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Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Tomorrow will be brighter still

People's artist of Russia, singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky in TASS special project Top Officials
Andrey Vandenko 
Andrey Vandenko

Andrey Vandenko was born on November 8, 1959 in Lugansk, Ukrainian SSR. In 1982, he graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev with a degree in journalism. Since 1989, he has been living and working in Moscow. For over 20 years, he has built his career as a journalist specializing in interviews. His work is published predominantly in Russia’s leading mass media outlets, and he is the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Part 1
On openness and privacy, on diagnosis and getting aware of what it means, optimism and realism

Famous Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky speaks about his diagnosis, ups and downs, terrorism and social networks in an exclusive interview with TASS


- On your website you’ve posted a new recording of the World War II song Wait for Me and I’ll Come Back. We’ve been waiting. Not so much for this sound track as for your comeback , Dmitri.

- Thank you. I promised and now I am back… As for the song you’ve mentioned – as you may remember, it was Konstantin Simonov, a World War II frontline reporter, novelist, playwright and poet who authored the lyrics – it’s from the same-name album featuring eighteen pieces addressing the World War II theme. I recorded it especially for the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany and this release is very important to me. On the same disc you will hear Dark is the Night, Where are You Now, Comrades in Arms? A Hilltop with no Name, and Wartime Roads.

- Early last summer you broke the news you had to suspend your concert tours for health reasons. Then there followed a period of lull several months long. There was no news from you except for one brief statement that the course of treatment was proceeding normally. So nobody felt surprised when a two-minute video clip, posted on the Metropolitan Opera website showing yours and Anna Netrebko’s joint rehearsal of a scene from Il Trovatore, had more than a hundred thousand views in just 24 hours.

- Strictly between you and me. This is a great secrete of mine: I don’t run my website or page in the social networks myself. I rely on assistance from trained specialists. Naturally, they do everything with my prior consent and approval, but I don’t write posts in Facebook myself or place photos in Instagram. I don’t even remember the passwords to them.

- Why so?

- I don’t want to. Probably, I am wrong, but I don’t see much sense in all this. True, social networks have become an important part of many people’s lives. But not of my own. I learn about the number of likes I get and the number of viewings of my recitals from other people. But what I’ve just said by no means diminishes my gratitude to all those who’ve shown they really care about my life and display sympathy. I do feel people’s attitude and their love. There’s no way of not noticing them. Yet I am not prepared to let outsiders too deeply into my inner world, to pour my heart out. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. True, my profession implies a great deal of publicity, but I am a closed type of person and I painstakingly guard my private space. It belongs to me and nobody else.

- And still you preferred to say it yourself that you have a brain tumor…

God is my witness, I didn't have the slightest intention of bolstering publicity using rumors about my illness and other people’s curiosity

- As the disease got worse, I had to cancel event after event. I did not want to breed any rumors and speculations. I just stated the hard facts. It was a very logical step for me to take. Possibly, the decision looked not very common, but each one is free to decide for oneself. Life is simpler for me that way. In any case I would’ve had to make some comments afterwards and to explain something. So why not say it all at once to close the subject right away? I am not in the habit of telling lies or misleading people. I gave thought to it, gauged the consequences. I had a word with the family, with my dear ones, with Mark Hildrew – a good old friend of mine, who is also my agent… There was unanimity: we are going to tell the truth.

God is my witness, I didn't have the slightest intention of bolstering publicity using rumors about my illness and other people’s curiosity.

- An offer of help here, in Russia, came virtually in no time, but you refused to accept it.

- I have everything I need. It’s those unable to support themselves that deserve assistance. Besides, it’s important to understand the psychological condition of a person who has just learned about one’s illness, possibly a lethal one. At such moments you don’t feel like socializing with anyone. We gladly share joy and happiness with the world around us, but when we are in trouble, it’s better to stay alone. Getting accustomed to the new realities is far easier when there is no one around. You must get over it on your own. Nobody will help. Nobody will ever manage, however strong the wish to help may be.

- And there is no way of getting ready for this in advance.

