Q. How did you first start on the accordion?
A. My father worked in a coal mine, but he liked music very much. He played several instruments including bayan, guitar, violin, trumpet and balalayka. I often listened to my father play the bayan. When I was 5 years I began my bayan studies with my father. I would listen to my father play, then take the instrument and imitate him playing folk music such as polkas and waltzes.
Q. Why did you choose the accordion rather than another instrument?
A. My father loved the bayan the most, and played it more than the other instruments. I chose the bayan because the sound was very pleasing to me.
Q. Tell us a little about the town where you were born, and where in Russia is it located?
A. My ancestors had came to Russia from Germany about 200 hundred years ago during the reign of Katarina II. They lived quite close to the Volga River, close to the town of Saratov. During the 2nd World War, my parent's families were exiled to the Urals in Siberia. My parents subsequently met in the Urals after the war, and it was there, I was born on the 18 November 1948. My parents settled near Tcheljabinsk, which is in the Southern Urals.
Q. What role did your parents play in your early music education?
A. It was only the first impulse to get started, and then I was self-taught until 11 years of age. At age 11, I started taking lessons from a small music school that opened in Jemanschelinsk. It was separate from the regular school. During the day I attended the regular school, and three or four days a week I would go afterwards to this special music school. In the music school, you normally study 7 years, but after 4 years I started attending a music college in Magnitogosk. This course normally takes 4 years, however after 3 years, my teacher Jewgenie Kudinov recommended I start attending the highest level of schooling, which was at the Gnessin Institute, in Moscow.
Q. Tell us about your early teachers?
A. (1) During the first years at Jemanschelinsk, I learnt from Mr. Brysgalin.
(2) At the Music College in Magnitogosk, I studied with Mr. E. Kudinov.
(3) Beginning in 1967, I started tuition with Professor S. Kolobkov at the Gnessin Institute in Moscow.
Q. Do you have any humorous memories of your concert experiences?
A. My humorous experiences continue to this day. I do recall one experience from a concert I performed in Russia. I arrived at the concert hall to look over the facilities, and stopped in the lobby to look over a large concert poster advertising my evening recital. On the top of the poster, was my name, and down the poster were listed the names of all the composers I would be performing that evening including, Liszt, Franck and Bach among others. While I was looking at the poster, the cleaning lady passed by, and in conversation asked me if I was playing that evening. I told her that yes, I was. She went on to ask me where the others were, and I told her that I would be playing alone. She asked further about the fact that I was alone, and then she displayed regret that everyone else had fallen ill. She thought by the poster, that it was a Friedrich Lips Festival, and that all the composers, were in fact the list of artists performing that evening!
Q. Do you have any impressions from your teachers?
A. My biggest impression from Mr. Brysgalin was when he told me that one day I must go to the Gnessin Institute. This statement left a big impression on me, since the Gnessin Institute is so famous. Mr. E. Kudinov impressed upon methat I must always be thinking ahead when I play. Prof. S. Kolobkov (my professor at the Gnessin Institute) impressed upon me, that every sound must be important!
Q. Tell us about your studies at the Gnessin Institute?
A. I spent a total of seven years studying at the Gnessin Institute. The first five were between 1967 - 1972, and then the last two were spent in postgraduate studies, from 1972 - 1974
In conjunction with my bayan lessons, I was also required to study conducting. After graduation, you can also get a job as a conductor. (Mr. Fedoseyev, the current conductor of the Vienna Symphony, and a past conductor of the Moscow Symphony, was a bayanist, who chose this alternate career opportunity.)
My teachers tried to encourage me to pursue my conducting talent, however I chose the bayan because it was my preferred instrument. With my accordion, I can say what I cannot say in words. I am speaking through my accordion.
