From mathematician to musician
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From mathematician to musician

Alexey Shor talks to Anna Marie Galea about how he got into music and the creative process that has gained him the admiration of music lovers the world over.

With his pieces being played by the finest contemporary musicians in many of the most prestigious concert halls in the world, Alexey Shor needs no introduction.

Alexey ShorAlexey Shor

Alexey happened to be in Malta last year to take part in the Malta International Music Festival, and I grabbed the opportunity to interview him over a chat.

“I got into the music scene late in life. Everyone in my family is a scientist and so, from a young age, I would read books about Mathematics. Alexey became a full-time mathematician and says that is what he did till the age of 40, when his work was brought to light by David Aaron Carpenter.

“Till the age of 40, I had always composed pieces for my own enjoyment, but when David started playing them as encore pieces in all his concerts, people started to sit up and take notice,” he says.

Eventually, a YouTube video was put up, showing Carpenter playing one of Alexey’s pieces. The video racked up thousands of views. The composer says that moment cemented his future.

But the transition from mathematician to composer was not an immediate one and, in fact, Alexey juggled both for a while.

“I was a mathematician by day and a composer by night. When it was no longer sustainable for me to live this way and I became a full-time composer, I don’t think my children really noticed that I had changed job. “In the most obvious ways, it was a completely new life, however, in others, everything remained the same. I used to travel for conferences when I was a mathematician and I travel for concerts now.”

He explains that you have to keep in mind that both maths and music are solitary activities which required his full concentration.

“In a sense, my day-to-day life remained exactly the same. Both mathematics and composing music require inspiration and creativity and both of them are equally unforgiving of small mistakes.”

So, where does he find inspiration? “I find inspiration in the experience of living and travelling is a big part of that. In fact, my Travel Notebook concerto was entirely about my travelling experiences and was a bit like a diary detailing them.”

Even common, everyday things can be a source of inspiration, he adds. “However, I do love writing about events which have taken place. I always wanted to write something related to Malta as I am a naturalised citizen and in fact, my Images from the Great Siege Suite is about this glorious time in Malta’s history. I am extremely happy with how it was played in the music festival.”

Known for his compositions for specific instruments, Shor has had several of his pieces included in last year’s Malta International Music Festival programme.

How does it feel to hear the musicians’ interpretations of his work?

“In many ways, I am not attached to my personal interpretation of my music. Sometimes, I may hear something and think, this is not the way I imagined it to be interpreted but as the music continues to flow, I would completely understand why the musician chose one way and not another. Each interpretation is beautiful in its own way.”

To Alexey, the experience was particularly special because of the premiere of Images from the Great Siege. “Not only was it the premiere, but there was a double orchestra playing as there was a collaboration between the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra. The day after, the Travel Notebook was performed.”

Surely, one cannot have a conversation with a famous composer without asking him who his own favourite composer is.

“It has to be Bach. I can’t give any technical reason for it. There are other composers, however, none of them sound as heart achingly beautiful as him. When you hear Bach’s music it’s as if it was written by the hands of God Himself,” the composer concludes.

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