ASTANA – In a recent interview with Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper, pianist Jania Aubakirova said that music helps her feel the beauty of life. The laureate of many international competitions, Aubakirova heads the Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory in Almaty.
Tell us about your parents.
My parents are not musicians: my father is an economist, scientist, academician, high school teacher and my mother is a philologist, linguist, professor of Arabic studies. They conveyed to me all their passion for enlightenment, education and culture, as well as their wise, intelligent attitude to life and the desire to live and work. The older I become, the more I realise their individual and outstanding personalities.
So you were the first professional musician in your family. Who can now continue the musical dynasty you started?
It happens that there is no dynasty. My children have chosen other professions. They saw the other side of a public life very early. In fact, it is full of intense rehearsals and tension before concerts that is far from enthusiastic, romantic imaginings. Perhaps for these reasons, my children did not choose music. However, for me it was important to make them familiar with the world of music. Therefore, they at least completed music school. Today, I have hope that my grandchildren will be interested in the magical world of music. Then I will probably tell you about the musical dynasty.
In the difficult 1990s, did you think about leaving Kazakhstan to have more opportunities for money or fame, as many artists did? Your name was already well-known abroad.
I come from a traditional Kazakh environment; for me, my parents’ health and living with them and my relatives is essential. None of them thought of any special career as a concert pianist for me. Piano stars seemed to live on some other planet, not accessible to ordinary mortals.
Despite being modest, you have achieved tremendous success…
From my childhood, it has always been important for me to understand the nature of the instrument, to express the spiritual messages of great composers by touching the keys. Then, I played the grand piano not for any particular result, but because I was fascinated by the very process.
Then my true love and dedication to music, in fact, began to bear fruit: in 1983, I successfully participated in the M. Long – J. Thibaud International Piano Competition in Paris, which helped me see performance in a new way. My self-confidence grew, I gained admirers and began tours to many countries. In short, my life changed incredibly. Over the next five years, I gave with great pleasure concerts in France, Japan, Finland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. However, there were terrible concerts across the USSR, the whole atmosphere was saturated with politics. Many Moscow artists at that time were leaving the country.
My happiness is that I overcame the difficulties of the 1990s relatively well. Those times saw the joyful moments in my life – marriage and family, the birth of children. Those difficult years, everybody was scared to see even a year ahead, especially for people involved in culture: it seemed that there would be no concerts, nothing associated with the previous ideals and advantages of the profession.
Therefore, not by accident, I started looking for new ideas where I could apply my knowledge and energy. The idea of creating a new type of school was supported by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. As in any new business, there were many organisational difficulties. However, the result was worth it – a private educational institution that has now lasted 20 years.
The main thing for me is that the school turned out to be necessary to people. The classes bring a lot of pleasure with real creative processes and truly great successes of students.
In your opinion, what are the prospects for young artists in the homeland now?
We have good opportunities for young artists. For example, at the conservatory, students have excellent chances, if they wish, to go abroad to continue their studies and internships, to participate in competitions, to perform on the best stages in the world. In recent years, they have significantly increased their self-esteem by successfully performing in many international competitions, conquering world scenes such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Centre, Barbican Hall, Konzerthaus and the Berliner Philharmonie.
When a young artist faces such great possibilities, it may create illusions that anyone can find their place and claim success, but the truth is that these possibilities offered by the government and business community can be a springboard for the professional growth of only those who are truly hardworking. I have thought a lot about this, comparing the position of those who remained in the country with those who went abroad looking for a better life. In fact, both of them have experienced a lot of difficulties. Even under the same conditions, some of them managed to prove their talent and reach the heights of their career. Others, unfortunately, failed.
It seems to me that professional success does not depend on the country of residence… Much depends on character, on the ability to understand and accept this world, and simply on personal qualities. In any country, regardless of its traditions, smart, talented and charismatic personalities are in demand.
As rector of the Kurmangazy Conservatory, you collaborate with the Association of European Conservatories. How does this benefit Kazakhstan’s conservatory?
Several times, I have taken part in the annual European Association Congress, the largest and most representative one in the world. It was interesting to learn the real process and the problems of European education from the inside. But soon I realised that I had no time to take part in the discussions of my European colleagues. Similar processes were occurring more rapidly in Kazakhstan. Our country required the strict observance of the Bologna principles. And if not in the whole process, in some useful details we have advanced considerably. The current situation in humanitarian and technical education is focused on creating conditions for the academic mobility of students, which is important in terms of global processes in the labour market. The main thing that we have realised is that the process of education reform is permanent; it is in the nature of our industry.
In addition, cooperation with educational institutions has been successful; for example, with the National Superior Conservatory of Paris for Music and Dance. Such long-term communication between the great teachers and students of our conservatories has brought us a lot of professional benefit, and most importantly, major changes in mentality. We feel accepted in a friendly, open brotherhood of musicians. Thanks to our partners, our collaboration has been receiving financial support for all joint projects from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France for five years.
Then we began to expand our field: today our partners encompass more than 60 schools and concert organisations. Through a Ministry of Education and Science programme, up to 40 well-known musicians from different countries per year taught and gave concerts in our conservatory for a week or two, sometimes for a whole month.
What milestone musical events in our country would you mention?
The most important cultural events are hosted in our capital. Many international stars have already visited Astana, which hosts festivals of opera, ballet and film art. There is the fascinating Astana Opera House, where I was lucky to play with an orchestra. The Academy of Choreography opening this year can surpass any imagination. Conservatory teams are getting ready to take part in the cultural programme at EXPO 2017, which will present to the world a modern vision of the future. This is absolutely correct, because all of it accelerates the development of a high level cultural and educational environment that corresponds to the lofty ambitions of Kazakhstan.
At the same time, Almaty continues to be the largest city in the country with major cultural demands. It has a specific atmosphere, accepting and reproducing all of the most advanced, unusual, sometimes even outstanding arts. I like Almaty for its openness to the new, for its readiness to learn and admire, for the ability to criticize. I support everyone who finds this ability nationwide. All of these confirm that our society genetically has a great ability to integrate with the world. The current situation in the information space, in global processes, provides the greatest opportunity for that.