Alexander Balanescu: The Aggressive Lyricism
AB: A quartet is like a marriage. You must really love each other in order to work together for such a long time. We are very harmonious on the personal level. It is a dynamics, which is quite mysterious. We are different personalities and we do different things. James Shenton, the second violin does a lot of traditional music, Irish and Scottish; he is a very good composer and a gardener, too. The cello player, Nick Holland, a very fine musician, is freelancing. The viola player is my wife, Katie Wilkinson. She is fantastic. It so happened that we needed a replacement quickly and I asked her if she could help us out because she knew the music. Immediately after Katie joined, the whole atmosphere changedfor the better. So, she stayed.
Sometimes I have the feeling that I have created a monster [laughs]. We've been going for 25 years and somehow it is better-known than myself. Now it has a life of its own. Sometimes people ask me if I've got anything to do with it.
AAJ: Do you have an ideal audience?
AB: I am happy to say that we can communicate to any kind of audience. The only context, which is somehow restrictive, is the classical one, because people are more defensive and conservative there. On one hand, they challenge us, on why we amplify the strings, which I find completely normal; on the other hand there is also a kind of suspicion about people actually enjoying the new music. There seems to exist the opinion that if it is good music, it has to be complicated and you have to suffer for it. I think that it has to be complex in the sense that it has to be rich in emotion. For me music is connected to movement, to rhythm, to dance.
As far as the environment goes, what I like very much is to play in a context that is surprising, like an art gallery or a factory or a church, where the setting is not predetermined and you can make your own atmosphere. I also like a challenge, like a rock festival. We had the opportunity to tour with the Pet Shop Boys as a support group, for instance and we had a good reaction. The theater is also known to have a somewhat conservative audience and it is very satisfying to have a good communication in these environments.
AAJ: Where do you see yourself on your own development trajectory? What are your targets?
AB: In the last two-to-three years I have been working a lot in the theater. I am very interested in combining music with text in a dramatic situation. It really started with the album Luminitza. This album has a very deep emotional significance for me, and while I was working on it I had the feeling that I had to have some kind of vocal output, like speaking to the audience. Then the communication becomes really more direct. I had quite a few interesting projects in the theater, for instance with the Romanian singer Ada Milea. I am very interested in opera, on how to do modern opera that is convincing. I am also interested in working with image, film or video.
AAJ: What are you working on presently? Future plans?
AB: I have an enormous amount of projects both in the theater and recording projects. There's a lot of music that inspires me, like for example the music of [pianist] Duke Ellington, one of the great composers of the 20th century. I am also very passionate about the Romanian composer George Enescu, who was an amazing all-'round genius. I have a project that is inspired by Enescu that may become an opera about him. A huge personality and quite mysterious in his private life. I don't think that he is known enough worldwide.
Alexander Balanescu/Ada Milea/Balanescu Quartet,The Island (Saphrane, 2011)
Massimo Barbiero/Maurizio Brunod/Alexander Balanescu/Claudio Cojaniz, Marmaduke (Splash Records, 2007)
Evelyn Petrova/Alexander Balanescu, Upside Down (Leo Records, 2007)
Balanescu Quartet, Maria T. (Mute, 2005)
Alexander Balanescu/Isabella Bordoni/Rupert Huber/Sergio Messina/Siegfried Ganhör/to rococo rot, Lume Lume (Staubgold, 2000)
Alexander Balanescu, Music For Il Partigiano Johnny, Virgin Music, 2000)
Muzsikás/Sebestyén Márta/Alexander Balanescu, Bartók Album (Muzsikás, 1998)
Alexander Balanescu/Balanescu Quartet, Angels & Insects (Mute Records Ltd, 1996)
All Photos: Courtesy of Alexander Balanescu