Smirnov took me by surprise. I had bought that record a while ago when I did some research about the Moldavian-Austrian violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, but hadn’t listened to it actually. So, on a frosty, foggy winter morning, I selected that record while driving to the office. It usually takes me half an hour or so and when I had left the valley and cleared the fog the sun was just about to rise over the horizon. I admired the spectacular colors of the sky and at the same time I heard the first bars of Smirnov’s Elegy for Cello Solo, op. 97a. At first I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but somehow I had to leave the main road, stop the car and watch and listen. And get out and shoot that picture.
Strange. That piece of Smirnov and the next track on the record Piano Sonata No. 4, op. 124 “String of Destiny” held me spellbound just as the last track called Postlude for Violin Solo, op. 112. I could listen to those works over and over again and easily enter into a kind of trance. That does not happen frequently to me with contemporary classical music.
Dmitri Smirnov was born 1948 in Minsk, the capital of today’s Belarus. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory from 1967 to 1972 and he has produced a constant flow of new compositions: two operas, many songs inspired by his favorite writers or poets and chamber music. He is married to Elenea Firsova, also a composer, and they currently live in the United Kingdom. Elena Firsova had been blacklisted in the Soviet Union as she had participated in unauthorized artists gatherings. Their children have become… artists, obviously! Philipp ia a sculptor and Alissa a composer, pianist and conductor.
The Elegy for Cello was dedicated by the composer to his former teacher, Edison Denisov. Besides the cello, it features three crystal glasses; it was composed in 1997 right after Denisov’s death. The Postlude for Violin Solo followed a year later. Smirnov wrote it to honor another representative of the Neue Musik, Alfred Schnittke. The same year, he wrote The Violin Sonata No. 3 “Es ist genug” whose title is derived from a choral of Bach (BWV 60). It is dedicated to his wife’s father a physicist. The Piano Sonata No. 3 saw the light in 2000, on the record is played by Smirnov’s daughter, to whom it is also dedicated. The Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano Op. 23 is an older composition, but it is of no lesser interest.
As I said, Smirnov took me by surprise and he still does. The more I listen to the pieces on “An Introduction to Smirnov” the better I like them, and I am grateful to Patricia Kopatchinskaya to have introduced me to this composer.
© Charles Thibo