Leon Theremin’s grand-niece, Lydia Kavina was born in Moscow and began studying the theremin under the direction of Theremin himself when she was nine years old. Five years later she was ready to give her first theremin concert, which marked the beginning of a musical career that has so far led to more than a thousand concerts and theater, radio and television performances worldwide. She has appeared as a solo performer at such prestigious venues as the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the Moscow International Performing Arts Center (with the National Philharmonic of Russia, under Vladimir Spivakov) and the Palace Bellevue in Berlin (the residence of the German president) and has been a guest artist at leading music festivals around the world, including Caramoor (with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s), the Lincoln Center Festival, the Holland Music Festival, the Martinu Festival and the Bourges International Electronic Music Festival.
Together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, she performed in Howard Shore’s soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film Ed Wood, as well as in eXistenZ (also by Shore) and The Machinist (music by Roque Banos). She has also been featured in stage productions, including Alice and The Black Rider (both conceived and directed by Robert Wilson, with music by Tom Waits) in Hamburg’s Thalia Theater, and in collaboration with the Russian experimental surf band Messer Chups. She also performed in The Little Mermaid, a ballet by Lera Auerbach, choreographed by John Neumeier, in Copenhagen’s New Opera House and in the Hamburger Staatsoper.
As both a composer and a performer, Kavina has significantly enlarged the theremin repertory. Her concerto The Seasons of the Year was premiered by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, directed by Gil Rose. Works written for her include Lydia for theremin and string quartet by Jon Appleton, Mixolydia for theremin and tape by Jorge Antunes and Glissandi for 3-6 theremins by Jorge Campos. In collaboration with Barbara Buchholz and the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, Lydia Kavina created the performance and recording project Touch! Don’t Touch! (Wergo, 2006) in which eight Russian and German composers were commissioned to write pieces for two theremins and chamber ensemble.
Kavina is a highly sought-after teacher and recording artist. She created a video tutorial Mastering the Theremin for Moog Music and has given private lessons and master classes in Western Europe, Russia and the United States. She holds a degree in composition from the Moscow Conservatory, where she also completed a postgraduate program. Her solo recordings include Music from the Ether (mode 76, 1999; remastered 2005), Lydia Kavina: Concerto per Theremin; Live in Italy (Teleura, 2000).
Below are some reviews of Ms. Kavina’s concert at The Lincoln Center Summer Festival, where she performed works from her first CD, “Music from the Ether” (mode 76) and from her upcoming CD/DVD on Mode Records:
A FEAST OF ELECTRONIC SOUNDS
O BRAVE NEW WORLD that has such electronic instruments in it: Marimba luminas. E-tablas. Guitar-like Chapman sticks. Electronic valve instruments. Moog synthesizers. The theremin, grandaddy of them all.
All were in evidence at the engrossing, five-concert “Electronic Evolution” series performed here recently at the Lincoln Center Festival…The series defined electronic music in the broadest possible terms, encompassing film scores, amplified works, computer-generated tape music, and collages created by manipulating vinyl records on multiple turntables — the hip-hop take on “found” sound.
Yet ironically, the most impressive works were those where traditional instruments were enlivened by solitary electronic ones, like cakes laced with rum…
Similarly, the most substantial of seven works on a program which featured the theremin, essentially a wooden cabinet with built in oscillators and two motion-sensitive antennas, was “Bahlamms Fest” by the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth. Her seven-movement suite for theremin and chamber ensemble, based on an eponymous, 1999 music theater piece, convincingly conveyed place, character and emotion in a lustrous modernist idiom. Mostly, she treated the theremin as an ensemble member, aptly combining it with strings, electric guitar, soprano saxophones and water-filled glass to reveal hitherto unsuspected possibilities for the instrument’s stereotypically eerie voice. In this, it recalled the richly lyrical, unjustly neglected “Fantasia” by Bohuslav Martinu for theremin, oboe, piano and strings, heard elsewhere in this series. Lydia Kavina, inventor Leon Theremin’s grandniece, played everything with more expressiveness than in past performances, but her pitch was not always reliable. Still, it’s a wonder to watch her seemingly pluck notes out of the air. Pianist Stephen Gosling and the Ensemble Sospeso under Charles Peltz were her deft partners in the all-theremin program.
