Although the music.co.uk team all have their own specific areas of knowledge when it comes to music, we also like to embrace new talent in all areas where we can, and learn about something different. So this Christmas we set up a Q&A session with 17 year old Alex Prior, one of the talented stars of the Channel 4 program ‘The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies’.
1. Hi Alex, welcome to Music.co.uk. As conducting and composing classical music is very new to us, perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about what you do?
Thanks! I would describe music as the most profound, intensely arousing, intimate, and powerful expression of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. As a conductor and composer I have to convey my thoughts and sentiments through music, AND convey that successfully to the performers. Composing and conducting are the two forms of musicianship which contain the most possibilities and colours. On one side, a conductor often has to refer to philosophy, romantic thoughts, and inspiration, as well as dealing with the day-to-day technical difficulties that an orchestra has to face – from dynamic regulation, to articulation, keeping everybody in time, and catching a soloist….! But the main thing a conductor does is inspire the orchestra to perform one single interpretation of a work, and bring all these things together. It’s multi-tasking at the highest level!
As a composer you have to express yourself to the greatest possible extent, as well as writing in a way which is the easiest to rehearse and perform. One has to find the perfect balance. But in both I am creating a new world, and it’s a question of finding the perfect balance and bringing everything together.
2. What appealed to you about classical music, and do you like to play any other styles in your spare time?
I’m not a big fan of the term ‘Classical music’. It seems that we refer to ‘classical’ music as that which is deemed either to be “academic” and/or has withstood the test of time. For example, Wagner is considered a ‘classical’ composer, but in his day the young people of Germany were whistling HIS tunes, so in actual fact he could be deemed a ‘popular’ composer. I think it’s wrong to pigeon-hole anything in art. I love academic music just as much as I love folk music, music of the people. I also think that Jazz has had a most powerful effect on 20th C. music, from Stravinsky to Adams. I don’t often listen to Pop and Rock music, but I do think that any modern composer has got to be up-to-date with what is going on in terms of ‘popular’ music. If so many people like it, surely it must have SOME beauty? It’s just that beauty is a relative thing.
3. How do you find the challenge of writing for more than one instrument or an orchestra? What level of ability or understanding do you have to have of these instruments to make a project a success?
The smaller the ensemble, the harder it is to write for it. For me writing music for a large orchestra is what I enjoy most, but I very rarely write for a smaller ensemble, like a trio, or piano and violin! An orchestra has so many more possibilities because of the variety of instruments, and the bigger the orchestra – the bigger the pallet of colours I have to work with. Of course, to write for an orchestra one must have studied instrumentation in order to understand how to write for each instrument in a way that is comfortable for them, and also to make it sound good when all these instruments mix together. This is part of the art of composition.
4. We’ve heard you composed a Ballet based on The Jungle Book. Are there any other classic children’s stories you’d enjoy writing a ballet based on given the chance?
As a matter of fact I was just thinking about this the other week. Yes there is: Brer Rabbit. I love the Americana feel of this story, mixed with a very kind humour, very charismatic characters and stories, and of course the legendary Uncle Remus. This story is also great because it is so ahead of it’s time when it comes to Racial unity. This charming, withered, wise, old African-American Man tells his tales to a young White-American boy, and they are so comfortable together, yet this was written at a time when such things would raise an eyebrow or two amongst the white community. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and I’d love to use this story in one way or another.
5. Many people comment on child prodigies. Do you ever feel daunted by what you are achieving at such a young age?
I really hate the word prodigy, I think it is very derogatory term because it seems to imply a talent which has, as of yet, not worked up to any skill. But no, I don’t find it daunting in any way!
6. What are your plans for the future?
Well, I have been looking for a job in an orchestra as an assistant conductor, and to be honest, I have been searching mostly for a role in America. I love the way that Americans seem to celebrate excellence, youth, energy, and the highest possible musical quality. The amount of incredible orchestras in the US is mind-blowing.
7. Do you think Classical music is broadly accessible today? And if not what would you do to encourage more people to listen, watch, and get involved in it and understand it better?
I think it’s not classical music, but its image which drives people away, particularly young people. What people need to understand is that music should be taken as music, judged for whether it is good or bad, not whether it’s classical or pop or rock or jazz! I think people have just been bitten by stereo-types, and that is ALWAYS a mistake.
