BRINGING THE PAST TO LIFE: ALEXANDER WALKER

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Image: Alexander Walker

Alexander Walker is a conductor currently undertaking a PhD at Trinity Laban as well as being a member of our teaching staff. Alexander’s research focuses on historical performance traditions in order to analyse his own practice.

Alexander has taken a particular interest in Ignatz Waghalter, who from humble beginnings became a major figure in European musical life as founding Music Director of the Deutsche Opera in Berlin before and after the First World War. Being Jewish, he was forced to flee Europe with the rise of fascism. Arriving in NYC in the late 1930’s, he immediately set about founding an orchestra of African Americans, an act of extraordinary bravery and single mindedness in 1939. Waghalter has been completely forgotten, so Alexander has been digging up his music and recording it.

The PhD explores how Alexander makes decisions in terms of performing music and recording old music for which there is no performing tradition. It helps him to analyse his own practice and understand ethically and philosophically how decisions should be made in terms of performance. Alexander takes an interest in investigating how the minds of old performers worked and how they came up with their own traditions, for example finding conductors who might seem old fashioned to us now and discovering more than what you might notice at first glance.

Alexander commented on his time at Trinity Laban:

I think practice as research is particularly strong here. As a conservatoire, I very much like both researching and teaching here as it is such a very creative place. Innovation is valued and it strikes me that there are many possibilities for developing ideas here.

As a musician, I’m used to analysing what I do, but I’m not used to discussing it openly with people. That’s a new thing for me but it’s a valuable challenge. At first I was afraid that maybe if you try and figure out what the magic is the magic might go away, but I’m not finding that to be the case. I’m finding it does enhance my practice.’

Alexander has just been honoured by the Elgar Society with its highest award, the Elgar Medal, for his work promoting the composer’s music especially in Central Europe and Russia. Previous recipients include Sir Andrew Davies, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim.

Alexander commented:

‘It’s a very great honour. I feel very passionately that Elgar is a truly great, world class composer. In fact, in many of the places where I work he doesn’t regularly feature on programmes, if at all. I saw that as an opportunity to introduce people to this amazing music. I’ve given many national premieres of the music of Elgar and I’ve had the opportunity to really try and search into how it should be performed. I’ve found that the passion of the music is very compelling for players and for audiences. The orchestras that I work with abroad have no expectation of performance traditions, which relates to my PhD.

In my opinion nobody orchestrates better than Elgar and nobody writes for strings better than Elgar. When I take these works to orchestras for whom they’re new, they absolutely love playing it. They give very committed performances. It’s been a very meaningful forum for me and one of profound experience.’

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Image: Edward Elgar

Alice White

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

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