I always think orchestrally with my bayan playing and teaching. I liken the sounds in pieces to various orchestral instruments. I play my accordion, like one would conduct an orchestra. I love the power of an orchestra, and feel both a player and conductor should have a lot of power and desire. When you're sitting on stage, you must convey your will and feelings to the public. Your inner strength makes a big impression (impact) on the public. If you don't have a significant amount of inner feeling, the audience looses interest. Your inner musicality is "vital."
Q. Is there any teacher or artist to whom you would like to pay particular tribute, for their inspirational effect on your musical career. Question by Heather Masefield.
A. I feel that there is great musical heritage, to which I hope I will contribute.
I have several things that have provided inspiration. The music of Bach is the deepest and richest that you can find in the culture of music. When I was a student, I wanted to play all the organ music. I realized I could not do everything, however I liked also the music of Messian and Liszt.
My teacher at the Gnessin Institute, Prof. Kolobkov provided great inspiration for me also, and it was during my days at the Gnessin Institute, that I met and became friendly with Zolotariew.
My friendship with Zolotariew changed my direction. I had won the Klingenthal competition in 1969. However I was not happy with the level of original music, so I wanted to play transcriptions of the organ masterworks. It was around this time that I met Zolotariew, with whom I became immediate friends. I heard his Partita and I was the second to play it. I identified immediately with Zolotariew's music. Zolotariew then attended one of my concerts and was equally impressed with my playing. Zolotariew immediately wrote his second and third sonatas and his Rhapsody Espagnole.
Zolotariew told me, that he knew it was the right direction to play original music, because every instrument must have its identity. He told me that I must dream that the likes of Gubaidulina etc... write for the accordion. At the time, Gubaidulina was quite famous, but she and other composers were not subsidized by the Government, because they were writing music that was considered different and experimental.
In 1972 I played for the famous composer Mr. Schnittke, at his home, while another famous composer Mr. Denisov came to the Gnessin Institute especially to listen to me. During this time, Zolotariew wanted to be in the composers union group in Russia. This was not easy however, Gubaidulina heard Zolotariew's Sonata 3 and recommended him, which in turn enabled him to become a part of this famed organization. This sparked the beginning of the friendship between Gubaidulina and I.
On the 13th May 1975, Zolotariew committed suicide. (I was in Klingenthal at the time, and came back the day after, to receive a telegram with the news. The next day the funeral service was held.)
This tragedy inspired Gubaidulina to write something for the bayan, so she had many discussions with me, where I explained to her about the bayan. The result of this was Gubaidulina's 'De Profundis.'
Q. When were your first professional concerts?
A. My first solo concert was in Magnitogorsk, in the autumn of 1969, after having won Klingenthal. It was a full concert, in two sections.
Q. When did you first tour outside Russia and to which countries?
A. My first tour outside of Russia was with a group, which traveled to places such as Mongolia, Finland and other Scandanavian countries.
My first solo engagement outside of Russia, was in 1975 when I was a guest artist at Klingenthal. I performed the third Sonata of Zolotariew at the festival concert. During this concert, I made several European connections, which resulted in concerts, such as one in Poland in 1977. At that time, it was extremely difficult to travel outside of Russia, so overseas engagements were very limited.
Q. One of your major international competition successes was Klingenthal in 1969. How important do you feel that success was for your career?
A. I was invited to come back as a winner, which in turn provided good exposure for me. In what was the Soviet Union, music and sport competitions were very important. At a time when there were many problems with the economy and the political situation, the Soviet Union could be looked upon as the world leaders in these competitive areas. It also provided the extremely rare opportunities to travel abroad. Winners came back like heroes! The Minister of Culture invited winners (myself included) back to his residence.
This created fierce competition on a local level, to get the right to compete internationally. The prestige and opportunities associated with the competitions were very desirable.
The glory of winning championships has now diminished with the form of government that exists today, where there are financial constraints in support of the arts.
Q. How has your musical career impacted on your personal life? Question by Dellwyn Ellis.
A. My wife is also musician, (a Domra teacher at the Gnessin Institute), so she understands my life very well. Our life is our job, and our job is our life.
