Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lee Actor

Lee Actor is an American violinist, composer, and conductor with an unfolding career as a very successful composer, a career which almost happened as a second thought.  He is also an electrical engineer and has worked for years in the Information Technology field as well as the video game industry.  The dual endeavors are not as far apart as many would imagine – not nearly.  Music and Science – especially mathematics – are intimately intertwined.  Actor’s engineering degrees are from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1970-1975, Troy, New York, about 150 miles north of New York City), one of the top science schools in the country.  Simultaneously studying music and science, he chose to pursue science upon graduation and worked at GTE in Boston for several years.  One of his violin professors was Angelo Frascarelli.  Although he began violin studies at age 7, kept up his pursuit of music studies at Rensselaer, played violin and viola in the Albany (New York) Symphony for three years (1972-1975), Actor also devoted  time to composition.  While working full-time, he studied conducting privately with David Epstein at MIT (Boston, 1975-1978) and composition with Donald Sur.  Up until 1978, Actor was playing violin in various orchestras on a regular basis and was composing chamber music works in his spare time.  Three years later (1979), he found himself in Silicon Valley (California), working in the IT field but  taking advanced courses in music as well.  While there, Actor secured his Master’s degree in composition from San Jose State University (1982) and pursued further studies at the University of California at Berkeley.  In 1982, Actor went to work for a start-up video game company.  The industry was in its infancy.  That led to his starting his own video game development company in 1988.  In 1997, he was one of three founders of Universal Digital Arts, a subsidiary of Universal Studios.  Finally, in 2000, he went to work as Director of Engineering for yet another high-tech start-up and retired from the industry one year later.  All this time, music had never been far away.  It is interesting that several famous musicians in history have had other careers, almost simultaneously as they were playing or writing music – Jean-Marie Leclair, Charles Dancla, Pierre Baillot, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Ignace Paderewski, Camille Saint Saens, Charles Ives, and Efrem Zimbalist come to mind.  In 2001, Actor was invited to fill the Assistant Conductor post with the Palo Alto Symphony.  However, Actor had already been conducting various orchestras since 1974.  He was later (2002) appointed Composer-in-Residence of the same orchestra and thus began to compose prolifically.  As far as I know, Actor does not devote much time to small-scale works.  Every review of his orchestral music consistently praises his skills, originality, and ingenuity as a composer.  Actor has mostly put the violin aside – as have Alan Gilbert, Lorin Maazel, David Zinman, Jap Van Zweden, and a few other violinists – in favor of other pursuits in music, composition and conductng.  English violinist Leonard Salzedo used to play violin in the Royal Philharmonic (UK) and actually continued playing in that orchestra for quite some time while devoting a lot of his spare time to composition – mostly ballet music.  That, however, is rare.  Other violinists who turned from playing to other endeavors include Theodore Thomas, Victor Young, Eddy Brown, Patricia Travers, Iso Briselli, Pierre Monteux, Joseph Achron, Eugene Ormandy, and Arthur Judson.  Actor has composed concertos for horn, alto saxophone, timpani, guitar, and violin, as well as various orchestral works, including two symphonies, and most of his works have already been recorded as well, by both European and American orchestras.  It is an enviable record for someone “new” to the composition scene, so to speak.  A typical comment from a critic reads: “[the work] is an incredible tour de force, written by an immensely talented composer.”  About his violin concerto, Pip Clarke (the English violinist for whom it was written), says “The music is exciting, passionate, and highly romantic,...filled with beautiful melodies and writing throughout.”  At a time when most music schools here and abroad shun melody, structure, and tonality, Actor is a true iconoclast.  A video of his Horn Concerto can be found here.  As Bronislaw Huberman always said, the true test of permanence in art has always been audience acceptance and Lee Actor has tons of it to spare.  It’s actually a very good thing that he turned from violin playing to composition.  One of my next blogs will focus on his violin concerto.  

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