Getting to know ... Debut Sounds composer Eugene Birman

Eugene Birman is one of four composers working with the LPO as part of the Leverhulme Young Composers programme. His new work Manifesto will premiere at Debut Sounds on Monday 9 June. We recently caught up with Eugene for a quick chat ...

Eugene Birman

Characterized as ‘animalistic’, ‘hypnotic,’ and ‘edge of the seat’, 26-year-old composer Eugene Birman’s music has already met with widespread acclaim. His music has been commissioned and performed by ensembles and orchestras across the globe, such as the BBC Singers, Juilliard Symphony, Sinfonietta Riga, World Youth Symphony Orchestra, members of the Deutsches Oper and the Milan Conservatory, to name just a few. He describes his new work, Manifesto, as an intensely personal piece that unfolds amidst obsessive exploration of folk song and the human senses. 

Eugene took a short break from his busy composing schedule to answer some quick, lighthearted questions about himself and his music. Here's what we found out ...

LPO: What was the first album / single you ever bought?

EB: I started with music quite young, so I remember it was a cassette and it was something of Tchaikovsky.

LPO: What’s the most recent album you’ve bought?
EB: Not ashamed to admit it's a compilation of ‘Great Italian Arias’

LPO: What was the last book you read?
EB:The most incredible book with the most unassuming title: The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil.

LPO: What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
EB: Sometimes the most effective soundtracks are when there's really almost no music at all. But I love the soundtracks to ‘70s Dario Argento films, as well as their modern counterparts in the new Forzani/Cattet films. I also rather like the Gustavo Santaolalla soundtrack to Babel.

LPO: What’s the most unusual musical instrument or ensemble you’ve ever written for?
EB: The combination of bass flute, voice (with a range of 3 octaves), kannel (an Estonian folk instrument, like a zither), and violoncello, otherwise known as the extraordinary Estonian ensemble Resonabilis, is one for which I've written two (soon to be 3!) pretty unusual pieces.

LPO: If you could go back in time and meet any composer from the past, who would it be?
EB: I'd ask Gesualdo for a harmony lesson.

LPO: How long have you been composing for?
EB: I'm 26 now, so it's been 22 years and counting. I started at age 4.

LPO: If you could collaborate with any artist from another field who might it be?
EB: I've already had the amazing chance to collaborate with librettist Scott Diel on two pieces that have gained us our fair share of notoriety; as well as Estonian photographer Kaupo Kikkas, whose photos really inspire me. If reality were no issue, I'd like to work with an architect on creating a building that unfolds like a piece of music.

LPO: What else did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
EB: The aforementioned architect is one of them, but so far, I've wanted to be everything from professional violinist (until circa age 17) to economist to opening my own winery! A couple years ago, I tried being an entrepreneur and opened an online food delivery company in Estonia in which I'm still involved as a shareholder.

LPO: Aside from classical/contemporary classical music, what other types of music do you find yourself listening to regularly?
EB: No prejudices, I'll even listen to country. As long as it's interesting and unique and competent, I'm happy to listen. I have a soft spot for the Neapolitan canzona, in particular, though I would never be able to find that influence in my concert music.

LPO What was the last live performance/concert/festival/gig you went to?
An April taping of my ‘financial opera’ Nostra Culpa, for BBC World TV and Tanya Beckett, played by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and Iris Oja as the singer. But tomorrow I'm off to the premiere of a new choir piece in Mechelen, Belgium with the Latvian Radio Choir!

Eugene’s brand new work Manifesto will be performed by members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and musicians from the Foyle Future Firsts programme at Debut Sounds on Monday 9 June at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. More info and tickets

Eugene is a current member of the Leverhulme Young Composers programme, alongside fellow composers Aleksandr Brusentsev, Arne Gieshoff and Edmund Hunt.

For more about Eugene Birman and his work visit www.eugenebirman.com

The Leverhulme Young Composers Programme is supported by an Arts Portfolio Grant from The Leverhulme Trust. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is extremely grateful for the long-term support of The Leverhulme Trust for this programme.

The Foyle Future Firsts Programme is generously funded by The Foyle Foundation, Help Musicians UK, The Barbara Whatmore Charitable Trust, Angus Allnatt Charitable Foundation and The Tillett Trust.