Trumpeter Timofei Dokshizer
A Conversation With
Once in a great while, those who are fortunate in their lives find themselves with great opportunities which can only be fulfilled if a great number of difficult details all work out correctly at the same moment. What you are about to read is one of those special times in my life.
I had met the great tuba player and teacher Harvey Phillips. [See my interview with Harvey Phillips.] His world not only encompasses the lower end of the brass family, but extends to others who play wind and string instruments of all ranges. He knew that the Russian trumpet virtuoso Timofei Dokshizer was touring the U.S., and that his friend Ron Modell at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, would be co-ordinating things for that part of the visit. Though he was extremely busy, and it would require a translator (Anatoly Selianin), Modell helped to set up a telephone interview. So on the first day of June in 1995, I made the call and everyone was in the right place at the right time.
Dokshizer was a bit apprehensive about doing this, but quickly found himself at ease when speaking with me about playing and about instruments, and gave his views on the state of the musical world. As usual, the chat, along with recordings he'd made over the years, was used on WNIB the following year. A decade after that, the trumpeter and publisher Sharon Jacobson-Stine asked to transcribe the interview, and I am grateful to her for doing so. She also brought in another translator, Irina Feoktistova, to help with a more fully-formed rendition of Dokshizer's thoughts and ideas.
Though it was only a few minutes, the experience of this
musician was apparent in everything he said. Here is what
that day . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: First of all, thank you for coming back to the United States. Given your very busy schedule, how did you divide your time between teaching, playing solo, and being a member of an orchestra?
Timofei Dokshizer: Right now I’m not as busy as I used to be, but in the past, it was exactly as you mentioned. I was teaching, playing solo and conducting and also I had a career as a solo performer. It was very tough and I was so busy, sometimes I was like Figaro. It wasn’t normal at all, and very often, instead of keeping up with all I had to do, I would just go home and fall asleep, take a nap. This was a style of life which I would have to change some day. I realized that. [Laughter] This is maybe a bit exaggerated but humorous. We have a term which can be translated like “multi-tasking” which goes back to the dawn of the Soviet Union when you were obliged to do lots of different things. I still live like that and do a lot of things at once, keeping busy.
BD: Did any one of those items give you more pleasure than the others or did you have to have all of them together?
TD: In the first place it was always the trumpet for me. I was born with the trumpet and I haven’t been separated from the instrument yet, and hopefully will not be separated from it until I’m gone. This is probably why I started to conduct, because I realized that to play the trumpet I need to achieve more, to get more knowledge. I started to conduct and dedicated 10 years to conducting. It also was very beneficial for me because I studied such subjects which we usually don’t study as trumpet players, such as instrumentation, polyphony and score reading. I’m not complaining about that hard life that I’ve been living studying conducting. I was working as a conductor for three years with an organization affiliated with the Bolshoi Theater. This life as a conductor stopped when this theater closed. I believe that the experience as a conductor helped me a lot to become an educated trumpeter. That is, not just a trumpet player, but with a base of all these subjects I took during my study of conducting. I was also able to develop my own concert repertoire which didn’t exist before. It’s all thanks to the conducting classes. I can name two pieces which can characterize my repertoire best of all: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which becomes a trumpet concerto, and the Second Piano Concerto by Shostakovich, which I arranged for trumpet. I also created a very vast collection of trumpet repertoire which not only I use, but also my colleagues all over the world. This collection called Collection of Timofei Dokshizer was published in Switzerland, and now numbers 80 works. Without this collection I could not probably have achieved anything because we have a lack of any trumpet repertoire in Russia. Nothing was written. This is why I decided to do it myself. There is a very delicate question about taking another’s music and arranging it for the instrument. There are so many of my colleagues who want to perform and show their abilities, and there is no repertoire existing to do that. There is not much music which can be performed on the trumpet, and there is always the possibility that you will ruin the music arranging it for the instrument.
BD: Are these arrangements of existing compositions or are these brand new compositions for trumpet?
TD: In general it’s all arrangements of existing music. I’m not a composer, although I have composed some pieces, but I think that my compositions don’t deserve to be in the worldwide repertoire. There is a development of trumpet in general that goes the way of technical development. Composers take that into account and create, I think, more technically complicated pieces for the trumpet. I think that it’s a very professional way of development of the instrument, but it’s very narrow. It’s very good for developing the technique, but not very good for listening. For showing to the audience on the big concert stage, the musical side is suffering. Tomorrow I will demonstrate some pieces of such music written for trumpet. In those pieces I’m going play, there is no tendency to demonstrate technique only. On the contrary, these pieces I’m going to play tomorrow could be performed by students. They are not that difficult technically, but they belong to the best examples in the world literature. This music can be very emotional and can easily find a response from the audience, and reveal the interest in the trumpet as an instrument. This was a very important question for me, and probably the most important for my philosophy nowadays. I am teaching a lot now and this idea is what I actually try to convey to the students. Excuse me for such a long answer, but this answer is the main question of my life, especially when I work with young musicians.
