Musicians’ talk

Alexey Mikhaylenko, a clarinettist from Russia who joined Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic in 2011 and Miranda Erlich, a double bass player from Germany, who joined Baltic Sea Philharmonic this year, share their thoughts on what the experience means to them

Alexey: Was the April tour your first?

Miranda: Yes, it was my first tour.

Alexey: You’re from…?

Miranda: I was born in Germany, but my mother is from Finland, so I have my Finnish passport. I’ve got two cultures.

Alexey: And you’re still studying?

Miranda: Yes, I’m still studying for my BA in Karlsruhe. You know it?

Alexey: Of course. Why did you decide to audition for Baltic Sea Philharmonic?

Miranda: A friend of mine whom I’ve known for many years from the Landesjugendorchester is a violinist in the orchestra. I saw all the pictures on Facebook and I asked him what kind of orchestra it is. I was really interested, so I auditioned.

Alexey: How was the audition?

Miranda: It was great. It was unusual, because it was like a masterclass. It wasn’t like they were sitting there judging me. Even if I hadn’t got in I would have learnt something. It was open and friendly from the very first second.

Alexey: My first audition was for Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic, in 2011. I came to St. Petersburg from Moscow and I had the same feeling. It’s not like auditions I’ve done for other youth orchestras, where you go in and play, and they say something and you leave. In this case it was a masterclass. We were trying together to figure out ways to play, and talked about things outside of the audition. It was very relaxing. That’s how an audition has to be.

Miranda: I agree. In the audition I got a feeling about how the orchestra is, because Jan Bjøranger, the violin coach, wanted to show me something. He had never played the double bass before, but he wasn’t too shy to say, ‘Can I show you something?’ and to take my bass. It was funny. I was so happy when I found out my audition was successful and I could join the orchestra, and that it would be like that all the time.

Alexey: Did you know the guys from the bass section before?

Miranda: No. No one.

Alexey: How did you like the section?

Miranda: I liked it so much. Especially because the girl I shared a room with was so nice, and our friendship began when we walked into sectional rehearsals together. You may know that bassists are funny people and we all got on really well. We still have a WhatsApp group with our coach Charles DeRamus and we’re in touch almost every week, talking about masterclasses we’ve had, or new techniques we’ve learnt. Is it the same with your section?

Alexey: I’ve played with quite a few different clarinettists during my five years and everyone is really different. Maybe it’s because of our schools. That’s the point of the orchestra. All of us come not just from different countries, but also different schools and different ways of playing our instruments. It is always interesting to see how differently people study, rehearse and play. The group we had on the last tour was really good, really professional. Even though the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a young orchestra, it is becoming more and more professional.

Miranda: Yes, that’s true.

Alexey: Did you know Kristjan before the tour?

Miranda: No, I didn’t, but I’d heard a lot about him and I was very excited. He has so much energy. I’ve never had this feeling in an orchestra before. His energy jumps into each person and everyone is so active. I don’t think I’ve ever played so actively before and with so much passion as with Kristjan. It’s really special. You’ve known him a bit longer than me?

Alexey: I’ve known him for five years. He has become a really deep musician with his own view of music and rehearsing – and everything. His point is to create a new generation of musicians, a new community, a new way of orchestral playing, and a new orchestra. The orchestra as an ensemble is already over two hundred years old, and it has to be changed…

Miranda: …Yes…

Alexey: … and that’s one of his points: to change the principles of the orchestra. And it works, it really does. Usually when you play in an orchestra you just do whatever the conductor says. You just sit and try to play the right notes, with a good tone, and not to make mistakes. But with Kristjan, you can make as many mistakes as you want because you’re learning and you’re trying to get out of this box.

Miranda: Exactly. I remember when we had a sectional rehearsal and we had some new ideas for the music that were not in the score. Kristjan came in and we showed him our ideas, and he was so impressed. That’s a special thing, that the musicians can have ideas and tell him how they feel about the music and he might say, ‘That’s a cool idea. Let’s try it.’ I’ve never seen that before.

Alexey: Yes, it’s great that there can be that conversation between conductor and players. Which concert did you like most on the last tour?

Miranda: My favourite concert was in Helsinki, of course, because it’s a special place for me. It’s my dream to be in an orchestra in Helsinki one day, so it was wonderful to be there in the big concert hall.

Alexey: It’s an amazing concert hall, isn’t it?

Miranda: Yes, and the concert was quite something, with all the photos of nature on the big screens. And your favourite concert?

Alexey: Definitely Helsinki. And Moscow, because I’m from Moscow. I know the stage very well, and it’s an honour to play there. Also because it was the last concert of the tour, and the last concert is always full of tears. Are you coming on the ‘Baltic Sea Discovery’ tour this September?

Miranda: Yes. You too?

Alexey: Yes. I like the atmosphere, and the people who come to the orchestra. It’s a really good community. I’m studying in Vienna now and it’s really sad that I cannot find people from the Baltic here.

Miranda: Yes, it’s true. With other orchestras I play with in Germany, we all see each other, but with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, it’s really hard, although when I’m in Helsinki I go and meet someone who lives there. But the only time we can spend together is when we’re on tour. It’s even more important that we keep in touch, like with our bass WhatsApp group.

Alexey: Do you like the idea of nature and the environment and the Baltic Sea?

Miranda: Of course. Nature affects all of us, every human being, and it’s important to think about it. For example, on tour, during the bus ride from Lithuania to Tallinn, we saw a lot of nature, and I heard many people on the bus ride saying things like, ‘Look at that – it’s so inspiring,’ or ‘When I see this lake I think of Swansong.’ It’s really important to think of the environment. Kristjan talks to us about it a lot when we rehearse, and maybe players who don’t often think about nature will be inspired by that. Also, the Baltic Sea is something we all have in common. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

Alexey: Yes, although Sweden is on the Baltic Sea and Russia is on the Baltic Sea and these two countries are completely different. But people in this orchestra are the same. We all have something in common – the same individuality, the same electricity inside. I think it comes from Kristjan, because if there were another conductor, the orchestra would play differently. Kristjan gives so much energy to everyone, so we all become part of one big chain. It’s a community – a musical nationality. Kristjan has said many times that this is a social platform for a new generation of musicians, and I think this vision is working step by step. I feel everyone in the orchestra is like a brother or sister.