Meet the Artist……Alexander Levine, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

When I started playing piano and clarinet at Gnessin Music School, Moscow,  my first influence for composing was my performance – playing music with very bright and talented musicians. The main trigger, however, was performing in Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps together with cellist Alexander Knyazev. It was a profound experience which unveiled to me the mysterious and cathartic power of great music.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

Paradoxically enough I would refer to great performers rather then great composers: Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Rostropovich, Jascha Heifetz and other masters. Through their art of interpretation of great music I discovered the link between their endeavour to rediscover the composer’s world as they saw it, and the composer’s world as the composer saw it in its entirety.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Any new work or project seems the greatest challenge at the beginning and less so nearer the end.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

To be focused on the specific task of forming the project and then… to share an excitement with parties involved.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

Probably the most pleasurable experience for me which unifies all these types of musicians is to the opportunity to discover musicians and their ability to respond the music.

This premise is based on my belief in the uniqueness and versatility of every singer or a member of ensemble or orchestra.

Which works are you most proud of?  

There are few, among them are two the most recent choral works: Prayers for Mankind, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and 24 piano pieces  written in 24 different keys.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

I would leave it to the audience, however a good church acoustic always adds something extra to the performance.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

People like Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Glenn Gould and some Spanish Renaissance composers.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The recent London première of the Divine Liturgy with the choir Tenebrae.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?  

Complete honesty in writing music. For performers – relentless striving in achieving the most eloquent and original interpretation of the music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I have just finished writing a piece for VOCES8 and about to start revising my Second String Quartet which I wrote for the Tippett Quartet.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Alive and with my family

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Absence of unhappiness

What is your most treasured possession? 

My family.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Making people smile

What is your present state of mind? 

Enlightened and connected with my inner self.

Born in Moscow in 1955, Alexander Levine studied piano from the age of six at the Gnessin Music School (Moscow), and later he took up the clarinet. Upon graduation he was offered a place at the Moscow Gnessin Music Academy where he studied from 1976-1980. During his college years he also held the position of Principal Guitar in the Orchestra of Russian National Radio and Television.

In the years that followed he established himself as a composer working in collaboration with a variety of highly acclaimed performers in Russia. His compositions won prestigious awards from the Russian National Radio and Television in 1989, 1990 and 1991.

Since 1992 Alexander Levine has lived in the United Kingdom.

In 1993 he was awarded the honored Wingate Foundation Scholarship to study in the Postgraduate Composition course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In that year many of his compositions received awards and won prizes at various composers’ competitions.

In 1994, in recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the GSMD Bursary to continue his studies in the Advanced Postgraduate Composition. He also did his Master Degree (MA) in Composition at the GSMD in 1995, studying under Prof.Gary Carpenter and Simon Bainbridge.

In 1994 he was commissioned to write music for the Barbican production of War and Peace, directed by Peter Clough, which was performed by the GSMD Symphony Orchestra on stage. The Times wrote about this work: “It is not often you go to the theatre and get an orchestra thrown in: not providing cues for numbers but underscoring dialogue with a grand swell, like a soundtrack for the big screen.”

He also was engaged as music director for the restoration of The Beggar’s Opera and Love’s Labour’s Lost.

In the following years Alexander collaborated with various artists such as Maria Freedman, Christian Forshaw, Stanzeleit/Jacobson Duo, Darragh Morgan, Mary Dullea, Fidelio Trio, Konstantin Boyarsky, Jonathan Powell, Andrew McNeill, Bozidar Vukovic, Tippett Quartet, Orlando Consort, BBC Singers, 21st Century Choir, Tenebrae, Mariinsky Opera Choir. Russia State Orchestra “Novaia Rossia”, Bel Canto Chorus.