— Barbara Jepson, The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, July 26, 2000
EERIE SOUNDS, LESS PLAYED THAN CAPTURED IN MIDAIR
Perhaps the same spirit that keeps period instrument orchestras flourishing has granted an unusually long life to the theremin, the spooky-sounding electronic instrument invented by Leon Theremin in the 1920’s. Or perhaps the theremin has proven more useful – or more graceful – than anyone had imagined.
As musical instruments go, it is both odd and ingenious. Two antennas (one vertical, one horizontal) emerge from a wooden box that contains a pair of tone-producing oscillators. The player’s hands, moving around and above the antennas, control both pitch and volume. At a good performance the listener hears a shapely musical line, produced by a musician who seems to be merely waving his or her hands through the air.
When Robert Moog’s keyboard based synthesizer became the centerpiece of university electronic music laboratories in the late 1960’s, it gave composers a measure of timbral flexibility that the theremin could never match. Yet as it happened, those 60’s behemoths – with their walls of electronic boxes connected by a forest of patch cords – are now museum pieces, replaced by their portable, user-friendly descendants and by computers.
The theremin, though, flourished quietly all along, periodically turning up on film soundtracks and pop records. And now it appears to be having a renaissance, thanks in part to the 1993 documentary film, “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey,” about the instrument and its colorful inventor.
Lydia Kavina, a distant relative of Leon Theremin, apparently learned the instrument at his knee and has established what appears to be an active concert career as a theremin soloist. And she made a reasonably strong case for the instrument on Wednesday evening at the Society for Ethical Culture, when she was joined by the Sospeso ensemble for a surprisingly wide-ranging program. The concert, which was called “Music From the Ether: A Celebration of the Theremin,” was part of the Electronic Evolutions series at the Lincoln Center Festival 2000.
Much of what Ms. Kavina did was remarkable. It is one thing to produce the eerie, sliding sounds that many listeners associate with the theremin. But Ms. Kavina opened her program with a series of short works from the instrument’s infancy, when composers wrote nuanced, chromatic melodies for it. Percy Grainger’s ambitious “Free Music No. 1” (1936), Friedrich Wilcken’s Debussian “Dance in the Moon” (1933) and charming, slightly exotic vignettes by Joseph Schillinger and Isidor Achron quickly gave the listener an appreciation for what is involved here: unlike the piano, which has a fingerboard, the theremin demands that the player find the note literally in mid-air.
In the short works for theremin and piano that opened the program, this posed some problems for Ms. Kavina, whose pitch did not always match that of her pianist, Stephen Gosling. But one has to cut her some slack: apparently, her own instrument stopped working 90 minutes before the concert, and although she found a substitute (made by Mr. Moog, as it turned out), it seems that note placements are not exactly identical from one theremin to the next.
That said, there was a great deal of suppleness to her playing, and by the end of the first half of the program she had compensated for the differences between the instrument she knew and the one she played. In her own “Suite for Theremin and Piano” (1989), she drew on an expanded palette, with fuzzy-textured bass notes and jagged rhythms offsetting an attractively contrapuntal, neo-Bachian movement.
In Christian Wolff’s “Exercise 28” (2000), a long and generally arid work for theremin, violin, horn, and bass, Ms. Kavina blended easily with the pointillistic texture. “Bählamms Fest,” a suite from a 1999 opera by Olga Neuwirth, was immensly more inviting. Its instrumentation was so rich and its scoring so exotic that the theremin’s timbre seemed almost staid in context.
The program also included pieces derived from two film scores in which the theremin is prominent, Miklos Rozsa’s haunting “Spellbound” Concerto (1945-6) and Howard Shore’s entertainingly derivative “Ed Wood” Suite (2000). In these, and the Neuwirth, Ms. Kavina was supported by the Ensemble Sospeso’s beautifully played performances, conducted by Charles Peltz.
— Allan Kozinn, New York Times, Friday, July 21, 2000