We mourn Misha Alperin, the pianist of the Moscow Art Trio. He died on Friday May 11th at the age of 61 years in Oslo. A coincidence and common ideas brought us together in 1995. Since then we have released 12 productions in which he has been involved. A person full of humour with whom we laughed a lot, who always knew which way he wanted to go and who published wonderful productions. Misha will live on through his music and his project with the BULGARIAN VOICE ANGELITE and HUUN HUUR TU ” Fly, Fly My Sadness and Mountain Tale are the most beautiful things we have ever released in over 30 years. Thank you for the beautiful music!
Mikhail Alperin was born in the Ukraine in 1956 and grew up in a rural area of Bessarabia, the eastern part of Moldavia. Until 1976 he studied classical piano at music schools and academies in the Ukraine and Moldavia. Since 1977 he has worked as a free-lance arranger, composer and practicing musician. In 1980, along with Simon Shirman, Mikhail Alperin founded the first Moldavian jazz quartet by developing his idea of linking jazz and folk.
Like most of the world’s musicians, Mikhail Alperin was obliged to earn his living with dance and party music. For the young musician, however, this music embodied interesting elements reeking of old and past. It was not until he had played in Moscow jazz circles for several years that he re-discovered the musical sounds of his native country for his own work. In Moscow he found other musicians also interested in integrating the musical traditions of their countries into jazz as an element of equal value, and in drawing from the rich tradition of the music of the peoples of the immense Soviet Union. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of the brilliant hornist Arkady Shilkloper, a member of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra who nevertheless also belonged to the circle of jazz musicians.
Mikhail Alperin’s contribution to contemporary music is not only the unbiased integration of the most various peoples’ musical traditions and the crossing of stylistic boundaries, he also fuses music of the past with contemporary elements.
In 1989, in a duo with Arkady Shilkloper, Mikhail Alperin recorded the much-admired CD ‘Waves of Sorrow’for ECM; where his latest production ‘North Story’, recorded with Tore Brumborg, Jon Christensen, Terje Gevelt and Arkady Shilkloper, appeared in 1996. With these musicians Alperin has also recorded works of Paul Hindemith and other composers of Classical Modernism.
In 1993 Mikhail Alperin moved to Oslo in order to take on a position as piano professor at the music academy. In late autumn of 1995, Mikhail Alperin had the musical direction of an unusual project uniting two previously unacquainted musical cultures in Sofia: the women’s choir Angelite with its quite uncommon singing techniques and the four-man ensemble Huun Huur-Tu from the Southern Siberian region of Tuva, bordering on Mongolia. The latter group, for its part, cultivates a form of overtone and undertone singing which is also quite foreign for the Western ear. A third independent vocal style is added to the production by the Russian singer Sergey Starostin. Mikhail Alperin, who has composed works for children’s choirs, chamber orchestras, and jazz ballet as well as a concert for fluegelhorn, piano and symphony orchestra, wrote the arrangements for all of the pieces in this production.For more information, please visit: www.alperin.no/.
Mikhail Alperin’s Style
In a Norwegian review Isak Rodge tried to muse about the style of Alperin’s work: “[…] Is it jazz? You will indeed find the undefinable swingy nerve, the groovy improvisation, and the foot-tapping energy most people associate with both contemporary and traditional jazz music. But Alperin’s music consists of so much more that some people have difficulties calling it “jazz”. Is it folk music then? Yes, you will find roots and structures stemming from old Moldavian, Russian and other folk song traditions. To most of us, however, folk music is something that was created in a remote past by unknown and long-since dead local troubadours, and dredged up by musical archaeologists from past cultures and put in museums, untouched by contemporary notions. Mikhail Alperin, quite on the contrary, continues folk song traditions, filtering them through his own very contemporary mind. If Mikhail Alperin is a folk musician, his compositions are not more dated than contemporary jazz is. Is his music classical? Yes, there are piano techniques that you would expect from Ashkenazy and a disciplined compositional approach worthy of a Stravinsky. You will however also find a kind of freedom, a kind of crazy an uninhibited savagery that you would certainly not ascribe to most classical music.“ So, no matter to what style you are trying to attribute Alperin to, the unique blend of folk, jazz and classic would soothe your soul for sure.
