A Q&A with composer and performer, Alina Nenasheva

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  1. You recently moved from Russia to the United States, in order to launch your career in the music industry. What sparked your decision to move, and what have been some of your first steps in the industry here?

    The time I started dreaming about coming to the United States was over 10 years ago. I always thought that I truly can be free and happy here and looking back just one thing I regret – I didn’t do it earlier. I felt that the United States is my country and the only country where I can be realized in my profession. For me, this country is the progenitor of music.

    The first time I came here was in December 2018. I fell in love with New York, stayed a few months and in January 2020, I moved to the United States permanently. During my first visit, I met many people and made a few arrangements about my potential projects, but when, in 2020 COVID-19 emerged, all of them were canceled and all I had to do was write music and try to survive. Now I definitely can do much more – I am trying to make connections in the music and film industries. I already composed music for a commercial project here, for a couple of videos, organized and performed a few concerts where I presented my music. I am happy to say that my website is up and running. It is a good medium for me to showcase my music. I have many ideas so I am constantly writing music in different genres.

  2. Can you take us through your creative process, when you’re working on a concert piece or a film score, where do you find your inspiration and what are the stages from start to finish?

    I am often asked about my creative process and it is always hard to answer that because every piece of my music has a specific individual approach. It also depends on whether I am writing music because I just got an idea, a deadline or specific tasks that come from my producer or director. “Besides, I always want to improve my work and do my best, even after the project is completed.

    Usually, I work at my piano with a music notebook and a pencil. Even though I work with different recording programs and experiment with electronic sounds, I am used to writing my work on a sheet of music paper. At these moments I feel that I create something live, something that can make people feel the same emotions when they hear it. It is a really special and important part for me. For the same reason, I love to read real books.

    Before writing music, I think through every line, every detail, some of them may come later when I am already in the process, but most often I hear everything in my head in the beginning of the work.

    I find my inspiration in everything around me and of course I am learning from such masters as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, John Williams but there are more… I am always interested in the current generation of composers. I admire and learn from Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, James Horner, James Newton Howard, Michael Giacchino, Alan Silvestri and I can list many more. At this moment I am really interested in music by Ludwig Goransson and his approach to work. It is very useful and important to listen and watch how other composers work.

  3. Your musical styles range from full symphonic orchestra works in free and strict form, to chamber orchestra, mixed ensembles, and vocal music. You also often combine classical orchestral instruments with electronic instruments. Where does this musical style come from, did you grow up with a classical background?

    I grew up in a small city in the rural part of Russia. There was no special musical environment but a few music schools and a couple of venues. I can’t thank my mom enough because she was the only person who wanted me to play the piano and to be close to music. I can tell that until the age of 8 or 9, I did not have any instrument so my mom just drew it on a large sheet of paper and she said: “If you can hear these sounds, it doesn’t really matter how you are going to learn them. Look at the notes and try to find them.” When I remember this, every time it makes me cry. I am still thinking that my mom really helped me improve my hearing.

    I remember the first time when I sat down at the piano – I was 5 years old, that was the time when I entered music school and when I was 6 years old, I wrote my first piece of music. I had no idea how to put it into notes. I learned that when I was 8.

    Later, when I was in college and then in Moscow Conservatory, I listened to different styles of music from Bach to “Queen”. I tried to absorb everything I hear and see, I learned from everything that was accessible to me but preferred to write a more classical style of music.

    For example, I try to visit monasteries wherever I go – in different cities, different countries because it is a special place with special energy, besides all of them, are so beautiful. During one of my travels, I visited one of the monasteries where the symphony of church bells inspired me to write a piece of music for a piano solo called “Heavens”.

    A couple of months after I came here, I realized that my music had become more mature and my work style had changed. Now I hear music in a different way than before ,and I am open to everything new. For me it is a really good adventure. This country has influenced my musical thinking and my whole life.

  4. Alongside composition, you’re also a performer- can you expand on that, what makes are you excited about performing?

    I am a pianist and at every concert, would it be a solo piano concert or with a small or large group of musicians, I present my music. I love to be on stage and play together with my friends and colleagues who are high-level professionals. Usually, concerts consist of two parts, where the first one is dedicated to classical composers such as Bach, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and many others and the second one consists of my music. One of my previous concerts consisted only of my music from dedications to classical composers and stylistic imitations of them to my movie music. I arranged scores for the chamber sextet where I involved my friend-violinists, a cellist, and a flutist. I could tell that it was so emotional and amazing when I looked in the eyes of the audience – they were so happy! Many people came up to me after the concert and thanked me for this opportunity to open something important inside of their hearts.

    I think for me that is the most important part of performing. I would never separate myself into two parts because I am completely satisfied only when I can be on stage and compose music at the same time. I must see the people’s eyes and feel them – this connection gives me so much energy and new ideas. At these moments I am absolutely happy and free.

  5. What projects are you currently focusing on, and what are some of the challenges they present?

    My focus is my education and a deeper understanding of my work. My goal at the moment is to find ways to be more in demand. Currently, I am working on a few pieces of music at the same time – a couple of them are for full symphony orchestra where I want to involve choir and electronic sounds, another couple of pieces are duets. I would say that education is always about challenges. The biggest challenge for me is keeping myself and my individualism among other composers. In some cases, it could be difficult because of environmental influence. Another challenge is to create something really new and fresh – there is so much really good, amazing music and fantastic composers out there that it might make you feel a lack of confidence. So, I am working on myself every single day.

    The second part, and it is always a work in progress, is improving my skills. I am constantly practicing playing the piano. During my practices, not only do I play my own music, but also the music of classical composers.

  6. If you could score any project, what would it be, and with which director? (“dream project”)

    Honestly, for me this is kind of a tricky question because there are so many wonderful directors that I admire and learn from, such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson and many, many more… Somehow I mentioned that I would love to compose music for fantasy drama, either film or TV show

    I would be thrilled to work with James Cameron and at the same time I am dreaming to work with Jon Favreau – I will confess, I am a fan of Marvel Studio. The reason is I love them all and if I get any chance to work at least with one of them, I would consider myself as an accomplished composer.

    Interview by Nami Melumad

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