Michael Fine, composer & producer

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

I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember, first as a very young listener with my Russian grandfather who passed on not only his passion for music but also how to listen critically. I continued professionally, though without formal training, as a clarinettist and recording producer. I only began to compose when I was already close to what most people would consider retirement age. My wife was recently diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer. At her suggestion, I needed a new creative outlet. There has always been a musical voice running through my thoughts, rarely stopping. “Write it down” she said. I was stuck on a broken down train in the Netherlands for several hours and began to write ‘Skipping Stones’ and ‘Quartet Moments 1.’ It was a natural step and rounds the circle of my musical life.

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

The distinctive musical voices of my musician friends have influenced nearly everything I have written but I have to give credit to the landscapes which surround me at home and the many inspiring places of great natural beauty I have been fortunate to visit. The voices of animals and the extraordinary music of bird song fascinate me. All the music I have heard has played some part in the music I write but I have a particular affinity to the great French composers Debussy and Ravel and to the English composers Delius, Vaughan Williams and Britten.

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

Being a better musician and working beyond my comfort level. Perhaps I’ve not had to struggle enough.

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

Giving the musicians back their own voice. Perhaps also helping them find a new facet of their own musical personality. Similarly for me as a recording producer, when I’ve finished the recording, if I have done my job properly, the artists will recognise themselves. 

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

When ‘Suite for Strings,’ my first piece for orchestra was premiered, I sat in rehearsal asking myself, “Did I write this?” Of course, the music was very familiar but – at least in the more beautiful moment – I wasn’t sure where it came from. The conductor, Philip Mann, found – as I later told him – more music in my music than I even knew was there. He modestly replied “That’s my job”. Since then, I’ve been to quite a few performances of my work and I am always curious to find out what someone else has to say about it. I enjoy letting good performances of my music influence how I hear my own work. I am very grateful to musicians who want to play my music and share it with their public but when a composer hands the music to a performer, it is – literally – out of his or her hands.

Of which works are you most proud?

Very tough question. The last movement of ‘Suite for Strings’ is very dear to my heart. I enjoy the imaginary tale I’ve concocted for ‘At the Gate’. And I’m looking forward to the premiere of the Chamber Symphony next year in Colorado Springs. I think it is a good piece. Is it acceptable to love your own music? I suppose I write the music I want to hear. That is not a statement about its quality but about how I hear music.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Personal. I have a definite voice although I thought my musical voice would be different, somehow more beautiful. My music is very definitely me: quirky, romantic, rarely lingers, and is deeply rooted in the past.

How do you work?

Composing is still a spare time occupation for me, so I write whenever I can. On trains, planes, in waiting rooms. However, I generally have an idea which grows. I began writing with no apparent plan in mind. I’ve changed that now and usually know where a piece is going at the outset – although I can still surprise myself.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Composers: Mozart, Debussy, Ravel. There are too many musicians to name but I was very honoured to work with the great Claudio Abbado and have been privileged to work with Myung Whun Chung. I’m also fortunate to work with the great current generation of French soloists including Renaud Capuçon, Gautier Capuçon, Emmanuel Pahud and Marie-Pierre Langlamet. I’m very lucky that several musicians in the United States, including conductor/violinist Scott Yoo, flutist Alice Dade, pianist Norman Krieger and conductor Philip Mann have been real supporters of my work as composer and happily, I am a huge fan of their music making.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Learning to be happy, if not satisfied, with your own work.

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

Take time to discover your own voice. Keep striving to find the truth in the music you play. Keep your love for the music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Walking in the mountains. Walking in the African bush. These are the only places where the internal music machine turns off and I can free my mind to hear the incredible sounds and silence around me.

Not only is Michael Fine widely acknowledged as one of the top classical recording producers in the world, as a leading consultant in artistic planning for orchestras and as a talented clarinettist as well as having been Vice President of Artists & Repertoire at Deutsche Grammophon and a record industry executive with a vast and deep knowledge of repertoire and a fresh, innovative approach, but he is also now rapidly gaining a name for himself as an exceptionally gifted composer.

Michael Fine will make his German debut as a composer when his Double Concerto for Two Violins and Strings will be performed on 1st November 2018 at the Robert Schumann Saal in Duesseldorf with soloists Esther Yoo and David Nebel together with Alexander Gilman directing the acclaimed LGT Young Soloists, an Award-winning string ensemble made up of talented young soloists aged between the ages of twelve and twenty-three from more than fifteen nations.

Written in 2015, Fine’s Double Concerto was premiered in 2017 by violinists Andrew Irvin and Kiril Laskarov with Philip Mann conducting the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The Double Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra is a 21st century Concerto Grosso contrasting tightly woven, virtuosic music for the two soloists with the string orchestra which responds in kind but occasionally chooses a different direction which the soloists then follow. Although the work is in three movements, its melodies, harmonies and musical lines flow across the movement boundaries, ending with a miniature cadenza for the two soloists.  The score is published by Donemus.

Of his new-found profession as a composer and putting his own work in front of the microphone after years of Award-winning production work behind it, Michael Fine commented: “Composing was a natural, if late development in my musical life. It completes the circle, impacting in the most positive way my work as a producer, artistic consultant and musician. The Double Concerto was my first attempt at composing a concerted work and I am honoured that it will be the piece by which my music will first be performed in Germany”.

GRAMMY Award winning Classical Producer of the Year (1992) , Michael Fine is widely acknowledged as one of the top classical recording producers in the world. In addition to recording production, Fine is active in artistic planning including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France where he is currently serving as Interim Artistic Director and with the Seoul Philharmonic.


One comment

  1. I like him not only because he is a great artist but also he is a man of good character, modest and friendly.

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