- You know, the illness was not breaking news for me. Apparently, I had anticipated something of the sort. For a long time I had been unable to shrug off pessimism. I tended to see only the dark aspects of life. I felt apathy and fatigue. I could no longer get pleasure from work. I had this feeling of never-ending tiredness and indifference to what was happening around. Possibly, my physical condition was to blame, but I had remained unaware of that until a certain point.

- And then?

- Then it dawned upon me that something was wrong. At first I thought it was a different kind of ailment – vertigo, caused by middle ear inflammation. It upsets the vestibular function. It’s hard to stay in balance. Dizzy spells are frequent and each movement gives you a feeling of nausea. After a while I thought that the cause might be different and far more serious, although all of my acquaintances and colleagues kept telling me that I was inventing things and the illness would soon go away. It didn’t.

- When was the diagnosis confirmed?

- I underwent several examinations. Here in Russia, in Britain and in the United States. The first and most thorough one was at the Burdenko Hospital. All of the brightest medical minds gathered for a conference to discuss my case.

- Did you hear the word “cancer”?

- No, but the gist of the verdict was already clear.

- That examination at the Burdenko Hospital – it was in May 2015, wasn’t it?

- Yes, at the end of the month. From Moscow I flew to London, and from there to New York. I didn’t waste a minute. Staying idle and waiting patiently for your fate to be decided for you is against my nature. If something must be cleared up, I go and find out. And then I decide what is to be done about what I’ve learned.

- What was your first thought when the fears proved well-founded?

The main message I heard from the doctors was this: “You won’t die”

- I was stunned. It couldn’t have been otherwise. A normal human reaction! You always hope for the best but sometimes agree that the worst is possible, too. I tried to drive bad thoughts away from my mind, but they kept coming back time after time… I did my best to turn off my emotions, to think rationally. And I realized that I just cannot afford to leave this world so easily. There are close people around me, my parents, my family, and my kids. Nina and Maxim are still very young.

With the passage of time I learned more about the illness and the likely methods of treatment and slowly regained calm. Obscurity, suspense is the worst scare of all: what’s inside the dark room? When you see a picture, even the most unpleasant one, it’s easier. You realize where you are and where you should move be moving.

Firstly, the main message I heard from the doctors was this: “You won’t die.” Of no smaller importance was the promise that I would be able to remain on stage and lead an active life. True, some restrictions might follow, I was told, but certain losses will be unavoidable anyway. For the sake of this goal it was worth struggling with the inconveniences chemotherapy and radiotherapy would entail.

- Sometime ago you recalled the details of a sinus surgery you had here in Moscow. You said it was so painful and uncomfortable that it felt like medieval torture. I reckon radiotherapy is still harsher.

- Experience shows that everything is relative in this world. You’ve got to remember what is at stake. True, the process of treatment should not be more tormenting than the disease itself, but you always have a choice between life and death… I can say once again that the sinus surgery is not the most complicated of all, but it is rather unpleasant physiologically. In other words, it hurts.

The worst problem with any chemotherapy is the duration of treatment. You should brace up for at least six months of systematic treatment. To clench the teeth and endure.

My wife’s support was very helpful. I would’ve found it far harder to get along but for Florence by my side. Flo never had the slightest doubt that there might be an outcome different from victory over disease. At first I was in utter dismay. As long as there is an audience in front of you, it is easier to retain self-control. I’ve long mastered the skill of looking unemotional, but when you are all alone… An illness can suppress you, break your willpower if you don’t counter it with something stronger and more important. Love, family, work and sports – grab your chance and fight for it tooth and claw.

I forced myself to go to the gym every day, although at that moment various complications occurred. I had an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It was hard for me to sit down, to get up, to move and walk around…

- And the effects of chemotherapy?

- Rather radiotherapy. It lasted six weeks. It’s a hard blow on your body and causes great harm to your health. The latest session was on August 12, but its effects are clear to the naked eye.

- Like what?

- I’ve turned half-bald. Lost all hair on the back of my head. At a US hospital in Rochester I underwent a mighty biopsy under general anesthesia. Without that it was impossible to realize what method of treatment should be selected. In fact, I had holes drilled in the base of the skull. If you bring your hand close enough to the irradiated area, you will feel it is warmer than others. Occasionally, when blood rushes to this place, I have strong pulsations there. Feel pretty close to hearing music…

- And are the dizzy spells gone now?

