I recently had the opportunity to get to know Yuriy Leonovich over a Zoom call. I had seen some of his posts in various cello-related Facebook groups, and he was always offering great insights, really useful links, and fascinating blog posts of his own on topics related to editions of cello repertoire. Browsing his website, I saw that he had also made no small number of arrangements as well as original compositions for cello ensembles – then I knew I wanted to connect! I also immediately purchased an arrangement he made of the Sarabande from the 6th Bach Solo Cello Suite for cello ensemble, and tried it out with my student cello ensemble. We were excited with the quality, the attention to detail, and the way he interpreted new voices into the solo work, preserving the spirit of the original.
Talking to Yuriy, I was impressed with his down-to-earth attitude about sheet music and editions, his infectious love of music of all kinds, and his extensive knowledge in tons of different topics (we stuck to cello!). You can watch the video interview on YouTube, or read on for a blog version of our chat.
Natasha: Who are you?
Yuriy: Hi, my name is Yuriy Leonovich, and I am the assistant cello professor at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, USA. I'm originally from Kiev, Ukraine, but I've been in the United States for the last 28 years, so I call this home. I still have lots of roots back in the Ukraine, and also having a Jewish background I feel like I have double roots between Jewish music and Ukrainian music, and also the language really puts everything together for me. So, that's who I am in a nutshell.
I also play cello as I am the cello professor at Bob Jones University. At the university I also conduct a string orchestra and the cello choir and teach private lessons, and I have a few classes that I teach either on literature, repertoire, or pedagogy.
N: All right! Seems like a very complete cello/cellist's kind of life! You're doing a bit of everything, then, it seems. (Yes) What is your earliest cello memory?
Y: Well the day I think I remember seeing a cello first was when we had a string quartet come to our school in the Ukraine. I felt really overwhelmed with emotions; I don't know why. I thought to myself: I really don't want to play the cello because it's too overwhelming. I didn't have any connection to that. I was mostly a kind of pop/rock music-listening kid - my favorite band was Queen - and I wanted to play guitar.
So it's a kind of funny story about how I started the cello. I really wanted to play guitar, and when I was in the public school system in Michigan I signed up for band in sixth grade because I thought it would be a rock and roll band. I never thought it would be a band of flutes and oboes and stuff like that. (right yeah) So I came in on my first day, expecting to play guitar in this band, and the teacher was talking about flutes and trumpets and I didn't understand what was going on. Plus my English wasn't that great at the time. I came to the United States in fourth grade and this was sixth grade: just two years from moving here. The orchestra teacher came up to me afterwards and somehow we had a conversation about how I wanted to play guitar and I didn't know where I could be placed, so she said, “Why don't you join the orchestra?” And to me orchestra was like a symphony orchestra. What's the difference between band and orchestra at this point? I didn't know that orchestra also meant string instruments in the public school system. She mentioned some instruments in the orchestra and I said I want to play the bass, because you can still play bass in the rock and roll band, (yeah) but she said that our basses are taken. In my conversation with my mother she said, “Please don't bring a violin home” (okay) because she didn't want to hear that. In Russian “violin” is “скрипка”: it means squeaky like something that squeaks. So the cello kind of chose me. And I had kind of a cello rejection syndrome for the first year: I didn't want to admit that I played cello. I told people that I played the bass, but, out of ignorance I actually didn't know that I was playing the original bass from the baroque period. Sometimes the cello was called the “violone” which is “the big viola” and it played the role of the bass. So I was, in my shame, sort of telling the truth.
N: Oh that's a pretty great story! Do you regret the decision?
Y: I don't regret the decision. Actually another funny story is that my dad didn't believe that I could read music. He thought I was making things up because my parents weren't really musically trained. So one day I invited my substitute orchestra teacher for lunch with her then fiance and she brought the Russian Sailors Dance by Gliére, just the cello part, and she had me sight read it. And my dad, from another room, heard that and he recognized it. At that point I was already playing the cello for about a year. He was finally convinced that I could actually read music and was competent to a degree.