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(1) on Moldavia…
During my study as a classical pianist I started to play at Moldavian weddings every Saturday as a way to earn money, and to survive. Surprisingly enough we had to play at these weddings not only folk music, but everything from the Beatles and Stevie Wonder to Abba and Elvis Presley. Already at that time I understood that moldavian/romanian folk music is an unseperated part of the eastern and oriental tradition. As well as klezmer music.
Because of the very heavy and almost surrealistic movie-like circumstances at the weddings my relation with moldavian folk music was not so close at it became later when I moved to Russia. Only then I started to appreciate moldavian folk music.
To be a musician at the folk wedding meant 30 to 40 hours of playing outside in the cold open air, with just a few breaks, and 2 hours of sleep. With drunk, quarreling people around you and up tempo Balkan folkdances on the 7/8, 9, 11 or 13/8.
As well we had to play the repertoire of thousands of songs and dances on the spot, without any rehearsal. Most of the music I never heard before. For a classical musician this an enormous challenge, and sometimes it was very stressful. But it was an incredible school for playing with different musicians every time. It reminds of the jazz experience in the old times in the USA, where most of the learning schools were in the jazz clubs.
(2) on roots…
I also played at Jewish weddings in Moldavia. I always had mixed feelings about this music. I have a different way of expressing sadness and joy through the sound than most of the Jewish songs I heard. Its difficult for me to explain exactly what this difference is, maybe I found most of the Jewish music too tragi-comical as is all of our history. Later this difference became even bigger. The Russian and Norwegian folk music helped me to look at my own Jewish roots from a distance, with the bird’s eye perspective. For me my roots mean much more than being Jewish or Moldavian. The first time I entered an Indian restaurant in Oslo, many years ago, the smell of basmati rice and incense as well as the music from the speakers made me cry. It felt like I came back home. But I guess I am not Indian. In fact I don’t belong to any nations. I believe all folk traditions belong to the same family and I wish to break down borders between epochs. All my projects as a composer and what I did in and after Moldavia were about that, including Bulgarian Voices Angelite with Hun-Huur-Tu, Moscow Art Trio and Double Dream with Mikhail Rudy with a repertoire of classical and contemporary music and improvisations.
(3) on influences…
The influence of Moldavian music on my music today – if it happens – happens only unconsciously. What I am occupied with mostly today is to be honest and as empty as possible. And to create stories which are dramaturgically clear and leave space for the fantasy of the listeners.
(4) on finding one’s own voice…
Moscow in the early 80’s was very snobbish. At the same time it was one of the most cultural places in Russia. To be there as a young musician from the province was not easy. Especially for me because I refused to play American jazz. The whole jazz scene signalized that American jazz was almost the only language accepted outside of the classical world. To play music of Duke Ellington and Bill Evans was the passport to the jazz world of Russia at that time. I was a rebel and as a rebel I felt lonely but also proud. Proud to be able to do my own things. Unfortunately the situation in Russian jazz is still almost the same. Of course Russia has several talented musicians, but it will take lots of time until the discovery of their own roots will have priority. Here in Norway the situation is very different.
In 1986 I was part of a group of musicians in Moscow who reopend the jazz club Blue Bird. We played there every night for free. It was an important time for me to try out compositions, with new partners like Arkady Shilkloper. One day a Norwegian journalist, Isak Rogde, visited our club and made amateur recordings of my music. That led to an invitation by the Vossa Jazz festival (Norway) in 1989. When we were there, we got the spontaneous idea to visit the legendary Rainbow Studio in Oslo, known for the ECM Recordings. Jan Erik Kongshaug, sound engineer of this studio, gave the small recording of our visit to Manfred Eicher of ECM. Our first ECM recording – Wave of Sorrow – became a fact and continued tours in Norway followed. In 1993 I got a contract with the Norwegian Academy of music in Oslo as a professor of piano improvisation and composition and then I moved here with my daughter Ksenia.
