It started two years ago with thin air, a piece in which the Dutch Composer Laureate Calliope Tsoupaki expressed the corona crisis. The worldwide alliance Festivals for Compassion – with the Dutch Wonderfeel as the driving force – wanted to emphasize that music can give a voice to what is happening in society. thin air could be heard at more than fifty places in all kinds of formations.
A new work has been touring the festivals since mid-March. Drop after drop by the Ukrainian composer Maxim Shalygin is about the Russian invasion of his native country, but of course also about the devastation of the war in a broader sense. Two weeks ago the world premiere took place in the talk show m by the New Amsterdam Clarinet Quartet and – on the same evening – at the Young Talent Festival on Schiermonnikoog by the strings of the ADAM Quartet. Sunday state Drop after drop on the program of the Ukraine benefit of the Stift Festival in Enschede. And so the musical relay spreads across the Netherlands and further into Europe.
It is amazing how different the music sounds in different line-ups that first evening: the warm breath of the clarinetists stands out against the almost chilly wind that the string quartet produces. The work has double meanings, composer Shalygin agrees. „On the one hand, the title strikes Drop after drop of course on the bloodshed, but a drop can also turn the world for the better. If every person makes a small contribution – no matter how futile it may seem – then the sum can still bring about major changes.”
On the one hand, the title ‘Drop after drop’ refers of course to the bloodshed, but the drop can also change the world for the better.
At first, angry notes came out of Shalygin’s pen and he christened the piece Sacred Bombs, because of the dark alliance between Putin’s regime and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. “But the first sketches increased my unease,” he says. “Those aggressive impulses didn’t get me on the right track. In music we have to look for a deeper reflection of the world and reality. Then I am not necessarily referring to something philosophical, because you cannot close your eyes and feeling to the cruelty, the death of thousands of innocents. But this struggle and sadness is not just for the Ukrainians: their quest for freedom is a symbol of ours.”
A new melody bubbled up in him. “After a few bars, a musical line emerged that reminded me of something old, of something that has existed for centuries and is anchored in us, something that has neither beginning nor end, which therefore keeps repeating itself and which you try in vain to get a grip on. . While writing I can’t think of the war or of friends and family in Ukraine who are in mortal danger every day, because then I can’t get a note on paper. You have to let go of those thoughts.”
Music is an abstract art that can reflect realities that we cannot encompass in words
Shalygin experiences composing as a form of meditation. “Music is an abstract art that can reflect realities that we cannot encompass in words. Sometimes composers put their finger on something great that no one has ever thought of. Music is a mysterious area. We hunt for vague figures that are constantly changing or disappearing. Mahler and Beethoven are good examples of this: they looked for a meaning, a secret of or in existence, and they came close to it. It is reminiscent of what film director Lars van Trier said about the TV series Twin Peaks by David Lynch. He suggests that the viewer has to climb a staircase to solve the riddle. But the steps go on endlessly.”
Often, in Shalygin’s eyes, it’s not about the answers. “If I get stuck in composing and can’t move for a few days, I start asking questions. That’s why things suddenly happen. Side issues then disappear. If only in Russia people would ask themselves – like: why is the world against us? – they would understand more.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 1 April 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of April 1, 2022