Ignat Solzhenitsyn’s name is way more intimidating than he is. Ignat is a Starbucks-drinking, football-watching, dare I say it, All-American Boy, but definitely one who has not forgotten his Russian roots. Ginamarie, our marketing communications manager, and I (Traci) sat down with him today to talk about … well, everything. We had an excellent conversation that briefly touched on his performance this weekend. Our questions were with purpose: we wanted the scoop, we wanted the information that no one else knows, we wanted to know what dwells beyond the biography that you can find on his website.
In an attempt to organize our conversation into what appears to be a normal interview, I tried to divide the information into categories, but everything mushed together. So here is our interview, in all its random glory.
Traci: Welcome to Utah (It is Ignat’s debut with the Utah Symphony, but he has been here before). How are you enjoying it?
Ignat: It’s wonderful. Great weather and gorgeous views.
Ginamarie: Will you have time to get out and visit the mountains while you’re here?
Ignat: I wish I could. I definitely do not have time. I am playing and conducting this weekend, plus I am doing the Masterclass. I’ll walk around the city though; see things around here.
Ginamarie: Are there any places you’re looking forward to eating at here?
Ignat: I don’t eat when I have a performance. Not that much. I feel like I am dull with too much food, so I try not to eat too much. The less I eat, the sharper my mind is for a performance.
Right here, our talk somehow weaved into the questions I had prepared. I wish I had a picture of Ignat’s face and his smirk when he heard some of our questions.
Traci: What is your guilty pleasure?
Ignat: Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge.
Traci: Since we’re discussing food, thinking of everywhere you have traveled, what have been your favorite things to eat?
Ignat: It’s not a favorite thing, but a favorite place. Italy. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant is listed in a travel guide. It doesn’t matter what restaurant, but just someplace in Italy. Their food is always good. Bread, appetizers, desserts, coffee. The Italian meal is an experience. I never want the meal to end.
Traci: What is the strangest thing you have eaten?
Ignat: Anything slippery or slimy. Probably some species of eel. And in Norway, at a fancy restaurant with an esteemed chef, I had whale and reindeer. Whale is blubbery and slimy.
At this point, we decided that we should all go to Italy and see if we could get reimbursed for the travel afterward. I really wish I had written down or recorded the transitions between questions, because somehow, after discussing food, we ended up talking about Ignat’s parents. Ignat’s father is Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
Ginamarie: We know that you are very proud of your heritage and your father, but parents are parents. Have they ever done anything incredibly embarrassing?
Ignat: My father never did, that I can recall, but my mother. I remember one time very vividly. I was performing at the December Evenings Festival in Moscow. The museum had no dressing room, so when I was through performing, I was trying to make my way past everyone to a place where I could change. I took off my tailcoat and threw it over my arm, because it was so hot in the building. My mother went ballistic. She charged through the crowd and in front of 800 people berated me. “You cannot be in public without a jacket!” She went on and on. I was not a child or even 18, but I was in my twenties. That was the most embarrassing moment.
There was no segue into the next topic, just a normal lull in the conversation for me to ask a question.
Traci: Is there a TV show that you absolutely have to watch?
Ignat: Homeland. I’m all caught up with the 4 seasons which, with my schedule, is a great feat.
Traci: How do you keep updated on the show?
Ignat: Homeland is on Showtime and they have an app that has all their shows. They make it easy.
Ginamarie: Any other shows?
Ignat: Inside the NFL. I’m a sports fan.
Ginamarie: What are your favorite teams?
Ignat: The New York Yankees.
(Traci makes a face.)
Ignat: No one out here likes the Yankees.
Traci: Well, you’re from New York.
Ignat: Vermont, actually. And my brother was a Red Sox fan, and I cannot like anything my brother likes.
What followed was a fabulous discussion on baseball, one about how the Angels (my favorite) got swept and the Royals came out of nowhere, and who likes the Giants anyway, and what would happen to the game if it was only seven innings instead of nine. Ignat is rooting for the Royals.
