The foremost living Russian composer is, by common consent, Alfred Schnittke. Ask Schnittke, and he will tell you that the outstanding Russian composer of our day is Alemdar Karamanov. Who's Karamanov? A composer unlisted in reference works, unheard on the radio, unrecorded on disk. He is as near to being a non-person as any musician can possibly be in the Internet era.
Not, however, for much longer. Within the next year, three major labels will record Karamanov syphonies, each believing it has cornered the next Gorecki. Schnittke, in a forthcoming biography, will restate his startling conviction that "Karamanov's gift as a composer is no less significant than of Messiaen or Ligeti." And the music will speak for itself- strong, spiritual, pungently original. The first British performance of any of Karamanov,s orchestral works is being played tomorrow in the off-centre setting of Central Hall, wesminster.
Karamanov, now 61, was silenced in the Soviet Union because he proclaimed the supremacy of God in a voice so compelling that even Politburo members took note. He remains in limbo in Yeltsin's Russia because his message is still unpalatable. "Russia is being commercialised,' he grubbies in a deep, emotonless voice, "and my music does not fit in."
A misfit from boyhood, Karamanov almost starved after his Turkish-born father was purged by Stalin in 1937 as head of the Crimean regional government. Under Germsn occupation, he harrowly escaped being shot for stealing apples. A Wehrmacht officer, billeted in the Karamanov's home, brought him music paper and put him on the radio at seven years old to make his debut as pianist and composer. When the Germans retreated they tried to take the Wunderkind back for a Berlin education, but he mother resisted. When the Red Aemy returned, his father was exiled to Central Asia as Stalin cleansed the Crimea of non-Russians.
The shabby orphan from Simferopol drew sniffs from professors at the Moskow Conservatoire- until he played them Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the piano without ever having seen a score. The morning after the premiere of Shostacovich's Tenth Symphony, he repeated the work note-perfect from memory. Shostacovich, who attended college concerts of Karamanov's music, described him in a article as " one of the most original and unique composers of our time".
Karamanov was then writting what he calls "avant-garde music", reflective atonalities influenced by Western trends and anathema to doctrines of socialism realism. He formed a philosophical friendship with Schnittke, who convinced him of his duty to compose.
On January 7, 1965, Karamanov was walking down Gorky Street when he heard a trumpet sound from the top of telegraph building and saw a vision of his Saviour. " It was as if I had returned home," he says. "From that moment, Christianity, my music and myself became one."
He wrote a cycle of four symphonies based on the gosples, and another six with such titles as He Who Loves Us, Let It Be and I am Jesus - provacatively unperformable stuff an atheist state. "I always heard the music in myself," he says. "I didn't squeeze it out from my fingers like accountacy books. I don't play depraved political games, smile at mediocrity, or touch the dirty hands of dirty musical businessmaen."
In the early 1980s, anticipating political changes, his teasher Tikhon Hrennikov got the radio conductor Vladimir Fedoseev to prepare an audition tape of two Karamanov's symphonies for the composer's Union. To the composer,s mortification, the playback was sabotaged by party engineers.
Listening to Fedoseev's semisamizdat tape of Blessed Are the dead, Karamanov's 2, one quickly discerns the reasons for Soviet alarm and Schnittke's praise. Karamanov has a knack of devising sugarsweet Tchaikovsky melodies that decompose seditiously into the chaos of modernity, before finding comforting resolution in a simple, quasi-minimalist affirmation of devout tonality.
Schnittke was hailed as a pioneer when he deconstructed musical sequences in this fashion a decade later in such 1980s scores as Kein Sommernachistraum.Gorecki made his breaktrough with prayerful music of a kind that the unknown Karamanov had apparently been writting for two decades.
A fornight ago, a performance of the 23rd Symphony by Vlsdimir Ashkenazy and the Deutshces Sinfonie was ovated in Berlin and is deing recorded by Decca. Sony have booked Winchester Cathedral next May to capture the 20th Syphony and Stabat Mater, and Naxon are planning to release a recent Moscow performance of the Seventh Symphony. Recognition is beginning to dawn. Asked if he is composing at the moment, Karamanov nods, but adds: "I don't write anything down. I believe I am now composing my greatest works."