- I’d been warned that to a certain extent I may have them from time to time for the rest of my lifetime. So I’ll have to put up with them. I keep doing certain exercises to maintain and strengthen the feeling of balance.

- Have you hired a special coach?

- I manage on my own. I’ve always tried to go to the gym at least twice a week. These days I do that more often. To do the set of exercises that has been developed for me I don’t need any special machines. Just a room that is spacious enough. Persistency and regularity are important. At first it was rather hard and painful, but I fight fire with fire. Gradually the muscles warm up and unpleasant feelings disappear.

Mine is a healthy body and this will surely help me cope with the illness. Surely it will. I know. Tomorrow will be brighter still.

I am not trying to simulate cheap optimism or show off. I believe that I am capable of making sane judgements. I am well aware of how serious my situation is. I won’t be pretending I am happy with life. Yet I am determined to carry on and use the slightest opportunity to stay on the bright side of life. I am a type of person the Americans call “survivor”, someone determined to stage a comeback and go on living…

- You even tried to overcome the fear of falling and even made parachute jumps for this purpose.

Life in general is about struggle and the ability to overcome

- I’ve had this fear since my younger days. Back in my teens I had a narrow escape when I almost fell off a cliff while rock-climbing in the Pillars of Krasnoyarsk nature reserve. It was a rainy day and my footwear was not very good for this type of exercise. I slipped and was about to fall. At the very last moment the instructor grabbed me to help regain balance. He saved my life. The fall would’ve surely been lethal. I’ve had no enthusiasm about extreme sports ever since. Even on a balcony I feel uneasy. Little kids may come up to the parapet and look down. When I do that, I feel chilly inside and a shiver down my spine. But I try to struggle with this phobia. Life in general is about struggle and the ability to overcome. One day I thought I’d like to fly on board a jet fighter, to feel the G-force effects. Here, near Moscow. As a passenger, of course. A friend of mine made an offer. It’s been my dream ever since. It almost worked, but at the last minute the plan was upset. Never mind. I’ll wait till next time and if doctors allow…

Let me say again: at difficult moments the daily routine is of great help. When I’m doing something, bad thoughts go away. I must keep my voice in the proper condition. It’s my working tool, and it has to be taken care of. However I may feel, I spend an hour or two a day on vocal exercises. I rehearse new pieces and perform familiar ones. This keeps me disciplined and in good shape. It’s essential not to give up and to go on doing this day in day out…

- But haven’t you ever taken a break?

- Never. I’ll tell you more. When I was already well into the radiotherapy treatment course I thought I should give a recital at the Russian embassy in London, although by that time I had canceled all scheduled performances. A very spontaneous idea it was. It suddenly occurred to me that I had never performed in front of our diplomats, although I’ve lived in Britain for more than twenty years now. I wished to show other people that I was still strong and in good form. The hall was packed to capacity. I invited some of my friends to the party. I must address special thanks to Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the UK, for the warm reception. It was a very cordial event and a very encouraging one. I checked if I would be able to cope with heavy emotional pressure again.


On a lump in the throat, white roses, champagne, pain, ups and downs and government awards

On the language of the green room, the Immortal Regiment, the St George’s ribbon, and charitable activities in Facebook

Part 2
On a lump in the throat, white roses, champagne, pain, ups and downs and government awards


- And what was it that made it so special? After so many years you’ve spent on stage.

- Everything was different. As if for the first time. The illness and everything it entailed gave me more experience. I’d never felt anything like this. A very different kind of feeling. When I emerged from behind the scenes in the limelight and saw people’s faces, I felt my blood was literally boiling. It took quite an effort to regain self-control, calm down and swallow the lump that stood in my throat.

