“I was really surprised by this commission to compose a work for Murten Classic,” Arseniy Shkaptsov explains. “I even got a little scared, because I consider myself more of a bassoonist and conductor than a composer, actually.” In fact, the musician, born in Moscow in 1993, first completed his training as a bassoonist at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana and as a conductor at the Zurich University of the Arts when he came to Switzerland in 2011. “I didn’t major in composition. But of course, compositional topics such as harmony, analysis, fugue, etc. were also part of the study.”
Arseniy Shkaptsov is active in many ways. Since 2017, he has been artistic director of the United Soloists Orchestra, with which he recorded the album “Stravinsky Firebird Suite 1919,” released in 2022. In 2019 he was appointed Vladimir Fedoseev’s associate conductor with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, in 2022/2023 he debuts with the Athens Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra della Toscana. But Arseniy Shkaptsov not only loves classical music resp. Russian music in particular, he also counts jazz, minimal music and Brazilian music among his main influences – and devotes himself to these genres. As such, he released the jazzy album “Canon” with the group The Sharp Shock and his own album “Bassoonova” in 2018. On the latter, he interprets pieces by bossa nova co-founder Antônio Carlos Jobim, which he had arranged for jazz band and string ensemble. In the album title, the dry wit of the musician is evident, which also flashes up again and again in conversation.
All this influences the music he is composing, Arseniy Shkaptsov explains. Of course, his personal background always has an influence. That is why he refers to his current living environment with the work “C’era una volta in Ticino” created for Murten Classics, which also fits the festival theme “Stories – Histoires”. “My play is about the region where I live now: Ticino”. Once that reference was established, he said, he started “composing a little bit in my head, singing some melodies.”
A sounding perpetual motion machine
That’s how he came up with a melodic theme that depicted Ticino in its mountain region and sounded folkloric. The background to this is that he likes to go to festivals of the Ticino people in the mountains, where old folk songs are sung. The resulting music is very melodic and rhythmic, seems like a kind of perpetual motion machine, is like time constantly in motion. “It represents the movement of people riding trains and going to the mountains in Ticino. And there’s a second theme that represents the landscape, the lake and the mountains.” One could say that this is programme music with a folkloristic touch, but it is also influenced a little bit by minimal music.
Arseniy Shkaptsov modestly points out that he has not yet found a truly personal style in composing. “It’s also not as if I had a clear idea of a piece in each case and then start composing. I often just improvise or have music in my head that I then record and later write down as sheet music. So, for me it’s therefore rather like an improvisation; composing to me means making music out of life.” There is also the challenge of orchestration for the expanded Hilaris Chamber Orchestra. “This, for me, is mainly a question of time and rest. I can’t write maybe 30 seconds of the piece every day and take care of the kids and fix the car in between. It’s best if I’m somewhere else for a week and have absolute peace and quiet to fully concentrate on writing the music. Then it actually goes fast.”
Arseniy Shkaptsov and Daniel Schnyder, the mentor in this Murten Classics project, have known each other for over ten years. “When I was still living in Russia, we played together once – and I found him to be an incredible musician. That is why I asked him to teach me, and in a way he became my first jazz teacher.” Since then, the two have met again on various occasions, and so now on this Murten Classics project. “I sent him parts of my composition, to which he then gave me feedback in each case, for example, that I shouldn’t forget the pizzicato, nor to include moments of surprise.”
This feedback from Daniel Schnyder was very important to him, he said, because it made him think about aspects that he had not considered or paid too little attention to when composing. “When you are in the flow of writing, it’s easy to forget that you can make the music even more interesting. He asked me, for example, if I really wanted to write a passage just for strings and not add something hard. But for me it’s difficult to write all the instrument parts together. That’s when he advised me to write the strings first and then add something else.”
It is precisely in such work that the computer helps Arseniy Shkaptsov. “Most of the time, I sit at the computer and start composing out of my head, usually on a keyboard, and test out how that may sound. Then it often doesn’t sound the way I imagined it in my head, so I adjust that, transpose the cello part up, for example.” This makes him aware of how difficult it used to be for composers without computers. “They had to write perfect scores off the top of their heads – that’s rather incredible!” What also helps him in his work is his experience as an orchestra musician and conductor. “I know the basics of the instruments. And for the details of how to play it, I can ask musician friends if I’m unsure.”
Jubilee concert celebrating 100 years of SUISA at the Murten Classics Festival 2023
Last year, Murten Classics commissioned four young Swiss talents, Pascal Bachmann (*2006), Joëlle Nager (*2000), Théo Rossier (*2002) and Arseniy Shkaptsov (*1993) to each write a composition of a maximum of eight minutes for string orchestra, piano, harp and two percussion instruments on the festival theme “Stories – Histoires”. The four “Young Composers” were selected by conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller, who is also artistic director of Murten Classics, and “Senior Composer” Daniel Schnyder. The latter accompanies the “Young Composers” during the composition process as a mentor. Born in Zurich in 1961 and living in New York City since 1992, the saxophonist and flutist is considered one of the most versatile composers of his generation.
A public dress rehearsal with talks will be held on Saturday, 26 August, at 2pm in the German Church of Murten under the title “Talking from the Workshop”. A ticket to the concert on Sunday, 27 August, entitles to this public rehearsal in the presence of the composer and the composers. The concert with the world premieres begins on Sunday at 8 pm in the idyllic castle courtyard. Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerto grosso op. 6, no. 4” and Ernest Bloch’s “Concerto grosso no. 1” will provide the framework for the works of the young composers. The programme will be interpreted by the Hilaris Chamber Orchestra, which is extended by Isabel Goller (harp), Kiril Zvegintsov (piano), Jens Ruland (percussion) and João Carlos Pacheco (percussion); Christoph-Mathias Mueller will be the conductor.
Tickets are available from 1 June, more info: www.murtenclassics.ch