People often ask me what tracks I would suggest for people to listen to who have doubts about classical music, or who have not discovered it yet. I would suggest;
– Anything by Sibelius (but particularly the 5th, 6th and 7th Symphonies). His music is full of some of the most awesome melodies I’ve ever come across.
– Wagner – small doses are great for a new-comer to music. They are highly melodic, and contain such incredible energy!
– Thomas Tallis’s ‘Spem In Alium’, and ‘If Ye Love me’.
– Vaughn Williams’s “The Lark ascending”, “Norfolk Rhapsody” and the 3rd and 5th symphonies. That is as English as you get in music.
– Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, “Rodeo”, “The Tender Land” and more than anything his 3rd symphony.
– John Adams – my favourite living composer, and one of the greatest composers ever. I would Advise his ‘Harmonium’, ‘Harmonielehre’, ‘Grand Pianola Music’, ‘Nixon in China’, ‘The Chairman Dances’, ‘Hallelujah Junction’, ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’, and EVERYTHING else he’s written! I would also advise his amazing auto-biography “Hallelujah Junction” – a huge insight into American music and his compositional process, as well as full of romantic, beautiful and Rustic Americana scenes.
I’m sure all the works names above can be found in most large CD stores, and probably on the net too.
This interview will form part of our Christmas Section so the following questions, all have a festive theme!
8. Do you have any favourite festive pieces/songs you like to play, or would you like to write one yourself?
Gosh! So many! I love all the famous tunes like “Silent night”, “Good King Wenceslas”, “Hark the Herald” etc. They are so simple, yet embody everything a good piece of music aught to be. I also love the ancient church chants of the Eastern Churches and Western-Church Polyphony – composers like Tallis, Byrd, Gesualdo, Palestrina etc.
9. What does your ideal Christmas and New Year involve?
More importantly than anything else, I always think that any special day in my life should be about being surrounded by friends, loved ones, and family. Every year I am a little different, as all people are, and every year I wish for something else from the point of view of how I would want to spend that day.
10. What do you hope will be under the Christmas tree for you this year?
Literally? I’m not too bothered. But metaphorically – I’d like the people I miss very much to be under the Christmas tree!! Being with them is something I wish for a lot. For me human relationships are above any material things.
11. If we asked you to get creative and design/make something for Christmas, what would it be?
That’s a really difficult question! I am creative enough I think…but I don’t know!
12. What would your ideal TV schedule include this Christmas?
Oooooo! Well, music, music, music, music, of all varieties. From re-airing the famous 80’s Bayreuth Ring Cycle, to Early Church music, to John Adams’ and Copland’s music. Then truly great films like Alexander Nevsky, Taking Sides, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet. Many other things – programs on Folklore, Traditions of the World, Nature…!
13. Do you have any hidden talents or party tricks that you could entertain people with at Christmas?
Not really, I play the piano rather well I guess, does that count? I also like to cook when I have time, and sometimes I write poetry.
14. What would you like to achieve in 2010?
I would like to establish myself in my career. For me this means crossing the pond to America (at least for now), working with great musicians and orchestras, and expanding my own emotional and musical life. I would like to continue to help and support my young-musician friends, and work alongside charities – particularly those involved in helping and inspiring youth.
15. Finally where can people go to find out more about you and your music?
www.alexprior.co.uk details my full list of compositions, engagements and photos etc.
www.youtube.com By searching for ‘Velesslavitsa’ or ‘Alexander Prior’ you will find videos of my works and myself conducting. ‘Velesslavitsa’ is the quadruple concerto I wrote for the Channel 4 show – ‘The Worlds Greatest Musical Prodigies’.
I would be the first to admit, I know very little about the classical music world, but even someone with limited knowledge can appreciate the skill that Alex has. He is a very talented young man, and having listened to the inspiring ‘Velesslavitsa’ myself, I think it’s safe to say he knows how to create a thing of beauty. Have a listen for yourself, you never know you might just like it, a lot!’
Please surf on over to his official website (link above) for more information on his musical background, studies at The St Petersburg Conservatory, and details on how to purchase a CD of ‘Velesslavitsa’. It all makes for very interesting reading. Thank you to Alex for taking the time out to give us such a lovely interview.
Stay tuned for more interviews on music.co.uk in 2010.