An interview with Alexei Szpuk, Chetham’s alumnus

Alexei graduated from Chetham’s in 2023 having scored an incredible five A* in his A-Levels! He’s also, of course, a wonderful musician playing double bass and the piano. We spoke to Alexei about his highlights from his time at school, his advice to new students and plans for the future. We love to see our alumni community thriving – find out more here.

Tell us about your A Level subjects and instruments?

For my A Levels, I studied biology, chemistry, maths, further maths and music! Doing 5 A Levels was certainly a challenge, but I think the support from both my teachers and my peers allowed me to succeed. An advantage of studying A Levels is that most people in the class are interested in what you are learning – this often sparks discussions that go beyond the A Level specification, which I think allows you to explore your chosen subjects in great depth.

As for my instruments, I play both the double bass and the piano, as my first and second study, respectively. Playing an orchestral instrument at Chet’s is brilliant – I had never played double bass in an orchestra before coming here, but the feeling you get after finishing a good performance is extraordinary. It’s so rewarding knowing that you contributed to the incredible sound that is produced. I enjoy playing piano as well, and I think as a second study you get a lot of freedom of what repertoire to work on, which can be really exciting. Over the past year, I even started learning Shostakovich Piano Concerto, which was so fun!

Has there been a stand-out moment during your time at school?

There have been so many! I haven’t had a singular stand-out moment but I would say all of the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra performances have been pretty special, especially playing The Rite of Spring last year at the Bridgewater Hall. I have had some brilliant masterclass opportunities, both playing and observing – for example I played in a masterclass with Graham Mitchell, Head of Strings at the Royal Academy of Music, which was very insightful. I also had the opportunity to watch a masterclass with Božo Paradžik at the RNCM. It’s always so exciting to watch the people who inspire you working with other musicians in person. I could go on all day about the fabulous musical opportunities at Chet’s, but I think another one worth noting is the Turtle Song Project. This was an outreach project in which we composed and performed songs with people living with dementia. It was truly special to see the positive impact the arts can have on people.

What was the best thing about being a student at Chetham’s?

Being surrounded by like-minded people, who all share a passion, but who are also all individuals who have something unique to bring to the table. I think this doesn’t just go for the students here, but the staff as well. I’ve had the most brilliant conversations with some of my teachers about topics ranging from musical harmony to Einstein’s theory of relativity! Everyone wants to succeed, but at Chet’s, this creates a kind of environment where people help each other out a lot, rather than be against each other. I would also say one of the best things about Chet’s is that the facilities are exceptional; I will certainly miss practising on the Steinway pianos! Just looking around the buildings (both old and new) and realising this is the place where you get to wake up, practise, laugh with your friends, and make new memories is an absolute privilege.

Do you have any advice for out new-starters in September?

My biggest piece of advice would be the same piece of advice that was given to me when I started: take every opportunity you can! The opportunities at Chet’s are endless and I think the desire to be proactive and involve yourself in everything you can will give you the most satisfaction out of the Chet’s experience. I have been involved in committees, student-led orchestral (and opera!) projects, societies, olympiads and many more fulfilling activities. Push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of and the world is your oyster.
Additionally, I would say try not to compare yourself to others. One of the beauties of Chet’s is that everyone is on their own musical journey – it really isn’t about the difficulty of the repertoire you are playing or what grades you have taken, but more where you started, how far you have come, and the possibilities for the future.

What are your next steps/plans for the future?

Honestly, I am not entirely sure – I keep changing my mind! Chetham’s has prepared me excellently for many career paths, and so deciding on which one to take has been really difficult. I plan to take a gap year, discover what I think the next step is and go for it! If one thing is for sure, it’s that music will be the constant in my life, whether in my career or not. Right now I am quite interested in learning about law, so that’s a path I am considering taking. I know that the staff at Chet’s will continue to assist and support me after I leave, which gives me great confidence in the future, regardless of what I decide to do.



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