Boris Tishchenko once said that in musical terms the 20th century ended with the death of Shostakovich. Rodion Shchedrin refuted this in an interview: “I think that Tishchenko, other contemporaries and myself, our art, all form the branches of the tree of Russian music. Specifically Russian, with its particular mentality, with its particular conformities.” This is no mere vociferous statement. At the age of seventy-eight, Shchedrin has written a vast number of works, and he continues to compose with the same youthful energy and enthusiasm. His life covers an entire era – from Shostakovich and Sviridov, who were his senior contemporaries, to others the same age, such as Tishchenko, Slonimsky, Schnittke and the next generation of Russian composers. But of course this is not what is important. Shchedrin least of all resembles a “living classic” – spirited and unconstrained, at interviews and press conferences he seems very young indeed, a childishly simple and approachable man. His music is just the same – always bright, lively and witty; charming, like the man himself is charming, open to all and raising no barriers in his intercourse. He does not try to write in a complex style, and he is far from any “cerebral” approach, but the simplicity of his music has nothing to do with primitiveness. It is the simplicity of a healthy creative nature; of a musician who understands his calling as composers did in the good old days when to be a creator one did not have to invent unintelligible concepts or to saturate the music with allusions and references to all possible eras and styles. And it is the simplicity of a tremendously gifted man who can, as Haydn did before him, lean on his predecessors and be intensely appealing. And, also like him, he can compose only to order, in any genre proffered, and always with pleasure.
His commissions come from illustrious individuals as well as from all sorts of organisations who want a new opus by an internationally renowned composer in their collections. It is often other famous musicians who have been the initiators of new works – it was Rostropovich who initiated the creation of the opera Lolita, it was Lorin Maazel who initiated The Enchanted Wanderer, and there are countless other such examples. Being in such demand, it should come as no surprise that the composer’s life is always on the move – constant tours and travel, and the composer even has three permanent homes – in Moscow, Munich and Lithuania. Movement also forms the essence of his music, which is based on contrasts of rhythm and kinds of motion. Other typical features include the vivid timbre thinking and expression of “Russianness”.
Shchedrin’s music is performed all across the globe, and may frequently be heard in Moscow and St Petersburg. The Mariinsky Theatre is by no means the least important concert venue for the composer. Connections with the theatre date back to 1978, when Yuri Temirkanov, who conducted the premiere of Dead Souls at the Bolshoi Theatre, brought the production to the Mariinsky Theatre. Then the role of Chichikov was brilliantly performed by Sergei Leiferkus, and this role remains one of the greatest in the singer’s repertoire to this day. This season, the opera was once again performed at the Mariinsky Theatre – after languishing forgotten for almost thirty years, being performed on extremely rare occasions in Russia. Last season the theatre staged the Russian premiere of the opera The Enchanted Wanderer and a new production of the ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse with choreography by Alexei Ratmansky to great acclaim, while this season has seen premieres of the ballets Anna Karenina and Carmen-Suite, also choreographed by Ratmansky.