N: Wow! So before you started the cello, had you played a different instrument or was that really your first?
Y: It was the first time I really studied that instrument. I had a keyboard at home, like a Yamaha keyboard I could mess around with, and I had a couple of guitars that I picked up from our neighbor's trash. The neighbor was getting rid of them: he was going to college so his mom put them out on the trash day. It was a Martin acoustic guitar, I think, and an electric guitar. I have no clue what kind it was. Maybe it was a Squier. To this day I have no clue what it was but I took those from the trash including an amp and a couple of fuzz pedals and that was it.
N: Wow, cool! And then you just sort of played around with them?
Y: Yeah, listening to recordings and playing along with my favorite bands at the time.
N: Oh cool. But now it seems like you've had a classical education since then?
N: But do you still like playing the kind of music that you were mostly into when you were younger?
Y: Well I don't have any guitars so I actually don't do that on those but I feel like being in our culture right now it's impossible to get around. So I mean I don't go playing rock on purpose but definitely in my compositions you can feel that influence from my childhood.
N: Wow, cool. That was going to be my next question: what kind of music do you compose or arrange? What are the favorite things that you like to do, the kinds of ensembles that you write music for, that sort of thing?
Y: So, when I was 12 years old I started composing just for fun. I don't know. I just wanted to write things down. I didn't have any formal training, which I do regret. I wish someone led me to take theory lessons or counterpoint lessons which would have helped me a lot. But I was a pretty enthusiastic kid and I listened to a lot of music. I had an LP player and my teacher gave me LP's to listen to, videos to watch, so I probably knew most of the violin rep before I knew most of the cello repertoire and that inspired me. Paganini type of things inspired me. I want virtuosic things. I want to play the Dvorak concerto. So that flowed into my music too, that I was composing. But I was just a little kid: I didn't know about form, didn't know about harmony, and by the time I was 18 years old I composed 30 cello concertos. (whoah) Yeah, but it's not something I would go around playing now. By the time I came into studying composition in my sophomore year in college, which was also in Detroit, I felt like the closest kin I had was Shostakovitch. Soviet music. I think I was into his symphonies at the time. Also my favorite composer at the time was Tchaikovsky, so I feel like there was a lot of that kind of influence. Also Klezmer: I played in a klezmer band from when I think I was 17, self-taught on clarinet. I played in a local klezmer band so there was that kind of influence. The first composition that I composed in my composition lessons was a solo clarinet work and the only reason I didn't compose a solo cello work is because our assignment was to compose a piece for an instrument that we don't play, one that's not our main instrument. I played the clarinet but there's no way I could play that piece that I wrote. It was kind of like a long two-part cadenza called “A Wandering Klezmer” which I think you might be able to find on IMSLP. I don't remember if I removed it. But I've heard it, one person sent me a recording of it which was really great. (Oh cool!) And that's a plus and a minus of IMSLP: if you post your things people will find it just because it's free marketing but then you're not getting paid anything because you're releasing it under the creative commons. (Right) But it was really fun to listen to it. I feel like the pieces that I composed during that time have a really heavy Shostakovitch influence and also a little bit of Brahms. The piece that I play often is called Sonatensatz – people think I'm playing the famous Brahms Sonatensatz, and I have to say that no, it's my own that I wrote in 2013. It has lots of counterpoint in it, it's very colorful, lots of techniques for both the piano and cello, but it's still got that kind of post-Soviet sound. (Cool!) Yeah. And the latest piece I composed actually was last year in November and it it was kind of a second part to a piece I wrote actually 10 years ago called Solomon. It was “The Five Scenes from the Life of Solomon” and I thought that I would revisit that topic and do five scenes from the Ecclesiastes from the Koheleth so the piece is called “Koheleth for Solo Cello” and I use lots of extended techniques. Probably not as many as someone like Xenakis but still extended for me. And I try to just get into the music world at large. There's a little bit of Raga in there, a little bit of minimalism, so a kind of a throwback to Philip Glass, the four- I think it's the fourth – no, third movement is, it's kind of in memory to one of the songwriters for the band.. uh I can't think of it right now... they, it's basically... I want to sink to the bottom with you... I forget the band's name but their lead singer and composer died last year so it's kind of in memory for him. (editor’s note: Fountains of Wayne, lead singer Adam Schlesinger) Yeah, and also one of the movements is just straight up v'ahavta that you have to sing at bar mitzvah, you have to learn that. So it's just that straight up chant so, (wow) it's fun. It's kind of a collage piece in that way.
