Name: Vincent Corver
Occupation: Composer, pianist
Current release: Vincent Corver's The Steinway Lyngdorf Sessions is available via Silent Beat.
If these thoughts by Vincent Corver piqued your interest, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?
I started improvising on the piano from the age of seven. One of the first ever themes was playing the left-hand chords of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, while improvising with the right hand on the top.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?
I always felt improvisation is absent from the traditional classical music world. One studies intensively from a very young age to become a concert pianist, working on understanding and commanding classical repertoire. This leaves very little time to explore creative techniques outside of this realm.
Jazz pianists form the pinnacle of improvisation techniques. Through this journey of discovery, I felt hugely inspired by Brad Mehldau’s “Blackbird” improvisations.
Focusing on improvisation can be an incisive transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
Yes, I believe true success comes from being ‘the first at something’ and recognizing how your core qualities come displayed from a very young age.
Personally, my entire improvisational style is formed from the many years of performing Bach, Debussy, and Steve Reich. A technique of ultra-balanced playing, where the repeat is not performed as a repeat, but as a micro-incremental continuation.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards an improvisation based practise, both as a listener and a creator?
It is the best compliment when a listener believes I just performed an existing composition, even though I was improvising.
Improvisation allows me to capture true storytelling, and it gives me so much freedom to explore a musical narrative through even the simplest of melodies. In a way, classical pieces would almost never open up with a single melody in one hand, slowly growing into a two-hand composition. Perhaps an idiom more recognised in cinematic music.
I feel film composers are the new classical music composers of our time.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?
I truly enjoy bringing new combination-ideas to the concert stage. Performing alongside a live film project, using the incredible Steinway Lyngdorf speakers on stage, and playing against my own self-playing Spirio Piano-Parts. It is a challenging combination of different processes to follow and execute while performing. After my London concerts, I heard from the audience that they felt almost in a trance-like state, which for me establishes its successful concept.
Perhaps I don’t feel part of a linage, but instead looking back at a period of the Silent Film, where pianists were performing live under the silver screen between 1890 and 1920. It feels amazing to do something similar, now 100 years later.
What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to improvisation - what were challenges and breakthroughs?
My improvisations contain a very specific type of virtuosity on the keys. Especially in today’s recording industry, focused on mood-listening playlists like “Peaceful Piano” on Spotify, it is a hard thing to promote.
Silent Beat Records truly has made a significant impact on my career, successfully listing my latest release: The Steinway Lyngdorf Sessions feature on incredible Apple Playlists such as “Piano Chill”, resulting in over a million streams within 4 weeks. It is a wonderful feeling to have people surrounding you, who truly understand and believe in what you do, and wish to accomplish.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
My dearest musical friend in life is my Steinway Grand Piano. As a Steinway Artist, this is always where the creation process starts.
After this, I take it to my studio, running an iMac with LogicX, accompanied by an ensemble hardware and software by Native Instruments, who I also represent as an Artist.
Can you talk about a work, event or performance in your career that's particularly dear to you? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of my most memorable moments was the world-premiere of my collaboration piano-track “While You Were Gone” with renowned DJ Paul van Dyk at Tomorrowland.
Although I wasn’t performing live, it sounded like it was through a live stream on my phone after midnight, while lying in bed. As I was unaware of Paul deciding to perform the track, I was in shock hearing my own music so unexpectedly. Initially I thought my device was broken, but after a moment realizing it was real - I had to shake and wake up my wife. Seeing the sheer enjoyment on the faces of such a tremendous, large audience is quite surreal. In the end, my goal to leave a musical legacy, and this moment truly captured it.
I approached Paul van Dyk on Instagram in 2015 for a possible collaboration, writing a piano track for him. I was inspired by a magazine article where he wrote about his latest release “Dancing of Politics”. He said, “Music was more powerful than politics, because it actually brings people together”. I felt compelled to work with him. I received a response message to send a track to his office. I then wrote “While You Were Gone”, which premiered in 2017.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?
My motto is: “You don’t get anywhere on your own”.
Collaborations are vital in today’s music industry. But collaborations come in different forms - I see my collaboration with a label such as Silent Beat Records equally valuable as an artist collaboration with Paul van Dyk. I feel my music sometimes works better solo, and sometimes better in collaboration. It depends entirely on the designation of the project, the musical style, the audience, and mood.
For you personally, how would you describe the relationship between a clear individual vision and cooperative results?
Often enough, music starts with laying a foundation of chords. Thus regularly, the initial inspiration comes from me at the piano, where after other creators may continue to add their elements. I love collaborative work, but creations don’t always see the light of day, due to varied complications, or simply, tracks not getting finished. It’s for this reason, most often, I choose creating music on my own. This includes creating instrumental and orchestral music of all kinds, using Virtual Instruments.
My latest EP under the Silent Beat Records label, The Steinway Lyngdorf Sessions, came together from my close partnership with Steinway Lyngdorf, a company in Denmark creating the World’s Finest Sound Systems named after the Steinway Piano. The solo piano improvisations came fully unprepared, simply born in that special environment with the speakers on stage. It’s these types of musical moments in my life I perhaps value the most.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
This is absolutely true! I love how this is described. Finally, also while playing, I feel my music is endlessly transformable, building a life of its own. Perhaps how nature has intended it to be, similar to the sound of a singing bird in a tree. Not rehearsed, not recorded, not interpreted, to just simply be witnessed only once, to then fade from memory.
Nik Bärtsch reduced the art of musicianship to three principles: 1) Listen! 2) Only play the essentials 3) Make the others sound good. What's your take on this and how do these principles pan out in practise?
Yes, I call this the ‘art of listening’.
I feel most often, as classical musicians, we are too pre-occupied by our ‘technical presence and command’, which ultimately in itself, is fully refrained from true musical essence and enjoyment.
In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?
I believe as a musical orchestra, we're all in sync through our breathing. I too breathe with my instrument.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?
I have never experienced a ‘creative block’ in my life. For me they don’t exist. There are so many impulses for music creation to be found in daily life. Literature, other music, film, or daily life. I enjoy using these experiences as triggers to find new ways of working and performing, even when there isn’t always a final product in the end, the journey to get there, has again improved.
Personally, I couldn’t sit in a studio all day, every day. It would numb my artistic receptors and drain my good feeling of being present.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
My environment dictates my sound and the projection thereof. While sitting at the piano, I often ‘put my ears’ with the people in the back row. If they can really hear and feel my music as crisp as the people in front, I feel I have succeeded.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music and improvisation express and reveal about life and death?
Life on earth I feel never dies, but goes through stages of life and dormancy, being in a state of constant transformation.
For this reason, I truly love playing alongside the nature time-lapse documentaries of Martin Heck and of TimeStorm Films. They essentially, continuously conduct the direction of my music while improvising.