This is your composer speaking: Maya Fridman

in conversation with Jet Berkhout at New Music Conference 2023

Maya Fridman at NMC 2023

Russian cello player Maya Fridman (34) loves to step out of her comfort zone to try out and explore new things. That’s why the position as artist in residence at November Music Festival 2023 suited her perfectly. Being surrounded by musicians from different disciplines who are open to experiment, is a stark contrast to her restricted classical music education in Moscow. At New Music Conference on November 9, which is part of the festival, Fridman spoke about her journey from musician to maker with host Jet Berkhout.

At this year’s November Music festival, Fridman played several different concerts with, for instance, Garth Knox, Maarten van Veen, LudoWic, Capella Brabant and Merel Vercammen. It took a while for Fridman to get to where she is now: not only a musician, but also a composer and theatre maker. 

Coming out as a maker

In Moscow you won prizes at a young age for playing classical cello repertoire. Secretly, you played in metal bands. In The Netherlands, you could explore other genres less and less secretively. And you told me that this November Music is actually your coming out as a maker.
‘Yes. I cannot even begin to explain how inspiring it is to have the possibility to present so many different kinds of projects in one festival. I love improvising, composing and writing poetry. In improvising, composing and writing poetry. But in Moscow, it was not appreciated to be a musician with so many diverse interests. At first, I didn’t even imagine that it would ever become part of my professional life. That’s why I’m really happy to be in this beautiful atmosphere of artists who are so versatile.’

In what way did you feel less restricted here in The Netherlands?
‘Well, I came here specifically to study with Dmitri Ferschtman, who is a genius musician. He was very strict. Of course, I had to practice for many hours, and he was not so amused when I told him that I couldn’t come to my lesson because I had a concert with a rock band. But he came to listen, and then he realized that my way of playing with those other alternative projects was so different from when I played classical music. He acknowledged that I was much more free on stage when I was doing my own stuff and said: “Why don’t you bring this to your other professional practice?” From then on, my practice gradually started to evolve. Also, I realized that I love to perform mostly contemporary music, just for the sake of having a conversation with composers. That is just so enriching to me. Later, it encouraged me to focus on my own compositions.’

Making and composing music

Do you still play classical repertoire, and do you play it differently now?
‘Yes. It doesn’t feel like I have to cross countries to arrive from one to the other. Everything adds up: my improvisational practice helps me to compose. My composition helped me to interpret classical repertoire. And my work with theatre makers helps me to think differently about staging my own performances.’

Should we make a division between making and composing music?
‘I don’t think so. I think many people just have different ways of perceiving music. It’s the same as some composers, who have colours in their heads when they are hearing music. That’s just how our brain works. You cannot just block one part of it in order to focus on something. For me, I always start with text.’

I notice that almost everything you make is very personal. Do you always start with an idea or subject in text?
‘Not because I have the intention of making something – I just write a lot. It’s a way of processing my thoughts, the same with improvisation. Sometimes I improvise for hours between my practising routine while recording myself. Later I analyse everything to see what thoughts are crystallizing. Sometimes through writing, through just constantly producing material, I discover the core issue that bothers me, triggers me, or propels me to do something.’

Maya Fridman at NMC 2023

‘It’s also interesting for me to understand how it works for other composers. Whenever I work face-to-face with a composer, I always discover many things the other person went through, which then become part of my experience. I think it’s very important to be able to share something and also realize that we all share so much. There is nothing unique in our experience: everyone has some resemblances. It’s good to be able to have this music that talks about it.’

Making music with LudoWic

With electronic musician and audiovisual artist LudoWic you gave a performance where all senses were triggered: voice, cello, an installation. Where did this music originate?
‘Even before we played together, I already felt a connection with him. I really love his music. At the beginning of January LudoWic and I jammed for the first time. I got into some kind of weird mind place at that time. I was playing so intensely that I slammed my cello at some point and even almost broke it. Something in me was triggered – I wrote every day for two or three months after that day. Many snippets of that diary became songs.’

Is your music for you like therapy, or is that too big of a word?
‘I am not afraid to use that word. I think for everyone, creativity is a therapeutic way of dealing with life in general. Sometimes issues can be extremely personal and very hard to share. The performance yesterday with LudoWic was quite an intense process for me. There were a lot of things that I thought I could not even perform this way, because it’s just too close to me. But I did it and it feels quite different now.’

No comfort zone

Earlier on you said to me: I haven’t been comfortable for months, maybe even years. I’m out of my comfort zone permanently and that’s very tiring. How do you feel now?
‘Well, it’s just a way of being as well. I don’t even know any more what a comfort zone is. Every single time I reach that point, I start to feel bored or restless, and I want to go further. This makes me constantly question and improve myself. Also, the time we have here is so precious and short, I am trying to make the most of it. I sometimes feel like I am constantly behind with my ideas. I have so many of them, that I always feel I have to catch up. That can indeed be very exhausting. But I feel like now, for the first time, I ám in my comfort zone because I’ve been trying so hard to connect everything, and now it seems to come together. I am super grateful for that and hope to continue to do more projects in which I can weave other disciplines together.’

Website: Maya Fridman
Photos by Claudia Hansen
Text by Stella Vrijmoed