Levin, Ira (1958 - )

Ira Levin is known internationally for the great versatility of his musical activities. He has conducted well over a thousand performances of 75 operatic titles and is equally at home in concert, with a vast symphonic repertoire. He has worked with many of the world’s leading instrumentalists, singers and stage directors and conducted at important opera houses and orchestras worldwide. He is an award-winning concert pianist and was the pupil and teaching assistant of the legendary Jorge Bolet at the Curtis Institute of Music. His over 40 publications include orchestrations of major works by Brahms, Liszt, Busoni, Franck, Reger, Rachmaninoff and Respighi, piano transcriptions and cadenzas to several Mozart concertos.

He was the principal guest conductor of the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires from 2011-15, where he conducted 12 major opera productions, including the South American premieres of Enescu’s Oedipe,Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and Glanert’s Caligula. He was the Music and Artistic Director of the Theatro Municipal in Sao Paulo (2002-2005) and the Theatro National in Brasilia (2007-2010), the principal conductor of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf-Duisburg (1996-2002), the Bremen Opera (1988-1996), as well as the principal guest conductor of the Kassel Opera (1994-1998). He gave his triumphant New York debut in April 2017, conducting Respighi’s La campana sommersa at the New York City Opera.

He has recorded several CDs to great critical acclaim with the London Symphony, Scottish National Orchestra and the Norrlands Symphony Orchestra and of his own piano transcriptions.


Brahms, Johannes (1833 - 1897) | Busoni, Ferruccio (1866 - 1924) | Franck, César (1822 - 1890) | Liszt, Franz (1811 - 1886) | Rachmaninoff, Sergei (1873 - 1943) | Reger, Max (1873 - 1916) | Respighi, Ottorino (1879 - 1936)

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Sonata in f minor Op. 5 (orchestrated by Ira Levin)

Sonata in f minor Op. 5 (orchestrated by Ira Levin) | more info
Duration 40'00'' 97 pages


Brahms's Sonata opus 5 is of course a beloved standard work of the 19th century piano literature. However, since it's inception during the time that Brahms was with Schumann in October 1853, it has been acknowledged that it's textures (and those of the two earlier piano sonatas) often go beyond the possibilities of the piano, and are clearly orchestral in nature. This results at times in some very awkward piano writing, straining even the greatest technicians of the keyboard. Robert Schumann recognized that in his sonatas Brahms “made an orchestra of lamenting and loudly rejoicing voices out of the piano”, calling them “veiled symphonies” and adding furthermore “When he will direct his magic wand to where the masses of choir and orchestra will lend him their powers, we can look forward to even more wondrous glimpses of the secret world of spirits”. This prophecy was certainly more than fulfilled in the later choral and orchestral works.

In my 45 years' experience playing this work, and hearing it both live and on record from some of the greatest pianists of the century (I studied it as well with my master, Jorge Bolet, who was a wonderful exponent of it), I have always felt that it was fairly screaming for orchestral treatment. Indeed some of the “scoring” was all too obvious to me, I could easily imagine the sound of the various wind instruments, the horn group and the great tutti passages etc. The constant rolling of the chords, especially at the massive endings of the first and last movements, always seemed woefully inadequate (and treacherous!) at such climatic moments. The fourth movement appeared to be an amazing precursor of Mahler's “Wunderhorn” sound world and many more examples could be given of the work's implied orchestral sounds.

I have therefore in this, the 7th of my orchestrations, tried to realize those sounds as I have always heard them. I have not made an effort to recreate Brahms's orchestral style, especially concerning the treatment of the brass. For me there is nothing creative in that approach to begin with and the wild “Sturm und Drang” style of early Brahms, heavily influenced by Jean Paul and E.T.A Hoffmann (Brahms sometimes signed his letters from this period as “Kreisler”) is more highly charged and colorful than the later, and greater, masterpieces, allowing for a larger palette. I have on the other hand not gone as far as Schönberg did in some passages of his orchestration of the Piano Quartet opus 25, restricting myself basically to the same sized orchestra that Brahms used in his 1st symphony (plus one flute) and eschewing more 20th century techniques.


Fantasia contrappuntistica after Bach

Fantasia contrappuntistica after Bach | more info
Duration 27-28'00'' 74 pages

Orchestration by Ira Levin

*3333/4321/Bass Drum/Harp/Celesta/Strings


Piano Quintet in f-minor (orchestrated by Ira Levin)

Piano Quintet in f-minor (orchestrated by Ira Levin) | more info
an Orchestration of the Piano Quintet in f-minor by Ira Levin

Duration 36'00-37'00'' 156 pages


I Molto moderato quasi lento
II Lento, con molto sentimento
III Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco

Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet has long been part of the standard chamber music repertoire, beloved by audiences and performers worldwide. However, it has often been criticized for overstepping the bounds of chamber music and being too symphonic in style. If that is the case, it is in very good company, because there are many movements of Beethoven’s quartets about which the same has been said, as well as Schubert’s G-major quartets, the first movement of which already sounds like a Bruckner symphony (even though Bruckner was only two years old when it was written!). Conductors such as Mahler, Toscanini, Furtwängler, Mitropoulos and Bernstein often performed quartets with full string orchestras and others went even further. Szell orchestrated Smetana’s first string quartet, Barschai some of Shostakovich’s, and there are above all many works for piano and strings with which one could do the same. Schoenberg orchestrated Brahms’s first piano quartet, and the other piano quartets and piano quintet are certainly symphonic in sound and scope. Piano quintets by Taneyev, Reger and Bloch can also join this illustrious company.

