Interview with Alexander Bălănescu

Alexander Bălănescu

Alexander Bălănescu, one of the best known Romanian born musicians of the last decades was interviewed for

Recently, Romanian songwriter has signed the music for Hipopotamy – Polish animated movie presented at the International Festival of Animated Film in Annecy in 2014.

Four years ago, Alexander Balanescu performed a very special concert on Patria Cinema stage in Bucharest. He accompanied live with violin, shorts signed by animator guest of the fifth edition Anim’est Briton Phil Mulloy, one of the most important European filmmakers of contemporary animation.

Balanescu and Mulloy collaborated several times. The British animator is one of the important directors Alexander Balanescu has worked with, along with Peter Greenaway, Michael Winterbottom or Jean-Luc Godard.

Please tell me about your collaboration with Piotr Dumala for Hipopotamy music. What is about? Where can I see the animated – full video or trailer? 

The collaboration with Piotr was as strange and misterious as his films. Piotr loved a piece of mine , „Turning Wheels” and it inspired him for his new film „Hipopotamy” (sometimes known as „Hippos”) . This film is an uncompromising exploration of the violent power struggle between men and women. We decided that I would compose and record a new piece for the film, respecting the same structure as „Turning Wheels”. After working a lot on this new piece, Piotr decided in the end that he preffered „Turning Wheels” after all. I wasn’t sure why, and I haven’t seen the final result. I am not sure where and how the film can be seen; I know though that it has been awarded the Anifest prize in Cyprus, and stirred a lot of interest in Toronto.

Synopsis – „Hipopotamy”
„A few naked women and children are bathing in a river. They are being secretly observed by a group of men, who, at one point, decide to approach them, in a violent manner, as if inspired by the behaviour of hippopotamuses”

Veteran Polish filmmaker Piotr Dumala won the short film grand prize for Hipopotamy at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

You gave a recital at Animest. Talk about this experience.
Have you colaborate with other animators/ animation directors? Can you tell me about these collaborations?

I was very happy to take part in Animest. My longtime collaborator Phil Mulloy was being .celebrated. We worked on over 20 films together. At Animest I played live with a projection of ” The Sound Of Music” , an important film in the history of our work together, as it is biographical ; it started out as a series of interviews with me recollecting episodes of my childhood and growing up. Working with Phil Mulloy has been one of the happiest experiences for me ,among my collaborations with film makers. The complete trust Phil had in my work, meant that I always had complete freedom in what I was doing, and I always produce my best work, I think, when I am absolutely free . Among our collaborations:” Wind of Changes”, „History of The World”, the series „Cowboys”.

Phil is extraordinary. His family is extraordinary. His wife , Vera Neubauer , is also a great animator and film maker. His children, Daniel and Lucy are both, also, extremely talented film makers. And, I had the chance to work with almost all of them ( not yet with Lucy). With Vera I worked on „Lady of The Lake”, „Dust” and most recently „A Day In May” whih we presented at the Oberhausen Festival in a version with live music.

Can be animation without music?

There is a special relationship between music and animation. I think it is because animation is music. The animated images are subject to the same poetical and technical rules as the musical sounds . Whereas in live action films ,music can be subordinate to the images, in animation, music is much more of an integral part of the artistic product, an essential element of the viewer’s experience.

I think it is possible to have an animation film with no music, but then the (unbearably loud) silence would become , would be transformed into music

How do you compose music for animated films? What inspires you? How you do?

I find it easier to write music for film, as opposed to concert music, especially animation ; the animated images suggest straight away rythm, movement , and rythm is , I think , the most important element in music.

What are you working for now? Where do you sustain concerts?

I am working now, as it happens, on the soundtrack of a very interesting animation film, a romanian-french-polish coproduction ; also another interesting documentary that integrates some very beautiful animation sequences. Several other projects are current, work in the theatre, with dance, combined with work on the concert platform. Important for me ,from the artistic point of view for me, is also the preparation of a new album which is long overdue.


Alexander Bălănescu was born in 1955 and began studying the violin at 7 years old, at the Bucharest Music School. He emigrate to Israel in 1969, continues studying at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem then leaves for the famous Trinity College in London and also for one of the most important universities for music: Julliard School in New York. He becomes part of different formulas serving avant-garde: Capricorn, Music Projects, Gemini, and starting 1979, becomes the leader of the renowned musical group Michael Nyman Band, touring and recording for 15 years. He writes music for ballets, theatre, live action and animated film, and collaborated on different occasions with London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Wanting to speak to the widest audience possible, in 1987 he founds Bălănescu Quartet. The Quartet joins lead musicians of the British avant-garde like Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars or Philip Glass. The great response from the audience and the unconventional presentations of the music get the Bălănescu Quartet chosen to open on the Pet Shop Boys 1989 tour. They perform on the Wembley Stadium in front of 10.000 people. After signing with the most important label, Mute Records, right next to the names of Depeche Mode or Einsturzende Neubauten, Bălănescu Quartet start recording classical arrangements of the Kraftwerk hits for the Possessed album.

The Luminitza album (1994) holds a tribute to Balkan and Romanian music in particular. In 1995, Alexander Bălănescu records the soundtrack for the film Angels and insects by Philip Haas, with an orchestra of 15 musicians and Claire Connors as producer. He works with important artists in the pop-rock-electro area the likes of Dagmar Krause, David Byrne, Kate Bush, Spiritualized, and Goldfrapp.

Alexander Bălănescu’s repertory includes the modern works of Bela Bartok, contemporary works by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and also, some by Duke Ellington. In the recent years, the violin player has been studying Bach’s sonatas and partitas. One of the most popular albums by Alexander Bălănescu is dedicated to Maria Tănase and was released in 2005 with a live presentation supported by multimedia artist Klaus Obermaier. In 2006, Alexander Bălănescu wrote the music for Cătălin Mitulescu’s acclaimed film debut, Cum mi-am petrecut sfârşitul lumii (How I celebrated the end of the world).