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"All keys of the soul" (Ilya Abel, Moscow)

*Note, this is an article written from Russia about Heart Dance Records artist Philip Shpartov. Our thanks to Ekaterina Pisareva for providing a translation of the article.


Let us make sure once again that nothing happens by chance. At some point, I turned on the «Culture» channel and literally hung up, held my breath and was in this state, it seems, for several minutes. There was a concert in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and at that moment when I began to watch it, there was a pianist on the stage and playing something so incredibly beautiful that you could not miss a single note.


It was, perhaps, the most amazing immersion in music, when you not only listen to it, but also see and feel it so sensitively and joyfully that you want it to continue for some time. Later I managed to find out the name of the pianist - Philip Shpartov (in the signature he was represented by Belarus), and the thing he played is called " Elegía" (Tango). And even later, I found his website, I note, in the correct sense of the word, stylishly and expressively executed, and then our communication began using the Internet.


Philip wrote to me about how he taught at a music school in Moscow (and teaches his players not only music from Cherni’s etudes, but also music from the recent Oscar-winning film «La La Land»). What he studied in Minsk, and then in St. Petersburg at the choreographic school, that he released in the USA a disc with recordings of his music and presented it in a narrow circle of friends and acquaintances in one of the halls in Moscow. What few managed to write over the years of writing, because not very pleased with himself.

I note that his modesty and scrupulousness coexist with each other on an equal footing, but he is demanding of himself to a greater extent than it seems necessary from the outside.

It is pleasant to note that Philip Shparov amazingly has the word, which, in my opinion, is a rarity among musicians. It is included in the process, bearing in mind the musical life of Moscow and not only it, accurately and succinctly gives the characteristics of what it hears and knows in the concert practice of metropolitan, and not only organizations. His opinion about music and musicians is unbiased, natural and always balanced. It is like a fixation of the process, a very thoughtful and respectful assessment of it. And this does not exclude distancing from the fact that Philip Shpartov is seen as parallel to the composer’s own work. That is, not only does he still speak well, expressing judgments expressive and capacious, measured and calm, in a situation when he has to think about his own music and others, he remains a benevolent person and devoid of envy with all his independence and concreteness judgments.


On his site you can get acquainted with his biography. But I asked Philip to write about how music became his vocation, himself, in the first person. And he did it in his own way - simply, clearly, a little poetic, like that.


Philip Shpartov:


Philip performing at one of his events!

I remember that since childhood I really loved music, but did not like to play the instrument. It would seem that if you like music, then it should be the other way around. But why it was always hard for me to get to sit at the piano, I still do not know the answer to this question. The fact is that the lessons themselves are a very boring and tedious thing. You have to go a long way before your hands play this or that piece. And when you only learn it is simply unbearable. I always tried to bypass all the stages of learning and immediately tried to play music. For me, there were no right fingers (fingering) and slow paces. Everyone told me that I have a natural musicality. It was expressed in the fact that I did not have to memorize exactly all the nuances written in the notes, I reproduced them intuitively. And what is most surprising, almost everything is true.


While studying at the conservatory, I encountered a problem that did not allow me to play successfully complex works. This problem with the so-called "school". By “school” they mean everything - hand setting, the ability to choose the right fingering, reading skills, the stages of learning a work, etc. Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, the conservatory does not teach such things. The conservatory teaches how to play music. Those. not just playing the instrument, but how to reproduce one of the greatest arts. I coped with this easily, I intuitively understand how and what to do. But the craft is not mastered. I had to go back to the first class. It was a complete despair for me when I heard from teachers that I just need to relearn myself. And while I was traveling independently in the past, all my colleagues participated in the “wild hunt” for the competitions. Then it seemed that it was impossible to live without a title of the laureate. I remember how one classmate, after one winning competition, did not want me to sit next to him at a lecture.


When I returned from my “journey”, I thought that fate had played a cruel joke with me. I practically know everything about music, but I could not become a successful virtuoso pianist. When my despair was already patting me on the shoulder, I realized one thing. Namely, that a pianist and a musician are different things. A pianist is one who plays the piano. Musician - plays music. In this new role, I feel pretty comfortable. But does people need this music? And if necessary, for what?


Since he is now in Minsk and could not, as suggested, give me his disc personally, Philip, again, being a sympathetic and intelligent man, sent me a link to write the disc “87 keys”, which released overseas. He explains in the text that follows, the title of the disc, and the kind of music recorded on it, but I think that, like Philip's music itself, has more than one interpretation. I personally remembered the famous composition of an American who sat silently in front of the piano for four and a half minutes. It is possible that 87 is also an indication of a year, something significant for an exceptionally talented composer, or something else that, as a hint, he entered into the name of his disc. So he writes about him himself.


Philip Shpartov:

When I realized that the album was about to be ready, I began to look for an opportunity to release it abroad. I wrote a lot of letters, and it was difficult for me to find exactly the label that would suit my music in style. For example, classical music and avant-garde are popular in Germany. In Holland, mostly electronic music. In New York - jazz. There remained only the southern states on the west coast of the United States and Italy. Italians are generally very musical people. But I chose a label from Arizona –Heart Dance Records. They responded to my letter, and after a rather lengthy correspondence they decided to sign a contract with me. When I came to the USA and met the label director and other artists, it turned out to be surprisingly open and positive people, with whom it was pleasant not only to work, but to spend time. In general, the whole trip made a huge impression on me, and I realized that I would like to return there more than once.



We decided to record the tracks ourselves in Moscow, since I had musicians with whom I already worked. The session was held in one of the best-equipped studios - “MMS-Records”. There I met a great sound producer and sound designer, Kirill Tikhonov, who helped me to embody all my ideas. The so-called mastering was done in the USA. Cello player Natalya Volegova, bass guitar player Vasily Suliga and drummer Dmitry Lobanov took part in the recording of the album.


The album includes 7 works for piano and cello, piano solo, as well as piano, bass and drums. One of the compositions is written in the increasingly popular genre of piano flamenco. It is called Tangos de Fuego. For this music, together with the dancer and choreographer Ekaterina Pisareva, we made a piece that is now an integral part of my concert program.


The name “87 keys” (the piano has 88 keys in total) is related to one story when, in an emotional outburst, I broke one of the keys of my piano. The leitmotif of this numb key sounds in all the works of the album, symbolizing that, perhaps, every human soul harbors its “broken” note.


I can characterize the genre of my music as follows - this is modern instrumental music, written in an academic genre using the technique of minimalism and incorporating elements of pop, rock, jazz, folk and classical music. Or simply - a modern classic. The idea was to create self-contained compositions that could be used as a soundtrack for the film, and it would also be interesting to listen at a concert or at home.


There are only 7 songs on this disc, and the total time it sounds is about half an hour. But when you listen to works whose duration is from two to six minutes, it seems that time is compressed in them. This feeling reminded me of exactly what I experienced a month ago, when I first heard the work and play of Philip Shpartov. In his compositions there is also something elegiac, like the memory of the previous one. One composition reminded me of Ravel's hit, and the other - something Schubert, another one - something like a theme from the movie “Titanic”. It is, rather, a bit melancholic music, sad to transparency and such that awakens in the soul something light, open to its harmony and self-sufficiency. In each composition there is a theme and variations, the theme repeats, developing and improving a little in change. Given that, outwardly, this music is quiet, internal, soulful and quite touching. Exactly enough to leave a mark in the heart, conscious, unhurried, memorable and full of such purity and admiring simplicity that it clearly evokes a quiet and immense delight. After listening, there is such a feeling, such an impression that it still sounds in you, that it is not composed, but so clearly and specifically recorded that it cannot be any other way. Naturally, it is minimalistic, as well as that which dominates in it Philip Shpartov's piano. True, there is no superiority of one instrument over others, but there is, frankly, an exquisite, subtlest, extraordinary dialogue between instruments that sound in unison, as regards not only notes, but just the most important thing in music - mood, spirituality , their coexistence in the chamber ensemble of like-minded people.


And further. Philip Shpartov’s including pieces “87 Keys” reminds, along with classical motifs and themes (not at all repeating them), the musical accompaniment of films. That is, each of them could become a sound track to a good film about feelings and experiences, shot in any country of the world. Personally, what I heard on the title disc in a good sense of the word reminded me that it is fashionable to play classical music on electronic instruments. The difference between what Philip Shpartov does and what is heard in the performance of fashionable performers is that the classic is included in its melodies organically, without demonstrativeness, pressure and the desire to impress the listeners with the narrow-mindedness of alterations of famous works, for example, Bach. By the way, that same “Elegía (Tango)” that Philip Shpartov played in the conservatory in almost the finale of the concert itself “Bagatelle” by Bach reminded me, as well as the play of Glenn Gould, unattainable in dedication and skill, which a little struck Philip Shpartov with a height of audience assessment, although Gould for him is an indisputably high magnitude in musical performance.


Undoubtedly, it would be extremely wrong not to find out what Philip Shpartov thinks about music and musicians, which is interesting from any point of view: and because with his help we get the opportunity to see something extraordinary in music, and because there are many in his maxims personal, thoughtful and software.


