BIOGRAPHY

- Symphony 'Elixir' and other recent work -

Among Keith Burstein's most recently completed and performed works is his Symphony 'Elixir' (developed with the Southbank Sinfonia) in which he has received great encouragement from the Southbank Sinfonia's Patron, Vladimir Ashkenazy. The three movements of the Symphony have been performed separately by Southbank Sinfonia, as they were written. The work awaits its first complete performance as a whole.

Burstein has just completed his Piano Sonata No 2 ('Perpetually Descending Veils Through Blazes of Light') for the brilliant young player Evelyne Berezovsky, daughter of the well known concert pianist Boris Berezovsky. He is also working on two opera projects - one with the novelist and poet Ben Okri, and the other a trilogy of operas called 'Revolution E '.

- 'Manifest Destiny' -

The opera ‘Manifest Destiny’ has generated world wide comment with its radical theme of spiritual transformation (see press). Co-written with controversial Welsh playwright Dic Edwards, the conversion of would-be suicide bombers into peace advocates Burstein describes as "pulling light from darkness, as a magician might pull a rabbit from a hat. Those most in despair, pushed to kill others, are shown at the brink undergoing a spiritual experience which saves them - and their would-be victims - and which provides for the world a moment of reconciliation between a Jew and a Muslim symbolizing the possibility of reconciliation between all human cultures."

A play called ‘The Trainer’ (in which Corin Redgrave and Tim Pigott-Smith have both performed, the latter playing Burstein) has been written about the opera and issues arising from it, and presented in a production at the Hackney Empire.

- Super Tonality -

During the early nineties Burstein reached a point of transformation in his direction. A period of some ten years of discovery and performance of new music had prepared him for this time at which he was able to release and develop his own creative voice.

To a degree that surprised even the composer, this voice was unequivocally tonal. Also at this time he re-adopted the original family name of Burstein.

His belief is that tonality - in the broadest sense of "pattern" - underpins all music universally. What he discovered was a New Tonality that, far from excluding any aspects of twentieth century experiment, was an inclusive language - one that simply accepts that all music is tonal and carries everything within it.

He calls this music 'Super Tonal' - a generic term with which he would describe not only his own work but the whole contemporary spectrum of world music.


- Works and development -

Burstein's discovery of a new radical energy in tonalism has fuelled an intense and substantial body of works over the years. For the first decade, this included such compositions as the eighty-minute choral/orchestral ‘Marchioness Requiem’ (a memorial for the victims of the Marchioness disaster on the River Thames), the song-cycle ‘Songs of Love & Remembrance’, the choral works ‘Hymns Of Benediction’ and ‘Prayer For Peace’, the brass works ‘Eternal City’ and ‘Leavetaking’ and the orchestra-and-tenor work ‘A Live Flame (In memoriam John Smith MP)’.

In the mid-nineties Burstein was introduced to the great Estonian composer Arvo Part, who provided remarkable help by sharing a commission for Norwich Cathedral with him, resulting in the composition of Burstein's ‘Missa Brevis’ (see under Choral works).

Burstein was twice commissioned by the Thomas Tallis Society of Greenwich, resulting in two of his three millennial choral works ‘The Gates Of Time’ and ‘Alfege’. The third choral work to mark the Millennium was ‘The Year’s Midnight - A Meditation on The Holocaust’ (premiered by the Zemel Choir at St John's, Smith Square and subsequently broadcast on the first Holocaust Memorial Day live on BBC Radio).

In quick succession after that, Burstein composed the ‘String Quartet No. 1: Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love’ and two operas, 2002's ‘The Furthering’ and 2003's ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter, as with 2001's ‘Songs Of War And Peace’ displayed Burstein’s developing humanitarian conscience and desire to confront the iniquities of the contemporary world head-on.

Running through his work is a persistent trait of using his role as artist to mediate the contemporary world and the social and political landscape in a humanitarian vision. This can be seen from the start with the ‘Marchioness Requiem’ and can be followed through ‘A Live Flame (In memoriam John Smith MP)’, in the Millennium work ‘The Year’s Midnight - A Meditation on The Holocaust’, and most prominently in the opera ‘Manifest Destiny’, which used an archetype of the genre - the power of love over death - to negotiate the explosive field of the war on terror landscape with a tale of redemption and reconciliation between warring tribes. Burstein is now developing an opera trilogy which moves the action of Manifest Destiny beyond the contemporary world and into a future imaginary landscape in which he can broaden the imaginative scope of the drama. This will be a trilogy, ‘Revolution E’.

To him his artistic gifts confer an almost sacred duty to redeem and transform the dark of the world into light. He makes no apology for harbouring such a goal. Nothing less is given to those endowed with the creative vocation, he would say, than to put it at the service of such a purpose.

That is not to say that the abstract musical forms of Symphony and Sonata cannot also convey the spirit of the age. And indeed the animation of those forms is made possible in the Super Tonal era by a re apprehension of the tonal landscape with its potential to build large scale musical architectures.

This represents a parallel theme in Burstein’s work and has generated his two most recently completed works, the Symphony 'Elixir' and the Piano Sonata No 2 'Perpetually Descending Veils Through Blazes of Light'. However, even in these works of “pure music” Burstein expresses a metaphysics which are interrelated thematically with his theatrical and choral works.

- Background -

Keith Burstein was born in Brighton, England. He came from a musical family; both parents were classical violinists who played for Sadlers Wells Ballet, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Ulster Orchestra and the Halle Orchestra as well as for the Royal Opera House. (Originally of Russian-Jewish extraction, the family name had been anglicised to Burston).

- Studies -

Burstein held two scholarships at the Royal College of Music in London where he studied composition with Bernard Stevens and John Lambert. Post-graduation, he continued his composition studies with Jonathan Harvey. This was a period of great discovery for him.

- Early musical career -

Between 1983 and 1991, Burstein led the Grosvenor Group. This contemporary-music chamber ensemble performed works by the great twentieth century composers such as Schoenberg,(their performance of his first Chamber Symphony was described in The Times as being "as though their very lives depended upon it") Webern, and Stockhausen (occasionally, and surreally, combining these with earlier repertoire including works by Elgar).

The ensemble also specialised in commissioning and performing new work from contemporary composers such as Mark-Anthony Turnage, Harrison Birtwistle, Luciano Berio, Oliver Knussen and Brian Ferneyhough. (Only two of Burstein's own early works were performed over the several years of the group's existence.)

 
- Freedom of expression -

Burstein has been involved in two high-profile libel cases, both driven by his passionate belief in freedom of expression. The first of these was a case taken out against the Times, which he won in 2000 (click here for a transcript of some of the proceedings). The second, triggered by the humanitarian content of his opera 'Manifest Destiny' (with its message of peace), was taken out against Associated Newspapers (then-owners of the London Evening Standard). This case remains ongoing to the European Court of Human Rights. (For more information on Keith Burstein's legal cases - and their relationship to his work and beliefs - click here.)

 

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