State of the Art: Vladimir Spivakov

Conductor will tour U.S. with Russian National Orchestra in January.

For conductor/violinist Vladimir Spivakov, the future of classical music is much like everything good in life.

"I think we always have to remember some very simple things," he says. "If you want good things in life, you have to feed them. If you don't want the arts to die, you have to think how to bring them life. It's a question of education — the culture, working in the schools. Society has to understand that it's all part of the world culture."

Now in his mid-50s, Spivakov juggles several high profile roles as music director of both the Russian National Orchestra and the ensemble Moscow Virtuosi. When he founded the Virtuosi in 1979, he was already forging his reputation as a violinist, having made his international debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1975 and his conducting debut with the Chicago Symphony in 1979 at the Ravinia Festival.

Spivakov has taken on the world, guest-conducting around the globe with such companies as the London Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and L'Orchestre National de France. In 1989, he was appointed artistic director of the Colmar International Festival in France. Among his numerous awards, he was presented with the Legion of Honor, France's highest award, this past summer.

Spivakov said he's a firm believer in international exchange, as opposed to what it was like in his country before the Iron Curtain came down.

"I've also invited some American conductors to Russia," he said. "[Last month], Michael Tilson-Thomas came and did a program of Stravinsky with the Russian National Orchestra. I think it's important to invite good people to work with the orchestra. In the old Russian tradition, it was totally different. There was one dictator who didn't allow anyone to come. I am totally open-minded. I think if the good musicians will come ñ the world of music is so big and bright. I would like our musicians to hear these different dimensions."

Spivakov doesn't necessarily see any split between the works of the past and present, having made more than 20 recordings ranging from Brahms to Gershwin. But the Russian conductor thinks it takes time for orchestras to understand modern composers enough to perform their works properly.

"Most of the composers are 15-20 years ahead of the society — the geniuses, that is," Spivakov said. "Only now, even in America, you are just now understanding what kind of figure Shostakovich was. Twenty years ago, it was not the same thing. You need time to understand what is done and after that will come someone new that you need time to understand. It's good because it makes life more interesting."

As with the RNO, which subsists on the donations of many U.S. foundations, Spivakov continues to see classical music as being dependent on the charity of the world.

"I think lots of people understand this," he said. "There is a big tradition of charity in helping classical music in the United States. I mean this from my heart that I have a great admiration for these people."

Spivakov will be leading the RNO as it celebrates its 10th anniversary with a 22-city tour of the U.S. from January 30 through February 26.