Gregory Levin

Levin, Gregory (John). Composer, teacher, pianist, conductor, b Washington, DC, 8 Mar 1943, naturalized Canadian 1989; BA (Harvard) 1967, MFA (Brandeis) 1969, PH D (Brandeis) 1975.

Levin, Gregory

Levin, Gregory (John). Composer, teacher, pianist, conductor, b Washington, DC, 8 Mar 1943, naturalized Canadian 1989; BA (Harvard) 1967, MFA (Brandeis) 1969, PH D (Brandeis) 1975. He studied composition with Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Leon Kirchner, and Billy Jim Layton, and piano with Louise Vosgerchian at Harvard 1960-7, and also piano privately in Boston with Margaret Chaloff. At Brandeis U he studied composition 1967-70 with Arthur Berger, Martin Boykan, and Seymour Shifrin, and earned his doctorate in music theory. He taught at Syracuse U 1970-72 and at the University of Rhode Island 1972-3. In 1973 Levin began to teach theory and composition at the University of Calgary. He was a fellow at the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique in Paris in 1978, where he did research and development for a flute that could accommodate special effects needed in new music. Levin has conducted ensembles, both in New England and Calgary; he was artistic and musical director of the Calgary Chamber Players 1974-6, and of Foothills Opera Company 1976-8. He has received commissions in both the US and Canada, including six from the CBC and five from the Canada Council, as well as from the Da Camera Players (Music for Winds and Harpsichord, 1974), the OAC (Electric Gospel, 1980), the Calgary Philharmonic (Flowers of Padua, 1984), and the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (Spiral Staircase, 1985, rev 1987). In 1978 Berandol published Red Shift (1971), Dialogues (1968), 'Come Away, Death' (1961), 'False Friend' (1975), and 'O Mistress Mine' (1961), and in 1980 Woyzeck (1975). Spring Tide (1966?) was published by New Proteus in 1974.

Levin's music explores both traditional and avant-garde vocabularies, genres, and media. Often he juxtaposes strongly contrasting styles: eg, jazz, swing, and Webernesque serialism in Black and White Together (1988). He has also used East Indian idioms (Songs of the Marianas, 1966; Raga, 1973) and rugged atonality (Corina, 1971; Concatenations, 1982); in some works he draws exotic colours and evocative atmospheric effects from conventional instruments (Sonata for Flute and Harp, 1971; From the Shining Mountains to the Sea, 1979; Flowers of Padua). One of his most characteristic works, Crossroads (Berandol 1977), weaves together live and pre-recorded clarinet lines that combine elements of jazz, avant-garde and East Indian classical music, creating a haunting kaleidoscope of tone clusters and echo effects. Premiered in 1975 by James Campbell, it won the Viotti Prize in Vercelli, Italy, that year.

Levin has been deeply influenced by Native culture and music in his works, including those for conventional instruments (eg, Flowers of Padua, Black and White Together), and multimedia theatrical presentations (eg, The Spiral Staircase 1985, rev 1987; The Heartsong and the Wind, 1987; The Role of the Artist in Modern Culture, 1987; The Toning of the Warrior Masters of Shamballa,1987; Where Do We Go from Here Now? 1988; and Medicine Wheel, 1989). His first opera, Rebel and Empire (1976), had a libretto by himself and his father, Dan Levin. Electric Gospel, based on John Murrell's Power in the Blood, uses Gospel blues and harsh atonality, and was performed at the Toronto Free Theatre in 1980. Written with the librettist Mavor Moore, his opera Ghost Dance (1985) deals with the last years of the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (1834-90) - his betrayal by white authorities and his relationship with Catherine Weldon, a wealthy Brooklyn painter and free-thinker, who championed Native causes. Ghost Dance brings together Levin's interest in native culture and his fondness for eclecticism: he uses authentic Sioux songs, lush European romanticism, popular song parodies, and other styles to delineate action and character. COMUS Music Theatre gave it a workshop performance in Toronto in 1985.

Levin is a member of the CLComp and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.


Further Reading

  • Champagne, Jane. 'Gregory Levin: New music is coming out of the West,' CanComp, 98, Feb 1975