Cellist Anastasia Kobekina on her new album — and vocal support for Ukraine Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina releases her Sony Classical debut album — featuring composers from the 17th century to today whose works evoke Venice.

Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina shares postcard of Venice through the ages

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina fell in love with Venice when she visited after pandemic restrictions were first lifted. For her debut album on the Sony Classical label, out today, she shares impressions of the postcard-perfect destination that's also a city threatened by rising waters. On the album, Venetian-born Vivaldi gets a makeover.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF ANTONIO VIVALDI'S "CELLO CONCERTO IN A MINOR, RV 419: III. ALLEGRO")

FADEL: But Kobekina also puts her stamp on works by Barbara Strozzi, who was an independent woman composer in 17th-century Venice, as well as contemporary pieces by electronic music giant Brian Eno, Caroline Shaw and the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. I asked her about this musical journey through the centuries.

ANASTASIA KOBEKINA: I had this fascination for the city, for its different faces, characters and this constant changing scenery. Music has the power to evoke the memories, to make them fresh again and let you live those moments over and over.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF BARBARA STROZZI'S "CHE SI PUO FARE?")

FADEL: This music that you chose for the album, I mean, some of the music is 3 or 400 years old when it was composed, and some of it's modern. What connects all these pieces?

KOBEKINA: To me, it's a portrait of this place and this nostalgia, you know? This is the - I wouldn't market as happy music. It's - there are a lot of, to me, quite heartbreaking melodies. To me, Venice is not only this bright side of the carnival. It's a lot about this city also disappearing.

FADEL: Disappearing in a sense 'cause of the water?

KOBEKINA: Yeah, because of the ecological reasons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI'S "LAMENTO D'ARIANNA")

FADEL: You open the album with Monteverdi, and then you close the album also with a variation of that by your father.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF VLADIMIR KOBEKIN'S "ARIADNE'S LAMENT (VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI")

FADEL: What was it like performing your father's music on this album? Is he the person that made you fall in love with music?

KOBEKINA: Well, through all my childhood I heard him composing through the door, you know, singing the melodies that he just freshly wrote down. You know, I guess I know his language in music. It's such a also luxury to - when I have a new project, I can just ring him and ask, oh, you see, I have here the program. Would you be inspired to write something? And he wrote this variations of cries based on the theme by Monteverdi, "Arianna."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF VLADIMIR KOBEKIN'S "ARIADNE'S LAMENT (VARIATIONS ON A THEME BY CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI")

KOBEKINA: It was a very emotional and almost over-the-edge experience because he explores really this tragedy and drama spanning the different centuries, the idea that we humans, we cry about the same things - doesn't matter in which century we are.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF CAROLINE SHAW'S "LIMESTONE AND FELT")

FADEL: You use your instrument in nontraditional ways, tapping the side of the cello like a drum. I mean, if you could talk about the way you use your instrument.

KOBEKINA: I would say that I would love to go away from the cello sound, you know, to come close to the voice, to the incredible variety of each human voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF CAROLINE SHAW'S "LIMESTONE AND FELT")

KOBEKINA: A lot of tapping, a lot of wild plucking. Sometimes during recording I felt like, oh, wow, that was really scandal.

FADEL: Really?

KOBEKINA: It's too much. And then I go to the control room and listen, and it's actually just enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF CAROLINE SHAW'S "LIMESTONE AND FELT")

FADEL: When I first heard your recording of the third movement of Vivaldi's RV 419 Cello Concerto in A Minor, I couldn't tell at first that this music was 300 years old because it sounded so contemporary. You hear drum and bass, and it felt almost jazzy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF ANTONIO VIVALDI'S "CELLO CONCERTO IN A MINOR, RV 419: III. ALLEGRO")

KOBEKINA: It's probably one of my favorite tracks on the album, because I keep the memories of this energy that was in the room and how we experimented improvising here and there. And, you know, we were just swinging (ph), and it's not orthodox Vivaldi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF ANTONIO VIVALDI'S "CELLO CONCERTO IN A MINOR, RV 419: III. ALLEGRO")

FADEL: You have a piece on the album by a Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov. He's the country's most famous living composer, now a refugee, having fled Ukraine in March 2022 because of the war there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF VALENTIN SILVESTROV'S "ABENDSERENADE")

FADEL: You're a Russian artist. I'm curious about the choice to include this piece on this album, and also what it's like putting music out into the world. I mean, that's not the only war going on, but it is a war that directly impacts you, and it definitely impacts Silvestrov.

KOBEKINA: To me, of course, I have friends in Ukraine and musicians that I'm playing with together, and I just felt I couldn't keep silent for my friends. Of course, by my name and my nationality, I'm representing, of course, Russia, and to me it was important to say that there is people like me who are absolutely disgusted by what is led by the Russian government against Ukrainian people. And I took opportunity always to play Ukrainian music and carry it on.

FADEL: This is an album about Venice, both real and imagined, as you described it. Is there any particular piece on this album that connects you back to Venice?

KOBEKINA: I would say that each of these pieces have a very concrete image or some microsecond moment, you know, from that trip. It's very personal, and I hope that those who would listen to the album would make their own imaginary Venice.

FADEL: Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations on your album.

KOBEKINA: Thank you.

FADEL: That's cellist Anastasia Kobekina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANASTASIA KOBEKINA PERFORMANCE OF GABRIEL FAURE'S "LES BERCEAUX, OP. 23")

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