'I support mystical legends.' Interview with the Scriabin Museum's Director

October 16
Culture

The Scriabin Memorial Museum turned 100. Over the 101 years of its existence, the memorial flat in Bolshoi Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok has tramsformed from several rooms into two separate buildings with a permanent exhibition, spaces for rotating displays and a concert hall for performances of the most renowned musicians.

Director Alexander Lazarev told us how the ideas of the clavier à lumières inventor are implemented in the Museum today and what items replenish its holdings.

Mosgortur Agency and mos.ru’s collaborative article.

'I don't play musical instruments' 

Alexander, how did you get into the museum environment?

To be honest, I never thought that I would finish my creative biography in the museum field. I started my adult life in a theatrical environment. I have two diplomas, one of Theatre Art School and one of Theatre Institute with a degree in 'Theatre's Theory'. I managed to sneak to classes of the acting and directing departments, where my friends studied, and at the same time develop my own youth theatre studio based on one of the Moscow theatre-oriented schools.

My life had been linked to theatre for 15 years. Later, I was engaged in organisational work in agencies supervising culture development in Moscow. I retired from the post of First Deputy Head of the Moscow Department of Culture right into nature, as for six months I was happy growing roses in my garden.

I got into the Museum environment once again after a phone call from the Moscow City Government. I was told about the urgency to literally save one of the small museums, threatened to lose its three-storey building in the courtyard. I went to the Scriabin Museum as a 'temporary rescuer', but it's been nine years already since that time.

Photo: mos.ru. Maxim Denisov

The Museum has a fairly young team. Was it your deliberate decision to choose such a young team or is it an accident?

It's not an accident, of course. Any leader of any team willing to continue his work should think about new generation of successors. If you don't start it right on the first day, then you'll like to be the boss, and you'll never give up your place to anyone.

When I came to the Museum, the average age of employees was 65. Then we came up with a happy idea to apply to the student councils of the Moscow Conservatory, the Gnesin Russian Academy of Music, the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute, other artistic educational institutions, to recruit volunteers. These volunteers somehow decided to stay here. Older colleagues gradually retired, replaced by young people.

I try to keep the balance between young and experienced employees in this proportion: one third are old-timers and two-thirds are those who can carry our banner on. Otherwise, it will just turn into a rag. I should admit that the public likes young employees, and even people of the older generation listen to them with keen interest when they come  to the Museum. Visitors respect talent and professional attitude, but to turn a gifted young man into a professional is the objective of older people. I was lucky, as the Museum had very good Heads of departments, who cherished the idea of preparing  young specialists on a daily basis.

Many of your employees, even engineers, have musical education. Are you a musician?

Unfortunately, I don't play any musical instrument. But I'll tell you a secret: I sometimes think that it even helps me in my job, as it makes me more impartial, more objective in the universal assessment of everyone's performance. After all, our visitors are not all musicians, too. The Museum has enough professionals to communicate with musicians. It is important for me to look at everything from the perspective of an ordinary visitor, whether it is interesting or not, to assess the situation from the sidelines.

'There is a lot of mystique around'

Many mystical stories are about Scriabin. Do you believe in the legends of the Museum? For example the one about the composer’s concert tail-coat, which allegedly accepts or does not accept employees?

As a person related to theatre, I know how they do these tricks. But I support this side of Museum’s life. Many people with agile mind come to the Museum, they want to see or hear something only they are capable to perceive. And for the sake of these visitors, and others with similar mind, I approve of these mystical legends.

We have enough mysterious items, perhaps, no less than at the Bulgakov Museum. The most mystical case is the story of the painting 'The Oriental Sage' made by a composer's friend, artist Nikolai Shperling, which hangs over the desk in Scriabin's office. Leonid Sabaneyev, the first biographer of the musician, claimed that when the composer stood at the desk and wrote down the notes, the sage from the picture looked at him with two eyes, that is, he was depicted in fullface. And when people returned to the office after Scriabin's funeral, the sage in the picture was depicted side-on. He turned away from the bereaved desk, but with one eye, as he still does, he stared at people behind it. How did such a miracle happen? The painting could not be replaced.

Photo: mos.ru. Maxim Denisov

And what about the ongoing whispering of the house inhabitants you can hear when passing through the striped wallpaper corridor? And we should also mention the well-known story with the coinciding date of the end of the flat lease and the death of the tenant. Mysticism is everywhere. But as a major-domo (since Director of any memorial Museum is the estate manager), I must think more of housekeeping than mysticism.

How often do you have new exhibits? Where do they come from?