Then it happened again on September 25, at the opening of a new season at Met, where I made my first appearance after the break for medical treatment. I knew perfectly well that the audience will explode with an ovation the moment I would appear on stage. I was almost sure that the conductor would pause the performance for a moment to let the spectators express their feelings. It was essential to get through these minutes, not to lose breath, to hold back tears and not to collapse on the floor right there. I am not exaggerating. It was a tremendous psychological test. And the most complex one. Not the global process of resuming my professional career, but the very first step. The role of Count di Luna in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore is considered one of the most difficult ones among the baritones, but I love it. As the plot unfolds, my character does a lot of fencing fights. My current condition as it is, there was surely an extra reason for being worried, but, as I’ve already told you, my greatest concern was not about that, but about the moment I was to begin the first monologue. As I walked there, I kept saying to myself: “Hold on! Hold on!” So it happened. I stayed firm.

- Did you take a deep breath?

- I used all tricks available to me at that point. I was smiling, looking around, trying to see familiar faces in the audience. I was ready to do anything just for the sake of not letting the heart jump, which would’ve left me unprotected before an applauding audience. I had to switch attention to something else, to get distracted from the way I felt deep inside.

- And when white roses started falling at your feet towards the finale?

- That was another terrible blow! Whereas before the beginning I had prepared myself psychologically, that flower shower caught me off guard. The day before there was a dress rehearsal open to the general public, and I knew in advance that an ovation at the end would be imminent, but I had not anticipated to see so many roses.

We lined up for the final bow. The conductor – Marco Armiliato – suddenly grabbed me by the hand and pushed forward. At first I was in confusion. It’s against the custom. And then I saw flowers flying towards me from the orchestra pit. Many flowers! Very many! I did not know what to do. I looked back towards my partners. Anna Netrbeko, Marco Armiliato and others were applauding… and weeping. I am not a man of iron, either! I bent down and started picking up the roses lying in front of me with trembling hands, while many more flowers kept pouring in! Long and very thorny… Then I turned and handed the ones I’d just picked up to the ladies on stage.

Believe me, such a token of recognition from the Met orchestra is hard to over-appreciate. The atmosphere in the theater is just wonderful, really amazing! Probably there’s nothing of the kind elsewhere in the world. That I’m personally acquainted almost with every single stagehand leaves a special imprint on relations, too. They are sturdy, robust guys from Bronx and Brooklyn, with a very special accent… I’ve been long acquainted with people from the theater’s other services and units, including the sewing shop, the make-up specialists and the management.

- When was your debut at Metropolitan Opera?

- Precisely twenty years ago. I marked the date in October. Now imagine – each time we meet we discuss different themes. Some people come and other people go, but the special spirit of Met is invariably there. I’ve always felt that, but in September the feeling was most acute. The wave of positive emotions coming from the orchestra, the choir and the partners overpowered me.

- A question I’ve never asked you before: do you keep a diary?

- I’ve never done that. You will probably feel surprised, but it was just recently, during my illness that some people started persuading me to start making notes. You don’t have much to do for now, I was told, so sum up your thoughts, look back on what you’ve been through. I tried, honestly, but nothing has come of this idea of writing memoirs. I failed to persuade myself.

After each radiotherapy session I remained exhausted for several hours. I had no strength, no emotions, and no wishes. I just sat in an armchair, feeling half-dead. Toward 6 p.m. I usually got better. Then I had a glass of champagne and literally resurrected, as if I was borne anew.

- Were you allowed to have champagne?

The wine saved me! Each day I popped a cork

- The wine saved me! Each day I popped a cork. This helped me to cheer up and feel invigorated. We were having guests all the time. Some stayed for days: the house is big enough to accommodate all. I didn’t have to stay in hospital round the clock. I went there for treatment in the morning and then got back home. For the first time in many years I spent three months in a row with my family. It was something extraordinary.

Wasting precious time on writing memoirs? No, I hated the idea of losing even an hour. Besides, my physical condition then left much to be desired. After having radiation therapy you begin to think life isn’t worth living.

- Now that you’ve been on the brink of an abyss, have you changed you attitude to what you have in this world?

- You know, I don’t feel yet the illness has left me. I still feel dizzy. Sometimes probably even more dizzy than before.

- Why?

