Now Hear This: An Interview with Gary Levinson

levinsonGary Levinson serves as Senior Associate Concertmaster for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He, along with six other musicians, a narrator, and a conductor, will perform Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) at our free Bancroft Family Concert this Saturday. The concert, in the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art, begins at 3:00, with doors opening at 2:30 for the performance. Mr. Levinson took the time out of his busy schedule as violinist/husband/father to answer our questions for you!

What excites you about Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat you’ll be playing on March 12?  I have played this work probably 100 times. However this year I’ve also done the suite which is arranged by Stravinsky for clarinet, piano, and violin. I’m excited to share the full version with my DSO colleagues and the FACP audience at the DMA.

What is your history with this piece? When did you first perform it?  I was first encouraged to explore this work by Zubin Mehta, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, who gave me my first job out of school. It was an incredibly intimidating experience since everyone I worked with had done it many times and it was my first time – but one of my great memories was working on the piece with Chris Lamb, principal percussionist of the New York Philharmonic. I remember going into his studio and picking out the different instruments for the various dances. It was like being in a lab getting all of the ingredients for the music just right and I find that incredibly exhilarating. 

What do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony?  I love the give-and-take one has when you have a great piece of chamber music. There’s a different level of trust and energy which translates to the audience.

This chamber selection is special in that it calls for a conductor and a narrator. Is it a challenge to add these additional elements, or does it flow naturally?  Like many Stravinsky scores, L’Histoire is extremely complex rhythmically and texturally. I find the additional elements very natural and necessary for everyone’s confidence.  

What types of music do you like to share with your kids? What type of music do they like?  I share all music with the kids. In our family because both of us are professional musicians there is a kind of a kaleidoscope of music in the house. So when they come home they may hear Paganini caprices upstairs and Schumann Humoresques downstairs. They like everything from opera to rap. But I’ve never had to ask them to sit down and listen to it. I’ve also never blamed them if they dislike a certain part of the work or even the entire work. It’s been really fun trying to discover which works they like and why they like them. They like expanding their horizons when it to comes to both classical and popular music. 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play?  Whomever I need to perform next. 

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite?  My favorite is the great recording of a young Misha Elman playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. It’s the most human that a violin can sound. Close second is the sound of a Ferrari engine. Least favorite is the sizzle of tofu. 

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? (i.e. Bach at the organ, John Lennon at the piano, etc.) Heifetz playing in the Mendelssohn octet – I wonder if he still would claim everyone else is too loud.