Contributing Editor Vera Falenko
Arts & Letters of Moscow
Featured Artist Interview:
Composer Ilya Beshevlí
Ilya Beshevli is a Russian composer born in Siberia, and his music as well as his artistic story deserves to be celebrated. In 2013, he started writing music that rapidly found its way to listeners’ hearts. In 2019, Ilya Beshevli graduated from Gnessin Russian Academy of Music. Now he’s engaged in composing for his fourth album that is to be released in April 2019.
Falenko for O:JA&L: As a way of introduction, Ilya, could you tell us, what should a person wanting to get to know your music should be aware of?
Ilya Beshevlí: The music I write is available for people of all ages and to enjoy it you don’t have to possess any special musical knowledge. It’s enough to be opened and willing to discover something new.
Falenko for O:JA&L: In one of the interviews you’ve given, you mentioned that you divide your music into three stages. Stage one – nature, stage two – transitional and stage three – urban. Why have you chosen this division?
Ilya Beshevlí: When I’d just started writing music, it was all connected with nature. I was born in Krasnoyarsk and wherever you cast glance you see nature. There it’s all around you – taiga, the Yenisei river. In this ambient my first works were born. Then I moved to Moscow where I had no access to the nature in the way I was used to. So, I took inspiration from other things that surround me. If in my hometown I was inspired by nature, in Moscow I was elevated by such things as going to the Tretyakov’s Gallery.
I have completely reconsidered the third period. Now I see that the music that I’m preparing for the release is connected to my internal experiences and emotions, with reflections on what is the path of a composer. In this stage I’m looking for the inspiration inside of me, trying to meditate on my worries and happy moments. Now what helps is watching good auteur films. So, this period is not connected with city at all.
Sometimes I think about what way I should move on as a composer. What’s next? What comes after nature, city and a composer’s path? I haven’t found that yet…
Falenko for O:JA&L: You have mentioned the Tretaykov’s Gallery. Is there any particular painting that you like or that sets you into the creative mood?
Ilya Beshevlí: When I visited the Tretaykov’s Gallery, I was stunned when I saw the painting called Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan. Ilya Repin is so magnificent in his art that we see the passions clearly expressed on the canvas, it’s as if they were alive. I spent half an hour sitting in front of it observing it and noticing nothing around me. It’s strange, I saw it several times more, but didn’t feel the same.
In Saint Petersburg, I have been to the Russian Museum and saw the small painting called Sorting Feathers. Such a trip can also inspire.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Could you tell us more about your way as a composer and as a person?
Ilya Beshevlí: If we talk about my life in general, I was born in a family of musicians. My mother is a musicologist and my father is a professional composer. When he graduated from Saint Petersburg Conservatory and – it was in the Soviet Union times – he was delegated to Krasnoyarsk to promote culture. There he met my mother who was studying musicology in the local university, then I was born.
Growing up in a family of musicians you cannot pass musical education by, so when I grew older I was sent to a music school. Despite the fact that it was me who asked my father to bring me there, I was soon bored by studying. I was unwilling to learn. I’ve always had my father as an example, so I saw that we never had any special material goods – we lived humbly. When I didn’t follow my parents’ path they didn’t object.
When I graduated from school and got a place at an engineering university to study mechanics though I had always liked computers. I did it not for myself but to please my mother. Suddenly when I was studying, interest towards music woke in me again. Once I took a guitar and started playing. But again, I was bored, as the basic accords were too easy for me. I learned them in a month and played along with the local guys.
During my university days, I used to help my grandmother who is a night-watchman at a kindergarten. When she was ill or when she couldn’t come to work, I came in her place. One has nothing to do in a kindergarten at night, but on the second floor of the building was an old piano “Prelude”. And so, I sat alone at night, in this mysterious and eerie setting of an empty building recalling what they had taught me in my first music school.
At that time, in addition to the music I was listening to – and that was Indie music – I was impressed by Ludovico Einaudi and Yan Tiersen who are now considered to be neo-classical composers. Though I decided not to play their pieces but try to come up with something of my own. Then I uploaded my tracks in the Internet and people reacted. They were saying that it was wonderful and they liked what I did. So, this is how it all started.
Falenko for O:JA&L: You have mentioned you lost any interest in learning when you were in the Music School. Why do you thing it happened?
Ilya Beshevlí: I don’t think any teacher can adapt the complex and strict Soviet system of presentation of information and make it interesting. I guess that is why I got bored. Of course, our system fathered a lot of brilliant and talented musicians, but it is also very strict. And sure, I don’t blame my teachers. Looking back, I think they were not strict enough, though I was frequently punished. When I didn’t want to study, they would leave me indoors trying to make me do anything. All kids were playing while I was locked in the classroom, but I still didn’t do anything, I always thought about what interested me.
Frankly, I regret nothing. Perhaps, if I had graduated from the Music School and had gone to some Musical college and then not having any other education had entered Gnessin Academy, I would be a completely different composer. Might be that I wouldn’t have become a composer at all.
Falenko for O:JA&L: You said your views on music have undergone drastic changes after entering the Academy. How is that connected?
Ilya Beshevlí: Our views as well as personality are changing throughout our life. Of course, after my entering one of the best music universities of Russia changed my mindset and opinion about my music. I became more self-critical as they showed me the magnitude of musicians of the past and their works. I don’t mean I appreciate my works less, I just became more critical towards it.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Which of your teachers or mentors has had the greatest impact on you?