Q. Do you have any family and do they share your interest in music?
A. We have two children Swjatoslav and Kristina. Swjatoslav is a fine concert pianist (25 years old in March). He is working on a post graduate degree at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory. He has recently won two international piano competitions. One was in Barcelona, where he won against 106 international competitors, and the other competition was in Italy.
Our daughter Kristina is 16 years old in April, and attends an English School in Moscow. She hasn't decided on a career as of yet, but is leaning towards being a journalist.
Q. What non accordion music do you most like to listen to?
A. I like to listen to Symphonic music as well as organ music. In fact I like to listen to all 'good' music
Q. Describe your position at the Academy of Music (called Gnesssin Institute until 1993) in Moscow and what duties does this position entail?
A. I began teaching at the Gnessin Institute in 1971. I moved up to an advanced teacher in 1974, and I became the next highest level of teacher (Docent) in 1982. Finally, I was made a professor in 1989.
In 1996, I became the "Head of Folk Instrument Department." This department of the Academy of Music covers such instruments as accordion (button and piano accordions), balalayka, domra and guitar.
Q. Could you describe any feature of the Academy of Music teaching program that you consider unique?
A. In comparison to other countries, at the same level of education, one thing unique to the Academy of Music is the emphasis on conducting. The Academy of Music is the highest institute in Russia for accordion, and one of the foremost in the world. The quality and number of the teachers we have is also quite unique. The Academy of Music holds the distinction as being the first institute where you could study the accordion at the same level as the other instruments. The Gnessin Institute was founded in 1944, with the bayan studies beginning in 1948. The bayan department in fact, celebrated its 50 year anniversary last year.
Another feature unique to the Academy of Music is the number of teachers. With 10-12 teachers, things are decided democratically. In other schools, teachers are free to endorse any particular style and teachings, however, at the Academy of Music, everything is decided among the teaching staff as a whole. Even at examinations, the jury consists of many teachers who evaluate the students. This is quite unique in the accordion field, to have so many accordion teachers within one school. The students are exposed to the musical knowledge of several teachers and thereby achieve a much broader musical background.
There are on average five to seven teachers in every conservatory.
Q. Is the Academy of Music, government funded and by which department of the government? Does that department also pay the tutors?
A. The Academy of Music is still funded by the government, however the funds have been cut rather drastically. The tutors are also paid by the Government. There was much greater support during the time of the Soviet Union.
Q. Do accordion studies differ from other instrumental courses?
A. No, the accordion studies are exactly the same level as the other instruments.
Q. How many accordion students are currently studying at the Academy of Music?
A. There are currently approximately 80 students enrolled at the Academy of Music.
Q. Can people from countries other than Russia study there?
A. Yes, foreign students can attend the Academy of Music. The course is five years. (You can also come for just one year or two, if you want to make a shorter study.)
The Academy of Music only accepts 12 accordionists at the entry level. If additional students qualify, they must pay extra. Overseas students must always pay. To attend the Gnessin Institute you must go through an audition process, as well as take exams in subjects such as theory, solfege, harmony and dictation.
Q. How does the accordion faculty interact with other instrumental faculties at the Academy of Music?
A. The accordion faculty is treated equal to other departments.
Q. Who are some of your more outstanding pupils?
A. (From Russia) V. Muntjan, V. Dolgopolow, S. Najko, P. Gerter, E. Seit-Abdulow, I. Kurtew, W. Korol, D. Sacharow, J. Prochorow, A. Tschernikow, I. Jarosch, J. Kalaschnikow, V. Dubowik, A. Uschakow, A. Artemjew, A. Kowtun, V. Tschugunow, P. Saizew, A. Schmykow, E. Grechow, T. Semitschastnova, A. Sebastian, A.. Antonow (From France) Max Bonnay, Christiane Bonnay, Jean Luc Manca, J. Borto, (From Yugoslavia) B. Belitsch, S. Zwetitsch, S. Volijavec, D. Michailowitsch and from Spain, I. Alberdi.
