Musings From The Lowlands

by Peter Powell, February 19th

Last week I had the chance to chat with Saskia Lankhoorn and Wolfert Brederode – two of the best pianists in the Netherlands. We covered everything from their upcoming show in Maastricht on February 22nd to working with legendary producer Manfred Eicher at ECM and the future of Dutch music on the international scene. Unfortunately I had some trouble getting my recorder to record our Skype call so some of the quotes are more like paraphrases based on my rather unreliable memory, however, I think I’ve managed to capture the essence of what Wolfert and Saskia communicated. I came away from the interview with a great deal of respect for both of these musicians, their dedication to pursuing their own musical path and following their own vision was inspiring to hear and I hope you can get a sense of that as well. Please enjoy the interview and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the concert!

Peter: You’re currently touring with a show called the ECM Jazz Night: Musings from the Lowlands. Tell me about how the concept came to exist.

Wolfert: The idea came partly because we’re the only Dutch artists to record under our own name for the ECM label. Also, we’ve, know each other for a long time, almost 18 years, so last year we came up with the idea of a combined music because the difference between our musical styles isn’t that great. Which is not common for a jazz and classical musician.

Saskia: Also, We both like to redefine what a concert is and you almost never really see two pianists in the same concert so we thought “why not?”

P: Can you describe what it’s like recording for ECM?

S: Well its great of course. One of the good things that Eicher [Manfred Eicher: Founder and producer at ECM Records] does is think about a CD almost like a Theatre set: there could be Mozart and John Cage combined in one set which gives you a lot of possibility as an artist. Also, with ECM you don’t have to be virtuoso showing off, you can just showcase your own musical style.

W: You have to remember, ECM was very eclectic from beginnings, Combinations of jazz and baroque seem like it won’t work on paper but ECM showed it works.

P: What is it like to work with Manfred Eicher?

W: He’s one of a kind. He’s a real example of a homo universals: he’s into music, movies, literature, art… And he’s very intelligent. He has a perfect nose for the right artists and the right combinations of artists. Many of the groups on the label were kind of invented by him.

S: He’s very inspiring! Once in the studio in Lugano [recording her album of works by Kate Moore “Dances and Cannons”], there was a spell that fell on the studio for the whole recording… He was able to get the best out of me. It’s something that you keep forever, it’s not just a moment in the studio, it really stays with you.

W: He has a perfect ear for what’s really meant, so working with him is quite something.

P: Saskia how do you choose the music you play? It’s not the repertoire of most classical pianists and you’ve really focused on a specific direction.

S: I don’t make music be I have to, so I only make music which I really connect to. I really like to be in touch with the composers whose music I play and the music I enjoy playing has a sense timelessness, a sense of stopping time.

P: There’s something of that in your playing as well Wolfert, to me it sounds like it’s not designed to impress people with flashiness.

W: Something that attracts me most of all is the combination of sound and silence. Some jazz is really cluttered with notes. I got inspired by players who take time and space for their music. I think the piano sounds much better as well if it has some room to breath.

P: True, because of its ability to resonate.

W: Yes, and it has a fantastic ability to mingle with the sound of other instruments. Like the upper tones of the piano: they combine fantastically with bass, plucked or bowed, and using those colors is really necessary for the music we’re making.

S. That’s why we can combine so well.

P. I think there’s something of that space to a lot of Dutch music. What do you think the future of Dutch music is in the greater musical world and how you fit in with this?

S. I think Dutch contemporary music has a great position in the world because of composer Louis Andriessen. It’s known for a certain style: The Hague style. We’re both from the Hague so are influenced by it of course. I like to abstract the Hague Style in different ways. For instance, I extract the energy from the style but transform it so it has a different intensity. I like to have a line of energy that goes through the entire piece. Also, there’s a sense of timing that we both have which comes from that school of music.

W. Yes, I can add to this. The group of people that I was experimenting with when I was younger were called The New Den Haag school of jazz. We were trying to step away from simply following the American example of jazz. I was playing and studying with a group with a lot of foreigners and together w were trying to create a more spacious style of jazz.

P. Wolfert, Were you influenced by classical music then since The Hague Style is mainly classical?

From a young age, I’ve been listening to all styles of music. I discovered jazz at quite a late stage but even before that I was listening to a lot of different styles including contemporary music so was in that sense influenced by the sense of space.

P. What do you see happening with Dutch music in coming years?

S. What I really like about developments now is there’s a really big fertile underground’s scene of composers reinventing music. Using combinations of electronics and acoustic instruments. They’re breaking with certain styles and reinvent their own style with their compositions. They’re not just staying in their own field. Gradually there’s less of an influence from US minimalism as they’re developing a more European style.

W. But the influence of minimalism is still huge.

S. Yes. Also, there are a lot more crossovers between genres in what they’re doing. It’s a very exciting time.

P. Do you think a similar thing is happening in jazz Wolfert?

W. Yes, you see many more groups with their own signature, combining various influences. Many groups are using electronics in a very subtle intelligent way. For the acoustic side of jazz its also much more exciting now than it used to be because people dare to step away from their examples and go in their own direction. For instance, with my own music, there are pieces which are freely improvised but also pieces which are totally composed and the way the piece is expressed is where there is improvisation

P. How did you find your own voice? It can be quite hard in the classical and jazz worlds because the way you learn is by playing the music of others.

S. I never understand why people should repeat stuff. I love classical music there are already so many recordings of Beethoven… I’m always curious and I never stopped listening or searching for new voices.

W. For jazz there was always interest in artists that were not only great improvisers but also wonderful composers. Artists making their own songs. Improvising, of course, means making your own material, improvising over your own material and experimenting. So personally, I don’t see why I should play from old songbook because it has already been done in the most tremendous ways possible. Plus, it’s not my background, I grew up in the world of rock, indie and psychedelic music.

P. It’s interesting to her that what influenced you both strongly seems to be what you listened to growing up.

S. Yes, I think my musical interests are really broad because my parents listening to anything on the radio. I think some things are how close you are to your own ears. Its a kind of receptiveness to things. Whatever I was listening to I was taking in. Every bit. It was a listening way of growing up.

P. Thinking of both of your styles, and the sense of space in your music how do you find it affects your audiences?

W. I feel it increases the concentration of the audiences. It leaves room in their heads to process the music.

S. You have to construct the programme to make sure audience has time to process the music of course. With this concert, we’re also working with lighting and adding really subtle theatrical aspects to enhance the experience.

W. Also, the music we make is very connected to the Dutch landscape. So the impressions we have can be very different than other artists. The experience is maybe similar to a Dutch landscape painting, it has a particular kind of light.

S. The light is really still here… We share a mutual love for nature. People come to The Netherlands to see the landscape and we want to make them hear this.

P. Has creating this programme changed your individual musical style at all?

S. I was already affected by Wolfert’s playing so the inspiration was already there.

W. I was inspired by Saskia’s choice of pieces, they’re exciting but easy to appreciate.

P. Not overly simplified music.

S. Exactly, this is something that is always interesting for the audience. People can enjoy our music at different levels. It’s like swimming in a lake, you can enjoy the surface but there’s always more to discover below the water.

P. I think I’m out of questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I’m really looking forward to hearing you both!

Upcoming Jazz Events

February 22nd – ECM Jazz Night: Saskia Lankhorn & Wolfert Brederode
March 12th – Joshua Redman & The Reis Demuth Wiltgen Trio
March 27th – Jazz At The Cinema, Nordmann Presents “Dementia”

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