Biography

Gideon Lewensohn was born in Jerusalem in 1954. He studied at the Rubin Music Academy at Tel Aviv University and earned his doctorate in conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Additional studies with Sergiu Celibidache had decisive impact on his musical development. Lewensohn lives in Jerusalem with his wife and eight children and is mainly active as composer and professor of composition at Bar Ilan Univesity.  His compositional work includes pieces for orchestra and chamber music as well as theatre music and electro-acoustic works.


Lewensohn received several commissions, among them the Odradek Quartet, (commissioned by the Salman and Liebe Friedman Foundation in Los Angeles) named after an enigmatic character from Kafka's short prose. Odradek Quartet was awarded first prize in the international competition held by the Italian Academy of Arts in 2001. Shortly afterwards, his piano quintet received first prize in the ACUM composition competition. In the same year, he was invited to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he was honored with a portrait concert of his chamber and electro-acoustic music. In 2002, he was composer in residence at the University of Witten/Herdecke. In Witten his orchestral work Meronian Echoes was premiered and he gave lectures and concerts of his chamber music with the Danel Quartet. His work ViolAlive was premiered in Munich and other German cities by Kim Kashkashyan and the Munich Chamber Orchestra in 2005. It is a musical theater project written for Viola, Percussion and 19 solo string players. The artists are grouped at different locations on the stage, some have to move around and each group has a kind of musical identity in this 'play'. For Lewensohn the piece evolves especially out of the relationship between the musicians and their musical and physical gestures within the musical space.  Among his most recent pieces are the Quartet for Bruno Schulz for violin, clarinet, cello and piano and another chamber music theater project six musicians in search of a home for violin, clarinet, trumpet, cimbalom, accordion and bass.

A CD with Lewensohn's music was released on the ECM label (ECM New Series 1781 461 861-2). It was produced by Manfred Eicher and contains the Piano Qintet and the Odradek Quartet as well as Postlude for piano in two different interpretations.

In an essay about his teacher the composer Andre' Hajdu ("The Child and the Pendulum", in: The Israel Review of Arts and Letters, 1996/103), Lewensohn deals extensively with childhood in contemporary music. He writes: "By reducing the power of musical memory, nostalgia and recollection and through the extensive use of theoretical models and systems, both technical and aesthetic, childhood has been eradicated from the agenda of the contemporary composer. The music lover has found himself as a deserted child in an unknown land not having any tools to engage in a dialogue with his environment." This statement provides us with some understanding of Gideon Lewensohn's self-image and identity as a composer. Herein cultural inheritance plays a role, as important and relevant to life as childhood. Lewensohn finds it essential to establish a dialogue with this inheritance, a dialogue which is nurtured by commentary and interpretation.

In his Meronian Echoes for symphonic orchestra Lewensohn addresses this issue and tries to convey his musical impressions of the Cabalist center established already more than 2000 years ago opposite the old city of Safed on mount Meron, in the north of Israel. Lewensohn attempted to recapture and internalize his memory of the contemporary sounds of festivals, prayers and studies in Meron, a rich spiritual, emotional and intellectual polyphony. "Meronian Echoes is a piece about echoes, not just the way the mountains answer our voice but rather the way in which the multitude of voices, sounds, memories, ideas, longings and desires all resonate within the landscape of our personalities."

Lewensohn rejects abstract theoretical models or sets of rules for composition. It is significant that he even regards the often used expression: "influence of other composers" as misleading and prefers to describe the role of other composers in his musical language as part of a dialogue a composer is holding with his cultural inheritance. Some composers, whose music is part of Lewensohn's internal discourse, shall be named here in order to provide the listener with some orientation. Lewensohn is often regarded as Mahler's successor. He uses "cries of grief, grand proclamations, marches, and waltzes" (Raymond Monelle), many times in an ironic, distorted or fractured manner, yet his music is deeply rooted in the late-Romantic world of melody, harmony and gesture. Among other composers Lewensohn acknowledges György Kurtág for his ability to express intense emotions yet very concisely, Witold Lutoslawski for his orchestral techniques, and Giya Kancheli for his poetic landscapes. Lewensohn's literary interests have also left their traces in his work, especially his penchant for Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz, with their multi-layered and somehow intangible style which allows him many possibilities for musical hermeneutics.

On the surface, Lewensohn's music may seem fragmental and sketchy, especially the Odradek Quartet. Individual gestures and moods appear to meet suddenly and without apparent connection, and before one is able to grasp them, they have changed or disappeared just as if they want to escape categorization and classification according to models and rules. In their fleetingness and ambiguity, they bring to mind Kafka's Odradek. Surprisingly these gestures and moods, the isolated elements, overcome their enigmatic nature and undetermined existence. It is because the composer calls them by their "real" name. They are his creatures, pensive and impulsive; and he does not just throw them into being, but picks them up again and places them on to a larger canvas. Thus a texture is created, a composition in which returning, resounding motifs form points of reference which allow for dialogue and create a framework which eventually unites all the elements.

The musical result is very personal, almost intimate, allowing for a glimpse at a composer who creates, shapes and intervenes, who comments and interprets and does not hesitate to let us know his point of view. In addition, it is passionate and dramatic music or, to use Enzo Siciliano's words, music that expresses credible tragedy. Aspects of life do not just exist in isolation next to each other, but are part of a relationship created be a concerned composer who assumes a stand.

There are passages in Lewensohn's music so beautiful one wishes them to be much longer, but that is precisely what he seems to avoid. The purpose of this music is not to indulge in the music but rather the reconsideration of the past and its interpretation. In all its ties to the past and its often rather melancholy and introvert character, Lewensohn's music is never looking back but rather creates new perspectives through engaging, disengaging and reengaging with our collective and personal musical childhood. Thus something new emerges - a future.

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