The Richter Acolyte

"Theoretical Amphora" painting, Alex Malow
(Oil on canvasboard, 18 x 24 inches, dedicated to Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter)

Sviatoslav Richter's letter to Alex Malow

Alex Malow

I was raised in Australia and like many Australians played Aussie Rules Football, that is, until our family moved to Canada in 1966. I was actually born in Munich in 1948. My father Peter, (who proudly proclaimed himself a Don Cossack) escaped the Soviet Union via World War 2 and married my mother Regina, a strong German woman. I mainly thank my father for my interest in music. I have his mandolin on my wall. As well as enjoying Russian and Ukrainian folk songs and attempts at dance, I listened to war stories and anecdotes on many a social get together with Ukrainian and Russian immigrants to Australia where vodka and brandy were splashed around liberally. But the most important thing my Father did for me musically was to take me to see Piatnitsky and Jaroff's famous Don Cossack Choir when they were on tour. At age 16 I seemingly had an "epiphany" while listening to Saint-Sa´┐Żn's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin and orchestra. From that moment the fix was in! Classical music! it was a sacred bond and my new religion! I should state that my parents were very supportive of me and bought me a fine upright and paid for piano lessons (which went nowhere). I much preferred kicking the football around ("footy") to practicing and now, nearing the end of my life, I can declare that I never was, at any time, a "musician" (my loss!).

However, I was obsessed by music and in my early twenties, a record collector, I bought an LP of piano music on the Monitor label: Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, piano part played by someone called Sviatoslav Richter (with Gilels playing Scarlatti on the other side). It turns out that another epiphany was in store for me and it's name was Sviatoslav Richter! He became my "guru" and a kind of artistic father figure! He was a great man, and you could hear his gigantic spirit in every note; he could string you along and at some point in the music, you realize you have been "hypnotised" . He could take you to deep, secret places with an almost ritualistic, atavistic power! I realized I could not allow myself to leave this earth without experiencing a "live" concert, of being in his space or, as Gavrilov has characterized it, being in his " biosphere".

Being a former student and "poor artist" type, it took me some time to save up enough money in 1976 for a trip to England (I had secured 2 tickets for concerts in London). Everything in the Universe was fine! - and then, as my anticipation was reaching a feverish high, I walked into The Royal Festival Hall to be confronted by a large sign saying something like: "we are sorry, but Sviatoslav Richter has been indisposed...Emil Gilels has generously agreed to substitute for him" (Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto). Of course I was shattered and I barely even remember seeing Emil anywhere in the hall, and music? what music? I found out during intermission when I bumped into the Hochhausers (Richter's agent in England) that Maestro had attempted a long car ride across Europe and had fallen ill. I recalled all the accounts I had read of his numerous cancellations - now I could add my own to the list.

Well, undaunted, before long I found more concert dates coming up in the Autumn of 1977 and securing tickets now became my goal. Also I decided to paint a "homage" picture in celebration of my guru: "Theoretical Amphora". I didn't quite realize at the time that my painting "career" was to go nowhere. "Theoretical Amphora" and "Arabesque"(shown below) was as good as it got and I stand by these works. I believe the style is or was referred to as "magic realism". The painting "Theoretical Amphora" is meant to be "optical" and not "decorous". I call it a "theoretical" amphora because in reality there is no such "amphora" (ancient Greek storage vase) in existence. My amphora is composed of design and decorative elements taken from a variety of ancient artifacts. For example the 2 figures in the centre are taken from the inside of a "kylix" (ancient Greek drinking cup). On one of the tours of the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly "Kirov"), I had an opportunity to make a gift of the painting and letter from Richter to it's artistic director Yury Fateyev. I had received some dramatic news about my health and I figured it would be nice if the painting end up with someone associated with Russian culture after my demise.

1977 - Well, this time it all worked out perfectly: Fischer-Dieskau kindly became ill prior to my first of 6 concert dates in September, and it was in Lucerne that I first watched the great Richter walk on stage, since he generously substituted a solo piano recital for the scheduled song recital with Fischer-Dieskau which had been cancelled. I couldn't be more happy. My very first impression was just how straight his back was, "straight as an arrow" as they say, and also the gentle elegance that pervaded his walk to the piano. He quickly launched into Beethoven's Andante Favori. In 1977 I saw Richter 6 times and in each and every concert I struggled with the question "do I close my eyes while listening" or should I watch intently since I had come all this way to "see" the great Maestro. This trip was in every sense a pilgrimage!. I never could resolve the question and I decided to watch (with brief moments of closing the eyes). After the Stresa solo recital I decided to "ambush" Maestro after the concert. I separated myself from a small handful of well-wishers and when he (and he was wearing a black cape to my delightful surprise!) left them to walk to a parked car not far away I seized the moment and asked him (in English) "will you come to America?" - he paused briefly before entering the car and turned to me and said (in quite understandable English) "perhaps". This was my one and only conversation with Sviatoslav Richter. At the Aldeburgh all-Schubert recital (now available on video) I noticed Nina Dorliak (Richter's partner) sitting several rows behind me so during the intermission I approached her and asked if she would pass on a little letter of "homage" I had written (in which I identified myself as an "amateur" artist) and a small photo of the painting I had dedicated to him - she understood and graciously received my things. Approximately 6 weeks after this I received the short, polite but kind letter from Maestro that is reproduced here. Then followed several decades of glorious music (listening to a steady but not massive stream of Richter LP releases) which exploded with the discovery of "The Friends of Richter Society".

The "Society" (founded by Falk Schwarz and John Berrie), one could say, was really awesome, if you were a "Richterian". It had everything: regular bulletins featuring articles, reports, and rare audio recordings became available to members. But above all, for me, it was where I was able for the first time to learn about videos! As many as a dozen or more! I was in heaven - I could watch over and over! Well, then came professor Ates Tanin, and soon after he launched his incomparable "Recorded Richter". I decided to work on compiling a list of Richter videos. This seemed inevitable and before long The Richter Acolyte was born! With the great work of professor Yuri Bokhonov the list grew bigger and bigger till now where we have over 100 entries in the Videography (not including many that could be added from the "Richter Sightings" page). By the way, I should emphasize that I am in no way suggesting that I am on a level with Tanin and Bokhonov and some others who I admire for their acumen and who have researched Richter's phenomenal legacy. Perhaps, I think I was just the right person at the right time.

I have been very fortunate to meet Dan Yang, who curiously is also an Australian (of Chinese heritage). He happens to be a fine pianist (and a lover of Richter, of course! and has a great appreciation for "historical" pianists) who has agreed to keep TRA going and I, as all Richterians, owe him a debt of gratitude for his sacrificing of time and effort, and sheer devotion to helping preserve "Richter, his legacy on film".

- Alex Malow, B.A. (Slavic Studies, University of Toronto)

(Many thanks to Nigel Nettheim for the help in preparing this text and his suggestions for the webpage, and Dan Yang for his contribution in actually making the page.)

"Arabesque" painting, Alex Malow
(Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches)

Richter Videography Richter "Sightings" Gilels Videography Alex Malow Links/Updates Home