‘I wish people wrote more tuneful music’ - composer Alexey Shor

1 May 2018, 14:52

Alexey Shor, composer
Alexey Shor composer. Picture: PR

The composer spoke to us about the importance of writing beautiful music, the relationship between maths and music and why not having any formal training might not be such a bad thing...

By Elizabeth Davis

How did you become a composer?

I've come to being a composer very late in life, I've been a mathematician all my life and I was writing music just for my own entertainment and my friends. And purely by accident viola player David Aaron Carpenter, who is just a friend, was hanging out in my place, saw some of my music and said that he liked it and wanted to play it. And it went from there.

Do you think there’s a close relationship between maths and music?

I know there is a stereotype that maths and music and very linked – probably mostly due to Bach's obsession with numbers. But to me, they're both very creative activities that require a lot of skill. But in order to create something worthwhile, skill is not enough – you also need some inspiration. Both activities demand a lot of attention to details – a tiny, tiny mistake in a maths paper makes everything worthless and a tiny music doesn't make everything worthless but it makes for an ugly moment.

Do you think it’s important for music to be beautiful?

That's the music that I'm drawn to, so that's the music that I'm trying to write. I'd say having a tune is important, and having some sort of a clear, tonal feeling so that when I deviate from that it’s a surprise.

What are your tips for young composers

A lot of things that I did in my music career, I wouldn't advise anybody to repeat – like not having formal music education. but I think it worked out well for me because I love music now as much as I did when I was a little child. I’m also kind of a concert junkie, so I go to probably 100 concerts a year. It sort of makes me a professional audience member. So when I'm writing music, I ask myself: "would I be bored at this point, should I cut this piece out?".

So you don’t have any musical training?

I'm completely self-taught. I'm very good at learning things quickly from books. This is how I prefer to learn. For mathematics I went to all the best places for mathematician but in reality I hardly ever went to lectures. What I love is being alone in a room surrounded by books and both music and mathematics provide me with that opportunity.

If you could change one thing about the music world, what would it be?

I wish people wrote more melodic and tuneful music, the kind of music that I like to listen to.

We’re speaking to you at the Malta International Music Festival where you’re resident composer. How did you get involved with the festival?

Well this is the sixth time the festival has happened and it’s gotten to be very big, attracting the biggest stars in the world, like Grigory Sokolov and Maxim Vengerov. For the last few years I've been involved with the festival because I have a close relationship with the European Foundation for the support of Culture and I'm a composer in residence for the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

Alexey Shor's music features on David Aaron Carpenter's new recording, Motherland, which is out now. The album is also our Drive Discovery on Classic FM Drive this week. Join John Brunning every evening this week to hear a track from the album