Maestro might have been a chef

Russian conductor Daniel Raiskin. Picture by Marco Borggreve.

BILLY SUTER reports that Russian DANIEL RAISKIN is conducting the final concert in the KZN Philharmonic’s Winter Symphony Season at 7.30pm on Thursday, June 22, at Durban’s Playhouse Opera. Born in Russia, he is recognised as one of the most versatile conductors of his generation and is principal guest conductor with both the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife

CONDUCTOR Daniel Raiskin loves music – a passion instilled in him from an early age by his father, noted as one of the leading musicologists and music critics of Russia – but he is as equally adept with a kitchen spoon or knife as he is on the podium with a baton.

In fact, pressed as to what career alternative he might have considered, the Amsterdam-based father of two teens is quick to point out that he is a passionate cook.

“I might have ventured into cooking on a more professional level. There are a lot of similarities in work of both conductor and a kitchen chef,” he says.

It is as a conductor, of course, that Raiskin is more well known – and it is a profession that certainly gets him around. On the eve of travelling to Durban to perform with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic on June 15 and 22, he was in China, about to conduct a concert with Tianjin Symphony Orchestra.

Before a week in China he had conducted a concert with the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, and immediately after the China performance he was off  to Moscow, and then on to Amsterdam, “ for a short stopover to change the suitcase, so to say”.

“After two weeks in Durban I will head back to Amsterdam but after just two days will fly to Bratislava for a CD recording with th Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra,” he adds.

“Immediately after that I will catch a flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town for my participation at a Stellenbosch festival. Finally, I will complete another CD recording in Germany, and will be able to enjoy a few weeks off before heading to South America in the middle of August.”

June and the first half of July will be particularly busy, he points out, explaining that this sort of hectic schedule “reflects rather correctly the dynamic and rhythm of my artistic life”.

This Durban visit marks Raiskin’s second to the city.

“I am looking forward to discovering more about this vibrant city. My last visit was quite short, but I had a chance to enjoy Durban’s cordial hospitality, great food and even some time on the beach! I am often in South Africa and always enjoy my visits to your country – it has so much to offer.”

Having conducted works by Dvorak, Weber and Rachmanikoff  in Durban on June 15, Raiskin’s June 22 concert will see him conduct the KZN Philharmonic and the DECODA Ensemble from Carnegie Hall.

The final concert of the winter season will feature a performance of Beethoven’s immensely popular and powerful Fifth Symphony.  This is perhaps one of the best known works of music, and its initial motive of the ‘fate knocking on the door’ strikes an immediate rapport with millions in audience around the world.

Members of the KZN Philharmonic in Durban.

“It is difficult to find a composition of such power and as arousing as this brilliant symphony,” says Raiskin.

The concert will also see the premiere of a new work, titled Drop. An original composition by South African  Matthijs van Dijk, it derives its nuances from the 21st century sound of electronic music.

“I conduct a lot of contemporary music, and working with living composers is always a great privilege,” explains Raiskin.

“I am very much looking forward to meeting Matthijs van Dijk and to work on his new composition with him and the KZN Philharmonic. Drop is full of energy and rhythm, and its setting for a large instrumental ensemble and orchestra is quite unique, offering lots of exciting challenges for both the performers and the audience.”

Does Raiskin consider the KZN Philharmonic to be special in any way?

“Well, it is always special when you conduct an orchestra for the first time but feel as if you are among good old friends whom you have known for a while.

“I just remember how easy and natural it was for me to make music with the orchestra the first time… and how much energy they have put into our concerts both in Durban and Johannesburg.”

How important does he rate exposure to music from a young age when pursuing a career in music?

“My father, who will turn 82 this September, is rightfully acclaimed as one of the leading musicologists and music critics of Russia and far beyond. His knowledge can rival any existing encyclopaedia and spans from natural sciences (he is also a physicist) to literature, history, philosophy and, of course, music.

“As long as I can remember, our home and lives were always filled with music. My elder brother studied cello from the time I was born, and my father often played on the grand piano, which took almost the entire space in our ‘big’ room.

“As a child, I liked to build a ‘house’ underneath our grand piano and played with my toys there, often while my father played piano.

“It was then most natural that, when I turned six, my mother took me to a violin teacher at the same music school where my brother studied. I was not a great student though, and violin often gave way to football and other interests boys have at a younger age.

“But for my father it was absolutely clear that his younger son would also become a musician… and he was patient enough to pursue this goal.

“It is only now, being a father of two teenagers myself, that I understand more and more how indebted I am to my parents for opening the world of music for me at such an early age.

“All the concerts and theatre performances I was exposed to in my childhood played a most important role in me becoming a professional musician.”

Raiskin has been living in Amsterdam since August last year, having previously spent years in Germany, where he has been music director of a symphony orchestra for more than a decade.

“I has previously lived in Amsterdam for  20 years before that, so making a decision to return to this great city was quite easy for all of us. But I do wish I could spend more time with my family and simply enjoying everything Amsterdam has to offer. Maintaining a busy artistic schedule has its downside.”

NOTE: The KZN Philharmonic concert at 7.30pm on June 22, at the Playhouse in Durban, will feature a pre-concert lecture by Dr Teddy Pillay. For more information, call (031) 369 9438. Booking is at Computicket outlets.


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