Viktor Ilieff is a clarinet player, conductor, composer and visionary. His art rests on the principle that the aesthetics of the means of expression should align with the times we live in. This is the reason why Viktor took up music theater – it is a territory where musical and dramaturgical experiments are vital, whereas outdated patterns, such as puffy sleeves, tailcoats or extremely wide vibrato, are totally unnecessary. In 2014, together with Stéphane Roussel, Viktor will stage the music theater piece Parsifal Remixed at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg. We had a chat with him to find out more about the project and what makes music such a fascinating occupation.
Edno: How did you start composing?
VI: When I was 15, I was a clarinet player and I went to study in the USA. The clarinet is a relatively unpopular instrument, there is very little literature on it. At 20, I had already played everything that had ever been composed for that instrument. I needed something new and that’s how I started composing and conducting.
E: How does it feel to be both a composer and a conductor? How do you combine two occupations as different as these?
VI: I still cannot decide between the two. I am a very extroverted person, I like working with people – this brings me the most joy. That is why I love being a conductor so much, this is how I get my batteries recharged. Composing, on the other hand, is great when you are overwhelmed with people. When I compose I sequester myself at home, I get into a more introspective and self-analytical mode. The combination between these two occupations makes for a good balance.
E: You studied with Beat Furrer, one of the most influential composers of contemporary classical music. Was it he who sparked your interest in music theater?
VI: Beat Furrer is a composer whose music I loved long before I had the joy of studying with him. He composes for all major ensembles and, besides, is a great innovator in music theater (Musiktheater). I’d like to make an important distinction here – the genre of music theater that I am speaking of is not the musical theater genre as it is traditionally perceived in Bulgaria. I am referring to music theater, in which all the performing arts’ elements are autonomous, and experimenting with them is of great significance. Music plays just as important a role as dramaturgy. [In 1985 Beat Furrer founded his world-famous soloist ensemble KLANGFORUM. Find out more at klangforum.at]
E: Tell us more about your project, which will premiere in 2014 at Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg.
VI: The project is called Parsifal Remixed and it is inspired by Richard Wagner’s last opera Parsifal. The scriptwriter is Stéphane Roussel and I am the composer. Parsifal Remixed actually begins where the original ends. We are interested in what happens to the protagonists on the psychological level. We are also very much into Wagner’s concept of a complete synthesis of all the arts – the idea of the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk).
E: How is that idea reflected in Parsifal Remixed?
VI: We will include an ensemble of 12 in the opera composition. It is our desire to employ the instruments in the most innovative ways we can by incorporating new techniques. For instance, one of the musicians will do live electronics. Apart from that, each of the four singers in the choir will wear a microphone, but their voices will be manipulated by a computer. The idea is for the choristers to be part of the ensemble and to play the protagonists at the same time. And that means the orchestra will also take part in the action. We are particularly happy that our ensemble will comprise musicians from the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.
E: What kind of an audience is Parsifal Remixed meant for?
VI: Generally speaking, our target is a contemporary audience. We wish for a young audience, able to relate to what is going on onstage. For our part, we promise to show a new musical and dramaturgical form of expression which has nothing to do with the gaudy dresses and the fake singers who appear as decorative objects on the stages of classical opera.
E: Do you find the audience today to be much different when compared to that from, say, 20 years ago?
VI: The audience is definitely changing, especially with regards to classical music. For instance, I look at YouTube and I see people leaving more and more comments below excerpts from Beethoven’s symphonies, one of the most trivial works in classical music. They share, for example, that they really like that song. They do not know that this is no “song” at all. But that means classical music is outgrowing its typical audience and is starting to reach the kind of people who will never buy tickets for a symphonic orchestra.
E: How do the classical music institutions respond to that trend?
VI: Some of them are really adequate in that respect. For example, the Berlin Philharmonic recently held a competition for electronic remixes of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. A very good idea.
E: Let’s go back to Parsifal Remixed. How did it happen that the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg commissioned you for such a project?
VI: Parsifal Remixed is our second big project in Luxembourg. The first one was called Monocle, Portrait De S. Von Harden, for the National Theater of Luxembourg, and it was more like a classical theater piece. Sylvia Von Harden was a very famous Berlin journalist in the 1920s, one of the most creative periods of the city. Otto Dix painted a portrait of her and it made history as one of his most interesting works. What fascinated us about that painting was the way it transported the idea of the emancipated woman. The concept was gathering momentum in Berlin in the 20s and Sylvia Von Harden was one of its main proponents. The dialogue in our performance explores the transformation of a woman searching for her identity.
Monocle, Porträt der S. von Harden, Stephane Ghislain Roussel. Photo TNL. © Compagnie Ghislain Roussel-TNL
E: Have you already started working on Parsifal Remixed?
VI: We recently held an audition for the choristers. A couple of perfect opera singers showed up, but they are the exact opposite of what we are looking for.
E: So what kind of a singer are you looking for?
VI: It should be someone who is able to control their voice in all kinds of ways. For example, if we tell them to sing in falsetto, with no vibrato at all, producing at the same time sounds which relate not to singing, but to extracting sounds from the throat and the nose, they should be able to handle that…
E: In conventional opera, the libretto is written first and the score follows. What is your approach?
VI: It is not only opera – Hollywood works that way too. It is only when all the scenes are shot that the composer enters the picture and starts writing the score with a timer. We opted to do it differently, working simultaneously on both ends. Thus we hope to avoid the typical and most banal practice in opera, where singing comes to underscore totally insignificant actions, such as “I am going to the lava-tooory…” It is important that the text be expressed in a way that is adequate to the music.
E: Could you describe the music you compose?
VI: I like music which sounds plain and simple, but when you get into it you realize it is playing little jokes on the listener. Just like with Steve Reich – at first the repetitions may be really annoying, but then you start hearing things you’d otherwise miss.
E: What are your plans for next year?
VI: I’ll be really busy conducting, I have concerts booked throughout 2012. Besides that I will be writing Parsifal Remixed, which will take approximately a year.
text by Едно translation by Elena Drumeva photography by Mihail Novakov and archive