January 2015, Gewandhaus Leipzig
MDR Symphony Orchestra
Orchestral pieces commissioned by mdr, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk written and composed by Hauschka as Composer in Residence with Kristjan Järvi and the MDR Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig.
Music publicist Ilja Stephan on Hauschka’s orchestral works:
He's a "sound searcher", says pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann, alias Hauschka, about himself. This search began for Hauschka inside his piano, preparing it with drawing pins, table tennis balls, rubber erasers, any material imaginable, and so transforming it into an analog, mechanical synthesiser. Improvisation on a piano that can sound like a drum, then like an electronic effects device, like a tin or a gamelan orchestra – while all the time reminders of a romantic nocturne float by –, is still the basis of Hauschka's music today. But since his 2005 album "The Prepared Piano", the sound searcher has steadily extended his musical space; "Room To Expand", the title of his fourth album, speaks for itself. And so it was really only a matter of time before his sound searching led Hauschka to that most sophisticated of all sound bodies, the big symphony orchestra.
The orchestral works, just published by Bosworth, trace a part of the road Hauschka travelled from the 10 finger orchestra of the prepared piano and the album format, to the heavy gear and the extended form. "Madeira" and "Children" had already been arranged for a chamber ensemble on Hauschka's album "Foreign Landscapes" (2010); "Penn Station" arose from the orchestration of an unpublished piece for a string quintet. "Puppen" in contrast exceeded the constraints of the 5 minute track right from the start, the piece was composed as an overture for Kevin Rittberger's play of the same name. With his latest composition "Cascades", Hauschka has finally produced a work conceived as a large triptych for orchestra and choir.
Long-standing fans of Hauschka's poetically fragile prepared piano sounds have always had something to learn with each new album; "Abandoned City" from 2014, for example, sounds a lot gloomier and weightier than anything known from this artist up to then. With the orchestral works, another a new facet of Hauschka's music has now been added: the monumental. In "Penn Station", for example, a typical Hauschka melody achieves almost Bruckneresque sound dimensions with the four horns in unison.
But even though the sound of Hauschka's music changes from project to project, a certain view of the world, which manifests itself in tones, remains the same. Hauschka summarised these constants of his sensitivity in four words: "beauty, ephemerality, melancholy and absurdity." His domain is the densely atmospheric mood landscape; many of his pieces resonate with a romantic yearning – and not just because their composer seems to have a liking for minor keys. Hauschka's music is for the most part restlessly in motion, but it never arrives anywhere, or – to be more accurate –, it's always already there. The music revolves in circles; repetition is its building block. From short, memorable phrases, constantly repeated, Hauschka puts together a rhythmic mosaic of small pieces. In detail, his music is finely chiselled and on the move; as a whole it seems almost static. […] There, where the composer builds up imposing crescendos again and again, like in "Puppen", everything flows to an end in a simple, soft cadence of unmatchable brevity.
The fundamental, melancholic feeling of being in a state of floating, somewhere indefinable between loss and departure, was the subject of Hauschka's to date most comprehensive orchestra work "Cascades". Significantly, this triptych starts with the end. Loss, death, stand here at the beginning. The words "Nothing left. I lost everything." are spread by the choir in countless repetitions in a wide layer. For the middle part "From Ashes", the sound searcher Hauschka found an icily cold, crystal-clear string sound. The final movement "Perspective" for orchestra and choir is then anything but a celebratory symphonic finale. The music puts a question mark at the end of the optimistic words the text "Now, now future’s coming", the choir gets lost in unarticulated murmuring. "In this way 'perspective' is at the same time the start of loss", writes the composer. Beginning and end come together, another circle closes.
Translation: Phil Cooksey
2014, orchestral work in 3 movements, approx. 30 minutes
World Premiere: 20 January 2015, Gewandhaus Leipzig.
1. Loss (for large mixed choir, 10 minutes)
2. From Ashes (for large orchestra, 11 minutes)
3. Perspective (for large orchestra and mixed choir, 9 minutes)
MDR Radio Choir
MDR Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Kristjan Järvi
Spectrevision Music Management
Music Arts Management
Allegro Talent Group
Westlake Village, CA
The story behind Volker Bertelmann – known best these days as HAUSCHKA – is not necessarily what you’d expect. Although he is one of the most recognisable 21st Century proponents of what is known as prepared piano – one whose sound is altered by the insertion of alien objects between or upon its strings, hammers and dampers – he was barely aware of the champions of such a practise when he first began his experiments. Even John Cage was a largely unfamiliar name that fateful day when he sat in the studio of his friend Adam Fuest and, frustrated by the sounds he was making, starting placing random objects into the instrument.
