Alexey Shor, composer

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

I have always loved music but until recently I never thought of it as a possible career choice. When I was growing up everyone, including myself, assumed that I was destined to be a scientist. So, I worked as a mathematician for most of my life, and writing music was just a hobby – an amusement for close friends and relatives. Amongst my friends was a world-class violist, David Aaron Carpenter. He did not know about my hobby but at some point he saw some of my sheet music lying on a desk in my apartment, and told me that he really liked that music. He asked me who the composer was, because he wanted a viola version. And that is how it all began.

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

Without David Carpenter, music would have likely stayed as a hobby for the rest of my life. So, in terms of starting my career he, and his family, were by far the most important. Soon other musicians started showing interest in my work, and this was incredibly flattering and inspirational.

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

Because I started taking music seriously so late in life, I lack many skills that I wish I had gained earlier, as they would have been tremendously helpful. For example, I am such a poor pianist that there is no way I would ever be able to play my own compositions. I just have to play them at 1/10th of the speed to make sure they are playable but it is very time consuming and frustrating.

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

Whether a piece is commissioned or not, the challenge is always the same: to write something that I feel I would enjoy listening to as an audience member. A lot of music gets discarded because it does not pass that test.

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

I have been incredibly lucky with my career in that some great musicians started playing my music early on. I have of course already mentioned David Carpenter. Other people and groups that play my music a lot and with whom I have a close working relationship, to name just a few, are Khachaturian Trio, pianist Ingolf Wunder, violinist Shlomo Mintz and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Lastly there is, of course, the conductor Sergey Smbatyan, the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and the super star violinist Maxim Vengerov, who will be playing at the Barbican Centre in London on 14 January, as part of a European Tour organized by the European Foundation for Support of Culture.

Of which works are you most proud?

Hard to tell. I’m always in love with whatever piece I am working on at the moment, so it’s difficult to be objective. But, I have to say, that I am quite proud of the ballet “Crystal Palace” — just because, unlike everything else I have done, it was a huge collaborative project that presented a myriad of unusual challenges.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I have heard the terms “post-modern” and “neo-classical” used by other people. Personally, I am not sure what “label” should be attached to it. My music is very much inspired by the music of 18th and 19th centuries, with the strong emphasis on melody and traditional harmony.

How do you work?

In the same way that I worked as a mathematician all my life: alone in my room.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

The list of my favourite composers is very predictable: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, etc…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When the musicians and the audiences like my music, of course.

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

I don’t think giving advice is a very productive endeavour. Every successful person must find his or her own passion and his or her own unique path to success. My own musical journey was very unusual and I don’t think it has a lot of useful lessons in it, except the obvious: don’t wait until late in life to pursue your passions, and be 100% invested in whatever you do. Although in my case, it all worked out very well, because mathematics was also my passion.

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

Hopefully, in the same place as now — with great musicians playing my music and the audiences having positive reactions to it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Spending time with my kids, especially on vacations.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family, if it can be called a “possession”.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing music, of course. Otherwise, I would have been doing something else with my life.

Alexey Shor’s “Barcarolle”, an emotive Armenian piece which will be performed by The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra in a concert crossing the Eastern and Western musical cultures, at The Barbican Centre on 14 January 2020 as part of their European Tour organized by the European Foundation for Support of Culture:

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