Sonatensatz by Yuriy Leonovich
N: Yeah, that's a lot of different influences! So I guess, would you say that that's typical of the kinds of things that you've been writing lately? That you draw from all these different types of cultures and also your musical knowledge now? You've obviously studied and learned a lot more than you knew growing up.
Y: Yeah, I really enjoy all kinds of music. I'm not the kind of person that goes, “I'm only going to listen to this era of music”. Almost inevitably if I go into it like that I feel like it's work and I have to step back.
N: Okay. And for you, is composing then something that you do for fun?
Y: Yeah, it's definitely for fun. I am not expecting to get paid for it. It's mostly what I do personally. I've taken a couple of commissions but most of my commissions are for arranging. I guess we can talk a little bit about that. The, the biggest challenge I've ever had with arranging it was my first time arranging for trombone (okay) and my friend Massimo La Rosa, back when he was principal trombone of the Cleveland Orchestra, came to me and gave me a list of pieces that he really wants to play on trombone. And I didn't know the first thing about the trombone. I mean, I knew from orchestration class that they have some positions and they use this harmonic series (yeah) but it's a little scary because you think, oh, is this too hard? Or is this too easy? And then you think it's going to be too hard and the person says no, that was too easy. And you then you think oh, this is pretty easy looking and then the person says it's impossible to play. One of the first things I arranged for him was the Barber of Seville Overture which is the first track to his debut album. I love that collaboration because he taught me a lot through the editing process. He was an editing fiend. I would send him a first draft and he would say, “we're not even close, we need to edit this the way I want it”. And even in the recording he still was changing things and then sent me the recording and said please change things the way I change them (wow) to reflect the sheet music (right, right). My latest project is a little bit bittersweet because one of the horn players from the National Symphony contacted me, Bob Rearden; this was about a year ago. He really wanted to play Mondscheinmusik from Capriccio. And I wasn't sure if it was in public domain or in copyright because Strauss is a little bit odd between the countries and to be on the safe side I asked him to contact Boosey & Hawkes to verify if it is in public domain in the United States. And while doing that, I offered him three other things that I would arrange for him, for horn and piano. And one of the things that has been on my mind to arrange for over 10 years is the Emperor scene from Die Frau ohne Schatten. It has a big cello solo there so I thought, well it might work on horn because we have a similar range. (yeah) And he really liked that idea. Also I arranged the trio from the Rosenkavalier which also has been on my mind to arrange for cello. I just love that kind of, you know, over-the-top romantic music. And yeah, I'm probably going to end up playing that myself just because I love that so much. It makes me cry, that trio. He went into the studio I think in August this year, with Teddy Abrams, and the recording engineer Tom Moore actually just passed away, for that, (oh no!) yeah, a couple of weeks ago. I was shocked. He was in his 50s I think. He died of some aggressive cancer that couldn't be cured. So if that project ever gets finished I don't know if Bob is going to take the masters over to another mastering engineer and get those out or if he's just going to let the project lapse which I hope he doesn't. But it will always stick out in my mind that one of the engineers that has been influential in the way I view recording and my personal music, my recording of my compositions and arrangements is no longer with us.
