed over so many years – and you still have a phenomenal schedule. Would you have done anything different in hindsight?
I would have loved to continue to direct a summer festival – I’ve done it for 10 years in Finland, 5 years in Seattle, USA – and gave them both up because of increased involvement in conducting. In hindsight I probably should have continued – they were my creative laboratories.
You are very focused on your conducting now – do you feel that your years as a violin soloist gave you an additional, inner understanding for your podium work?
Of course being a string player since the age of five, and a well-known soloist, gives me a shortcut to all the string sections of an orchestra – which is the majority of musicians. Also, I could use the rehearsals to give them some of the important elements of string playing: bow-change, strings-change and the distribution of the bow, which are all crucial elements for creating a singing line, a phrase and an expression. Orchestral musicians understand immediately if a conductor plays or used to play a string instrument.
We hear of arts funding crises universally – are they real? And if yes, what and where do you feel the focus should be?
It is a real problem- funding of the arts is not increasing, on the contrary – it’s getting harder and harder. The most important element for me is the essential musical education at schools – not professional ones, but ordinary ones. Music should be taught as part of the school curriculum in the same way as languages, maths, physics, biology etc. Singing in a choir and playing in ensembles and orchestras is even more important for schoolchildren’s all-round education and upbringing. It gives them a sense of rhythm and harmony with others and it has been proven countless times about how it develops social skills. Being part of a group that makes music together is very important.
Having performed all around the world, you’ve had so many experiences. Would you share some of your highlights with us?
Some years ago, I went to play the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela. While warming up in the dressing room, I met Carl St.Clair, the American conductor, who asked me if I take the cuts in the last movement of the concerto. I said – what cuts??? In the Brahms??, he said – no, in the Tchaikovsky!!! I showed him my contract where it clearly stated Brahms, but Carl said it was a mistake and they had the music for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Five minutes later I was on stage playing the Tchaikovsky which I hadn’t played for over year before that. This is what a professional life of a soloist is like – I have many stories like that.
What drives you on those days of frustration and irritation?
I love music and consider myself very to be spending the majority of my time in the best company of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and many others. It’s a very great privilege to be doing something that I love so much and be paid for doing it. I never consider my involvement in music as work, or a job, or chore. The travelling, dealing with all extra-musical problems of my profession is a constant challenge, but when I am studying my scores, or go to rehearsals or perform, I feel the balance – I’m home, that is where I belong and life suddenly makes sense again.
Your name is inextricably linked with the fabulous arrangement of the Bach Goldberg Variations and has been the foundation of many concerts around the world. Is this an avenue you might explore in more depth?
The making of transcriptions is one of my favourite past-times, my musical hobby. To date, I’ve made more than fifty transcriptions with many of them being performed all over the world. I also receive some interesting commissions to write them. In 2013, I transcribed the 12 Chopin Preludes for the Verbier Festival’s 20th Anniversary and they were played by my very esteemed colleagues: Leonidas Kavakos, Yuri Bashmet, Mischa Maisky, Martin Frost, Pletnev, Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax and many others. Last year I made a very special transcription for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Augustin Hadelich which was premiered at Carnegie Hall last December – Stravinsky’s Suite from Fairy’s Kiss for violin solo & orchestra.
What are your next challenges and dreams?
I would like to conduct more operas. Last January I did my first La Boheme – beautiful music…and it would also be wonderful to have an opportunity to further explore the string quartet’s repertoire while I am still quite active as a player.
Since I don’t teach regularly and only give an occasional masterclass, I hope to be able to find a way to guide very talented young performers. The world of music is constantly changing and in many ways is treacherous, so I feel that youngsters need more and better guidance about potential pitfalls. The established conservatories, music academies, colleges seem to be ill-equipped to prepare young, aspiring musicians for a long life in music.
Our times demand a constant reinvention of our profession.