What’s stranger still, one might think, is the fact that Bertelmann’s first forays into the public world were with major label hip hop act God’s Favourite Dog and a drum and bass quintet called Nonex. But, when you listen to his music closely, this perhaps makes more sense than you’d initially think: the sound of HAUSCHKA has always been both instinctive and fuelled by a love of rhythm. Bertelmann, you see, is clearly a man who knows his instrument – quite literally – inside out, and he’s as unafraid of approaching it with a fresh sensibility as he is capable of drawing upon an unusually broad church of influences.
Volker Bertelmann first began to study the piano when he was nine after an epiphany while attending a Chopin performance in his hometown near Düsseldorf, Germany. Despite seven years of classical training at school, and then a further two years with a private tutor, his interests were never as pure as the tutelage he received. Soon he was employing his new musical skills to play along with his favourite records on keyboards and synthesisers – he had a particular fondness for Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds – and, later, to perform with covers bands. After coming of age, he redirected his attention towards a medicine and economic education, but soon turned his back on this to study Popular Music in Hamburg.
By the age of 18, Bertelmann had already composed his first film score, and having picked up a deal with Sony Music in 1994, he spent much of the next few years rapping and playing keyboards with God’s Favourite Dog before forming Nonex, with whom he released two albums in 1997 and 1999. As the 21st Century got underway, he hooked up with Torsten Mauss to form Tonetraeger – who blended post-rock and electronica with significant panache – and also with Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie) and Stefan Schneider (To Rococo Rot) to work under the name Music A.M.
It was during this period that he became more and more fascinated with electronic music, developing a particular interest in stripping back anything that he considered redundant within his compositions, until the obsession led to him trying to achieve a similar effect without the use of electricity at all. He discovered that placing material within a piano opened the doors to a whole new sonic world in which he could transform his instrument so that it loosely replicated the sounds of all sorts of others, whether bass guitar, gamelan or the hi-hat cymbal of a drumkit.
The first fruits of this work were released by Karaoke Kalk, with Substantial dropping in 2004 and The Prepared Piano a year later. The combination of HAUSCHKA’s classicist training, chamber music sensibilities and pop-cultural interests ensured that the often playful – but never disposable – results were far more than an academic exercise in experimentalism. Critical acclaim was matched by respect from his contemporaries: a second version of the album – Versions Of The Prepared Piano – was released later that year, featuring new interpretations and mixes by the likes of Barbara Morgenstern, Mira Calix and Tarwater.
In 2007, HAUSCHKA signed with 130701, an imprint of Fat Cat Records, who provided an early home to Sigur Rós and who have also championed artists with a similarly adventurous spirit to Bertelmann’s own, including Max Richter and Sylvian Chameau. He has remained with the label ever since for his solo work, releasing a series of increasingly high profile albums and never afraid to explore beyond his initial parameters. Since 2007’s Room To Expand, he’s integrated both electronic and more traditional instrumentation into his work, with 2010’s Foreign Landscapes finding him working with the Magik Magik Orchestra, and his most recent solo release – 2011’s Salon Des Amateurs – inspired by his experience of Düsseldorf’s club music scene. Collaborators include drummer Samuli Kosminen (from Iceland’s Múm), Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, and celebrated violinist Hilary Hahn, while the project’s success was underlined in 2012 with the release of remixes by prominent names including techno legend Ricardo Villalobos and Michael Mayer, co-founder of Cologne’s highly influential electronic label, Kompakt.
Bertelmann’s taste for collaboration is again revealed by his next two projects, the first of which features Hilary Hahn in a more high profile role. SILFRA, released by Deutsche Grammophon under the artist name Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, is a remarkable album borne of improvisation and recorded in eminent producer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Iceland studio. A new album is also in the pipeline, with Bertelmann having recently spent time recording with local musicians in Kenya.
Ever prolific, Bertelmann has continued to work on numerous other projects throughout the last decade, most notably in the fields of film, theatre, dance and art. As well as various short film soundtracks (including one for the winner of the 2007 Akira Kurosawa Short Film Award, Blotsky, in which he also starred) and four film scores – including Doris Dörrie’s Glück, nominated for Best Film Score at the German Film Prize in 2012 – he has also composed for the stage. There his work has included 2006’s remix of Wagner’s Parcifal (in collaboration with Stefan Schneider) for Berlin’s Hebbel Theatre, while in 2011 he composed an 18 minute overture for Rittberger’s Puppen, part of the 2011/2012 theatrical season at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus. He also founded Düsseldorf ‘s Annual Piano Approximation Festival, which features an always-imposing line-up of internationally renowned experimental artists.
Almost two decades after he began his professional career rapping, Volker Bertelmann aka HAUSCHKA finds himself in the unusual position of being regularly compared to the likes of Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich. (In 2011 he was invited by London’s prestigious Barbican to perform as part of Reverbations, a festival celebrating the work and influence of the latter composer.) Always unpredictable, HAUSCHKA continues to offer only one certainty: that the next step he takes will no doubt be as unexpected as the direction from which he has come.
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