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Harmonies Across Borders

15 May 2024 By ANIRBAN RAY

Every time I perform, it’s a reminder that there is still beauty and hope in the world. In spite of adversity, in spite of challenges, I have faith in music, in humanity, and in the enduring resilience of the human spirit,’ Ukrainian pianist Alexey Botvinov tells Anirban Ray in an exclusive chat

Muscat – In the grand web of human existence, where the threads of common emotions weave patterns of joy, sorrow, and love, one universal language unites all – the language of Music.

Across centuries and continents, from the echoing premises of grand concert halls to the damp walls of prisons and the humble streets of remote villages, strings and keys have always provided solace to souls, transcending barriers of race, nationality, and creed.

While Bella Ciao has been the silent companion of revolutions, songs of love have been a solace for distant sailors and passionate lovers around the world for centuries.

Recently, these ethereal notes of this universal language found their way to the warm hospitality of Oman, as Ukrainian pianist Alexey Botvinov added a silver lining to the concluding day of the ‘Bridging Nations with Interculturality, Inclusivity, and SDGs’ art exhibition last week.

This remarkable initiative, born from a collaboration between the esteemed Academic Society Arts-Sciences-Lettres and visionary leader Madeleine ImKey, sought to empower children with special needs, foster intercultural understanding, and raise awareness on environmental causes.

In an interview with Muscat Daily, the pianist, with his aura of music, shared his opinions on art, war, hard rock, Artificial Intelligence among many other issues.

For Botvinov, whose ten fair fingers dance passionately across the ivory keys, Oman proved to be a revelation. “So far, I have performed in 47 countries in the world, Oman will be the 48th, and I am very, very impressed. People here are kind, smiling, welcoming, and respectful of artists. It’s a special place – a place that inspires, that radiates positive energy.”

As the melodies of his music filled the air, Botvinov spoke about the possibility of a harmonious fusion between Arabic and European musical traditions. “It’s a very interesting idea,” he said, reflecting on his past collaborations with Turkey and European music. For him, music transcends boundaries, serving as a bridge between cultures and civilisations. “I shall definitely try blending Arabic/Omani music with my classical notes in near future,” he said.

Amidst the cacophony of modern life, Botvinov’s reverence for classical compositions remains unwavering. “Bach’s masterpieces, in particular, hold a special place in my heart,” he confesses, with his eyes alight with passion. “They encapsulate the essence of life, the universe, and everything in between. To me, they represent the pinnacle of European musical heritage – a legacy that I am honoured to perform.”

Botvinov is the only pianist who has performed Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ more than 300 times on stage in over 45 countries. Yet, Botvinov’s love for music extends beyond the confines of his classical repertoire.

“Every genre, from rock to hip-hop, possesses its own unique language,” he says. “While I have a deep-rooted love for the rock music of the ’70s, I recognise the inherent value of all musical expressions.” For him, every musician is blessed with a language of his own that is unique.

In the era of contemporary music, however, Botvinov discerns a subtle divergence from the profound depths of earlier eras. “Modern-day musicians, like Selena Gomez undoubtedly possess talent and professionalism,” he says. “However, there is a depth, a soulfulness, present in the music of the past that seems lacking in today’s entertainment-centric culture.”

The power of music to heal and unite lies at the core of Botvinov’s philosophy. “Arts has a big power,” he affirmed, “It’s an international and universal language, understood by all. It has the ability to evoke honesty, kindness, and peace – values that transcend linguistic and cultural divides. I believe that cultural diplomacy has more power than political ones.”

As society hurtles towards an era dominated by Artificial Intelligence, Botvinov remains steadfast in his belief in the irreplaceable role of human emotion in the creative process. “AI may streamline certain aspects of music production but it can never replicate the depth of human experience – the intricate interplay of brain, heart, and soul that defines artistic expression. Every music that has come from the forests to the mountains to the seas have been from the depths of human experiences and no technology can challenge these creativities.”

Botvinov reminds us of a Roman Polanski film wherein the pianist, trapped in the World War II, tries to find answers and hope through music. He is not scared of bullets and bombs. And his possessions include tears, a coat and a piano.

Against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ukraine, Botvinov’s music serves as a beacon of hope, a reminder of the enduring resilience of the human spirit.

“In times of adversity, music takes on heightened significance,” he observes. “It has the power to unite, to uplift, to transcend the boundaries that divide us.” In the face of war and uncertainty, Botvinov’s faith in music remains optimistic.

“Music, for me, is more than just a profession – it is a calling, a responsibility,” he affirms. “It is my hope that through my performances, I can contribute, in some small way, to the healing of our world – to the restoration of peace, harmony, and humanity. However, people in Ukraine are reeling under severe anxiety and pain, and so, I avoid any performances or artists from Russia.”

As the interview concludes, Botvivov, lost in thought, says. “Every time I perform, it’s a reminder that there is still beauty and hope in the world. In spite of adversity, in spite of challenges, I have faith in music, in humanity, and in the enduring resilience of the human spirit.”

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