The musical universe of Alan Buribajev

Martina Fialková 11 2012 Rozhovory English

He has not yet reached even the age of Jesus Christ  but his words and lively gestures captivate you so that you are absolutely sure: You have just met an outstanding human being. Later when you observe him at work and hear the impressive results you begin to be really curious. At the same time you find out that even Alan Buribajev is quite inquisitive, a conductor from Kazakhstan- from a country about which we know very little. You will be surprised for example when he says that Karel Capek is his favorite author. Then he starts to ask you about the trial with Slansky or why Milan Kundera does not write in Czech. His questions and reactions are so interesting that we had been corresponding and meeting for several years. I became his great admirer and wish him lots of success.

“We conductors are really to be pitied. We have to constantly beg the musicians to give us the desired sound or tone. “Please,I would like this played differently”- he imitates himself with a grin. “ We are always dependent on others to fulfill our wishes. The resulting concert is then only about half as good as it should be, or a little better, but almost never is it perfect. This is not fair, is it?”

This is the way the thirty three- year old Alan Buribajev describes the paradox of his profession. And he explains how often the conductor – generally considered the ruler of the orchestra- depends entirely on the  favor or displeasure of a hundred-piece entity which often consists of several sub-groups.  It is clear that especially young conductors must be not only perfectly prepared- they must also be excellent diplomats and possess a good deal of charisma. Only then can the conductor achieve the results that will be appreciated by the listeners as well as by the musicians themselves. Alan Buribajev has all those qualifications in abundance. In addition he can draw from strong family roots.

All those desired characteristics had made him a star conductor already a few years ago. He is in demand all over Europe. Even Czech audiences have had a chance to meet him and enjoy his work.


One of our many meetings took place recently before the opening of one of the largest music festivals- Janacek’s May. Alan Buribajev was engaged to conduct. First he rehearsed with the FOK orchestra in Prague. The concert took place in Ostrava, in a recently opened hall- in former gasworks. The listeners enjoyed a superior musical experience. The orchestra played beautifully Janacek’s Sinfonietta  which is usually the first number on the program. This was followed by Richard Strauss’ Concert for the French horn featuring the outstanding soloist Radek Baborak. The concert ended with Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio and Buribajev presented  real musical fireworks which resulted in a standing ovation.


Those who have heard Buribajev on more than one occasion can attest to the fact that he gets a standing ovation almost every time- e.g. in Vienna in the famous Musikverein, in Prague, or during his European tour with the Moscow Great Orchestra. How did it happen that European orchestras became interested in a boy from Almati ?( yes, the former Alma-Ata of SSSR).


The conductor’s endless universe

“I started to play the violin at age seven and continued to do so at the conservatory until age seventeen. I was not a bad violinist, but later I saw that I would not become the best. From the age of about twelve I started to become interested in conducting. I had heard Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture and I was fascinated. I thought about how to get closer to his music  because Wagner did not compose anything for the violin. At the conservatory I started to study conducting  and I began to learn German because of Wagner. It was not possible to study violin at the same time. A conductor has to study the whole endless universe of music and get familiar with it “ says Buribajev fittingly.

“There came the possibility to conduct the symphonic orchestra in Karaganda in Kazakhstan. It was a very good experience. Then I studied conducting in Vienna and later received a position in the Meiningen opera in Germany. By the way- I conducted there about thirty times Janacek’s opera Jenufa. Outstanding music, I love that opera very much.  In 2008 I became the leading conductor in Holland and simultaneously in Norrkoping in Sweden.  I suppose we shall talk about that some more?” Alan smiles recalling the fact that we had met there for the first time.

“I think that the Czech Republic is very important in the music world. I do not know of any other European country that would have so many outstanding composers-considering the fact how small your country really is. But I do not only admire your music. My father loves Hasek and that way I was introduced to Czech literature. My father knows Svejk by heart and he often quotes from the book at various occasions.”

I have to laugh because my father used to do the same thing. And Alan continues:” And those Lada illustrations.! Svejk is very popular in our country, everyone has the book in the library, similarly like  Bulgakov’s  Mistr and Marketka. Later I also read several works of Karel Capek in Russian. Tovarna na Absolutno, The War with the Newts, RUR.

All of that is great world literature. Capek is my most beloved author. I also like the philosophy of Milan Kundera, it interests me how he writes about music, and he knows how to write.” He also asks me whether there are any news concerning the case of Kundera versus Miroslav Dvoracek. He is even interested in that story. We talked about it about a year ago.  There is nothing new. He is saddened by the news about Miroslav Dvoracek’s death.


