Lydia Kavina started her musical education when she began theremin lessons with the inventor of the theremin himself, Léon Theremin, at just nine years old.
Growing up in Moscow, Lydia received musical tuition from the inventor (and the first cousin of Lydia’s grandfather) of the theremin, Léon (know as Lev). He was a Russian physicist who invented the theremin in 1920 and their unlikely friendship would prove to be the catalyst for Lydia’s musical career which flourished from that moment onwards, gaining her a place at Moscow Conservatory where she studied composition.
“I was lucky to know Lev from my childhood. We had regular lessons every Friday and I have to say that this communication was quite touching because he was quite old – he was over 80 years old at the time and I was just nine years old. I was fascinated by his young soul. I think the whole image of Lev had a big impact on my learning of the theremin.” Lydia recalls.
Lydia would perform her first theremin concert just five years after beginning her lessons with Lev and achieve global success through her dedication to the instrument. Although predominantly focused on classical music and performance, Lydia would branch into the world of film soundtracks – working alongside film director Tim Burton in Danny Effman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton. She has also worked alongside musician Tom Waits in the adaptation of Alice, conceived and directed by Robert Wilson and based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“I came across the film scores when I was young, but I already had quite a lot of experience as as theremin player before that. I played classics, I composed and I played compositions with other contemporary composers. When I played my first film score, I played the theremin mostly in classic and contemporary music. From 1992, I started to work with the music by Tom Waits for Alice. That was the beginning of my international career.” Lydia says.
“The high concentration on the sound is very important, you have to control the sound with your ear.”
Lydia has played some beautiful venues around the world, including the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the Caramoor Center in NYC and the Martinu Festival in Prague. Her first original concerto composition was performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra in 1997. Lydia has also worked alongside composer Howard Wood in the films Ed Wood and eXistetnZ.
“Ed Wood was the very first film score that I ever played and it was a unique experience for me. We toured in 1994 when I came to London for the first time and I was invited to play for other scores as well. Later, I played for Howard’s eXistetnZ score and also for another computer game which was completely unexpected for me, for a computer game recording to have a large orchestra and choir and organ!” Lydia explains.
The theremin, a relatively new instrument, is not often the object of desire for many aspiring, young musicians, but Lydia is working to raise its profile in the educational arenas, and has toured extensively in the name of this pursuit. She regularly gives theremin workshops in Bate collection of Oxford Music faculty and teaches at the annual Theremin Academy in Lippstadt and Leipzig, Germany.
There are certain musicians working to introduce the instrument to future generations, including Brooklyn based musician Michael Hearst (of One Ring Zero) who regularly holds concerts with the theremin, and brings a playful element to his music which as as result, inspires young people to take up the instrument. Lydia explains the key intuitions required for learning the theremin:
“The whole thing about playing the theremin is your ear for music. You have to concentrate on the music, because there is no other orientational reference. In this technique, the physical memory is much less than in other musical instruments. It’s all about your musicality.” Lydia says.
Robert Moog would invent the Moog Music theremin in the 1950s – the oldest electronic instrument which you can play without touching. Based on a single oscillating concept, there are two antennas which control pitch and amplitude. The idea is that you use your hands to intercept the frequency waves, with the left hand being used to control the volume. Lydia and Robert worked together on an instruction video (see below) which inspired users to take up the theremin:
“Information about the theremin became more available with the introduction of Moog Music by Bob Moog. Since then, its educational value has improved.”
Lydia Kavina will be playing the theremin at St George’s in Bristol on Thursday 21 April, alongside the Lochrian Ensemble. Included in the repertoire will be Miklós Rózsa’s ‘Fantasy’ from Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Lydia will introduce a brief tutorial on the theremin, at the start of the concert.
“The instrument requires your musicality but at the same time, it develops your musicality. It trains you and requests the active work of your ear.” Lydia says.
Lydia Kavina plays at St George’s, Bristol on Thursday. The concert starts at 8pm and tickets are priced at £16 and available online: www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk