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Prompted by BBC Proms

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 06:04 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

What does classical music mean to you?

I recently lost a friend. His name was Vsevolod Timokhin and he lived in Moscow. He was an old man, who lived all his life on his own and had a great passion - music.

During the Soviet era he worked for the classical music department of State Radio and could go to any classical music concert - be it in the Bolshoi Theatre or the Kremlin Palace. But the more remarkable thing about him than those live concerts (for which he sometimes got us tickets) he used to have a unique collection of records, which were the only contents of his flat - LPs from the floor to the ceiling.

Seva - which is what we used to call him - had a special word for listening to music: proslushka - a kind of profound listening, much like a diver plunges into water, or a Sufi descends into a meditation - he used to immerse himself into a day (or two, or three) of listening to a certain piece of music or a particular theme in his collection.

He knew everything about classical music. Once when the soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf had a series of concerts in Indonesia, Seva (who didn't read or speak any Indonesian, just some German) found Indonesian-French and French-German dictionaries and translated all the reviews of those concerts.

On another occasion, I gave him a collection of Uzbek traditional classical songs and he asked me for the words. Once again he translated them with a help of an Uzbek-Russian dictionary. But more amazingly - though being a newcomer to this traditional musical style - he easily ranged all the singers exactly according to my own opinion: 'Mamurjan Uzakov is the greatest!' No one else would have been able to do that.

Whenever I'm in the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms season, or listening to the Proms be on BBC World ServiceI can't resist the feeling that while my ears are listening to the music, my heart and my memory are listening out for Seva.

He used to compare this Toccata of Bach to a temple, where everything is directed to a small dormer window, the only window to the open sky... Or the piece from Wagner's Lohengrin that was missing from his collection and I brought the LP back for him from my first trip abroad... Or the exemplary performance according to Seva of an aria in the 1950 version of La Scala by Maria Callas...

Seva never went abroad though his love of music was bigger than the world.

Sometimes I wonder if - wherever he is - he is sitting in his proslushka and listening to our earthly, but at the same time so heavenly Proms... And I think, there must be many people around the world for whom the BBC Proms means the same as for Seva...

So, tell me what does classical music mean to you?

somewhere in a far distant land there lived a knock at the door beyond the grey torn words beyond the last islands beyond the soul clean as windows which are not knocked on beyond the country of big parting where only silence is kept on an immemorial day in an immemorial dream a knock on the door lives which doesn't go visiting
This poem was translated by Richard McKane

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