- My sleepless nights are to blame. While lying in bed I may be staring into the darkness, unable to control racing thoughts… I might agree that too little time has passed. I really don’t know… The human body has a very special feature. The moment you feel better just for a second and the pain dies down, the hope comes back. The picture of the world changes instantly, and so do your thoughts, plans and mood. But when the pain returns, everything around turns black again. Ups and downs follow each other in an instant. It’s really hard to bear. You soon get tired of this never-ending rollercoaster ride.

- This possibly adds a lot to the urge to brush aside matters of no importance and not waste life on worthless nonsense?

I’ve restricted my contacts with the outside world still more. I’ve curtailed practically all redundant contacts and abandoned everything that I can do without

- Now I see your point… No, the illness has not taught me anything new in this respect, and it couldn’t have. I’ve long lived with the feeling each tiny moment is precious. True, there may be mistakes and wrong moves, but they yield experience in exchange. Experience has to be paid for. But then it’s not something worthless. As for the lessons I’ve derived from the past six months I can say that I’ve restricted my contacts with the outside world still more. I’ve curtailed practically all redundant contacts and abandoned everything that I can do without. Possibly, I was too emotional and shouldn’t have done that. For now I prefer to have it this way.

Also, I’ve noticed that I am more tolerant towards other people. Before, I was far harsher in my comments and judgements. This change may be a result of not my ailment, though, but of my age. With time you come to understand more things about life in general.

- When last June you declared you were pausing your artistic career did you have an idea of how long the interruption might last?

- Doctors have mentioned to me the date of the last radiotherapy session. As I’ve already said, radiotherapy is the worst hindrance. Firstly, it is harmful for your health. Secondly, you stay pegged to a clinic. And chemotherapy will last till February. No drop counters, though. I will be taking pills. In a word, nothing prevents me from travelling around the world. It remains to be seen whether my physical condition allows me to perform on stage. So I had decided that I should go to New York in September to sing at Metropolitan Opera. So I did as I said. It goes without saying that it was a great victory. I haven’t realized its importance to the full yet. You see, Metropolitan Opera implies a certain level and a challenge. Professional, emotional and physical... I threw that challenge to myself. It this particular case it did not matter whether I would appear on stage as Count Di Luna or just sing a couple of simple notes. It was a matter of principle.

A few words about Il Trovatore. It is practically impossible to sing it correctly. All characters are crazy. And the way the opera is composed is not very convenient for vocalists. The way Anna Netrebko coped with Leonora’s role is just fabulous. Ann is a wonderful performer and a really powerful singer. Over the past twenty years she’s made colossal progress. I remember well her repertoire of those days, and I can see what Ann sings today. Her voice has changed. It now sounds deeper, clearer and stronger.

When we performed at Met on October 3, the performance was telecast to two thousand cinema theaters in seventy countries around the world, including Russia. My parents were in Moscow and enjoyed Il Trovatore on a large screen. That thought made me still more exited.

In those days I felt never-waning support. Each walk along a New York Street was quite an experience. I had a rented apartment one block away from Met. Usually it’s a two-minute slow stroll. I had to spend far more time to get there, and back, though. Many passers-by who recognized me were stopping me to wish good health and ask how I was doing. And chats with fellow Russians lasted much longer…

- In London it’s all the same, I guess?

- I take far less strolls there. Prefer to move around in a hired car. I seldom use the telephone and prefer not to answer telephone calls.

True, I have a certain group of acquaintances in Britain I socialize with. Covent Garden is another theatrical family of mine. Apart from Met. My British colleagues last summer sent me a large album with autographs, photos and kind wishes from the theatre’s company and staff, from top manager to usher.

- Were there any messages from Russia?

Of course, there were! Oddly enough some of the letters reached me even though they carried no proper address. I keep my home address secret from the public. Nobody knows where we live. Why disclosing such private information?

Incidentally, this time after recitals in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ufa some spectators brought me not just flowers, but also jars with potions and balms promising cure from all disease, brochures, paintings and icons…

- What was your reaction to the news Russia has decorated you with the Order of Alexandr Nevsky?

