Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber
15 november 2008
Transcript of the of the meeting:
Andrew Lloyd Webber (retranslated): First of all I would like to thank you, it is a great honour for me to be talking to you.
Vladimir Putin: I am also delighted to talk to you and to get to know the composer who is very well known in this country and the world and, believe me, it is a great pleasure and honour for me too.
In the early 1990s I was in Hamburg on business and I saw your musical "Cats". I think it had been running for about ten years by that time. I never thought that I would meet you and talk with you.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Can I ask you first, how do I address you? Do I address you as Mr Prime Minister?
Vladimir Putin: As you wish. You can use my first name, my last name, or my title, whatever you are more comfortable with.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Thank you for your kind offer. Could I begin by asking about your earliest memories connected with music?
Vladimir Putin: I think it's hard for anyone to remember their very first impressions of anything. I suppose it was probably something my mother sang to me. It was something like a lullaby, and of course it was connected with Russian folklore. Later, in secondary school and at university I tried to broaden my experience of music, and started listening to both Russian and European classics. Tchaikovsky was my favourite among the Russian classics. And among the Europeans, I liked German or Austrian composers: Mozart and Schubert, and also Hungarians, Liszt, for example. Liszt has adapted many beautiful pieces, short, but very beautiful.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: My first musical memories are connected with Russian music.
Vladimir Putin: I did some reading before our meeting today and I know that you say you were brought up on Russian classics, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Yes, indeed, some of my earliest memories are connected with Prokofiev. My father bought a record of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and Prokofiev's "Love for Three Oranges". I began by listening to Prokofiev.
Vladimir Putin: I know that one of your works, "Requiem", is dedicated to the memory of your father. It is your best-known piece performed by some of the most outstanding musicians.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: I was lucky to have my "Requiem" played several times at the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also in St Petersburg.
Vladimir Putin: And next year we will hear more songs, more works, perhaps some of yours again, at the Eurovision contest.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: But these songs, of course, are different from Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.
Vladimir Putin: They may be different, in fact, they are sure to be different, but still, the work of every musician reveals his or her personal likes and dislikes. I think your world-famous works, such as "Jesus Christ Superstar", have some elements reminiscent of Prokofiev - some melodies, ideas, feelings. It is not even so much the melody as a feeling.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: That's true. I was lucky to have met Shostakovich when he came to London. He wanted to meet me himself to discuss "Jesus Christ Superstar".
Tell me, are you perhaps sorry that Russian pop musicians today no longer stick to Russian tradition and instead try to imitate Western music?
Vladimir Putin: I think that is inevitable in this period of time. Russian culture has not lost its roots. Modern music is continuing to develop. Among classical composers, there are such names as Gavrilin, Shchedrin and Sviridov. And that is the basis on which other composers can work in the sphere of popular culture and pop music.
The attempts to copy things, and not only in music, can be attributed to a certain lack of contacts in the former Soviet Union, when Russian people lived behind the Iron Curtain. There was a strong wish to make up for the deficit of exposure, and lack of interest among our public in the Western culture, especially in popular culture. For example, European and Latin American soap operas were very popular here at one time. Not so much today. Now people like watching Russian soap operas, which, incidentally, are becoming better and better. The same is true of the sphere we are discussing today, musical culture, musical arts, including pop music.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Hosting the Eurovision contest, is that important for Russia?
Vladimir Putin: It is important for several reasons. First, it is important for young people because the main audience consists of young people. We talk a lot about young people, but, unfortunately, we don't do enough for them.
Second, I very much hope that millions of people in Europe and in Russia, especially young people, will listen to good music and it will become part of their education. They will see modern means of expression.
For Russia, however, there is also another dimension to it. Russia has always rightly considered itself to be part of the European cultural space. Holding such a major event in Moscow is one more proof of the fact that after many years behind the Iron Curtain Russia is fully and finally returning to the European cultural space. So I would like to thank all those that voted for a Russian singer, who earned us this opportunity to host the event in Russia.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Yes, winning the contest meant a great deal for Russia.
Vladimir Putin: You know, after the difficult times in the early and mid-90s, Russia is gradually getting up on its feet economically and socially. We have seen some spectacular triumphs in sports. And this event, too, is a sign that the country is resurgent, including in such areas where we used to be watching from the sidelines. That too is important.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Do you think Eurovision can bring Russia closer to Europe?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I do.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Yes, it sounds encouraging. Can I ask you how you feel about pop music?
Vladimir Putin: That's not an easy question for me. I cannot claim to be an expert in this area. Several generations of Russians were brought up on and had a special feeling for The Beatles. Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Paul McCartney. Their songs are still at the summit.
As I said, you are also well known in this country. We are grateful to you for your work and for the pleasure you gave us in the past. I hope there is more to come. We can expect new music and new songs from you. As far as I know you've agreed to write a song for the British entry in the Eurovision contest next year.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Why do you think Britain has been doing so badly in Eurovision recently?
Vladimir Putin: It's hard for me to say. I don't think I have the right to pass judgment here. But as far as I know British musicians have won five times before, that is a great achievement.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Yes, but that was in the past. Perhaps we failed because our songs were awful.