Philip Shpartov:

At the age of fourteen, in preparation for entering a music high school, I studied with a tutor in theory, and at the same time in composition. I had a choice: to enter the theoretical department in order to become a composer in the future, or on the piano or contrabass. Yes, it was the contrabass, because for the sake of interest I was engaged in the contrabass for one year. The double bass is a very interesting instrument, and I associated it with jazz. At that time I did not quite understand what the profession of a musician was. And what composers wrote music at that time, I didn’t know much. I heard something avant-garde, but it did not fascinate me. But the profession of pianist, it seemed something unattainable. For me it was a challenge. I remember that at that time the Tchaikovsky competition was broadcast on central television, and it was something completely different. When I went to a music school, all parents wanted their child to study piano. Twenty years have passed, all these children have grown up, many pianists have become, and now you will not surprise anyone with the ability to skillfully play the piano.


The profession of a solo artist requires detachment and full commitment. The case when you have to be both an athlete and a scientist. In fact, the work behind the tool comes down to constant analysis. You have to endlessly analyze every note, every movement: so it is played or not. When you encounter this in large volumes, it leads to emotional overload. Therefore, it is impossible to combine the profession of a performer with something else. Grand piano is a very jealous instrument. If you do not pay attention to him, he will simply stop communicating with you. I felt this from my own experience when I became very interested in theater and decided to enter a theater school. I had a dream to make a performance in which I would perform as an actor and pianist. You know, there is such a wonderful play “Contrabass” by the German writer and screenwriter Patrick Zuskind. This is the story of a contrabass player who works in an orchestra, a professional who is passionate about music, and at the same time blaming his huge instrument for spoiling his life. Surprisingly, Patrick Zuskind himself was a pianist. And all of his disappointment from the lack of implementation in the profession of a musician, he described in this work. The writer himself leads an ascetic lifestyle, closed to fans and society. But the play "Contrabass" is constantly staged in Russian theaters. True, there is not more than one or two seasons - the desire of Zuskind. It would be interesting to watch this play performed not only by a professional actor, but also by an actor-musician.


In acting, I am attracted to the need to constantly improve myself. The plastic, the emotional mobility, the ability to manage it. It seemed to me that if you are capable of an emotional outburst in life, then on the stage this will make you “just spit.” But no, on the stage for various reasons, you cannot even do a tenth of what you do in ordinary life. To do this, you need to be able to coolly manage it, to have a button for each of your emotions. My love for theater and cinema influenced my composer thinking in many ways. When the opportunity to watch movies on videotapes and then on DVDs appeared, I began to pay attention to film music. What impressed me was how emotional effect could be achieved in a particular scene, with the help of certain music. Especially when it comes to the protagonist and his best qualities, because of what we so want to be like him. Or, for example, when tears come from the final soundtrack.


If we compare the work of the performer with the work of the composer, the process of composing music can be described something like this. Imagine that you are somewhere far off the beaten path and you need to make a call. And in your hands you have a good old cell phone that barely catches the connection. And here you are trying to find the position in which at least one picture would appear on the display. And as soon as the hooters start to go and you already hear the voice on the other end, the connection is broken. You try again and again, and in the end just start to go crazy ... In the process of composing music, musical taste plays a decisive role. This is a delusion when they say that the taste and color don't matter ... In art, this is a fairly objective concept - either there is a taste, or there is none. You have to constantly discard unnecessary material. This suggests a different comparison. Before you find a small piece of gold, you need to wash a huge portion of sand. It is very important that you take this piece of gold. This question must be answered by the people for whom you write your music.


In my opinion, art should carry something light and positive. I am very interested in the art of the 20th century. I realize the enthusiasm of artists for global technical progress and the desire to display it vividly. But now it is another time. People are tired of noise, clutter, constant stress. Passion for a healthy lifestyle and respect for nature, once again suggests that people strive for harmony.


Despite my solid musical experience, I think that I am at the beginning of my creative career. And the way this path will turn out will be determined by my listeners, and not by modern trends or fashion.


Since the works of Philip Shpartov have a unique meaningfulness, which indicates both the composer’s focus on what he does consistently and with conviction, and the fact that thanks to his efforts the true, unfailing, authentic existence of music returns, which it should be and then, when Philip, all the enthusiastic definitions of his work seem overstated and something like an advance. And thus, the conclusion here is quite simple and obvious: you need to listen to his music. She is worth it, because - at least, great, if not deservedly say more.



The presentation of the album “87 keys” (in the subtitle in Russian “87 keys and one broken note”), published by the Heart Dance Recordings label (USA), took place on March 30, 2018 in the Cultural Center “House at the Patriarchs”. The album "87 keys" presents 7 pieces for piano and cello, piano solo, as well as for piano, bass and drums. One of the compositions is written in the increasingly popular genre of piano flamenco. Flamenco dancer Ekaterina Pisareva, cellist Natalia Volegova and bass guitarist Vasily Suliga also took part in the presentation in Moscow. The success of the album attracted not only the attention of the public: the compositions from “87 keys” are already heard aboard Czech and Egyptian airlines.

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