Q&A with Sharan Leventhal

June 15, 2015

Boston Conservatory faculty member Sharan Leventhal (violin) will be teaching in the Conservatory's new M.M. in Contemporary Classical Music Performance program. Read her thoughts on the genre and what to expect in the new program.

What is contemporary music?

For me, contemporary music is the music of our time. It reflects the attitudes and interestsof our society at large, and even the impact of technology on the human condition.

Why do you love performing contemporary music?

Collaborating with composers, bringing new ideas and sounds to life.

How is the experience of performing contemporary music different than music from the classical era?

Each era has its own particular flavor—like the cuisine of different cultures. I am particularly interested in the vibe of my own time.

The music that is being written now will be the classics of the future. It is a significant part of my job to champion composers who I feel have something important to say. I can also relate on a visceral level to the energy and intrinsic emotional content of works being written by my peers.

With new music, we forge new paths and make new discoveries, both in terms of musical emotion and technical/instrumental possibilities. We need to keep pushing the envelope.

I also find that my work in contemporary performance has a profound effect on my approach to standard repertoire.

What are you most passionate about?

Music. Family. Friends. Teaching. Art. Dancing. Food. Nature. Books. Gardening. The list goes on.

If you could do anything on stage, what would it be?

I'm already doing what I want.

What is the most interesting piece/where is the most interesting place you've performed?

What: This is impossible to narrow down. Some of the most fascinating pieces I have performed are Ben Johnston’s string quartets in extended just intonation. They require an entirely different understanding of what pitch "is." But, the short list would have to include Scott Wheeler’s violin concerto, Gunther Schuller and Simon Bainbridge’s pieces for Marimolin and Gramercy Trio (they wrote for both), the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas... and, and, and...

Where: Well, I have played in a variety of moving vehicles—trains, buses, planes... I never was good enough on my unicycle to risk it...

If you had to choose one word to describe your teaching style/philosophy, what would it be?

Exploration.

What skills will your students master in your class?

I aim to help my students become creative, independent, self-sufficient musicians. Of course, when it comes to the physical reality of playing, this includes making the violin an ally rather than an obstacle. Effortless playing is an obsession, and my approach to the violin is informed by years of experience in dance, tai chi, various other body awareness disciplines and a basic understanding of anatomy, as well as curiosity about perception and how mental imagery and belief systems influence actions.

That said, understanding a score—trying to get inside the composer's mind and process—and expressing the thoughts and feelings revealed, is the goal of our work.

How are you preparing your students to lead?

I encourage them to be open minded, independent thinkers, collaborators and articulate, effective communicators—both verbally and musically.

What makes the Conservatory 'the' place to study contemporary music performance?

The Boston Conservatory, with its large, vibrant composition department, excellent dance and theater divisions, and outstanding faculty, is a great place to learn and collaborate across disciplines. The possibilities are endless.

What kind of student do you want to work with?

Seekers. Individuals who are enthusiastic, curious and committed to the process of learning and growing.

What kind of work are you interested in exploring?

This is impossible to answer. There is always something new for me out there, something yet to be discovered.

I have developed a number of projects: Sound Thinking, an exploration of the evolution of the language of western art music; Where Sound and Motion Meet, an interactive program (with Gramercy Trio) looking at the link between music and dance; and currently am working on As Far as the Eye Can Hear, and the Ear Can See, another interactive, interdisciplinary program (also for Gramercy), this time with music and visual art.

Learn more about Boston Conservatory's Contemporary Classical Music Performance program.

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