BD: No, no. Thank you for the exquisite answer. Let us pursue this just a little bit. You are instructing young trumpet players and I assume that their technique is getting better all the time. Is their musicianship also getting better year by year?
TD: Not always. I have some examples of students who can spend 10 to 15 years developing good technique playing the trumpet, and have absolutely no idea how to play musically. Playing technically virtuosic pieces, like etudes or doing scales, doesn’t have to do with the musical side of performing the instrument. It’s just the mere development of technique, not musicianship. But there is no good music without good technique. Technique is the base, the ground floor of music construction, and my concern is that the contemporary education and studying of the instrument doesn’t go above this ground level, but just teaches technique. I don’t want to generalize, but as a principle there is a tendency to just study technique and not to study musicianship. The musical side is suffering. Technique is like developing the muscles of the body. It’s a base. But you have to develop an intellectual ability of the student, and also the spiritual side. We have to develop the musical intellect of our students which we can start to do from the very, very beginning with the very first steps. The idea is not to develop just the technique first but all at the same time. It makes a very strange impression when I see a 20 year old student old who has been practicing his instrument for 15 years, and besides the technical abilities he has no idea about musical phrasing. I doubt such a musician has any future because at the age of 30 he won’t be able to get any job. It’s very close to retirement age in Russia for brass players. This is why I think, and I don’t hide my opinion, that if a musician, specifically the trumpet player, hasn’t achieved that goal in 15 years studying trumpet, he has no future prospective as a musician. He has been spending too much time on doing only technique. He has lost time. I might be cruel and very strict in my opinion, but I believe there is truth in it, and that’s my life. I am probably very idealistic. I know such people, trumpet players, who actually chose that and spent 15 years learning just technique. They find their places in some ensembles and they can teach, but usually they combine music and trumpet playing with some other business. I admit that it can happen like that, too, but it’s very far from my principals, from my ideal perspective.
BD: Let me ask a philosophical question. What is the purpose of music?
TD: Music, it’s my life, it’s my profession, but I don’t work for myself. I work for people. I work a lot for myself to show people. Everyday in my life is very strictly structured. I believe it should be for every musician. They have to have a very strict schedule everyday. I am very careful about how I spend my energy. But this everyday work that I’m doing, practicing, it’s my job. People don’t have to know about that. I live to show people what I can do and what my instrument can do, and bring them joy and happiness from what I’m doing for them. Now about music in general, I believe that there is no life without music. There was no life possible and will be no life possible without music in the future too. Even when people are hungry or they are at war, there is music always. Man is born with music. He needs music. Even when there were no musical instruments in ancient times, there was only one sign of life: the voice. Man’s voice was the symbol of life. I believe there is no life possible without music in the contemporary world. Music reveals the nicest side of humans, but sometimes, in contemporary life, I notice that music becomes corny, dirty, and perverted. There is the belief that music is a reflection of life. I admit that contemporary life sometimes is ugly, so there is no wonder that contemporary art, visual art and music, can reflect that ugliness of contemporary life. This is why music can be ugly too. I believe that music should be beautiful. In ancient times, probably life wasn’t all that beautiful, but the music reflected the beautiful side of life, not the decaying of life. What’s happening now is that music reflects the ugly side of life, and it shouldn’t be. It’s probably because in the past days, musicians were believed to be chosen people to do music, chosen by God. Now everybody who has any ability to write notes can make music. Therefore, there is so much music which can’t be described as music at all, but the composers who do that claim that they are just not understood by the general public. They claim themselves innovators in styles and genres, and just blame the audience and the rest of the world when they're not understood. There are so many illiterate composers in this contemporary world. This is why it’s pretty messy now in the music world. It’s very hard, not only for immature musicians and audiences, but for professionals as well, to understand what music is good and what is not. They compose such clusters of horrible sounds which can be called trash. You not only don’t want to listen to it, but you want to run away as soon as possible from that noise. Also, you have to take into account that sound engineering now is so well developed that it can be very forceful for the human ear. It’s impossible to stand because it’s so enforced and can be so loud. Those mechanical horrible sounds pursue you everywhere. You can’t run away from them. People have players that they carry with them all the time. People are everywhere with headphones on in the car, on the street, listening to that noise. This is a real problem, close to an epidemic. To listen to the music, one has to have some spiritual, emotional ability to perceive it. I believe that in order to listen to music, we should create the very intimate atmosphere of silence first. Just imagine if we could come to the concert hall and the music starts from silence actually. Music can be different. It can be sad or it can be happy, it can be horrifying, but it’s got to be music. The music of Bach, Mozart, and Handel came from religious church music. I’m not religious myself, but I believe that when music will return to the places it originally came from, to the churches and concert halls, then we’ll be given a chance to hear real music again.
