Eugene Birman '05 Visits Performance Classical

On Wednesday, May 27, Eugene Birman, Branson class of 2005, visited Rachel Kim’s Performance Classical class for a virtual discussion about the effects of COVID-19 on his life and career as a freelance musician and composer, and on the performing arts more broadly.

Eugene, who is based in Hong Kong, has a background in economics as well as music. He told the class that he has “always been interested in how the music world meets the business world.” Eugene spoke candidly of the challenges facing performing artists in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with most live performances having been postponed indefinitely or cancelled across the globe. However, he also talked about the creative ways that artists are adapting to the public health crisis. One example: Eugene had been working on a series of concerts scheduled for September 2020 in Hong Kong that featured a vocal ensemble from Denmark. Given the dangers of travel and travel restrictions, and inspired by something he’d seen at Coachella, he began exploring the possibility of hosting the performance in Hong Kong via a hologram of the ensemble. After pursuing the idea, he has been able to get approval from the Hong Kong government. 

Eugene also gave advice to the Branson class on pursuing music - particularly if they decide to continue studying music in higher education. He urged students to “save money” and make sure their teachers are teaching music skills that are “useful and pertinent.” As an example, Eugene offered “I had two advanced degrees in music without really learning how to set up a microphone.”

You can read more about Eugene below. 


Eugene Birman ‘05

A composer of music of “high drama” and “intense emotion” (BBC), “at once, ingenious, hypnotic, brave, and beautiful” (Festival Internazionale A.F. Lavagnino), Eugene Birman (b. 1987) has written for symphony orchestras (London Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orquestra Gulbenkian), choirs (BBC Singers, Latvian Radio Choir, Eric Ericsons Kammarkör), and leading ensembles and soloists (Maxim Vengerov, Maurizio Ben Omar, etc.) across four continents in venues ranging from London’s Southbank Centre to Carnegie Hall to above the Arctic Circle. His highly public career, with appearances on CNN, BBC World TV, Radio France, Deutsche Welle, and others, is characterized by a fearless focus on socially relevant large-scale compositions covering the financial crisis, Russian border treaties, and more. Commissioners and partners for Birman’s work extend beyond the concert hall to major international bodies such as the European Union, the Austrian Foreign Ministry, and the Hong Kong SAR, as well as through prominent fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (2018) and the US Department of State’s Fulbright Program (2010-11). Most recently, he was awarded the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, leading to a season-long residency at the Southbank Centre and world premiere with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall, and appointed the sole Artist-in-Residence of the 2018 Helsinki Festival, Finland’s biggest yearly cultural event. A D.Phil recipient from the University of Oxford, he also holds degrees from Columbia University, the Juilliard School, and the Accademia Musicale Chigiana.