The Memorial Museum is special, since it must be replenished mainly with memorial items. Over the 100 years of its existence, my predecessors have already collected almost all the authentic items related to Scriabin's life. Our displays mainly feature things collected by the first Director, the composer's widow Tatiana Schletzer. Now the holdings are mostly replenished with non-memorial exhibits that give an insight into Scriabin’s life, into music he composed. We seem to have already all his personal belongings.

Holdings are growing at the expense of collected materials related to the activities of leading musicians of the 20th-21st centuries, who performed Scriabin's music. Posters, the notes they used, their personal belongings — all this is Scriabin's life reflected in the next generations.

'We can immerse the audience into any environment'

The Museum hosts lectures and concerts on a regular basis. How did you come to such a concept of the Museum's activities?

It is natural for any Museum that displays life and work of a prominent man. In our case, there should be music, sounds of which will attract modern audience. We aim not to adapt to the tastes of visitors, but to imperceptibly develop these tastes. This work is a priority for the Museum.

 Do you have only Scriabin's works performed at the concerts?

Our Museum's viewpoint is that Scriabin should be highlighted in the surrounding musical space, so we have works by a variety of composers performed. Scriabin's music cannot stand silence around it. Although Skriabin was one-of-a-kind pianist, since he played only his own pieces.

You've mentioned the second building of the Museum. What halls have opened in the new space?

The second building has been restored to implement Scriabin’s ideas in the artistic and technical realities of today. It was important for us that his music sounded not only in the Philharmonic Hall, but in a special office, too. In almost all modern theatres, the most trendy office is black now. The Pyotr Fomenko's Workshop and Oleg Tabakov's Theatre have it, in particular. White office was required for performance and demonstration of Alexander's music.  It is very unusual, but we have found a solution — we decorated it with semi-columns, the design of which was carefully elaborated to achieve perfect acoustics. It resulted in a unique transforming hall. With the help of a special equipment and innovative projectors, we can turn it into outer space, an underwater kingdom, or into a square in front of the Taj Mahal Palace. We can immerse the audience in any environment — we believe it is essential to provide artistic freedom to gifted guys who with the help of technology can create modern content that combines music, colour and light. Scriabin's idea of the synthesis of arts is still alive and developing further.

In 2017, the Alfred Mirek Harmonica Museum became your branch. Please tell us how the Department of the Museum of Moscow turned into a part of the Memorial Museum?

The Moscow Department of Culture came up with an attractive idea to make themed Museum blocks. We also talked about music museums. There are only two music museums in Moscow — Skriabin Museum and the Mirek Museum. The Harmonica Museum collects rare harmonicas. This work is very important. We are glad that, having accepted this branch, we can continue searching for memorable places connected with history of music, flats of great composers, musicians and collectors. Together with the Harmonica Museum, we create projects for festive programs, participate in the preparation and holding of various music festivals.

'We have started the countdown to an important date'

Almost 30 years ago, the Museum established a competitive audition for the composer's grant. Is it still taking place in the memorial flat?

This is a great idea invented by our predecessors. Competitive audition allowed to attract very young children to the he composer’s Museum, including foreigners. Now we have more than 50 winners, and this is our most valuable front line, our reserve stock. We invite these guys to attend the Scriabin musical evenings, which traditionally take place on the Alexander's birthday, 6 January, and 27 April, his death date. All the winners come here and play Scriabin pieces all day long. We take pride in it, and we will surely keep this tradition.

Photo: mos.ru. Maxim Denisov

Last year was very important for the Museum, as the city celebrated its centenary. What plans does the Museum have at the beginning of the next century?

To celebrate the anniversary of the Museum was not our goal in itself. It was important for us to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Museum to announce the upcoming 150th anniversary of the composer Scriabin's birthday in 2021. We wanted to attract as much attention as possible to the upcoming date, so we came up with the festival '100 Years of Magnetism'. And it was a success.

During the festival, we had a lot of new visitors, we had almost all the leading pianists performing: Nikolai Lugansky, Boris Berezovsky, Yekaterina Mechetina, Mikhail Voskresensky, all winners of International Scriabin Competitions held at the Moscow Conservatory in different years. We brought together the best performers of Scriabin's music on our stage. So, the audience got accustomed to the fact that we had to prepare for the composer's anniversary.

Today we have already started the countdown to this significant date, although we still have time, two and a half years. We dream big. We want to create a world-wide poster so that everyone could see where and who performs Scriabin's music — in the halls of Russia, in the Albert Hall in London, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, in other leading halls in Europe, the USA and Asia. Everything we do now, will be related to this anniversary program, modern projects including quests, classes held in the Museum, volunteer movement. In these two years, we will not even hold major events in order to gradually tune the audience, prepare it for the anniversary festival. It will be big and long event. It will begin on the next birthday of the Museum, 10 October 2021, and finish on the day of the composer's commemoration, 27 April 2022.

Source: mos.ru

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