Rob Schwimmer is a composer-pianist and thereminist who has performed and recorded throughout the world. His compositions have been featured in theater, television series and movies, documentaries and feature films including the Academy Award Winners “Freeheld and “Dear Diary.” His recent solo CD “Beyond The Sky” was hailed as “Extraordinary” in Gramophone and as “Shaping up to be the finest solo piano CD of the year” in All About Jazz-NY.
Rob is a founding member of the highly acclaimed Polygraph Lounge music and comedy duo with multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart. Schwimmer has worked/played with Simon and Garfunkel (most recently at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show where he was the featured theremin soloist on “The Boxer”), Wayne Shorter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bobby McFerrin, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Adam Guettel, Chaka Khan, Laurie Anderson, Bette Midler, T-Bone Walker, Sam Rivers, Marc Shaiman, The Klezmatics, Matthew Barney, Ang Lee, Bela Fleck, David Krakauer, Mary Cleere Haran, Maria Schneider, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kepa Junkera, Marshall Brickman, Michel Gondry, Josh Groban, Christian Marclay, Queen Latifah, Dispatch, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, The Philistines Jr, Mabou Mines, Geoffrey Holder, John Cale, Steve Buscemi, Theo Bleckmann, Annette Peacock, John Stubblefield, Burt Bacharach, Edie Brickell, Iva Bittova, Arif Mardin, Teo Macero, Hal Willner, Vernon Reid, The Everly Brothers, Ethel, The Roches, Anjani Thomas, Kurt Vonnegut, Odetta, James Emery, Drepung Loseling Tibetan Monks, Joseph
Jarman, Alwin Nikolai/Murray Louis Dance Company, Henry Jaglom, Talujon Percussion Quartet, Fred Anderson, Marc Ribot, C&C Music Factory and Sammy Davis Jr.
Hailed as a “theremin hero” in The New Yorker, Rob is one of the few theremin virtuosos in the world, performing as featured theremin soloist with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s playing Rob’s own version of Bernard Herrmann’s “Scene d’Amour” from Vertigo at Caramoor, NPR TV’s History Detectives, Matthew Barney’s epic movie Cremaster 3, R.W. Goodwin’s movie (producer/director/writer of X-Files) Alien Trespass, CBS television series Now and Again and A&E’s Breakfast With the Arts (as well as giving Sara Fishko a theremin lesson on the nationally broadcast Studio 360 on NPR). Touted as a “Theremin master” by The New York Times, he is an original member of the NY Theremin Society and was one of the chosen participants in the historic 10 Piece Theremin Orchestra at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Rob recently premiered his 23 minute work “Pellucid Dream(s) for Theremin” which was commissioned by The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. Rob’s other appearances as theremin soloist with orchestras include The Little Orchestra (Lincoln Center); the New Haven Symphony Orchestra (Yale); and Red, An Orchestra (Cleveland.) His previous CD “Theremin Noir” featured pianist Uri Caine and violinist Mark Feldman. Other collaborations include The Zmiros Project (CD) with Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg of The Klezmatics.
He has played from Madison Square Garden to the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), from The Blue Note to CBGB’s, from Krakow to Canberra, from Carnegie Hall to the Tokyo Dome, and the Colosseum (Rome) before a crowd of over 600,000.
Schwimmer’s work can be heard on CBS/Sony, Warner Brothers, Toshiba/EMI, Def Jam/Island, Manhattan/Blue Note, Dorian, NHK, Capricorn, Evidence, Knitting Factory, Polystar, Traditional Crossroads, Dreamworks SKG, Universal Pictures, TriStar Pictures, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, CBS, NBC, ABC, Discovery, Lifetime, Noggin, A&E, NPR and Nickelodeon.
- What prompted you to play theremin?
I saw/heard Clara and I knew I had to at least try
What were your first feelings when you heard the sounds of theremin and where did it happen?
I’d heard theremins before and didn’t think all that much about it but when I saw a video clip of Clara playing (the first time I saw anybody playing on a TV show called Night Music back in the early 90’s) I felt an instant kinship to the instrument, the sound and approach of her style of playing… I thought “I must have this instrument!” I thought since I have very good pitch that I would be able to play well right away. A rude awakening to the difficulties awaited. I figured after about 5 minutes that it had to be a hoax! Nevertheless, I kept at it, annoying my family and neighbors to the best of my abilities until after a (long) time it started to sound better…slowly
- What is your musical philosophy and what place it occupies a theremin?
I’ve been a pianist since I was 3 and played electric keyboards and guitar from when I was maybe 14… I’ve always had an unhealthy (just kidding) attraction to unusual instruments (perhaps a remnant from growing up in the 60’s.) I’ve also always loved a very wide range of music and I try to play them all… Maybe a bad idea but that’s what I like. Growing up in the 60’s was a difficult time as a keyboard player since the guitar was king back then. I wished I could have vibrato, sustain and bend notes like my guitar heroes (Hendrix, Beck, Clapton) so you can see how the theremin would appeal having all 3 of those qualities in spades… So in a strange way I can to the theremin in that fashion, too… Not just the seeking of a classical voice sound. PS–Theremin probably should not be your first instrument
Prospects for theremin and its place in modern music space – how you see them? For what qualities you value this tool?
The prospects for the theremin have always been diffucult as it’s such a bitch to play well… Nevertheless, I think there have never been so many good players ever on the planet at once. There are many places for the theremin to fit into our contemporary scene… and lots where it doesn’t work at all. I think it’s critical to know when it doesn’t work as well as when it does.
Which manufacturer of theremin do you prefer?
All of my theremins are built by Moog… I’m very happy with all of them (a Melodia from about 1959, two standard Etherwaves… one is a backup, and an Etherwave-Pro) but of course we all wish we could own an old RCA or something Theremin himself built. I’ve played on Lucie Bigelow Rosen’s November theremin and let me tell you, it was very different than any I own! A hard adjustment but once I could cope it was amazing! Also I’ve tried one or 2 RCA’s…
What you can recommend for beginners thereminists, or those who are just going to start their way of thereminist?
Don’t plan on going too far too fast. It’s a real instrument and it takes time to play beautifully and in tune… a lot of time. You have to really want it