Extra Sonic Practice Presents: a Conversation with Composer Eugene Birman, Feb 13, 2023

Ahead of its UK premiere, composer Eugene Birman discusses his new work, Russia: Today, in a talk presented by the ESP Research Group.


Musical creation as an act of sociopolitical responsibility, of giving voice to the silenced, is hardly new – but at a time of unprecedented Russian state aggression and censorship, the UK premiere of composer Dr Eugene Birman’s [Academy of Music, HKBU] Russia: Today (2020) in February 2023 holds special significance.

The work, both research project, ethnographic study, and virtuosic vocal composition, sets the anonymized, verbatim thoughts of hundreds of participants across Russia, the countries that made up the former Soviet Union, and contemporary destinations for dissidents fleeing the regime. In what the Financial Times called “a powerful hour-long immersion in the complexities and contradictions of contemporary Russia”, one hears the “little-heard and sometimes suppressed but often premonitory private thoughts, which mix pride and insecurity, victimhood and impotence.”

Working with Russian and emigre artists, many of whom have had to flee the country, partly for their participation in the project, the composer assembled a new-age panikhida, a Russian Orthodox rite for the dead, still in pre-invasion times. In this presentation, he will open up the process of collaborative creation of the project, present excerpts from the crowdsourced recordings as well as their musical adaptation, and discuss the relationship of music to its source material – in this case, an entire society on the verge of implosion.

This is a hybrid event taking place in Cargill Lecture Theatre, University of Lincoln. If you would like to attend online via MS Teams, please email fmorgan@lincoln.ac.uk . This is an accessible room on the ground floor. Accessible toilet facilities are available on this floor. For further directions and transport links, see our campus map and travel information.

EUGENE BIRMAN (b. 1987) is the composer and creator of numerous highly awarded international multidisciplinary productions, with commissioners and partners extending far beyond the concert hall to major international bodies such as the European Union, Hong Kong SAR, the United States Department of State, and others. His creative output, encompassing ambitious, socially relevant works for the stage, synthesizes virtuosic musical content with cutting-edge technology; he has pioneered the use of large-scale holography, immersive opera environments, and interactive digital media in classical music.

“High drama” and “intense emotion” (BBC), “the most stunning and divisive” (Business Times), “the most radical and ambitious” (5:4), “animalistic” (Eesti Kultuurileht “SIRP”), “from haunting and atmospheric to plain brutal” (BBC Music Magazine), “a breakthrough in public art” (ReNew Vision), “at once, ingenious, hypnotic, brave, and beautiful” (Festival Internazionale A.F. Lavagnino)- his work exists at “the convergence of major current issues and supreme beauty” (Gulbenkian).

He has been recognized with prominent fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (2018) and the US Department of State’s Fulbright Program (2010-11), awarded the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, leading to a season-long residency at the Southbank Centre and world premiere with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall, and appointed the sole Artist-in-Residence of the 2018 Helsinki Festival, Finland’s biggest yearly cultural event. In 2021, he took up the position of Artist-in-Residence at the Manchester International Festival. His work has been prominently featured on major news and media outlets worldwide: CNN, BBC World TV, Bloomberg, National Geographic, Radio France, Deutsche Welle, and the South China Morning Post are among countless others that have broadcast and reported on his projects.


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