The first”Czech steps”

He talked about how- after Wagner- he discovered Russian composers. “In Kazakhstan, music education is based on Tchaikovsky, Prokofjev and Shostakovich. The strict soviet school still rules.”  But it is a good system. And then he discovered Czech music. He used some motifs from a Dvorak symphony to make up a song ’My name is Alan’. Soon he became interested in Smetana and Janacek.

“ As a conductor I first became familiar with the New World Symphony. I was overwhelmed by its finale-it contains so much positive energy! I often conduct also symphonies # 7 and 8. “ He  mentions Jenufa again and then talks about Bohuslav Martinu. Especially his 6th symphony. “ This composition started a new period in my musical life and it deepened my interest in Czech music.”


A fateful meeting

He tells the story:” I must return to Sweden where I met Jaroslav Sonsky, an excellent Czech violinist who lives there. I came to conduct in Norrkoping which is a large town south if Stockholm. It has a good symphonic orchestra. After the concert a very elegant and pleasant gentleman came to talk to me. He brought some music journals with articles about Bohuslav Martinu  and said:” You should conduct this Martinu symphony called Symphonic Variations. I would like to introduce you to his music. “


I got very interested. It so happened that I had become the chief conductor in Norrkoping a short time later and found out that Mr. Sonsky resided in this town. We became good friends. Most of my information about your country and about Czech music actually came from him. We talked about his experiences with famous conductors, we talked about Talich, Neumann, Ancerl, about Czech music traditions. He brought some sheet music from Prague, e.g. Taras Bulba and others. Thanks to Jaroslav, Czech culture became very well known to me.”

Alan followed his friend’s advice and thus Martinu’s  Symphonic Variations were presented in Norrkoping in February 2009 by him and the symphony. The premiere was part of a project called Martinu Revisited. Several ambassadors were present. I will never forget that evening- it was a festive occasion for all those who were present and a great homage to Martinu.  Alan Baribajev did a superior job.


Several days later something very unusual happened. Jaroslav Sonsky was visited by an artist from Iraq who also lived in Norrkoping. He brought him a large painting that was inspired by Martinu’s Symphonic Variations. The painting was later exhibited at the Prague Museum of Music as part of the celebration called Fenomen Martinu. This happening bears witness to the power of Martinu’s music that could unite Czech, Swedish, Kazakh  and Iraq mentalities.

Alan commented:” I became a member of the International Martinu Circle and I have plans to do more with his music. I also follow the work of Jiri Belohlavek and I would like to continue to study and perform Martinu music with some European orchestra which had not yet played any of this music.”


Other Czech meeting points

After the Norrkoping premiere its symphonic orchestra went on a big tour which included the Czech Republic. It presented eight concerts, also one in Bratislava and the final one at the Rudolfinum under the patronage of the Swedish ambassador and in the year of Sweden’s presiding over the EU. The orchestra and Buribajev received huge enthusiastic ovations and had to play many encores. The many wonderful reviews of his concerts indicated that Alan’s work with Czech music should continue.

I found out recently that Alan has close relatives in Prague. His uncle- an architect, and his family like it here very much. His cousin (about 20) agrees. She speaks perfect Czech and states that her parents like it here because there is order, the public offices actually are efficient and there is justice- such things were still very problematic in Kazakhstan until recently. Interesting- everything is relative at various points in the world.


Alan continues:” Prague is really a unique city. Nowhere did I see so many different architectures- so many styles and cultures, all mixed together, but still beautiful, not a kitch. You have real treasures here. For example your modern expressive art. ( He remembers our visit of the National Gallery where he rushed from painting to painting and was interested in everything from Mucha  to Kupka and Filla – he appreciated his Dostojevsky Reader. He was also interested in Josef Capek whom he had not known  but was now captivated by because of his brother Karel)  He also wanted to see the work of Jan Zrzavy:” He inspires me especially in music, but I won’t yet tell you any more.”


I think that this man is not just an ordinary visitor of Prague and of the National Gallery.

From all that he had seen an idea seems to form in his head which may surprise us all some day.


The dead house.