Ilya Beshevlí: My father is still my greatest mentor. When I come up with a draft and if I feel it is worth something, I always share it with my father asking for advice or recommendation. It’s hard to say a single name as all of my teachers were wonderful, but nowhere had I been given anything unforgettable. Of course, they all made me better, but father first.
Falenko for O:JA&L: By the time you entered the Academy you had already become well-known in Russia and had given a few concerts. How did the professors receive you?
Ilya Beshevlí: When I started my studies in Gnessin Academy the professors knew what I was doing. They were shocked and puzzled: “How comes a young man with zero experience plays full house?” But I don’t think they took me seriously. For people living their life in academic ambient my music is commercial. The attitude can be described as: “So, you’ve come to Moscow and need to survive somehow, to pay for your studies here. You play music and that’s good, you write music that’s even better. But don’t you ever forget to learn as it stands above all else”.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Could you tell us who or what can influence you and help in writing something new?
Ilya Beshevlí: Recently I have been into auteur cinema which inspires me. It’s not the movies everybody watches but ones with deep context and background ideas. It is what can tune me up for work. For example, when I was working on my new album, in two weeks I did as much as I could have done in three months. It’s as if I was caught up by a wave, I wouldn’t say it was inspiration, I was just tune to what I was working at.
When I think about it I realize that my inspiration is indirect as you might think. Life in general, things that surround us, events and works that impress me are saved in my unconscious. Then all the moments of happiness, pleasure, worries and other emotions I catch when I’m writing a piece.
Falenko for O:JA&L: How would you define your style? The music you write, what is it?
Ilya Beshevlí: To define the style is a job for musicologists and critics, but I would call it simple music for piano. You can’t call it neoclassic as it was defined long ago and it is completely different music. Modern classic is also a wrong word because if we look at it from academic music point of view, these will be other works more complexed ones. It is not minimalism either. If we take Philip Glass’s minimalism there we hear simpler constructions and the music is meditative, there are less images and it is close to Indian mantra. There’s also a suggestion that my music is new romantism that is closer but again not really. It’s hard to say what it is exactly.
Falenko for O:JA&L: You have also written some pieces for short films. What kind of music is closer to you?
Ilya Beshevlí: I don’t really like writing for movies. Maybe that’s because I’m lazy or maybe I’m not experienced enough. It’s also hard to work in the frames set by somebody else, when I’m told: “write sadness”, for example. I feel far more comfortable and creative being free. That is when I find something remarkable.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What do you consider the most interesting in the composing process?
Ilya Beshevlí: For me there’s such notion as creative happiness that comes when I have an interesting concept a seed to plant and grow. Imagine, when you listen to a new song, something really good, I’m sure you feel excited and want to keep on listening. So, when you are creating something yourself, you feel the same but a thousand times stronger. This is creative happiness the feeling that something important is about to come. When you have this feeling you get engaged in the process. You ask yourself: “How can your brain, based on your experience, feelings and a set of random events, develop a certain image?” It’s when not only your soul but also your brain creates and this balance of heart and mind is especially interesting for me.
Falenko for O:JA&L: Is there among your pieces a favorite, the one that one hears and says “This is Ilya Beshevli?”
Ilya Beshevlí: The composition “Night Forest” is the most mysterious of all. I wrote it in the kindergarten at night. Back then I didn’t have any experience, I couldn’t analyze the process of composing and I was just recalling what I had been taught. And then, suddenly I get this idea of key e-flat minor, and Dorian harmony. For me it’s still a mystery where I had got it.
Of course, I hope that my music does stand out of all other things that are being written nowadays. I think we should wait till my new album is released as there’s more of my reflections my own personality. It’s truly hard to say about myself: “Look here, that’s what I am!”
Falenko for O:JA&L: When is your new album released? Are there any new tours planned?
Ilya Beshevlí: In April the 14th my single is out and on the 24th is my album. All tours are planned for spring 2019 as I’ve recently had my finals at the Academy and it took a lot of time and effort. I’m also thinking about filming a new video.
Falenko for O:JA&L: If we talk about venues, where do you prefer to play?
Ilya Beshevlí: I’m in love with theaters, there’s a special atmosphere in them, but I don’t think these kind of halls is suitable for the music I play.
Falenko for O:JA&L: What is art for you?
Ilya Beshevlí: The essence of art for me is the heritage of the old masters. This is the salvation of humanity and the human in the art. However, if we are talking about the modern art, I can only say that it is a controversial phenomenon as some of its states are quite strange and contradictory. A cup on the floor with the white background – is it art? Such things cause discord in me.
In this question, what I follow is my feelings, I’m trying to understand if the creator is sincere with his audience or he has some other objectives except for self-expression. The first thing that comes to my mind when I’m asked “what’s art?” is, of course, classics and romantisme, Viennese classics and all Russian classical music. This art is the highest peaks. All our modern music isn’t worth even two notes of what Bach, Rachmaninoff, Glinka and other classical composers created. It’s in their works where the art is hidden, where we can find something to learn, be inspired by and live for.
About the interviewer:
Vera Falenko is a 2017 graduate of the Moscow Aviation Institute, a State University. She is a native Russian speaker and a language specialist with fluency in English (English level C2, according to the European frame) and Spanish (Spanish level C1). She is a senior teacher of foreign languages at Alibra School, a private institution in Moscow. Falenko is an O:JA&L Contributing Editor for Arts & Letters of Moscow. She also provides selected Russian and Spanish translations for our readers in the Eurozone and in eastern Europe. She maintains an independent book review site, offering book reviews in three languages.
Images: Courtesy of Ilya Beshevli