Leo Svirsky: Musical Diversity

 2005 Arthur Fraser International Concerto Competition First Prize Winner Leo Svirsky is a musician unlike any other.  Leo was a Rising Star Guest Artist in 2012, and has had success in recent years both as a composer and a pianist.  His repertoire spans a diverse range of music, as he is just as likely to perform Beethoven as he is Stockhausen.  An advocate of new music, Leo currently studies at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague with Ellen Corver and Cornelis de Bondt.  Southeastern Piano Festival was recently able to catch up with Leo and his booming career.  

JH: Leo, thanks for joining us today.  Could you take us through your collegiate education thus far?

LS:  After high school, I studied at the University of Maryland as a composition major under Lawrence Moss, and a piano minor under Santiago Rodrigues. Of course the degree of support I had as a pianist was contingent on my personal relationship with Santiago, and not necessarily normal for a minor student.  After Santiago left for a position at the University of Miami, I continued my studies in the Netherlands, known for a vibrant new music culture (the Asko-Schoenberg Ensemble, Volharding, Hoketus, Dick Rijmakers, etc…) I moved there to continue my studies at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, this time as a piano major and a composition minor.  I studied piano with the great Dutch pianist Rian de Waal, who passed away last year, and now I’m studying with Ellen Corver (who among other things recorded all of Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke for Stockhausen Verlaag).   At the Conservatory of the Hague, a composition minor isn’t technically offered. I’m studying with Cornelis De Bondt, and as was also the case in Maryland this is contingent on a personal relationship, not an institutional policy.  I’m planning on continuing a Masters degree here, but that’s not decided yet.

JH: You’ve recently released a CD that has received encouraging reviews. Tell us about the compositional process of this CD and the role of the pianist.

LS: My first album was released this September on Baltimore’s Ehse records. The album consists of an extended modular composition that in a way presents my contemporary response to some of the political works in the American experimental canon, Rzewski’s “Coming Together” and the “People United Will Never Be Defeated,” and Christian Wolff’s “Accompaniments,” “Exercises” and “Preludes.”  There are two types of material on the album, completely notated and very spare pieces based around the figure of the speaking pianist, this time as someone singing quietly to themselves, and very dense improvised pieces that cut through them.  The drama of the piece is the constant tension between these approaches.

JH: Where can we purchase a CD, and are there available scores?

LS: In addition to CD, you can also get it as an LP (my first choice) or as a pay-as-you-want download. You can order it, and read all the reviews on the website for Ehse records, (www.ehserecords.com/ehse024) or find it at a few independent record stores.  It’s also available through all the major online retailers, Amazon, ITunes, emusic, and CDBaby.  At the moment, I don’t have a commercial publisher.  Some of my scores are posted at my website (www.leosvirsky.com) and also at www.uploaddownloadperform.net, which is a great resource for people who want to find out more about current experimental music.  The best option for interested musicians would be to contact me via my website.

JH: Listening to your videos and hearing your performance as a Rising Star Guest Artist at SEPF 2012, your music is quite experimental.  How do you conceive your compositional practice?

LS: The main thing about how I conceive my musical practice is that it happens within a tradition, and a tradition is something that is living, and always changing.  For me new music isn’t limited to modernism, minimalism or any of the schools of the last half of the century (this music is already 50 years old!) but it encompasses also our way of playing and hearing the music of the past.

JH: What other professional projects have you been working on?

LS: At the moment, I’m in the middle of writing two larger cyclical works: a song cycle on the poetry of Paul Celan for soprano and variable ensemble, and a set of 24 preludes for piano.   There are several composers writing new solo piano works for me, some of these will not have their premiers until 2014 or 2015.    I’ve also been working with the experimental music theatre ensemble Acid Police, a free-improvisation group Trialectics, and several other ensembles in the Netherlands.  The short version, is way too much to keep track of (and I’m still playing Bach, Schumann, etc. which is already enough to take up your entire life with!)

JH: Wow!  You’re certainly staying busy.  What advice would you give a high school pianist considering whether or not to attend Southeastern Piano Festival?

LS: Finally, a question with a simple answer!   Go there!  It’s one of the best opportunities to be introduced to the professional life of a pianist (in general a bit more straightforward then mine), and it’s always a really fun week.  I’m still not sure how it’s done, but every year I went, I left feeling exhilarated and inspired, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one!

JH: Thanks for your time Leo!

LS: Thank you.

John Holloway is Assistant Director of Southeastern Piano Festival.  He can be reached at sepf@mozart.sc.edu

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