Getting to Know You – Conductor Daniel Raiskin

The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra
Winter Symphony Season 2017
Daniel Raiskin is conducting the final two concerts in the KZN Philharmonic’s Winter Symphony Season over the next two Thursdays in the Playhouse. Born in Russia, he is recognized as one of the most versatile conductors of his generation and is Principal Guest Conductor with both the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife
Maestro Raiskin: you are conducting two concerts with the KZN Philharmonic over the next two weeks.
In the first concert, you are conducting Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek in Piano Concerto No. 4 by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Do you have a particular affinity with the piece or with fellow Russian, composer Sergei Rachmaninoff?
This will be my first collaboration with Lukas Vondracek, but I have heard a lot of wonderful things about this talented artist. Indeed music by Sergey Rachmaninoff is very dear to my heart and particularly he’s fourth piano concerto is the piece of profound depth and beauty both entertaining and very innovative at the same time. This concerto is played much less than the numbers 2 and 3, and requires not only a certain maturity, but also profound intelligence and fine sense of form. Generally I do very much enjoy conducting works by Rachmaninoff both his piano concertos and symphonic music. Rachmaninoff for me is the composer of immense sincerity and genuine sense of melody, harmony and space. And of course me being Russian creates an immediate feeling of connection.
For the final concert, you will be conducting the DECODA Ensemble from Carnegie Hall. Tell us about that concert.
The final concert of the winter season will feature a performance of Beethoven’s immensely popular and powerful fifth Symphony. This is perhaps one of the best known works of music and its initial motive of the “fate knocking on the door” strikes an immediate rapport with millions in audience around the world. It is difficult to find a composition of such power and as arousing as this brilliant symphony.
A DECODA ensemble is a group of brilliant international musicians with a taste for most interesting repertoire, incredible ability to communicate with their audiences and to create and develop most innovative programs. They are frontrunners of social involvement and interactive projects, their community initiatives reach out and help many vulnerable and deprived. But above all they are great musicians and instrumentalists and I am sure that our partnership will result into a wonderful performance. One of the ensemble members, oboist James Austin Smith, is a good old friend who I had a privilege to meet and to perform with during my many visits to Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival. And I am very happy to see and to perform with James in Durban before we will see each other again in Stellenbosch this coming July.
Also you will be premiering a new work: entitled Drop, an original composition of South African composer Matthijs van Dijk, which derives its nuances from the 21st century sound of electronic music. Tell us more about that!
I do conduct a lot of contemporary music and working with living composers is always a great privilege. I am very much looking forward to meeting Matthijs van Dijk and to work on his new composition together with him and KZN Phil. “Drop” is full of energy and rhythm and it’s setting for a large instrumental ensemble and orchestra is quite unique, offering lots of exciting challenges for both the performers and the audience!
This is not your first trip to Durban, nor your first time conducting the KZN Phil. As an outsider, what do you like about Durban?
Yes, indeed, this is my second visit to Durban and I am looking forward to discover more about this vibrant city. My last visit was quite short, but I had a chance to enjoy Durban’s cordial hospitality, great food and even some time on the beach! I am often in South Africa and always enjoy my visits to your country – it has so much to offer!
And what is special about the KZN Philharmonic?
Well, it is always special when you conduct an orchestra for the first time but feel as if among good old friends whom you knew for a while… I just remember how easy and natural it was for me to make music with your orchestra and how much energy they have put into our concerts both in Durban and Johannesburg. And their comradeship and level of support to their colleagues from Johannesburg Philharmonic was quite astounding – together we’ve performed the revival concerts for the latter.
You came from a musical family, you are the son of a prominent musicologist, how important is exposure to music from a young age when pursuing a career in music?
My father, who will turn 82 this September, is rightfully acclaimed as one of the leading musicologists and music critics of Russia and far beyond. His knowledge can rival any existing encyclopaedia and spans from natural sciences (he is also a physicist by first education) to literature, history, philosophy and of course music.
As far as I can remember, our home and lives were always filled with music. My older brother studied cello already when I was born, my father will often play music he was writing about on the grand piano which took almost an entire the space in our “big” room!