I am very grateful to the state for the order, but it is no less important that I enjoy people’s ever-lasting love

- I do hope that my health problems have nothing to do with it. I’m joking, of course. Back in 1991 I received Russia’s state award from Boris Yeltsin. So did Mstislav Rostropovich. I was even asked to say a couple of words on behalf of the laureates. I was so excited that I mumbled something incomprehensible. I only remember that Yeltsin then was in good shape, handsome-looking and brimming with energy… And in 1995 I was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Russia. That was twenty years ago. My parents then kept asking: “What for?” What could I tell them then? Now I have the full right to say: “That’s what it was for!” Surely, I am very grateful to the state for the order, but it is no less important that I enjoy people’s ever-lasting love. That’s what really matters. I’m not being pathetic. I do see the world this way.

- You surely chanced to meet with the powers that be many a time, did you?

I am self-employed. I work on my own. I am not on the staff of any performing company. I belong to myself

- I’ve never sought their friendship or favors. I never had such aims. They have their own important duties of national importance to attend, while I have my own corner of the world. I don’t need anything from the authorities. Absolutely. I don’t run a large orchestra or theater company. Nor do I seek budget subsidies or grants. What’s the best way of saying it? I am self-employed. I work on my own. I am not on the staff of any performing company. I belong to myself. Is it what some would call independence?

True, I’ve performed in front of heads of state and monarchs. In the early 1990s I was introduced to Princess Diana. I was performing at Spenser House for members of Britain’s high society. After the concert there was a reception, a banquet and a dancing party… That was 20 years ago. What’s the use of recalling all this…

- Then let’s talk about the more recent affairs. This year you were awarded the title of an honorary citizen of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, weren’t you?

- Yes, that’s what some people would call “my small motherland.” I had different kinds of relations with the local authorities in different years, but one must never have grudges against one’s mother country or one’s mother. That’s a rule of life.

I feel I should visit Krasnoyarsk more often. Last time I was there in spring. If I’m not mistaken, I performed there last time on May 27 before my illness. My whole family was there. It was a great experience. My cousin took us on a city tour and gave us a ride to the Rock Pillars of Krasnoyarsk natural reserve. The kids were screaming with delight! My dear mother-in-law, too, went everywhere to see everything. She is an Italian living in Geneva. For many years I kept persuading her that Siberia had its own charm and beauty in no way inferior to Switzerland. Jones condescendingly listened to my fiery speeches, possibly smiling quietly to herself. But when she arrived in Krasnoyarsk, she was able to see that what I had been telling her was pretty close to the truth. She liked it all very much.

I have an excellent relationship with my mother-in-law. Jones is a good companion. I like travelling with her. Of the six weeks I was undergoing radiotherapy Jones spent four with me, cooking and taking care of me… And do you know what happened to her just recently? On October 3 she was watching Il Trovatore telecast from New York. Afterwards, when she was walking out of the hall, she stumbled on the stairway and had her leg broken. A twist of fortune. Now she’ll have to stay in hospital till January, because moving about the house in a wheelchair is a problem. Now it’s my turn to take care of my in-law. The bad news arrived when Flo and I were already on the way to Geneva…

Part 3
On the language of the green room, the Immortal Regiment, the St George’s ribbon, and charitable activities in Facebook

On the language of the green room, the Immortal Regiment, the St George’s ribbon, and charitable activities in Facebook


- In 2005, you had the first concert tour of Russia devoted to the songs of World War II. As far as I know, its start was preceded by your meeting with Vladimir Putin at Novo-Ogaryovo.

Musicians and performers from different countries always know how to come to terms with one another, even in the darkest years of enmity and confrontations between political systems

- And prior to the meeting I performed in Red Square. I was the first singer who got the honor of a solo concert there. Its televised version was aired by TV channels in twenty-five foreign countries afterwards. Vladimir Vladimirovich appeared in the square at the beginning of Act II after the completion of talks with the then Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. The two Presidents came out in front of the spectator stands when I was signing the song ‘Here Come the Soldiers’. Such was the coincidence. 