Alan is constantly full of energy and he continues:” There is another thing

, and that is not  a secret. Janacek’s opera’ Notes from a Dead House’- an opera based on Dostojevsky’s story. Dostojevsky wrote it while in exile, in prison in Semipalatinsk, which is in Kazakhstan. Very far from everything. In the 1950’s Semipalatinsk was selected by the Russians for testing atomic weapons.  For us it is an unhappy and damned place. People who are born there suffer from diseases, especially cancer and leukemia. The place actually became a dead house as though Dostojevsky had foretold it. It fascinates me although in the rest of Europe people do not talk about it. And I have such a dream- I would like to call attention to it. I would like to conduct Janacek’s beautiful opera there in Semipalatinsk which was inspired by Dostojevsky staged with some special thought-provoking modern scenery that would stress the damnation of that place-human suffering, sick people, mutants…”


My Janacek

I am impressed by this idea and I hope that it will be realized. I then ask about Janacek’s Sinfonietta that he will soon conduct at Janacek’s May. Alan respects this composition very much. He says:” This is a very dangerous question. In spite of all the time that I had devoted to this work. Janacek was a genius. Every note  has its special significance. It is an explosive, temperamental and “natural” work which is unique because it originates in folk music and is simultaneously very religious. Someone said that Sinfonietta  was written in blood-those are not my words, but I agree. It is a great honor for me to conduct Janacek here in your country, especially in Ostrava near his birthplace. Interpreting Janacek has a tradition here and I don’t know enough about it. We discussed the various interpretations with the musicians during rehearsals.  When I conduct Janacek in Ostrava it probably won’t be completely your Janacek, but it will be“my Janacek”. I don’t know whether it will be correct but it will be the way I understand his music.”

Finally I ask Alan about his experience in conducting in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur- how does their orchestra compare to FOK ? “They have a very good orchestra with many excellent musicians from Europe, USA, Japan. From my experience your orchestras are predominantly composed of Czech musicians who have had the same training. Therefore the orchestras have a beautiful warm sound.


Kazachstan-a Land of Dreams?

Our meeting took place close to the beginning of summer and I was interested how a conductor would spend his vacation? He plans to spend some time on Elba but I find out that he also likes to spend some time back in Kazakhstan- with his parents, friends, books. I wonder whether not residing in Europe may be a handicap for someone who started to become so successful in the world. But Alan says:” Until something very significant happens, for example  meeting my life partner from Europe, it is not necessary.”

I ask:” How is life in today’s Kazakhstan?”  Answer: “It is a speedily developing self-assured land with great prospects. Today the situation is stabilized, the country is safe and we need experts in all kinds of fields and professions. We need to create a middle class. All those who still had not realized their ‘American dream’ and who have something to offer will be successful in Kazakhstan. Would you like to come?” He laughs…

Martina Fialkova

Translated by Marie Dolanska



Kazakhstan conductor Alan Buribajev was born in 1979 in a musical family. His father is a cellist and conductor, also a vice-minister of the Kazakhstan government in the field of culture. His mother is a pianist and teaches at the conservatory in Almati, where her grandfather – Ahmed Zhubanov-  served as  its first director and  was also the first important Kazakh music composer. Ahmed’s daughter Aziza Zhubanova was the most famous Kazakh composer.

Alan studied violin and conducting at the Kazakhstan State Conservatory. He continued  his studies of conducting in Vienna. Winning the conducting competition  Lovro von Matacic in Zagreb brought him international attention and many invitations from European orchestras. He also excelled in many other international competitions. In the years 2004-2007 he became music director in the opera theater in Meiningen (Germany). Here he also conducted symphonic concerts.

In the 2007/8 season he conducted in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. He works regularly with well-know European orchestras, for example with the Dresden, London and Stockholm symphony orchestras. And with many others, also with the Great theater in Moscow and with the National opera in Lyon. After having served as chief conductor in Norrkoping and Eindhoven in Holland he is now the leading conductor in Dublin.


P.S. This September Alan Buribajev plans to present the premiere of the opera Abai in Meiningen. This opera is the most important work of his great-grandfather Ahmed Zhubanov. Abai Kunanbajev was a very popular Kazakhstan poet, humanist and enlightener  in the 19th century. This year he became the symbol of those who opposed  the re-election of Putin to become Russian president. The demonstrators often gather around his statue in Moscow and their  motto is :”Occupy Abai.”

“ It will be a very important event not only for me and my musical family, but for all Kazakhstan music that my great-grandfather’s opera will be produced in Europe. And the greatest paradox- it will happen in Germany! If we could wake him up and bring him to today’s world, he would not believe it! While he wrote the opera, Germany was our greatest enemy – we were at war. And now, after 70 years I am successful  to conduct it.

My great-grandfather would consider it a joke’ says Alan enthusiastically.

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

Informace o webu 2012