N: Wow. I'm sorry to hear that. That can be really tough. It's happened also to a member of my family who was about the same age and they found cancer and it was already pretty far on. So I know the feeling. It's hard to lose someone so quickly and so unexpectedly.
We were talking about your arrangements: you've talked about a lot of different arrangements for wind instruments. I suppose you arrange for all sorts of ensembles though, right?
Y: Typically I arrange for myself for cello and I arrange/make editions for my string orchestra. (okay) I have kind of a bucket list of pieces that I really want to play in my mind, or conduct, and usually out of necessity I sit down and arrange. For example, last year my orchestra played a Haydn symphony, Symphony No. 50, and it's one of my favorite symphonies. When you talk about Haydn Symphonies people want to say 104 or the Surprise Symphony or The Miracle. I love those too but I have a special place in my heart for the 50th symphony. I arranged that for string orchestra which was a little bit of a challenge to put the winds into the string parts. But it worked. I felt like it was a pretty a pretty good arrangement. And also about a month ago, I played Haydn's D Major Concerto with my orchestra. (yeah) And unlike the C Major where you can just remove the wind parts and everything sounds great, you can't do that with the D. So I had to actually mess around with those wind parts. My main ensemble that I arrange for is my string orchestra, and also I make editions for them. But as far as arranging cello music, I do that for myself or for my students just based on the things that I either think that they're going to learn a lot from, in the case of my students, or things that I'm really passionate about. I was talking about the Rosenkavalier or usually the slow romantic things, that's what I arrange.
N: That's what you like, that's what you arrange. It makes sense! And the string orchestra, that's at the university then?
Y: Yes. (okay cool) Also cello choir. Last year we did a whole program of my arrangements. I think we did a Romberg Sonata (oh nice!) that's originally for two cellos. That was fun, I didn't have to arrange too much of it. We did Joaquin Nin’s Granadina that was popularized back in the 1920s and 30s by Janigro and I forget who else, I think Cassado also played the Granadina. So that was a pretty famous cello piece a hundred years ago. I arranged it for five cellos. Beethoven Turkish March, you know, things like that. Popular things, Respighi - I arrange those. I sell those arrangements either on my website or on Ovation Press.
N: Okay. All right! You mentioned the editions earlier, and one of one of the things I found fascinating looking over your website was your discussions about editions and also the fact that you create your own editions. I’d never even thought of doing that! What interested you in in making editions?
Y: So my first or one of my first big editions that I made was about four years ago and it was for practical purposes. I wanted to see an edition of Saint-Saens’ 2nd Cello Concerto written on the regular staff and not on the grand staff, because I felt like that was stopping many cellists from learning it, because your eyes have to just go back and forth between the treble and the bass staff. So I made that and then I revised it a couple of times because some new sources came up that I could find, mainly the manuscript sources, so I revised that. Also I made my own Schumann Cello Concerto edition and that was specifically for my performance because the only Urtext edition available that's decent is from Breitkopf Urtext and that has Heinrich Schiff's fingerings and anytime I see fingerings and bowings I want to follow them. It's maybe the follower nature in me. It's difficult for me to get over that. I've run into some trouble with fingerings before when I was learning pieces. Like Rostropovich: he has a big hand, (yeah!) has a flexible hand and I was learning a piece that was written for him by Khachaturian and I just couldn't get over that. So I had to take a step back and erase the fingerings and see what I could come up with, and that particular passage ended up being the easiest one for me, and that was like 10 years ago. But with editions: I've learned to see editions visually, how they're laid out on the page, and I just want to make them, both for myself and my students, and then what ends up happening is that my colleagues profit from them. I also feel like in the Urtext world nothing can truly be Urtext unless you're copying directly, with all the mistakes, the manuscript. So once you start editing things it's no longer technically Urtext. It becomes a critical edition, but people still use Urtext for marketing. I've been on this boat too and I feel like people have this obsession with “it's gotta be Urtext” so they're going to go to Henley and Bärenreiter and Breitkopf Urtext, and that's great! It's kind of like choosing your team and rooting for them. But I feel like sometimes the obsession over what's written on the page eclipses the spirit of what needs to come off the page in a performance. I've also found that players just want to know what the right notes are and they forget that there's more than just notes, unless you're dealing with Bach or Vivaldi, then maybe it is just notes. But there's also the slurring issue in the Bach Suites, right, (yeah) so you can get into an argument over that. In creating my own editions I feel like I could get in touch more with what the composer's thinking was as he was composing, or she, was composing. And it's not only that I make editions of classics. I make editions of rarely played repertoire or unplayed repertoire or even as recent as last year I worked with Andrea Casarrubios on her score Seven (okay) that she wrote for, I think Tom Mesa. And that's a really great piece and I offered my services to her to give her a clean copy of what she was selling because I thought the piece was just amazing and I wanted to play it myself and I thought that having a nice clean edition would help people learn it.