The Franck seemed be an obvious work to orchestrate. It can be considered the equal of his well-known symphony in d-minor in intrinsic quality. In addition, it contains some of the most passionate music of the entire century, comparable to “Tristan” in its voluptuousness. And in terms of sheer violence of expression, like the coda of the first movement, it is only equalled by certain passages in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred and Francesca da Rimini. The second movement has great intimacy and yearning sadness but also one of the most awesome climaxes in all of 19th century music.

Debussy admired Franck greatly, despite the great differences in their music and aesthetic aims. He wrote: “César Franck is always a worshipper of music. No power on earth can induce him to interrupt a passage he considers just and necessary; however long it is, it must be gone through. This is the hallmark of an imagination so selfless as to check its very sobs until it has first tested their genuineness.” The great main cyclical melody of Franck’s quintet can be heard very clearly as the inspiration (conscious or not) behind the principal subject of the third movement of Debussy’s La mer. At one point (five measures after rehearsal letter R in my score) the connection will be obvious to those who know the Debussy.

After playing the work for over 30 years I felt that the full impact of this work could be even more powerfully projected with an orchestral treatment. Doing so was by no means just a matter of orchestrating the piano part and keeping the strings as they were in the original, rather a complete rethinking of the entire score in orchestral terms. In this process, no attempt was made to duplicate Franck’s own very idiosyncratic type of orchestration.

As much as Franck’s “other” symphony, this work has all of the necessary elements to appeal to larger concert audiences.

Ira Levin, October 2012


Fantasia and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H

Fantasia and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H | more info
Duration 11'00''-12'00'' 45 pages


Orchestration by Ira Levin

Material on hire

Liszt’s “Fantasy and Fugue on the theme BACH” is one of his most original creations. Originally written in 1855 for organ and then revised in 1870 for piano solo, it stretches the limits of tonality, especially in the fugue, to an extent that was almost unprecedented at the time except in certain works of Chopin and Liszt himself, leading ultimately to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” a couple of years later and then the final dissolution of tonality with Schoenberg. However, the work is by no means just of an historical interest, it is rather a wild and passionate tone poem that also has it’s moments of quiet contemplation, and a triumphant conclusion. It is one of the four great works based on BACH, after Bach himself used the theme for what was to be the final triple fugue of his “Art of the Fugue”. It is known that Beethoven had been contemplating a BACH overture at the time of his death and Schumann’s opus 60 consists of some beautiful fugues on the same subject. However, Liszt’s work goes way beyond these in finding some quite amazing possibilities inherent in the theme, something that was further developed by Reger in his great organ work opus 46, Busoni in his extraordinary “Fantasia contrappuntistica” (also orchestrated by me and published by “Tilli”), which takes Bach’s fugue as the starting point for a visionary journey of enormous fascination and proportions, and then the simply astonishing “Offrande musicale sur le nom BACH, the opus 187 of Charles Koechlin. That 50- minute orchestral masterpiece seems once and for all to exhaust all of the implications that Liszt was the first to explore. I feel that Liszt made some great improvements over his popular organ version when he revised it for piano many years later, after the end of his great Weimar period and the appearance of some of his most enduring works. I have performed this version for almost 30 years and still enjoy doing so. However, I always felt that much of it fairly screamed out for orchestral treatment, as it takes the piano to unheard of limits of sonority and is full of implied instrumental combinations. I have, in all humility, but also in the true Liszt-Busoni tradition, made some small changes which I feel have tightened the work up a little bit structurally and made it more effective, at least in it’s present orchestral setting. My hope is that this version might introduce larger concert audiences to a powerful and revolutionary work that is well known only by organists, and some pianists, in this Liszt bicentennial year.
Ira Levin, February 2011


Five Pieces

Five Pieces | more info
Duration 15'30'' 58 pages

1. Oriental Sketch 2'00''
2. Etude tableaux Op. 33 No 6 2'00''
3. Bogoroditse Devo Op. 37 No 6 3'00''
4. Prelude Op. 32 No 10 5'00''
5. Humoresque Op. 10 No 5 3'30''

orchestration by Ira Levin


Oriental Sketch

Oriental Sketch | more info
Duration 2'00'' 11 pages

Orchestration by Ira Levin

Material on hire


Bogoroditse Devo Op. 37 No 6

Bogoroditse Devo Op. 37 No 6 | more info
Duration 3'00'' 2 Pages

String orchestra

orchestration by Ira Levin


Etude tableau Op. 33 No 6

Etude tableau Op. 33 No 6 | more info
Duration 2'00'' 13 pages

Orchestration by Ira Levin

Material on hire


Prelude Op. 32 No 10

Prelude Op. 32 No 10 | more info
*3333 4231 12 Harp Strings

orchestration by Ira Levin


Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.S. Bach

Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.S. Bach | more info
an Orchestration of Op. 81 by Ira Levin
Duration 24'00'' - 25'00'' 86 pages


10 Variations and Fugue


Violin Concerto in b minor

Violin Concerto in b minor | more info
Duration 27'-28' 75 pages

Orchestration of the Violin Sonata b minor by Ira Levin

2223 / 4000 / Harp / 1 / Viol. Solo / Strings

Piano Reduction available ET 1501