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Cellist says the key to Baroque music is emotion
By Zhang Qian

THOUGH living in a world filled with advanced technology, Russian cellist Alexander Listratov prefers a style of music popular hundreds of years ago.

The cellist in his 40s has been obsessed with Baroque music since the age of 6 and has built his career around it.

Baroque music prevailed in Europe from the 17th to 18th century and differs from most contemporary music in composition, instruments and playing techniques.

“The current pop music is lively. But in the eyes of musicians, it’s too heavy. Only music such as the Baroque is really light and happy, and can be accepted by people from all generations,” Listratov says.

Apart from touring worldwide as a cellist, Listratov established with friends an ensemble of Baroque musicians in 2002. Called Golden Age, the Baroque capella group has been widely recognized as one of the authorities on the style.

The ensemble plays antique instruments including a cello, two violas and two violins from the 17th and 18th centuries. Listratov’s cello was made in 1680 and was once in the hand of Bach.

“It is not that you must play Baroque with a Baroque antique, but with an instrument of voice suitable for Baroque music,” says Listratov. “It is the voice of Baroque, not the instrument that matters.”

The cellist was in Shanghai last weekend with his ensemble Golden Age, performing two concerts at Shanghai Grand Theater as part of the “Into the Hall of Music — Hantang International Music Festival.”

Q: How did you get interested in Baroque music?

A: I started music learning at a very young age. I still remember a concert that I attended at 6 years old. The Baroque melody from the pipe organ fascinated me.

The more I learn about Baroque music, the more I love it, including the composition, instruments and voices. Rather than put the beauty right in front of you, Baroque music tends to unfold it deviously and implicatively.

It was never mainstream in Russia, nor even in Western Europe where it was born. It is ancient and beautiful but not easy to understand for most people. It does not fit in the needs of today’s market advocating instant entertainment. But we as musicians want to prove by our own interpretation that Baroque music is the real music with valuable content.

Q: Some people state that Baroque music is just about technique. How do you respond?

A: I definitely do not agree with that. Baroque music is much richer than just some techniques. Much of the music created today is just like commercial goods for the market. People need particular music, and musicians produce it to earn money.

But Baroque music, as a legacy of the 17th and 18th centuries when few commercial elements were involved, is a record of the culture and thoughts of the time.

Of course, the culture and thoughts were also recorded in other forms like architecture and artworks. They are not only art, but also an inherit philosophy and a vision of the world of the time.

Q: What can audiences do to better understand Baroque music?

A: It will help if the audiences learn about other art forms of the time as well. For Baroque music in particular, I think to sense the emotion of the composer and the performer will be very helpful to understand the whole piece.

Take Bach for example. Sadness is the key emotion for Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor,” while a satire of society fills his “Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat.”

As a typical composer of Baroque music, Bach is very good at having music reveal his feelings. All you have to do is just sit there and listen to his story.

Q: What brought all the musicians to your ensemble together?

A: All the ensemble members are my long-time friends. We share the same interests and passion for Baroque music, and decided to work together for the same goal.


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