N: Right. Yeah, so I guess those the main things, right? That having a clean edition will help people even be interested in picking up a piece and learning it at all, and then it's an aspect of research, because a lot of times an edition will be done by a specific cellist. And someone like Rostropovich: I also have very small hands so I can't play any fingerings, really, that he makes. Most of them are gonna be too tricky for me. And you mentioned the idea of research to try to understand what the intention of the composer might have been beyond just these particular notes. Slurring can make such a huge difference in the way that we phrase. I know for myself the way I phrase a melody, I will change based on the kinds of slurs that are on the page. Like you said, it's really hard to get away from what's already in that edition, what's already been decided. For this kind of research: what's the the gist of it? What kinds of things do you end up researching?
Y: So, I want to give a very paranthetical comment that about 12 years ago, I wanted to make my own Dvorak Cello Concerto edition and it was at that point I realized all the sforzandi that were on those chords that I never noticed them because I thought it was just the notes, maybe some dynamics, but the the amount of detail just on the first page of the Dvorak cello concerto part is amazing and so when I started noticing those things, you can't unnotice them. I actually found that it's not very difficult to get manuscripts to those pieces, and now we have IMSLP (yeah) and that's great. When I was in college IMSLP was just starting. I think it was 2008. It was a very small library. Getting public domain digital music for free was an unknown - just 13 years ago it was unknown, you know? And I found that researching pieces like the Dvorak concerto or Schumann concerto or any of the Saint-Saens works, it's much easier because you have the digital aspect. Most of those pieces are already online: either on IMSLP or on the hosting websites, like from the archives (mm), like from the National Library, Library of France or from the Polish Library for Schumann or Dvorak and a library in Prague. You can also get a reprint of the score which I actually put on IMSLP personally (Oh that’s cool) because it isn't public domain, so I scanned the Dvorak cello concerto score in color and it's also there in black and white. I'm finding that if you have the will and the patience, people want, like the libraries, the archives actually do want you to contact them. They want their music to be used. They don't want their music to sit there rotting. Because that's what it is, it's just sitting there collecting dust. Most of the time when I contact the archives they're very friendly. Of course I have to be friendly too. I can't say, “Hey, give me that, whatever score”. I have to be respectful too, and I also have to be respectful thinking about other cultures. Writing Germany is going to have a different tone of voice in writing in America. Or if I'm writing to Russia, in Russia that's a very high voice. It has to be not high like pitch but it has to be very formal. (yeah) So I've learned to communicate with people on many different levels through the research process. And once you get a manuscript you can't just say, oh well that's it, that's what the composer wanted, because another manuscript might be in that archive or several hands or do you need to find out what the composer actually wrote as opposed to a copyist.
N: Right, yeah. And I suppose these things can also have been slightly different, so a lot of times some of these composers were able to actually have their pieces performed (yes) at the time where they were still alive which would have meant that they obviously would have spoken to the musicians to the conductor to whoever was playing the the piece and may have verbally made some changes that may or may not have ended up in the manuscript, yeah?