After that concert, Putin invited me to his residence where we discussed the idea of a tour of Russia. It was an unprecedented venture. We had Konstantin Orbelian’s chamber orchestra and the Children’s choir of the Russian State Broadcasting Company under the baton of Viktor Popov. And we received a lot of assistance from Andrey Kazmin, who was the CEO of Sberbank then. He took charge of all the logistics then – trains and a huge leased Jumbo jet, which airlifted us to remote regions. The free concerts would bring together enormous crowds of people in every city. The impression was truly unforgettable.

We had an international tour in three years’ time. The itinerary covered Europe, Mexico, the US, and Canada. I received from it one more testimony to how true art makes politics and diplomacy look pale. Musicians and performers from different countries always know how to come to terms with one another, even in the darkest years of enmity and confrontations between political systems. We musicians have a postulation: the language of self-expression is an international one. 

The war-era songs program gathered many more spectators than the halls of philharmonic societies could seat. Imagine Guadalajara in Mexico where the Auditorio Telmex compound has room for 11,000 spectators. And it was there that our Russian (wartime hit) ‘Blue Headscarf’ was performed. We gave our last concert in Boston. As we finished the last song, something incredible broke out on the stage, with the musicians weeping, embracing and kissing one other. The spectators in the hall were puzzled. Then I took the mike and did an explanation for them. The big tour is over and it’s proved to be quite eventful for all of us, I said. I think it was for the first and the last time I was hurt at the thought people back at home were totally unaware of our tour. No one covered or discussed anything. It was really a pity.

- And on May 9 this year you performed at the All-Russia Exhibition of Economic Achievements (VDNKh)…

- Yes, I presented a new program there. The repertoire had changed substantially over the previous ten years. Very many people came this time, too. Dozens of thousands, certainly. Those who had failed to take seats were standing. Everything up to horizon was filled. Earlier on the same day, I gave a concert in the Kremlin. Then I came back to the hotel and watched the columns of the Immortal Regiment (VE-Day public remembrance action in Russia) walk down Red Square. I stood by the window and filmed it on my cell phone to keep it as a souvenir and to show it to my friends abroad. The scene was amazing. If I had learnt about it in advance, I’d surely had joined it and had walked down the streets together with all others with a portrait of my grandfather who died in the winter of 1941 near Moscow. One more grandfather came with the Army all the way to Koenigsberg and then fought in the Far East.

Incidentally, my mother-in-law’s father fought against the Nazis in Greece and was killed there. Her name, Jones, is a copy of the English surnamed ‘Jones’ and it’s quite un-Italian. She was named that way in honor of her father’s comrade-in-arms. It was a world war, nothing more to say.

- Terrorism is mentioned increasingly often these days as a new threat to peace…

- Alas, it looks like society of nowadays doesn’t have anything to rebuff this evil with although it’s clear that evil-doing can be beaten only by concerted efforts. It is high time for politicians and moneybags to put aside their ambitions for the sake of rescuing civilization. There should be no idle contemplation of the wave of Moslem radicalism engulfing Europe. I’m not fascinated with police states in any way and I’ve always been seeking personal freedom and wanted to live in a democratic world but I can see clearly today the principles of liberalism are losing popularity with people while the slogans of tightening up the political regime are moving to the forefront. When someone shoots dead more than a hundred people in Paris on a Friday night, just two weeks after a Russian airline was blown up in the skies over the Sinai with 220 passengers aboard, you suddenly realize things of this kind can happen to anyone anywhere anytime. That’s the most horrifying fact. I wouldn’t suspect just a couple of years ago I might be seriously worrying over my family’s security while living in the affluent Europe. I’m fatalistic by nature. For me, what is fated to be can’t be avoided. But this doesn’t mean people must downsize or restrict their lives. In no way!

I wouldn’t suspect just a couple of years ago I might be seriously worrying over my family’s security while living in the affluent Europe
Interviewed by Andrei Vandenko

Born November 8, 1959 in Luhansk, Ukraine. In 1982, Andrei Vandenko graduated from the Kiev National University of Taras Shevchenko specializing in journalism. Since 1989, he lives and works in Moscow. Vandenko has more than 20 years of experience in the interview genre. He was published in the major part of top Russian media outlets and is a winner of professional awards.

Andrey Vandenko