Interview with Lincoln Center’s “Score”

Originally published in “Score”, by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, on December 10 2018, ahead of our December 13 performance there called “Ljova: Moving Pieces“, featuring a monstrous string section including violinists Ariana Kim, Cornelius Dufallo, Melissa Tong & Curtis Stewart, bassist Pedro Giraudo, cellists Joshua Roman and Yves Dharamraj, violist Hannah Rose Nicholas and Ljova on fadolín and viola — above are some video excerpts from the concert!

New York–based composer and performer Ljova wears many hats, whether it’s composing for film scores, dance pieces, classical quartets, or his group Ljova and the Kontraband. Before his December 13 show Ljova: Moving Pieces at the David Rubenstein Atrium—an adventurous evening of music featuring an expanded ensemble with members of the PUBLIQuartet, Secret Quartet, and special guests—this multi-talented artist shares a little bit about what makes his metronome tick.

Top three influences (musical or otherwise)?
1) My family! My parents, composer Alexander Zhurbin and poet/vocalist Irena Ginzburg; my wife, vocalist Inna Barmash; and our incredible kids, Benjy and Yosif.
2) My viola teacher, Samuel Rhodes, at Juilliard.
3) The time I spent listening to Mark Feldman, Steven Bernstein, and Frank London at the old club Tonic on Norfolk Street.

Artist/album you have on repeat?
A small caveat: As a composer and performer often on deadlines to write and produce music, I’m most often listening to my own work, revising and tweaking it in stages. When not composing, tweaking or performing, I often prefer silence, or as close to it as I can get, as my muse, to cleanse the ears and make room for new ideas. That said… an album that has been on repeat for several years is Unreleased Radio Programs 1936 by a group called the Hall Negro Quartette. The performances, the arrangements, the choice of songs leave me speechless and inspired every time, as does the mystery of who these performers were, where they lived, and what else they might have recorded. While on tour in Washington, D.C., I went to the Library of Congress to hear another of their unreleased recordings, and in hope of finding out at least a clue about the performers. Alas, nothing exists.

Last live performance you saw?
Time for Three at the Atrium, just last week!

Favorite city to play?
There’s no place like home, and for me that’s New York.

Top three pieces of advice for aspiring artists?
Don’t get too comfortable—the work must evolve. Never say no, especially to new experiences. Always keep in touch.

First live performance you remember seeing?
My uncle, violist Yuri Gandelsman performing my father’s composition Three Muses, somewhere in my native Moscow.

Artist you’d most like to meet (past or present)?
I was very fortunate to catch Nina Simone’s farewell tour and I dream to have heard Romica Puceanu and Line Monty before they passed. Wish I had met Rothko, Chagall… Pina Bausch…

Latest/current project?
I have a new album coming in January, several tracks from which we’ll play at our show at the Atrium! I’m also writing a cello concerto (premiering in April in Louisville), and have started writing my first opera.

Country you’d most like to visit?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been wanting to visit Greenland. It looks so mysterious and distant when flying over the Atlantic. I also want to spend some time studying Korean folk music. And ever since hearing an immense concert of Ethiopian music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors a decade ago, I’ve been meaning to visit Ethiopia.

Artist you’d most like to collaborate with?
There are many artists I’d love to collaborate with, but one of the strongest collaborations in my mind was between Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio on Koyaanisqatsi. I’m hoping that my current or future projects will achieve that kind of vitality.

First time you realized you wanted to be a musician?
Sitting in the back of my parents’ car, humming new tunes about the streetlamps of Moscow.

What you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
As a young musician I grew up on a strict diet of Western classical music and reverence for the great composers and virtuoso performers. It wasn’t until much later that I was exposed to music of other cultures and directions, and improvising. I wish that improvisation and global music were earlier influences in my music studies. I always wonder how I would’ve turned out differently if that were the case.

Practice tips?
Practice slowly, calmly. Be patient. Make friends with a metronome.

You hope someone comes away from one of your shows feeling…?
I hope that my music will move you to tears, perhaps tears of joy, that you will find in it a piece of yourself, something to take home. What I often find at concerts is the opportunity to get away from my day-to-day worries and to get lost in the emotion, in the act of being together with others in the audience who are just as lost as you are. That’s a beautiful, powerful feeling.

Next goal or challenge you’re setting for yourself?
This week is going to be for the record books. In addition to the big Moving Pieces show, I have a performance in Brooklyn with the clarinettist Vasko Dukovski, and a premiere in Queens of a new piece for the Quintet of the Americas, Jackson Heights Orchestra, and a bevy of students. I’m also playing a solo fadolín/looper performance in Staten Island. After this week is over, I’ll be looking forward to catching up on sleep… before clearing my head and working on the cello concerto full steam.

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