Y: Yeah. Mahler is a great example, because Mahler has the manuscripts, and then the first edition, and then when he conducted it he changed it and he entered those things into the edition. Now we have a second edition, maybe during Mahler’s lifetime. And now we have critical editions that incorporate the things that he was writing in, but he was writing in different things in different performances. Maybe he had weaker musicians, maybe he had stronger musicians. See, I think that's the art of being a conductor is that kind of flexibility. If you have a weak horn section you might want to double the horn section with the clarinets or bassoons, and if you're saying that that's Mahler's last word... I mean it is because that's the kind of orchestra that he was working with. (right) But there's also another kind of editing and that's... let's say I'm working on the Servais project right now, on the Servais Urtext with the Servais Society in Belgium, and Peter François is super helpful with that. He sends me manuscripts and first editions and in many cases it's a French first edition and a German first edition, and he'll ask me, “Do you want to use the manuscript in your edition?” and I look at the manuscript and it's completely different. I mean, you can still tell that it's the same music, (right) but the idea behind how the piece unfolds is so different. (wow) I can't even use the manuscript. So I have to take the the first edition that's his last word. Or maybe sometimes there's a second edition.
N: Yeah. And that's something that I end up having to explain my adult beginner students and it gets a bit confusing for them I think sometimes where, on some types of music I'll be like well, no, we should really try to do what's written on the page, like when you do Beethoven or Brahms it tends to be that the things that are written in, you really want to try to do them, whereas when we're doing Bach then we have all sorts of editions that they come in with and then I'm like, well, we don't have to do it at all like this, we could also just do it some other way. And so they find it kind of confusing. But that's often this idea of really looking into, okay, what kind of composer was this, how precise were they with their directions, what kinds of editions are made from their works? Bach is always the the big discussion because we don't have an edition of his solo suites that's in his hand, but a lot of the other composers, especially also really modern composers tend to be much more exact with what you do because at that point they were really writing in exactly what they want. Composers today (yeah) are very precise with their directions, whereas 100 years ago, less, and 200 years ago, even less.
Y: Yeah. I think that's where wisdom and discernment comes in, and the students have to understand that the teacher has more knowledge than them. I do explain to my students this thing where even in Breval, like when they teach Breval Sonatas it's still late classical period - the opus 12 sonatas were written the same year as Haydn's D major concerto. So you can do much more with ornamentation. You can take things out, put things in, and it's not actually going to change the piece that much. I was even explaining that yesterday to a student who was learning one of the Opus 28 sonatas by Breval. I was showing her that whether the triplet goes (sings, tatata tatata ta) or (sings, tatatata tatatata ta), if we take it, sixteenth notes, or (sings, tatata tatata ta), it's the same music. It's still recognizable as Breval. I mean if constantly change every single measure, then you can't really call that Breval anymore. But I think a certain percentage of the music can be ornamented or re-ornamented and still keep that Breval spirit. I think going overboard is what Grützmacher did, let's say with the Boccherini concertos when he, the four concertos that he made into one or his first edition of the Bach suites. I mean you can hear that that’s sort of Bach, you can hear the Bach themes, but it's definitely more Grützmacher than Bach, and I think in that case it's overboard. But to add standard Baroque ornamentation according to Bach's own things that he, his own ornamentations from keyboard works, I think we're even responsible for doing that, so we don't keep on regurgitating the same the same thing over and over. Bach allows us to have a creative process, or Vivaldi or Telemann. Even Haydn: the reason why there's so many editions of the Haydn D is because every player had his own ideas of how the Haydn concerto should go. We don't have a ton of editions that differ with Dvorak concerto or with Barber concerto, and that's still in copyright anyway, but with the Haydn concerto, the D major one, I think we see the most changes because of the tradition at the time.