As a child I liked it most to build a “house” right underneath our grand piano and played my toys often accompanied by my father’s playing piano. It was then most natural that when I turned 6, my mother took me to a violin teacher at the same music school my brother studied. I was not a great student though and violin often gave place to football and other interests boys have at younger age. But for my father it was absolutely clear that also his younger son would become a musician and he was patient enough to pursue this goal.
It is only now, being a father of two teenagers myself, I understand more and more how indebted I am to my parents for opening the world of music for me at such an early age. All these concerts and theatre performances that I was exposed to through my childhood played a most important role in me becoming a professional musician.
Have you always wanted a career in music?
Yes, I think nothing else was ever in the stars, so to say… You know, being a musician is not something you do as a matter of a profession – it is rather something you are, something you do because you cannot do otherwise!
If you weren’t involved in music, what would you do as a career?
Hard to say, but since I am a passionate cook, I might have ventured into cooking on a more professional level. There are a lot of similarities in work of both conductor and a kitchen chef!
It is an ongoing challenge to encourage the younger generation to appreciate and perform Western classical music. In your experience of international travelling, what initiatives have you seen or experienced which help to nurture the next generation of fine musicians?
Honestly I don’t have a feeling that there is a lack of interest in music or classical music in particular. Myself I do not divide music into Western or Eastern, African or South American: for me there is only great music and not so good music! We leave in the world where interaction has reached such a level that styles and origins mix and intervene, without identities being lost. What we suffer from is not so much the lack of interest but an incredible amount of cheap entertainment that feels our daily lives with simple and thoughtless product. Much attention is being paid to terrible damage brought to our health by fast food chains and beverages filled with sugar and chemicals. Substituting the great art of classical music or any music for that matter buy cheap entertainment brings comparable damage to our souls which is perhaps even more frightening. I am convinced that the true musician will find his or her way into the world of music, but on the other hand I take every opportunity to remind politicians around the world that money spent on education and music education in particular is one of the best investments one can make into developing a healthy society.
Where is home for you and tell us a bit about it?
My home is in Amsterdam where I live with my family since past August. We have spent seven years before that in Germany, where I have been music director of a symphony orchestra for over a decade. I already lived in Amsterdam for 20 years before that, so making a decision of returning back to this great city was quite easy for all of us. I wish I could spend more time both with my family and simply enjoying everything Amsterdam has to offer, but maintaining a busy artistic schedule has its downsides.
Give us a quick snapshot of a typical month for you – how much travelling, rehearsal, and performance constitutes a typical calendar month?
I am writing these lines in China where I am conducting a concert tomorrow, Friday the 9th of June with Tianjin Symphony Orchestra. Before a week in China I have conducted a concert with Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra. Right after the concert in Tianjin I am off to the airport to catch a plane to Moscow and then on to Amsterdam where I’ll make a short stop over just to change the suitcase so to say. I will start travelling to Durban already the same evening and after stopovers in Paris and Johannesburg will be there a few hours before my first rehearsal. After two weeks in Durban I’ll head back to Amsterdam but after just two days will fly to Bratislava for CD recording with Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra. And immediately after that I will catch a flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town for my participation at Stellenbosch festival. Finally I will complete another CD recording in Germany right after festival in Stellenbosch and will be able to enjoy a few weeks off before heading to South America middle of August.
June and first half of July this year is particularly busy but I’d say that the above schedule reflects rather correctly dynamic and rhythm of my artistic life.
The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra has two concerts left in its Winter Symphony Season
Concert THREE
Date: Thurs 15 Jun at 7.30pm
Venue: Playhouse Opera
Conductor: Daniel Raiskin
Soloist: Lukas Vondracek
Featured instrument: piano
Programme: Weber Overture to Euryanthe; Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op.40; Dvořák’s Symphony no 7 in D minor
Pre-concert Lecture by Dr Teddy Pillay
Info: For more information, contact 031 369 9438 or email
Book: Computicket / box-office prior to concert.
Concert FOUR / final
Date: Thurs 22 June at 7.30pm
Venue: Playhouse Opera
Conductor: Daniel Raiskin
Soloist: DECODA Ensemble: an affiliate ensemble of Carnegie Hall in New York.
Featured instrument: various
Programme: Van Dijk: Drop Lutoslawski Dance Preludes; Haydn Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major, Op. 84 and Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Pre-concert Lecture by Dr Teddy Pillay
Info: For more information, contact 031 369 9438 or email
Book: Computicket / box-office prior to concert.

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