The first concerto for solo theremin and symphony orchestra was created for Lev Theremin by composer Joseph Schillinger, in 1929. Since then, several concertos for theremin and orchestra have appeared. In 2017, the St. Petersburg composer Anton Tanonov wrote a Concerto for Theremin and orchestra, dedicating it to Lev Theremin, this is the first case of such dedication in Russia, and possibly in the world, Anton said that parts of the concerto are connected in a certain way with several parts of Lev Theremin’s life (the concert was first performed in the atrium of the Hermitage, the part of the theremin is Peter Theremin)
The Canadian composer Simon Bertrand decided to do the same , the premiere of his concerto for theremin and orchestra will take place in early February in Montreal . According to Simon, this concert can be considered a kind of attempt at a “musical biography” and, in fact, it is entitled – “Four Episodes from the Life of Lev Theremin”,
The concerto will premiere with Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal on February 9 ( Église Saint-Joachim) , and performances are also scheduled for February 10 ( Maison Symphonique de Montréal) and 11 ( Théâtre Mirella et Lino Saput).
Especially for the Theremin Today portal, we interviewed the Canadian composer Simon Bertrand and the theremin performer – the wonderful Dutch musician Thorwald Jorgensen
About Simon Bertrand
Winner of the Opus award 2013 for Composer of the Year, first-prize winner of the Prix collégien de Musique Contemporaine 2014, and Winner of the First International Busan Maru Composition Competition in South Korea 2014, Simon Bertrand has an international reputation that has led him to compose for musicians around the globe such as the Musica Nipponia Ensemble (Japan), the Danish Saxophone Quartet (Denmark), the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Canada), the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra (China), the Gwandju Symphony Orchestra (Korea), the SMCQ, and the Orchestre National d’île-de-France (France). Highlights for his upcoming seasons include a premiere with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Les Violons du Roy, and the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne.
Recent and current projects include the world premiere of Weltengeist [Esprit du monde] by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Canadian conductor Jordan de Souzaon on May 18-19, 2022, the commission of a new work on Hélène Dorion’s Poems by Les Violons du Roy, and his collaboration with American poet Paul Auster on a cycle of works inspired by his poetry to be premiered by Montreal’s Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM) for their 2022-23 season.
Simon Bertrand –
How it happened. that you were inspired by the figure of Lev Theremin so much that you decided to write a whole concert dedicated to the inventor?
-I felt the amazing life of Leon Theremin was a wonderful testimony of the 20th century, of all its great innovations but also its darker sides.
-I also felt he was a true citizen of the world and passionate about science and music, I wanted to pay him a tribute with this concerto hoping it will be understood as a call for peace and love between the peoples of the world, in this dark time when there still seems to be so many gray areas in the human soul that still bring wars in our world at a moment that all the people of the world are closer than ever and within reach and should be able to embrace each other’s differences.
How was the work on the concert going? Did you immediately see it as a whole , or was it a result and a long process ? Please tell us more about this.
– I have tried by various means to illustrate musically, in a rather narrative way five moments of the extraordinary life of Leon.
1- the birth of an instrument
2- the journey to America
3-romance (in memory of Lise Beauchamp)
4-The Gulag, the false death and “the thing »
5- Self-portrait on a public bench ( A life well-lived ..)
-It was a long process, I had already written for theremine and string quartet a piece called the « invisible voice » and Thorwald Jorgensen was very happy with it so we decided to celebrate the 100 anniversary with a concerto that was commissioned by the métropolitain orchestra . Thorwald was collaborating with me closely when I was composing the concerto.
What do you think about the theremin? For what qualities and capabilities do you value the theremin?
-As for the theremine , it is not a « virtuoso »
Instrument like the violin or the piano and very hard to control: But I wanted to demonstrate the amazing range and melodical potential of the theremin and the capacity for it to sound like sometimes a voice, or a cello or violin. Of course I tried to avoid the clichés of the theremine as we heard it too many times since the 50ths in Science Fiction B-Movies with the big vibrato in the high register. I prefer a pure, expressive sound and the lower range is very expressive as well.
Please tell our readers more about the concept of the concert and the meanings that are embedded in it.
-I used a heterogeneous musical material, which is inspired as much by the great canons of 20th century music that Theremin has lived in and composers that I particularly like such as Bartok, Alban Berg, Charles Ives and Claude Vivier this concerto also contains “period” and quotes as would a historical film. For example I used the melody from saint saens « the swan » which is said to have been the first melody Leon tried to play when he invented the theremine and that of course Clara Rockmore played in the US.
So In a way, it is musical biography. And I wish it transmits universal values of peace
Thorwald Jorgensen – thereminist
How did you work with Simon Bertrand come about? I know that you have collaborated with him before.
This really mostly Simons work! A few years ago he promised to write me a concerto so his agency went out to get a commission which was granted by Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal!
What do you think about this music, why it is special? Was it difficult to prepare for this premiere?
I like the music very much! As you know it is an autobiographical concerto on the life of Leon Theremin so the music is based and inspired on certain parts of his life! I think it turned out wonderfully, though as I write this I haven performed or heard it! But reading the music from the score I can imagine it to be very grand and a very good tribute to theremin (to the instrument and to the person!).
It’s not your first time in Canada, how does the Canadian public accept the theremin, is it different from other countries?
since my first time in Canada over ten years ago I have been there many times and played lots of concerts! It is my impression that the Canadian audience really likes the theremin (or at least what I do with it). I personally think Canada is one of the greatest countries, in any case it houses the friendliest people in the world! I have made very good friends there over the years and arriving in Canada to me feels a little bit like coming home (or at least the home of a very good friend 😀)!