I was the first in my family to be born in the United States. Right before I was born, my parents came to America from St. Petersburg, Russia. As Green Card holders, they kept their Russian citizenship, and I was born a dual-citizen. I had two homes while growing up, Center City Philadelphia, and the Moskovsky District of St. Petersburg. My friends at school knew me as “Alex,” at home, I was “Sasha.” I’ve kept this duality a part of my life ever since, and am fascinated by how insider/outsider dynamics affect people’s perception of me and my art. My loyalties are divided between two superpowers, and I hope that my perspective can bring light to the nuanced truth which is otherwise lost in political talking points and press releases.
My parents, busy as postgraduate students in Philadelphia, needed to find a babysitter for me, so they looked for someone who spoke Russian. They found a woman who had come to America with her daughter, who herself had been accepted to study violin at the Curtis Institute of Music. This was really my first encounter with the classical music world, since no one in my family was a professional musician. My mom studied piano in the Soviet music school program, but music lessons for me weren’t on the top of the priority list. Every day, my school bus would pass Curtis on 18th Street. However, I wouldn’t start studying music until we moved to Gainesville, Florida.
I always loved history class, and got myself hooked on Sousa and Strauss marches as a 10-year-old. For some reason, I was drawn to the piccolo, perhaps because it stuck out so obviously from the musical texture. It sounded like it was fun to play. After finding out that I had to study flute first, my parents bought me my first instrument — a $150 used Gemeinhardt off of eBay.
I was always interested in other instruments, too, so by 6th grade I had added piano, saxophone, drums, and guitar. The neighbors were not happy…
My piano teacher, Nina Mikhailovna, was the real deal. A Russian immigrant who had worked at the Kiev Conservatory, she did not teach “casual piano.” Lessons were three hours long, often several times a week, and included seemingly endless tales of long gone musical eras. She was diagnosed with cancer, and treatments meant that lessons happened less frequently. After she passed away, I would never have another piano teacher; in fact, I didn’t touch the piano for several years after that. I focused on the flute instead.
I fell in love with orchestral music as a member of the Alachua County Youth Orchestra. I found out from a friend and fellow orchestra member about a magical-sounding arts school in Northern Michigan. The next year, with the help of my flute teacher, Dr. Kristen Stoner, I was accepted into the Interlochen Arts Academy. A comprehensive arts boarding school, Interlochen introduced me to students of a wide range of artistic disciplines; from visual art and filmmaking, to dance, drama, creative writing, and of course, music. At Interlochen, I studied flute with Nancy Stagnitta, and conducting with Dr. Matthew Schlomer.
Wedged between two lakes and deep in the forest, Interlochen was a beautiful place to make music. During the cold and long winter months, I spent most of my time skiing through the deep snowbanks and forests of massive fir trees that surrounded the campus. People would refer to me as “that weird skiing guy.” Since those life-changing years, I’ve used every opportunity to escape into nature.
When he was a senior at Interlochen, I found out about a new ensemble being formed - the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. At the time, the United States was one of few nations that didn’t have a national youth orchestra. The group would go on tour to Russia, lead by Russian maestro Valery Gergiev. I had seen Gergiev conduct opera and ballet countless times at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. In fact, Gergiev was associated with my very first musical memories. I knew that I had to be a part of this orchestra. The experience proved to be a transformational one. As a Russian-American flutist, I found myself in the center of a massive project of cultural diplomacy, which included a lavish and bizarre reception at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., a cautionary briefing at the State Department about Russian etiquette and culminated in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms for an audience of over 6,000 people.
After Interlochen, I studied at the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, NY. At first, it was a difficult adjustment. I missed the interdisciplinary environment and beautiful scenery of Interlochen. But I knew what I had gained — an extraordinary mentor, Bonita Boyd, and an immensely talented and supportive flute studio. I made friends in the jazz department, and rekindled my love for improvised music (I had played saxophone in middle and high school). I further pursued my interests in conducting by taking classes with Brad Lubman.
Sometime during my sophomore year, I was asked by his friend, flutist and composer Zach Sheets, to perform with one of Eastman’s contemporary music ensembles, OSSIA New Music. Since coming to Eastman, I had been curious about the new music scene, but hadn’t felt ready to approach the crowd yet. The piece was George Benjamin’s “Octet,” which featured an extensive piccolo solo.
After this first experience, I was hooked. For the rest of his time at Eastman, I tried to say yes to every opportunity to perform contemporary music, and I became a regular member of OSSIA, as well as the Musica Nova Ensemble. I performed the music of Steve Reich, with the composer himself in the audience. I worked with the JACK Quartet, performing Morton Feldman’s “String Quartet & Orchestra.” I played next to Irvine Arditti in a performance of Brian Ferneyhough’s “Terrain.” These were unforgettable and magical opportunities. Other performances included works by Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Unsuk Chin, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Oliver Knussen, Helmut Lachenmann, and Wolfgang Rihm.
After Eastman, I moved to New York City, where I worked as a freelance teacher and performer.
I now live in San Diego, California, and am pursuing a graduate degree in Contemporary Music at the University of California, San Diego. Visit here to check in and see what I’ve been up to at UC San Diego, as well as to see some unrelated culinary and hiking adventures, and go behind the scenes of my current projects.