When asked about music in Russian cinema, any literate Russian moviegoer or professional one, certainly recalls Alexei Shelygin among the first two or three names. It happened that films won a fame and fortune for him, but it’s more due the spirit of the times than about a writer who always continues academic works, is engaged in a successful and multi-faceted theatrical creativity, being much more versatile and productive then current times need.
On the ruins of collapsed Soviet Union's domestic film industry, Alexei was one of those professionals who restored the prestige of the composer's skill, not only in cinema but also in the "low genre" of TV-series music. In the nineties Shelygin was involved into the establishment of new, democratic TV. He created soundtracks for the most brilliant TV shows on the first private TV channel – NTV.
Television was his gates to the cinema…
Alexey A. Shelygin was born in Moscow on October 28, 1960. After Ippolitov-Ivanov Music School he graduated from Moscow Conservatory, where Edison Denisov was among his beloved teachers. Unusual for the late Soviet Union was his diploma work on the «Imagery possibilities of rock music». In 1988 he starts working for the Mayakovski theater, but his «sphere of influence» gradually expanded to the Vakhtangov, Stanislavsky and other theaters which led him to write music for thirty performances (among them «The Valencian madmen», «Amphitryon», «Patron’s Joke», «Collection of Pinter's»).
Collaboration with the director Mirzoyev led to the recognition of theatrical community: «The Seagull» national award in 2001 was obtained for the play «Cyrano de Bergerac».
International activities also began, among them are opera «Pauline ... Pauline» and «Late Flowers» stage show in France, the musical «Kashtanka» in Germany. As a teacher Shelygin also goes abroad for master classes, including Italy and France.
Television era has come into his life when NTV established a new, modern television style and was in need of original music for their production. Collaboration with the best Russian TV-presenter and journalist Leonid Parfenov required unique, «cinematic» approach to musical arrangement, not having anything to do with «musical wallpaper» that was often sin of the then current TV-production.
At this stage, he creates the soundtrack for several TV-series including the cycle of «Recent history». Three consecutive years brought him three critics awards “Teffy” (for the «Puppets», «Theater Plus TV», and «Live Pushkin»).
All this time, Alexey was thinking about possible work in the movies. He dreamed about it since his youth, when he met with the music of domestic film composers - Isaac Schwartz, Andrei Petrov and Vladimir Dashkevich, and was fascinated by foreign movie soundtracks by Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Henry Mancini.
And finally, his movie debut turned out to be loud. In 1999, despite the nomination of such Russian masters as Artemiev, Petrov and Gladkov, the composer wins movie critics «Golden Ram» award for Vasiliy Pichul’s film «The sky in diamonds».
«When Vladimir Dashkevich read my name, I was just in shock ...» - still not hiding pride, recalls Shelygin.
From the very start, the composer articulates his creative principles: being thematically clear, emotionally expressive and accessible, his music does not make concessions to the primitive, «massive», «producer» taste that prevailed in commercial Russian cinema. Based on the classical school of Russian and international music, he brings in all the tone of modernity, which the author hears around him (which led to the collaborations with rock bands of radical and electronic areas, including well-known Finnish interpreters of «heavy metal» Apocalyptica).
Music for the Alexei Sidorov’s criminal serial «The Brigade» (2002) and blockbuster «Shadowboxing» (2005) brings him widespread public success. Musical themes become self-reliant hits and he wins two "Record" awards for the best-selling domestic soundtracks.
But the coin had a downside: unsophisticated producers perceived him as the author of the music "about the bandits” while at his heart he was personally attracted by melodrama, and musical comedy, and of course a serious dramatic genre. «I did not write gangsters’ music - for me it always human relationships, Shakespeare's drama, interconnection of people with each other and the world around. Ancient drama and the need for catharsis has not been canceled»- the composer recalled.
To overcome that image and attitude, it took years of labor and productive work for the big screen: «The sky, an airplane, a girl», «Signs of Love», «Graffiti», «Shadowboxing 2», «Korolev», «Once in a Province», «On Verhnyaya Maslovka», «Shakespeare Never Dreamed of» and many others. Working on the TV-series, Shelygin don’t treat them as a low genre «for housewives». In recent years the quality of the best TV series in Russia sometimes rises to the level of feature films, and Alexey, together with colleagues, trying everything possible to make their work could be called «television feature film».
And the audience is grateful: such films as «Penal Battalion», «Stargazer», «Leningradec», «Gluhar», enriched with Shelygin’s music, as they say, have come to every home.
In spring 2009, the composer assembled twenty one cinema pieces into a CD-album, and enthusiastically performed it almost in entirety at the Moscow club «Jazz Town», including music from such popular pictures as «Penal Battalion, «Stargazer», «Swan Paradise», «Heaven. Aircraft. Girl», «Krechinsky Polonaise» and others. There was only a piano sounded that night, and music was not hidden behind the external effects of the arrangements and electronic tricks. Picky Moscow audience has been convinced how personal and meaningful could be composer’s treatment of his own music, combining different works in flexible but deeply personal style.
Infrequent live performances attract Shelygin very much. He worked with the Vivaldi Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Hall (just at the moment got an offer to do «gangster's series» «The Brigade»), traveled to the Russian Theatre in Tallinn, and made a gigs at the Moscow House of Actor. Direct contact with the audience, music sounding without the aid of the silver screen allows a one-on-one talk with those to whom music is addressed.
No matter how wide is the audience of cinema and television, the composer can not limit his creativity by the rectangle of a movie screen. Works for musical theater are still very important for him: «Dandelion Wine» (libretto by M. Bartenev), song cycle "Three Men in a Boat” (libretto by I. Zhukov), theatrical cantata «Atonement of Don Juan», as well as chamber and instrumental works: suite «The Seagull», a concerto for viola and chamber orchestra, piano suite «Shadow», sonatina for viola and piano...
But the times and the audience, cinematography art require their «victims». While in the 2010 season the television series «Gluhar» continued which television ratings had broken records again, composer once again won an award, receiving «Nika» for the soundtrack of Nikolay Dostal «Pete on the road to Heaven».As a best picture of the year, the film won the top prize «Golden George» of 31th Moscow International Festival. Formally, this is a historical parable, while distributors attached to the picture a label «art-house». But here - finally took to the opposite pole of the gangster thriller - the author is faithful to his principles - write about human relationships, and about man's relationship with the universe, based on the eternal laws of harmony and drama.