Two hundred years ago, Empress Anna Ioannvnah forged an ice palace from the cold Russian winter. An ethereal true story of royal malice and abuse of power, this infamous ice palace lives on in balletic form, providing the subject for a new ballet premiered in 2017: The Crystal Palace.
This transformation from ice to crystal is a result of a collaboration between the European Foundation for Support of Culture, the Bolshoi Theatre and contemporary composer Alexey Shor.
Who is Alexey Shor?
Shor, born in 1970 in Kiev, was a mathematical prodigy and was set to dedicate his life to the subject. At the age of 40, Shor radically departed from his career choice and began crafting his own musical feats.
Holder of a PhD in mathematics, Shor started writing music in 2012, originally an exercise in curiosity, musing his deep love of music and a desire to learn more about its composition and processes.
His works may well have remained private had it not been for a chance encounter with a friend of Shor’s, the well-known and celebrated violist, David Aaron Carpenter. Seeing one of Shor’s scores lying on the piano in Shor’s home, Carpenter later organised a public performance featuring Shor’s music.
Since that musical chance encounter, Shor’s works have grown and exploded on the international scene in both solo and ensemble settings.
Alexey Shor’s music presents an interesting departure from much contemporary repertoire, rejecting the avant-garde and other forms of abstract expression and instead focussing on understandable melodies and traditionally-based harmonies, with real-life events, places or times of the year often providing the basis for Shor’s works.
He is in many ways a composer of programme music, that is, descriptive and driven-by a storyline. Shor lives in a musical landscape primarily dominated by Absolute Music, which is instrumental music that is free of a programme and is non-representational.
In the composer’s own words, “I have a certain picture before my eyes and I see no point in hiding it from the audience.”
Now, his evocative melodies, romantic harmonies and tuneful writings are played across the planet and will be played at this year’s edition of the esteemed InClassica Festival.
Here’s what his colleagues and other renowned musicians have said about Shor.
1. The music is ethereal.
A noted Italian pianist, Alessandro Taverna, who performed Shor’s work said “His music is very imaginative… I was breathing the music itself, music that was not bound by form or convention.”
2. You’ll adore it if you like Mozart.
“They have Mozart-like melodies…They are clear, transparent, and they touch your very soul,” Anna Aglatova, Bolshoi Theatre opera soloist speaking about Shor’s works.
3. He’s inspired by the Mediterranean.
Virtuoso Taiwanese-Australian violinist Ray Chen, another acclaimed musician compared his music to our sparkling seas.
“[His music] is inspired by life on the Mediterranean Sea and by its gifts. The life of the island flows through it. It has raging storms and is full of passion. There is something very intimate and authentic about it. The sea, the waves, the storm, the light breeze – you feel it all in Alexey’s music, which can be both dramatic and calm and gentle,” he said, after performing Shor’s gorgeous work, Seascapes.
4. Shor’s sounds feel like love.
Maxim Vengerov, one of the best violinists in the world, as well as an international goodwill ambassador for UNICEF said it’s what love feels like. “When I play Alexey’s works, it’s like I’m falling in love with music over and over again,” Maxim said. “It is impossibly melodious and amazing!”
5. Family is in his heart.
Family is clearly vital to Alexey Shor, who has composed pieces for both of his children, Mark and Natalie, as well as his Hidden Message work, written for his mother. The piece written for his daughter was in fact composed at the maternity hospital while awaiting her birth.
“I feel that this is only the beginning and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. He has a rare gift of imagination, as well as a close affinity with the devices of Mozart and Chopin, but he creates totally new pieces,” Ingolf Wunder who played his piano Childhood Memories.
6. One composer compared his harmonies to mathematics.
Mathematics and art may seem worlds apart, but ordered numbers parallel harmonious symphonies. Perhaps that’s what drew Shor to music in the first place.
The late composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, said: “I am interested in Hans-Georg Gadamer, and everything we wish to find, Gadamer finds in Pythagoras, in his harmony of the spheres based on the laws of numbers. I guess this is why I love mathematics so much since numbers and order are the most ancient aesthetic principles that underlie any art. I heard the harmony of the spheres in Shor’s music.”
7. His pieces are an ode to the 18th Century.
As the conductor, Pavel Klinichev said, “For me, Alexey’s music is like looking into the 18th century from the 21st century. It is as if he passed that era through himself, through the lens of his talent, and offered up a contemporary interpretation.”
His Crystal Palace ballet is a historical and enchanting experience.
8. Indeed, it’s a baroque-inspired indulgence.
Crystal Palace ballet’s director and choreographer Ekaterina Mironova will never forget the first time she heard his pieces.
“When I listened to the first musical fragments suggested by Alexey for Crystal Palace, I was attracted by their multi-genre nature. I heard baroque melodies, waltzes, polonaises, the tarantella, vocalises. His music is melodious and plot-driven. Alexey wrote an amazing violin solo for when the Empress dances with a handkerchief. And her merry departure on a swan with her entire retinue. This scene is supported by the whole orchestra and it is my favourite scene in the entire performance,” she mused.
What is InClassica?
InClassica is an international music festival and a Mecca for anyone with a penchant for outstanding classical music.
It attracts some of the world’s most renowned artists, who’ll be gracing the islands’ stages for 25 consecutive nights this Spring. With eight of the finest symphony orchestras in the world (six international and two Maltese), 34 world soloists and eight leading conductors, it’s truly a feast for the ears.
Shor is Composer-In-Residence for the InClassica festival, premiering new works every year in addition to programming established pieces in his repertoire. The upcoming tenth edition of the Music Festival will feature various works by Shor, including a premiere of his new Violin Concerto by the young virtuoso Daniel Lozakovich, and a performance of his Images from the Great Siege, a large-scale orchestral work recently recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra for the Naxos label.
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Adapted from an article by Lina Goncharsky, music critic; editor-in-chief of Culbyt.com.