Q. How have the political changes in Russia over the last 10 years effected the professional Russian accordionist?
A. Under the old Soviet Union, I had about 50 concerts per year in Soviet Union, which were planned for all contest winners, including bayan. Now, you play only if someone organizes and invites you. Now I get more concerts abroad than at home. The money is a lot better also, and it is now a lot easier to travel.
It is much harder for the young students today than before, when the contest winners were guaranteed many concert opportunities.
Q. In recent years, you have frequently been an adjudicator at international competitions. What are the strengths and weaknesses of such competitions? Do you recommend them to your pupils?
A. On the positive side of competitions:
I think that competitions are very important for the young player. If someone is preparing for a contest, he is developing and advancing at very steady rate, the contest providing the momentum to this development.
On the negative side of competitions:
Often in a competition, the jury doesn't recognize the individuality of the contestants. They prefer to accept their own preferences of interpretation. If a brilliant contestant comes along with different interpretation or arrangement, the player can be disadvantaged.
The other major problem is that we have many great winners from many different countries. Of these, very few are able to continue performing, due to lack of opportunity. The contest is the pinnacle of study, and only a few continue afterwards. Most go on a downward trend after, and don't learn new repertoire.
Q. How do you think we can popularize the accordion?
A. We should be with other instrumentalists, composers, orchestras. If people see the accordion distinguishing itself with other instruments, we will help gain acceptance with other musicians and the audience.
We must be represented with other instruments to gain this important exposure.
Q. What is the ratio of male/female students in the Academy of Music?
A. 80% male 20% female. The bayan is a "masculine" instrument. You will see that most of the finalists in International piano competitions are men also.
Q. Tell us a little about your instrument? Are there any unique features?
A. In 1990 in Amsterdam, Mogens Ellegaard told me that Massimo Pigini would construct a special instrument and asked me for my input. I told Ellegaard that the little things here and there, didn't really help that much, and what I wanted was an Italian made instrument, but with my own Russian reeds. For me the Russian reeds have a deep power and I have grown accustomed to this. Massimo Pigini was agreeable and proceeded to create two new 'Mythos' instruments. One for me and one for Ellegaard. These were the first two instruments of this kind. So my Mythos instrument combines the Italian craftsmanship and mechanics with my Russian reeds.
Q. You have undertaken many workshops and seminars in different countries. Describe the topics that you consider your most important for workshops and why?
A.The topics that I like to present in workshops include the following:
1. The work of Zolotariew for the accordion.
2. The work of Gubaidulina for the accordion.
3. New/original music from Russia
4. Production of sounds
5. Bellows technique
6. Stage performance/presence
Q. You are the author of the book titled "The Art of Playing the Bayan" published by Musika in Moscow and German translation by Intermusik in Germany. What motivated you to write this book? What were the aims of the book?
A. After I began teaching, I began keeping notes of what the I was constantly teaching my students. I knew there were a lot of history books, and beginners books, but knew there was nothing for the advanced student. I kept making notes of things that came to mind even while traveling on the plane for example. If I thought of an idea, I wrote it up. I separated my notes into four subjects which included (1) Tonality, (2) Technique, (3) Artistry and (4) Stage Presence.
I wrote this book about the end of the 1981, when I was 33. The book was finally published in 1985.
I have now written a new book which will be published quite soon. My new book is called "The Art of Transcribing for the Bayan."
Q. You have written a number of other articles. Are they available to the public and if so, how can our readers obtain them?
A. I have written many articles, and they are published in Russian. They are a collection of articles called 'Bayan and Bayanists.' It is possible that in the future these articles will be translated and published in English.
I also the wrote a large article on Zolotariew. My original article was censored by some people like Tschaikin, however it is also possible, that I will now publish my original article.