N: Yeah. There's an awful lot more more improvisation involved and generally speaking so much more ornamentation that was just passed down from teacher to student, right? (Yeah, yeah) These traditions, they change over time, and we have mostly only text to help us. Nowadays we have the recordings which really make it quite clear what, you know, if you've written a piece, you met with the musician who's going to play it, they recorded it - we can probably fairly safely say that this was as close to what you wanted as a composer as you could possibly get and everyone could potentially just take that and try to do the same thing. (yeah) Since I left university I've been doing a lot more improvisation, mostly in the context of singer-songwriter music, but it sort of reminded me that we come, our general classical tradition comes out of improvisation, most of it. And we've very much lost touch with that aspect of that and I feel like at least with the way that modern music is functioning, improvisation is kind of making a comeback (yes) in sort of a different way but it is making a comeback into string players’ education, and I think that's really important that we learn that it doesn't have to be absolutely fixed the way somebody wrote it down at some point. We can be somewhat free in certain regards, as long as we respect still the style and the composer and the way that music may have been performed at that time. Or even we make a conscious decision to change it up completely and make something new out of it that's for today. I mean especially the old music from stuff that's no longer under copyright in any respect, why should we continue doing the exact same thing every time?
Y: I agree, and where you will see more improvisation is with covering, like covering pop songs. Sometimes I'm shocked that a certain band is covering a song because it sounds so like this band, but to hear that they're actually singing a Beatles or a Bob Dylan song. (yeah) Or even a jazz classic – they make it sound like it's not a jazz classic anymore, because it's their own voice. I feel like in the popular realm it's much more prevalent than to speak with your own voice, but then when I want to play let's say the Saint-Saens concerto, I have to look at the tradition of how it's been played for the last 130 years, which I feel ties my hands behind my back a little bit.
N: Yeah. It would be quite a bold decision to decide to go against that, I suppose, and would have to have a time and a place for it.
N: Who would you consider some of your role models? Most, I guess, musically in some way, it doesn't have to be performers though, maybe you have composers who are role models.
Y: Well, I can say my favorite two cellists are Miklós Perényi and Alban Gerhardt. A lot of the repertoire that I was really interested in college and in high school, they introduced me to that repertoire (okay). So, Gerhardt: I love his sound. It's so bold. It doesn't work on me, it looks like it's out of place on my cello, but I really admire that. And Perényi, he's kind of like the Hungarian Rostropovich to me. (cool) He's played everything and then some. (that’s really nice) As far as my favorite current music, I just love French music from the turn of the century, all the way through the 1950s. I guess if I was honest then one of my favorite pieces is not from that period and that's Dutilleux’s Cello Concerto. It’s from 1970 I believe. Anytime I take a long road trip, I have to have that. I mean, I would never write a piece like that, and I'm afraid to even touch it with my cello. I can't conceptualize it in my mind yet. I'm immature for it. But I love listening to that. Or Caplet’s Epiphany from 1923 I believe, made 1924. That's one of those Morceaux de Concours pieces from the French Conservatory but I just love it. It's got exciting rhythmic things, a brilliant orchestration, so... or Saint-Saens, I mean he's one of my current favorite composers. His Suite, Opus 16 has been on the top of my favorite list since I was like, 16 years old. (oh nice) I actually made the first real edition of that piece two years ago. It's really hard to believe that people have been playing from the manuscript photocopies and having to pay like 500$ to rent it from Boosey and Hawkes (oh!) that's crazy. So another reason why I make editions is because I want people to spend less money on something that's decent. (yeah!) Yeah, spend less money! Don't spend more money. Don't go out - I mean I can't make an edition of the Poulenc sonata which is like 90 dollars now, and still in copyright, but once it becomes in public domain in the United States nothing is stopping me if I can make an accurate representation of the piece using the latest research. I don't see why you would want to continue spending that much money on a public domain one.