Vladimir Putin: I don't think anyone has the right to say the songs were awful. People's assessments of what a composer or a performer has done are highly individual. Indeed, history knows of many examples when the public initially rejected certain works, but they went down in history. Anyway, we wish the British performers success in Moscow.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: I would agree that some of our songs written for Eurovision have occupied a niche in history, but not the kind of niche we had hoped for.
Vladimir Putin: You said it, not me.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: I'll try my best to write something worthwhile. How do you feel about Russia's role in the future?
Vladimir Putin: Its role in which area?
Andrew Lloyd Webber: How do you see Russia's future development? If we look back on the past, we have seen pictures of President Yeltsin handing over control to you and saying, "Take care of Russia." That was the caption under the photographs that we saw in the press. So I wonder in what direction would you like to see Russia develop, as a country closely linked with Europe or as an independent state building on its own rich cultural traditions?
Vladimir Putin: Both. Russia is, of course, a self-sufficient country economically and defence-wise, and in terms of its rich cultural heritage. But we are well aware of the kind of world we live in. The world is becoming increasingly interdependent. Our responsibility is growing and we want to be an organic part of Europe. We think we should seek mutually acceptable solutions in all the spheres I have mentioned. We believe that competition is good, that it is the road to progress. But I believe that competition should be based on mutual understanding and mutual support. It should be competition among friends, not enemies. We must respect each other. And what does it mean to respect each other? It means to admit that your partner is in some way better than you are and it is necessary to respect each other's legitimate rights.
Russia has always been part of Europe and we will seek to strengthen the European aspect. So, you may think what you like about the Eurovision format, but if the 150 million young people who simultaneously watch Eurovision in Europe, including Russia, feel part of a shared cultural space, that adds something very important to the future of Europe. I think Eurovision has one very important rule: a country's viewers are not allowed to vote for their entry, but only for those from other countries. It makes a lot of sense.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Can I ask you then that Russia vote for Britain?
Vladimir Putin: As a private individual, I could do it, but you should direct your plea to the Russian viewers. That is the most democratic way of expressing your preferences. You can't do anything about it. It's like the Internet, it is a situation beyond control.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: One of Eurovision's problems, which is perhaps less well known in Russia and raises fewer questions here than in the UK, is that most East European countries vote for one another. This prompts the question, how can we overcome that?
Vladimir Putin: There is no need to overcome it. This is not Eurovision's problem.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Perhaps one should simply write a good song?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, come to think of it, it is a massive opinion poll which gives us an answer to a single question: It means that people living in neighbouring countries understand each other better and listen to each other more carefully.
If you look at border areas, say, between Russia and Ukraine, it is hard to tell on which side there are more Russians or Ukrainians. They have a mixed population, which means a cultural symbiosis of the peoples who live on that territory. But as far as I know Eurovision faces the same problems with voting in Scandinavia.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Fair enough. Can I ask you what music your daughters bring home and listen to?
Vladimir Putin: They listen to a lot of different music, but you had better ask them about their preferences.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Do they listen to some kind of music that you don't like or play it too loud?
Vladimir Putin: No, they don't. They studied music, not professionally, but for a fairly long time. They play the violin and the piano, they sing and accompany each other: One plays the piano and the other the violin, and then they swap, the second plays the violin and the first the piano.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Maybe they could try Eurovision?
Vladimir Putin: At the moment they are both studying at university and that is their priority.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Do you think there is some great story in Russia that could provide a plot for a great musical?
Vladimir Putin: You know, Russian history is very dramatic and very interesting, just like the history of any country, including Britain. Britain and its relations with the Normans, with France, the relations between different parts of Britain - England, Scotland and Ireland - one can hardly imagine anything more dramatic and interesting.
In Russia too, it is the relations with neighbours and the emergence of a vast and great power. But I would single out one fundamental feature of this country: The overwhelming majority of its people consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians. I am not speaking about the period when Rus adopted Christianity, and not about the fact of Christianisation itself. But it's fascinating how the Russian Orthodox church initially built its relations with another world religion, the Muslims. The earliest written Orthodox texts in Rus already contain a key principle, which, I think, contributed to the emergence of a great state, and that is respect for other confessions.
I think that is the first and very important, perhaps the most important building block that was later used to create the vast multinational and multi-confessional Russian state.
I think that might be an interesting theme for art, including music.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: I think that is reflected in the work of Rakhmaninov. The Russian Orthodox tradition is indeed an attractive spectrum which is very interesting.
Vladimir Putin: As for finding interesting facts and exciting stories in the thousand-year history of Russia, that is easy. Here is one that lies on the surface: Peter the Great is one of the most revered Russian Tsars. He got his wife, Catherine I, as a military trophy. He practically took her from soldiers and made her a Tsarina. That could be a great plot for anything: a musical, an opera, a symphony, even a symphony in stone.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Thank you very much. I am sure that your interview, what you had to say about music, Russia and Europe, will be very interesting for the British audience.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.