Q. How many performances do you estimate to have made during your career?
A. I have performed approximately 2,000 during 30 years. Last year I celebrated my 50 birthday, and also 30 years of artistic activities.
Q . List some of your most interesting and important performances.
A. I have performed more than 50 world premieres and some of the most important are:
3rd Sonata by Zolotariew
2nd Concerto by Zolotariew.
Gubaidulina - De Profundis
Gubaidulina - 7 Last Words of Christ
Gubaidulina - Et Exspecto
Denisov - From Darkness to Light
I have performed at the: Tschaikowsky Conservatory (Moscow) Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) Santory Hall (Tokyo) Lincoln Center (New York) J.F. Kennedy Center (Washington DC)
Q. Describe your most "unusual" or "humorous" performance situation?
A. I remember one of my performances in the North of Russia. My concert had progressed quite well, with a very enthusiastic and warm audience. During one of my pieces, I noticed a dog sitting in the auditorium, that started moving toward the door to go outside. The door was closed, so the dog started looking for another way to get out. The concert manager saw this, and went to try and catch the dog to put him out, however the dog started to run away. Much to my surprise, as I continued to play, the concert manager started to run around the concert hall trying to catch it!!
Q. When did you record your first LP, CD or cassette?
A. My first recording was an LP in 1971. Although it was only about the size of a 45, it was still a 33 rpm record.
Q. Where can readers purchase your recordings?
A. The best way for readers to purchase my recordings is to visit my web site, where you can look at the titles available, and even listen to samples. I also sell my recordings at my concerts.
Q. In 1991, your CD "Seven Words" was awarded the "Golden Diapason" in Paris. How did you come to record this particular composer?
A. This was a special project at the request of the Russian Music Label 'Melodia.'
Q. I like the music of Sofia Gubaidulina, especially "7 Words", Silenzio and her two solo accordion works, "De Profundis" and "Et Expecto". Does Professor Lips have any plans for commissioning more works for accordion by Gubaidulina? Question by Rocco A. Jerry
A. Gubaidulina has told me she will write a Concerto for Bayan and orchestra, however she is quite busy, and so it may take some time to get this project underway.
Q. Gubaidulina has written several educational pieces for piano students. Do you think she could be encouraged to do the same for the accordion? Question by Rocco A. Jerry
A.. No. Gubaidulina is so busy, working with extremely big commissions for her other work, that this is not possible.
Q. You have often recorded with other instrumentalists. Which non accordion instrument/s did you feel most effectively complimented the timbre of the accordion?
A. I particularly like the Cello and accordion, as found in Gubaidulina's 1982 work the '7 Last words of Christ.'
After this, people realized that accordion and cello work very well together. This was a very popular piece, and it has been well performed.
S. Berinski has also written an interesting composition entitled 'Sea Scape.' This is a 15 minute work with violin and accordion.
I also think the accordion works quite well with wind instruments.
Q. What is your favorite, of all the CD recordings you have made and why?
A. I have some favorites on every recording, however one of my personal favorites is: Le Coucou, by Daquin. There are many accordion recordings today, and it is not always possible to tell who playing. However, I think there are a few pieces, that are distinctly my style. If someone hears this, they can say 'this is Lips." These include: Le Coucou - Daquin, La Poule - Rameau, 3rd Sonata - Zolotariew
Q. Do you know which of your CD's has achieved the most sales?
A. It is very hard to judge, as some recordings had been in circulation for a lot longer than others, however the CD's that people ask for quite often are 'Russian and Trepak' and 'Encore.'
Q. As a result of your travels, have you met many inspiring artists?
A. I have met many people in this category, and some that come to mind include:
Stefan Hussong (Germany)
Mika Väyrynen (Finland)
Peter Soave (USA)
Inigo Aizpiolea (Spain)
Yuri Shishkin (Russia)
Sergei Voitenko (Russia)
Alexander Sebastian (Russia)
In my opinion, the accordionist that contributed most to the accordion movement, is Mogens Ellegaard.
