Born in Oakland, just east of San Francisco, NEP violinist Tim Alexander moved to Boston a few months after the legendary storm of 1978. Our principal contrabassist Emily Koh sat down with him this week to chat about his life-changing experience at a David Oistrakh concert in Cleveland, what’s left on his bucket list, and his upcoming NEP milestone.
EK: I have to ask, how did you feel watching the ’78 weather reports from your home in sunny California, thinking I’m moving there?
TA: To be honest, I wasn’t much focused on the snowy aspect of New England back then. Moving to Boston was a big career move for me at the time. I was in the customs brokerage business (import/export), newly licensed, and my company needed me to open a new office in Boston. I stayed in this line of work until 1986 and then pursued other interests. My career since then has mainly been helping manage community orchestras, including the NEP where I’ve done lots of grant writing, and also playing with many ensembles.
EK: You mentioned it was seeing the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh perform live in Cleveland when you were only five years old that prompted you to ask your mother for a violin. Can you still recall what about the evening inspired you?
TA: Well, I was only five years old, I think, so it’s mostly that my parents noticed that I seemed inspired by his playing. Pretty soon after, I started taking violin lessons.
EK: Your 20-year anniversary performing with the NEP is approaching. What are some of your fondest NEP memories?
TA: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012 and in the cathedral in Providence, RI— those were two amazing performances in front of huge audiences. I would add Alban Berg’s Wozzeck a few years before that, performances of Nielsen’s Symphony no. 4, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto, and Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto as particularly memorable.
EK: From your perspective, how has the NEP changed over your tenure?
TA: The orchestra has attracted more really good players, some of whom have had long tenures with it. I find it particularly inspiring to have had Danielle Maddon as our concertmaster for all the time she has been with us.
EK: Let’s just say that for your 20-year anniversary, Maestro Pittman asks you, “Tim, what would you like to see the NEP perform?” What would make your list?
TA: If I had to pick just one piece that the NEP has played before, it would be Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto (we performed it with Jan Muller-Szeraws in 2009). For something we’ve never done, Alban Berg’s Lulu or Henri Dutilleux’s Metaboles (or both, just not in the same concert).
EK: When you are not performing with the NEP, what are you up to?
TA: I am retired now and am truly getting the chance to do the things I love. Aside from the NEP, I also perform with the Brookline Symphony and Symphony Pro Musica. I play tennis and golf, and I have a home and garden I enjoy trying to maintain. I also inherited a huge library from my parents, which I’m trying to work my way through. I fashion myself as a pretty good cook and can follow a recipe. My significant other and I have made Thanksgiving turkey, with all the trimmings, every year for the last 10 years, and my favorites to make are ratatouille (Mom’s recipe) and apple pie. Bucket list items include more writing, translating (French), and editing.
EK: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?
TA: That’s a difficult choice. I’ve always loved Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, but Ruggles’s Evocations is really beautiful, and I think Yehudi Wyner’s Piano Concerto deserves more than one hearing – especially now that I’ve heard it once with our piano soloist.