* * * * *
BD: Tell me a bit about the various instruments that you use - old trumpets, new trumpets, piston valves, rotary valves, etc.
TD: Trumpet as an instrument got so mastered that it can play lots of chromatic pieces and it can express any feelings. But in spite of the fact the trumpet is a pretty completed instrument, people are still looking for some improvements in that instrument. For example, if we compare the violin with the trumpet, the violin has its limit of the lowest note, which is G. That’s how low the instrument goes. But if you want to improve that instrument, you can put more strings on it if you need to. You can even go lower and put more strings on the violin, and it can sound like a cello. Nobody is going to do that. Nobody is going to think of that. because every instrument has its natural voice. Violin is violin, cello is cello, and viola is viola. The same can be said about the trumpet. It has its limits also. It’s complete as an instrument like any other instrument, so this is why I think that other inventions - like rotary trumpets and pistons trumpets in Germany and Austria - in those countries they prefer to perform classical music on rotary valves. This is a matter of taste. It’s just a very important thing to play very musically so it will make sense. I think about other inventions, modern inventions like the piccolo trumpet, it’s just a fashion, because all these instruments have their value as orchestral instruments. It’s becoming harder and harder over time for musicians who have been offered to perform on such instruments, not the original pieces written for these instruments, but arrangements. They are asked to play with rubber tubes and this is what they are doing in competitions. Right now, a contemporary trumpet player has in his collection at least three or four different instruments. He has to play all of them. My opinion is because he switches very often from one instrument to the other, he is losing sound quality. When a musician switches from piccolo to E flat trumpet, it’s very hard for him. He needs to adjust the sound. I play on a B-flat trumpet. This is the main instrument. This is the instrument I use personally. I believe that this instrument has the most abilities and power to get from the trumpet as an instrument. This instrument is the most versatile. The technique which is used on the piccolo trumpet is completely different. It demands more intensity. Dynamically, it’s very limited. It’s almost always loud. It’s almost impossible to differentiate piano and forte. I admit, though, that in addition to playing B-flat trumpet, the flugel horn would be a good instrument to play also. It sounds good. I believe that the piccolo is a very important instrument, but doesn’t always fit in an orchestra. When I played A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Britten, I used the piccolo trumpet also. It’s a very high register and very hard too. And I don’t like the tendency now of playing faster and higher. I am opposed to that.
BD: Well, no matter what, I thank you for being a musician.
TD: Thank you very much for acknowledging that I am a
I appreciate that very much.
Timofei with his second wife, Mona, in their apartment in
She is a painter and sculptress whose work has been displayed in many shows,
incluing the one listed in the poster on the wall behind them.
For the first time the name of Dokshizer became known before World War II, when the trumpeter in his nineteenth year became a prizewinner of all-union brass contest. Then followed a brilliant victory in International contest in Prague (1947). From that very time concert and performing activity of Timofei Dokshizer began. Every year the creative activity of the artist becomes deeper and larger. The musician was actively given performances on a tour in Russia and abroad. The press unanimously notes the attractive features of his art: the timbre variety, the beautiful tone, the mellow plastic phrasing, and the filigree technique. Enthusiastic reactions as usual are caused by emotionally exultant mood of performing, original scenic temperament of the artist in combination with delicate taste and clever understanding of composer's intention.
Dokshizer enjoys wide popularity not only because of his solo concerts, but also because of his work as an orchestra musician in famous orchestra of Bolshoi Theatre. Here he created many genuine works, brilliantly performing trumpet part in opera and ballet plays - in "Swan Lake" by Tchaikovsky, in "War and Peace", "Romeo and Juliet" by Prokofjev, in "Spartak" by Khachaturian, in "Summer night Dream" by Britten.
Dokshizer has in his repertoire many works of old and contemporary composers. Literally speaking, if modern concert literature for wind instruments is enriched with a lot of new talented works, it came out from creative activity of Timofei Dokshizer. He performed some works on the trumpet for the first time and laid the foundation for the tradition of interpretation. Sometimes he directly took part in creation of musical pieces rendering assistance to the composers as a performer with his advices and consultations.
Many works created by modern composers are dedicated to the leading trumpeter. Many composers were inspired by his scenic art and wrote music with the expectation of his performance. In such a way were created works by B. Trotsiuk, M. Wainberg, A. Krasotov, and some other authors. Many musical works Dokshitzer receives from abroad.
The performance art of Timofei Dokshizer is well known worldwide. He visited more than thirty countries, performed as a soloist, participated in different performers' seminars, in different international contests and festivals. Everywhere the pubic is admired with the performance of Russian trumpeter and his concerts are honored with the highest appreciation.
On the afternoon of March 16, 2005 Timofei Alexandrovich Dokshizer passed away.
[Biography from his
© 1995 Bruce Duffie
Personal photos were taken and provided by Dr. Leonard Candelaria.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.