Ginamarie: What about football teams?
Ignat: I am a Jets fan.
Traci: You’re almost setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment.
Ignat: I know. My kids are Jets fans, and I apologize to them all the time. I tell them that someday, their children’s grandchildren will one day see the Jets win a Superbowl.
While these topics were definitely far from the norm of questions we ask our guest conductors and players, Ignat did not seem to mind, so full steam ahead, we continued with our unorthodox questioning.
Traci: What are 3 things our audience does not know about you?
Ignat: Well, I like numbers and memorizing things.
Ginamarie: Like mathematics?
Ignat: No, more like things in lists. I like to memorize dates, and I have all the Beethoven’s opus numbers memorized. I know all the World Series matchups back to 1903. I memorize states and capitals and obscure facts. Things like that.
Traci: And number 2?
Ignat: I always read a book before bed. No matter how early I have to get up in the morning or what my schedule is that day or the next day. I always read.
Ginamarie: What genre?
Traci: What do you like to read?
Ignat: Great literature. I am 42 years old and I feel like there is so much I am missing and I have to read all of it because how much of it will I miss in the next 42 years.
Ginamarie: Do you have any recommendations?
Ignat: Cormac McCarthy. He has such a way with language, the way he crafts his stories and the vocabulary and style he writes. I don’t think I would even care about the story, just read it knowing he wrote it.
Traci: Any specifics by him?
Ignat: “The Road” and “Blood Meridian,” which has such an open ending that I still don’t know what’s going on. What about recommendations for me?’
Traci: Have you read “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski?
At this point, Ginamarie freaks out because she had no idea that I had read that book, and what follows is the two of us going a little fanatic trying to explain “House of Leaves” to Ignat. It’s a great book, and he put it in his queue.
We also got distracted from the list of three, so I pulled it back with a “What were we doing? Oh right.”
Ignat: Number three, I guess, is that I like to watch people on the subway. I don’t make up stories or really wonder what they’re doing or where they are going, I just like to sit and watch, even if I have my own work to do or a score to study.
Music seems to be a topic that we have to discuss, which brings us to the last things we talked about.
Traci: What is on your iPod?
Ignat: I would say about 95 percent of it is classical music.
Ginamarie: And the rest?
Ignat takes out his iPod and goes to a melodious song sung by a man with a deep voice and a guitar. It is in Russian.
Ignat: This music is from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. They are called “Bards.” A bard is a poet with a guitar and that is what these men are. They sang poetry. Their music was subversive to the Soviet control. It was not the right kind nor politically approved. There are still Bards in Russia. It is music that I have always enjoyed.
I recently studied up on Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7 (which Ignat will be conducting this weekend). Symphony No. 7 is sometimes referred to Prokofiev’s “simple symphony.” Because Prokofiev too produced music that was not in line with the political party at the time, he was stripped of his reputation and wrote Symphony No. 7 while he was poor. I asked Ignat about the music.
Ignat: It is so much different than [symphonies] No. 5 and No. 6. It’s simpler, but it’s missing Prokofiev’s art because it attempted to fit within the Soviet policies regarding music. But it was only an attempt and is full of Prokofiev’s emotions at the time. I believe that despite its exterior contempt for conformism, it’s a jewel underneath.
We wrapped up our conversation after that, saying it was time for our own afternoon coffee as Ignat sipped at a Starbucks cup.
Traci: What is your selection of choice?
Ignat: Carmel Macchiato. Always. The first question I ask when someone asks if I need anything is “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”
It was very difficult to leave. I feel like Ginamarie and I could have talked to Ignat all day long without the conversation feeling forced or contrived. We had a lot of fun with him. Maybe next time we’ll get a selfie.
I am lucky enough that I will be seeing Ignat again, but this time as an audience member. I will be at Saturday’s show, ready to see him conduct and play all at the same time. It’s going to be great!
For ticket information, click here.