N: Yeah, basically. It's the bottom line, right? (yeah) All right, then, we will be slowly wrapping this up but I wanted to ask you if there's an arrangement or an edition or a composition of yours that you'd like to feature today?
Y: Well, I actually talked a little bit about it already. One of my favorite pieces that I personally wrote is that Koheleth (right) and it's on YouTube, and I believe the link to the music is also on there.
Koheleth by Yuriy Leonovich
N: The sheet music we’ll find on your website, then?
Y: Yes. But I don't know, my favorite edition is whatever piece I'm working on currently. (okay, that's good!) So right now it’s he Václav Kaprál “Ballade“ which was his final piece. I'm planning to play it very soon. I really love that piece - it's a great work and I want more people to to know about it. I think I'm going to be the second person ever to play it.
N: Yeah, I'm getting titles of pieces that I'm now excited to go and find and listen to!
Y: Another work that I fell in love with recently was Granville Bantock’s “Sapphic Poem” and I actually got in touch with a Granville Bantock scholar, and I got in touch with the Granville Bantock archive, and you're like, who is Granville Bantock? (yeah!?) but he was a famous composer and I think he replaced Elgar, in his post. (wow) They were friends. Granville Bantock was a big supporter of Sibelius's music and is also the dedicatee of the Sibelius Third Symphony (ooh, yeah). So, things start coming into focus when you look into those people and you say, they were really famous, I wonder why they're no longer famous?
N: Yeah, that's always a weird thing.
Y: Yeah. I really love his Sapphic Poem. It's about 15 minutes long and there are only two recordings out there: one by Julian Lloyd Webber on the Hyperion label from 1999 and another recording by Gillian Thoday from 1978 with a youth orchestra, and that's only available on LP. (wow) A brilliant piece! We think, oh British music - we go to Elgar concerto... that's all we have. We have Elgar concerto and we have the Britten Suites. But British music and actually the British cello school is so rich. We, I don't know (we’re missing out, yeah?) Yeah, we are really missing out on exploring British repertoire. And me being a Ukrainian Jew, I mean what can be farther away from me than a British work? But I just fell in love, I want to play it. That's one of the editions I'm currently working from and I highly recommend people learn more about it.
N: Yeah, good cello music is good cello music, right? I mean (who cares who wrote it?) Exactly. That's awesome.
So we've already mentioned your website a couple of times: is there anywhere else we should look for you?
Y: You can look at some things on IMSLP, you can see the kinds of things I'm doing on davidpopper.org - I'm working with Martin Rummel on tidying that site up, doing the Popper research. That's our favorite composer, cellist-composer: Popper. (yeah) So you can look for me there, maybe not by name, you won't see my name being signed on my edits but I think that that's a good place. Also the Servais Society, doing the Urtext editions there. So, and I'm active in the realm of cello, so if anyone wants to ask me anything. No question that's too dumb, or too smart! Just ask me and I'll be happy to help.
N: Yeah, I did see you posting in some cello forums: that's how we got in contact. So definitely easy to talk with. Any last things you'd like to share with us before we finish?
Y: I think that we've talked about a lot and let's let our audience digest and enjoy, just enjoy the cello music. Don't get hung up on the notes, make music, communicate with your audience – that's really the bottom line while we're on stage is not to show off, it's to give a message of the composer.
N: That's beautiful! Thank you very much then, (thank you) thank you for joining me, thank you for sharing so much really wonderful insight. I really loved all your different influences and how you mix that all together to create your own voice while also looking to share the voice of composers through your editions and not just with your own compositions. So thank you very very much for being here today.
Y: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
You can find out more about Yuriy on his website: https://yuriyleonovich.com/
Sheet Music by Yuriy Leonovich (arrangements and compositions): https://yuriyleonovich.com/sheet-music-store
Check out his work on David Popper http://www.davidpopper.org/
And with the Servais Society: https://www.servais-vzw.org
Or find him on cello forums everywhere!