(5) on Norway…
Norwegian and Norway have naturally inspired me. Sometimes I feel more a Nordic person than a south person. This has to do with my life here by the Oslo fjord the last 15 years. Where the silence and unpredictable weather, the space and the richness of the light inspire me to compose and to be more introvert and meditative.
(6) on folk music…
Many composers are of course inspired by folk music. Not only eastern European composers. And this is not strange. Folk music has something that we are missing in the cities: nakedness and purity. Folk music was never born, that’s why it will never die. Folk music will never contain apathy and depression, which is something you can often hear in city music. That’s why I am naturally inspired by folk music. It makes me feel relaxed and content.
(7) on composition vs. improvisation…
You cannot find the border between day and night, but the difference between them is obvious. This words of the Indian master Osho I can say now when you are asking me about the difference between composition and improvisation in my work. In my opinion if you hear the difference between composition and improvisation, the wholeness is gone. If you don’t this means organic unity is there. It’s the same with the different music languages: jazz, folk and classic for me.
(8) on music…
Music is always connected to the personal imagination of beauty. I am growing, I am changing and my imagination of beauty is also changing. What was beautiful for me today is not necessarily beautiful tomorrow.
This project originated due to a strange whim of Mischa Alperin: “Some time ago, around 1995, I developed a vision of a family where the father would be from Tuva, the mother Bulgarian, the daughter a Russian, and the son Jewish”. With the help of Jaro Medien’s producer, Uli Balss, Mischa’s dream tranformed into a musical melange having the following ingredients: The Bulgarian Voices– Angelite ( “the mother”), Huun-Huur-Tu (“the father”), Sergey Starostin (as the Russian soul), and Mischa Alperin (as the Jewish son).
The philosophical ground for this project was the common nature of meditation in music. Mischa Alperin remembers: “For a long time I had been studying the common denominator of meditative structures in various folkloristic forms of expression. For instance the Russian tradition of lengthy songs. A similar mood and similar colors might be found in Tuvan songs of the steppe, and is also reflected in the musical landscape of folk songs from the Radopi region in Bulgaria, as well as in many Jewish songs.”
The end result is truly mesmerizing. As the journalist Peter Grahame Woolf has noted: “[…] This happy concert demonstrated, with frequent touches of sly humor, a joyful fusion that can take place when musicians from different traditions join forces, helped by an inspired facilitator, in the hope that a whole might emerge which is more than the sum of its parts.” originality of the project was also pointed out by Steve Wonder: “[…] In my opinion this project should continue. It is a big beautiful occurrence and I would like to work together with the project in future”. And the Mountain Tale has rightfully continued by giving birth to an interesting trilogy one can enjoy at JARO Medien. Below you can find the list of CDs that this projects is featured on:
Self-Portrait(1987) at Melodia Records: Mikhail Alperin piano solo
Three O– Three Holes Modern Music Ensemble (1989) at Melodia c60 2846-1
Wave of Sorrow (1989) at ECM 1396: Alperin/ Shilkloper
Mad Man from the Moon (1990) at Soundings World Jazz: Alperin/ Keshavan Maslak
Live in Grenoble (1992) at RDM 305015: Alperin/Shilkloper
Blue Fiords (1993)at RDM: Alperin Piano solo
Fly Fly My Sadness (1996)at Jaro4197-2: The Bulgarian Voices Angelite feat. Huun-Huur-Tu, Mikhail Alperin & Sergey Starostin
First Impression (1997) at ECM 1664: Mikhail Alperin/ John Surman with Arkady Shilkloper, Terje Gevelt, Jon Christensen & Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen
Mountain Tale (1998) at JARO 4212-2: The Bulgarian Voices Angelite & Moscow Art Trio feat. Huun-Huur-Tu
At Home (1998) at ECM 1768: Mikhail Alperin piano solo
Night (1998) at ECM 1769: Mikhail Alperin with Anja Lechner & Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen
Portrait (2000)atJARO 4227-2: Mikhail Alperin
Journey (2000)at JARO 4226-2: Sergey Starostin’s Vocal Family (arr. Mikhail Alperin)
Her First Dance (2006) at 1995 : Mikhail Alperin, Arkady Shilkloper & Anja Lechner