Q. What other interests and hobbies besides music do you have?
A. I like very much spending time at my summer house outside of Moscow. I enjoy the sauna, and the nice fresh air.
I exercise regularly each morning, and enjoy watching the news on TV at night. My family always wants to watch films, while I like to watch the news. We have come to a solution by having a second TV in kitchen!
(Herbert Scheibenreif said that Friedrich also gets plenty of practice on the telephone which apparently rings all day long. Recently Friedrich was trying to get ready to leave for the airport, when the phone rang again. Without missing a beat, his wife held the phone in place so that Friedrich could talk and finish brushing his teeth at the same time!)
Q. How does an accordionist make a living in Russia at the present time?
A. Most income is generated from concertizing and teaching abroad. Teaching in Russia, generates very little money.
Q. In 1994, you were honored as a "Peoples Artist" of Russia. Can you tell us more about this award and its importance?
A. Boris Yeltsin (President of Russia) presented this prestigious award to me at the Kremlin, and it was broadcast on national TV. It is the greatest title in Russia! Rostropovich also has received this award.
Q. What do you regard as your greatest achievement? What musical achievements are you most proud of?
A. I have given fifty premiere performances, and some of these works will eventually become part of the standard accordion repertoire. These new compositions are really good music from the highest level composers, and therefore very significant.
The works that Friedrich Lips has premiered are:
I am also very happy with my CD/s. I have recorded more than 100 pieces. (Remember that 'Le Coucou' which is just a few minutes long is counted as one piece, as is 'Pictures at Exhibition' which takes up an entire recording.)
I have performed on over 20 CD's (on some I only play only one piece such as with chamber music and concertos). These CD's have been published on three continents.)
My Piazzolla CD has been produced in Japan and was the highest seller in Japan while I was on tour there. This CD will be released in Russia beginning next week.
I am very proud of my book "The Art of Bayan Playing", my 30 prize winners in different competitions (listed above) and the places I have performed at (listed above).
Q. In the future, where do you see the accordion fitting into the overall musical scene?
A. Almost every instrument began as a popular instrument (folk) including percussion and strings. Accordion is popular in many countries, and now we are finding a place on the stage with other instruments, but it is very important not to loose the connection with the folk music. Playing all 20th century music is okay at a 20th century music festival, but for general public however, we must mix our program to include contemporary music and also more popular music for general public.
Q. What are your more immediate career objectives and where do you see your career progressing?
A. I think I have achieved all I can achieve at an academic level. I have the highest position available for teaching, so I want to devote my energies to getting all my commissioned works both published and recorded.
I have recorded all but two of Zolotariew's works. I only have to make a professional recording of the two Zolotariew concertos. I have recordings with non-professional orchestras, but I am trying to find funding to record these with a famous orchestra.
Also I would like to continue with my 'Anthology' which is now in 9 volumes (1930 to the present). This is a published selection of all of the best original bayan pieces. This is a massive undertaking and I am adding to it continuously.
Q. What musical advice do you have for aspiring accordionists? Question by Dennis Van Stratten.
A. You must have a well balanced program. You must play with other instruments, and work with new composers.
In the beginning I used to ask for compositions from my colleague composers, however now they approach me! In 1951, the 'Suite for Accordion' by Cholmonov, was written. Now, Cholmonov after hearing me play, has written a brand new piece (his second accordion composition), which I will premiere at the Bayan Festival in Moscow, this December. (See photograph of the manuscript).
Using Gubaidulina as an example, Lips knew her before she was famous. After a large festival in Boston in 1988, she skyrocketed to success. Lips found himself part of that success through the music he was playing. The good working relationship that they had already established continues to develop today.
My advice to the young artist, is to seek out young composers and inspire them to write for the accordion, enabling the musician and composer to develop and mature together.