There is almost always something pointing beyond the purely musical in Gubaidulina’s music. It may be a text, a ritual, an instrumental action or Christian symbolism. ‘Composing is more than a profession or craftsmanship. It is exhausting work that demands great spiritual effort,’ says the grand old lady at the age of 86.
Sacrifice as an image is recurrent in the composer’s work, both as an overriding subject and an autobiographical element. During the Bergen International Festival her Violin Concert Offertorium will be performed by Gidon Kremer, for whom it was written, along with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the Russian music periodical Sovetskaja Muzyka Gubaidulina said with biblical undertones: ‘When I think of how difficult and complicated my life is, what a burden I bear, I say to myself that I have not asked for any other fate. I have quite simply received more than I asked for. That is happiness.’
Gubaidulina refers to herself as a believer, for whom religion means the recreation of what in life has been lost in ‘the staccato of life’. With this attitude towards life composing is a religious act, and every work is a new route towards ‘religion’.
At the start of Gubaidulina’s career Shostakovich and Webern were the principal names in her musical universe. Looking back on her journey in music towards the end of her career, she says that Bach is more than anyone her great source of inspiration, with divine power and musical strength.
The overarching theme of this year’s Bergen International Festival is faith and doubt, and it is in particular the choice of Gubaidulina as Festival Composer that has coloured the theme. At a time when contemporary music is without a common cause, Gubaidulina has her own red thread to follow and cling to, an overriding project in a religious attitude:
‘I am undergoing some form of technical development, but my way to view form is still the same. I go further and further into the labyrinth of my soul and constantly find something new. I have doubtless found something underway, but in general I am still following the same route.
SOFIA ASGATOVNA GUBAIDULINA, born 24 October 1931 in Chistopol, Russia, graduated from Kazan Music School in 1949 (piano), Kazan Conservatoire in 1954 (piano and composition) and Moscow Conservatoire in 1959 (composition). She has made her living from composing ever since 1965. In 1975 she co-founded the improvisation ensemble Astreja. Since 1991 she has lived in Hamburg as a result of the political situation in Russia.
Gubaidulina works at Bergen International Festival 2018:
- Ti etyder for solo cello and Chaconne for piano performed by Alice Di Piazza & Ivan Monighetti
- Sonnengesang at the concert Bergen Domkor with Andreas Brantelid
- Fachwerk at the concert Fachwerk m/Geir Draugsvoll & Kremerata Baltica
- Offertorium is written for violinist Gidon Kremer, who perfoms it at the concert Grieg & Gubaidulina with Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gidon Kremer & Ah Ruem Ahn
Sofia Gubaidulina is a guest artist from Bergen International Festival at NordAccordions concert Tuesday 29 May at 19:00, at Ole Bull Akademiet in Voss.
A longer version of this article, In the labyrinth of the soul – on the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, written by Festival Director Anders Beyer.