By Heidi Trautmann
What is music? Where does it come from? And what makes a genius? These are central questions. For many it means sitting still for a limited time and enjoying their favourite music at a concert, or we relax at home listening to a CD, perhaps again and again. But then we leave the concert hall or switch off the radio and go on with our normal life.
“A musician like me,” Rauf Kasimov explains to me, “when listening to a recital, a sincere musician, cannot sit still and enjoy music as such, I will, he will, always start analysing, will see the entire structure in detail, compare it with his own interpretation, an emotional journey where the technique acquired over long and hard years of practicing takes control over us.”
I had come to talk to Rauf Kasimov at his house after the two successful piano concerts he has arranged to have with his students just some weeks ago. While I was writing the reviews (see ZOOM IN issues June and July and my website) I wanted to meet him because I was very intrigued by the work he had done and I became curious to discover the person, the musician behind the teacher figure he so obviously is.
He sits opposite me and in the outlines of his face lies the sensuality of a man having lived his life to the very brim of a full cup, having given himself fully to whatever he was doing, a passionate man. “What is music,” he asks again. “It is there in our cosmos, it is there to grab, all the tunes, all the notes are there but it takes a genius to bring the tune down onto a piece of paper. Look at J.S. Bach, he created music and the paper with his notes would fill this room - a computer has calculated that he composed music for 300 years to play or you to listen to, just imagine, three life times, he had understood to make this cosmic royaume his own. A musician making a musical instrument his tool, his profession, has found his own way into this world, a world he has created for himself and nobody else can enter…. understand, yes! But not enter. When the so-called normality around me starts hurting, I hide in this very special world of mine. Music, my hide-out!”
Rauf Kasimov, an Azerbajani from Baku, born in 1954, his Russian soul on his tongue, passionate, warm, laughing from his heart, and I can imagine that he can suffer with the same intensity as he can fully enjoy a situation. His whole body speaks, his hands, at the moment clutching a plush donkey, a Karpaz donkey, he says. He clutches it to his breast.
“My mother, she was a lawyer, had given up her job as a judge, a terrific position for a woman in those days, to have more time for me, the boy of six, when she realized that I had great talent for music. There was a piano in our house - most of the houses in Baku had pianos, it was part of the furniture, so to speak - and I started to play when I was four, I listened to what I heard in the radio and that I repeated, pling, pling and so, at the age of six, I was sent to a special music school with the main subject music in their educational programme.”
It is widely known that in the Soviet Union education was a matter of ideological importance and in all 15 departements /republics there were equally specialized schools and young people profited from it.
“One of my crossroads experience, and also for my mother, was a concert I heard in 1960, still under Chrustschov, with the world famous American pianist Van Cliburn who had won the first prize at the Tschaikovsky competition in Moscow, a sensation in those days, the first American ever in the Soviet Union, and he toured and came to Baku, and I was six, and my mother said, you must become like him. What chance did I have but to accept it, tell me.”
The Karpaz donkey goes with him, all the way his hand speaks: “We had exams to pass, we the little ones of six years of age, and when asked, I played the piano, a fantasy piece of mine I had written. I passed and I stayed with this school for 11 years, 11 years of practicing , there was no getting away from it. My teacher was merciless, show me your hands, you have not practiced enough, they look stiff. You know, fingers tell. If she would see mine today, she would turn around in her grave. One day not practiced is three days backwards. Oh my God, it was hard. What, you want to go and play? Show me your fingers! But, I am grateful, I have learnt it the hard way, but I am telling you, it is the only way. Discipline!”
Is he as merciless with his young students today, I ask him.
He becomes serious. “I try to hand on what I have learnt as the only truth and that is hard work and discipline, some will reach high and others will not. If I find that some student does not accept my rules, we will separate. To find a talent like Görsev Tepe, is a chance in a thousand, she knows and she has the discipline. She can be childish when she is with others of her age, but she is no longer a child when she sits down to play the piano.” An old soul, I ask, one who has lived before? “Yes, something like that, she has this inner feeling, the knowledge of what the composer wanted to say.” Connection to the cosmos?
“Let me explain by the language I know best..” and he jumps up and sits down at the electric piano next to us…“listen, this is how you can say it in one way,” …he plays some tunes of Mozart …“and this is when you have the knowledge”…. and there is this second longer, he lets the tone stand, and even I can understand the difference.
“She is only ten now, what will happen with her when she goes through the problems of growing up, on the way to womanhood? You must know that most of my teaching life I had to do with girls, perhaps one or the other boy, so you can trust me, I know about young girls’ dreams and problems, even them falling in love with me, their teacher, that is part of it, or was when I was a young teacher at the conservatoire in Baku and later in Moscow.”
Back to young Rauf Kasimov, who entered the conservatoire in Baku in 1973; the examinations for entrance were hard. “I still remember my first prize in 1977. Before entering the competition I practiced 10 hours a day, my mother had to spoon-feed me, I would not stop playing and from that time on my life fell into a certain pattern, I knew where I was heading.”
“Life in Baku was quite interesting for me due to the many foreigners living there, Jewish people, Germans and with it came the knowledge of their culture and music. I had a collection of classical music gramophone records, hundreds of them and a huge library of books on music; but all of it was lost when in 1993 my family house burnt down.”
After the conservatoire he became a piano teacher and répétiteur at the conservatoire, first in Baku, later in Moscow. Everything in the State was organized and controlled and we had to do what we were told, but life was safe, we could leave our doors open, you see, there are always two sides to a thing.
The young musicians were sent to participate in international competitions and Rauf Kasimov brought home many awards. But like many others of his colleagues he wanted to get out and learn new aspects in his profession, so he applied for a position abroad but there was a long waiting list of nine years.
“In 1989 I got my first assignment in Bagdad. With me came my first wife, she was a violinist. Unfortunately our work for the Institute for Classical Music and Ballet was suddenly interrupted by the war in Kuwait. So we returned home. I had other assignments abroad, for example Bahrain, but the world is mad and so is life. There was war in Azerbaijan in 1993, and in the same year my mother died, the woman I owe so much in my life, and on top of it our house burnt down. It was not so easy to get to Baku from Moscow where I was working at the conservatoire.”
How did he become involved with North Cyprus, I wanted to know. “It was one of those occasions that I was invited for a piano recital at Bellapais Abbey. I loved the place and the audience made me very welcome. When I was asked to live and work in North Cyprus, I came here in 2005. It was not at all what I had expected, less solo concerts and less money than I needed. To get ready for a solo piano concert it takes months of intensive practicing, 10 hours a day, and it needs funds to give me the freedom to do it. As already before in my career I earned some extra of my living costs with playing piano in hotels. I play all kind of music, jazz and entertainment music but that does not give me the required space. Then two years ago I started giving private piano lessons in North Cyprus to young music students and that is where I am now.”
In the three concerts I had attended I have observed the very good relationship, trust and respect teacher and students have for each other, it was a pleasure to see them working together, a pleasure to see professionalism. I tell him so.
“I would very much like to put my work on more official feet, have official support to offer musical professional education on a broader level. It would enable me to follow up the progress my students are making before they are leaving for the conservatoire and remain in close contact to help them moving along.”
Rauf Kasimov is a citizen of Azerbaijan and the TRNC. He loves life here and the people, especially since he found his wife Ayla who shares his love for music. “It was written in the stars that I should come to this island, and so I would like to take over a part in its destiny.”
“I will play something for you before you go,” and he carefully places the plush donkey on the sofa, gets up and before he starts playing he touches with his finger tips a small porcelain figure standing on his left. For help from the cosmos, perhaps.