Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
It all began when I was a 6-year-old boy and my mother, a pianist herself, took me to a music school, at first without thinking that it could be a start of my professional career, but just to give it a try. The music teacher told her at once that her son had very good potential to become a musician. It was a starting point to realize that it should be my path in life, that I must concentrate on music and all other activities will play a secondary role. From childhood, there was an attitude cultivated at music schools in Belarus, where I was born and raised, that music is sacred and students should consecrate themselves to it entirely if they want to pursue a musical career.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was very much influenced by music of Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel and Bernstein. As for music genres I developed rather early a particular fascination for jazz, improvisation as well as folklore – all kinds of ethnic music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The first and the greatest real challenge was moving to Germany and starting my career from a scratch there. I was 22 years old, just graduated from the Music Academy in Minsk, Belarus, when I came to the land of high classical music culture and tradition and had to find my place there. It was not easy, but step-by-step I am moving on…
Another remarkable challenge was a commission for a soundtrack to a film “Noah Land” (co-production of Germany/Turkey/USA, world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2019). I had a strict deadline to compose, record and edit the whole score within 4 weeks. But I was very inspired and composed music almost within a week. The rest of the time I was busy with rehearsing and recording at a studio with an ensemble. It was a very intensive but really rewarding work.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
As for recordings I have made several releases of solo or ensemble music. However I can’t say which one I prefer the most because I never listen to my own CDs after their release. I immediately turn a new page and go on to the next project.
With performances, it is also difficult to pick out just one, but still I believe that my concert at the Carnegie Hall was a highlight of my career and one of the most memorable stage experiences that I have had so far.
Among recent successful performances of my music I am especially happy about it is worth mentioning – the ballet “Dracula” by Gonzalo Galguera at the Opera Theatre Magdeburg, in which my music from “5 Dances in Old Style” was used among pieces by Sergey Rachmaninoff, Jean Sibelius and Edward Elgar.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
The works I composed myself – though not all of them, because there are some compositions which are technically very challenging. So I am always curious to listen to performances of my music by other musicians.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Frankly speaking, I do not have any definite repertoire strategy. In my case I compose or arrange new pieces and as soon as I think they are mature for the stage, I add them to my program and try them out in live performances.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I can’t mention just one, but a couple. For example, Laeiszhalle used to be the main Concert Hall in Hamburg and I often performed on its stage. But now a new Music Temple was built here and is gaining in popularity – I am talking about Elbphilharmonie. So it would be an honour and a pleasure for me to perform there one day.
Apart from Hamburg, the city where I have been living for 18 years, I am now heading towards my next project in one of the most historical and emblematic concert venues – the Berliner Philharmonie. I will perform a benefit concert there for UNICEF with prominent guests and ensemble on May 25th 2019. I’m very excited about my first performance on this great stage!
As a composer, how would you describe your compositional style/musical language?
I don’t like to be associated with one style and thus putting myself in just one special compartment. It is rather a broad spectrum: ranging from contemporary music, jazz influences to expressive folklore and film music. I try to find my own language in all my works.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When you can create music that you like without any limitations and it is being heard and acknowledged.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I would say it is crucial to remain true to yourself in search of your own musical language and to treat music not as a career but as your vocation, way of life and state of mind.
What is your most treasured possession?
My family and my music.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being a perfectionist I do not have an idea of perfect happiness, because I am always in search of new, better creative ideas and the path of self-improvement.
Leon Gurvitch and Friends, to the benefit of UNICEF is at Berliner Philharmoniker on Saturday 25th May. Further information
Leon Gurvitch is composer, pianist and conductor. Born in Minsk, Belarus and now in Germany, he has written more than 300 works arrangements, which have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, at Brussels’s Palais des Beaux-Arts, at Moscow Tschaikovsky-Conservatory, Festivals in Berlin, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam.