A new disc of 'Pocket Symphonies' combines influences of classical and pop - the 'offspring' of Beethoven and the Pet Shop Boys
Sven Helbig is releasing his debut classical album on Deutsche Grammophon after a wide-ranging career from working with the Pet Shop Boys, to establishing the Dresden Symphony Orchestra. 'Pocket Symphonies' is a disc of 12 'symphonic pearls' or short symphonic songs, released on Monday, July 22. Created for a young, creative audience, the works will be performed live in London on July 31 at Apple London, Saatchi & Saatchi, as well as straight to Londener's pockets through bespoke oyster cardholders.
When I was a young boy of just 9 years old growing up in East Germany, I began constructing small radios. Poor, strange-looking machines that were not powerful enough to receive more than just one station. On 'Radio DDR I' classical music was playing all through the night. As I had not seen or heard an orchestra to this point, I could not identify what kind of noise this was and how it was made. It sounded like it was coming from a faraway world. I could not share this experience with anybody around me. I had no words to describe this wall of sound that was shaking my soul every night. For my young ears, this music was a dark sea of undetermined feelings – strong and tempting but still strange. It became the ocean in which I swam for a long time.
Some years later, I was able to improve the architecture of the oscillatory circuit in my radio. Now it was strong enough to receive a second station. 'RIAS' or 'Radio In the American Sector', was a station for the American forces in Berlin – but broadcasting far beyond the wall.
From now on a different world was creeping into my mono headphones. Foremost, the groove of James Brown. It took me completely and seemed to activate my whole body. One harmony instead of hundreds was enough to celebrate life, celebrate youth, celebrate a single moment instead of eternity.
Even though I was not the happiest kid on earth, I was resonant with this energy of pure joy.
This music became my soundtrack for the next years, until Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss pulled me back into a fragile world, that is made of pain and fateful longing.
Today, I see my life as an alliance of both worlds: Here are the songs, like collected, shiny episodes, and there are the symphonies, assembling the songs into exhibitions; I played drums for Jazz and Hip Hop bands in Brooklyn and I was co-founding the Dresdner Sinfoniker; I programmed beats and I read orchestra scores every day. I love the warm, majestic atmosphere of an opera house yet I enjoy a coffee in the morning on the dusty skate park in front of my house with beats pounding from someone else’s sound system.
One could see the 'Pocket Symphonies' as 12 children of those two parents - song and symphony. They are short, yet with a symphonic depth. They can sneak into any portable playlist and might even survive in a transient environment. But heard in one sitting on the recording or as a collective live, as we did with the wonderful Fauré Quartett and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony under Kristjan Järvi, this chain of short stories can become like a complex novel.
The 'Pocket Symphonies' are 12 snapshots of a lonesome soul ending a day, 12 evening moods in different colours - between hunger for life and contemplating mortality. This is what a Beethoven piece and a Pet Shop Boys song have in common. The 'Pocket Symphonies' have combined these and will hopefully be transmitted through radios or webplayers to both of those worlds that are not as different as I thought, years ago, under the blanket, listening in through my mono headphones.
Listen to Gone from Sven Helbig's new disc of 'Pocket Symphonies', performed by the Fauré Quartett and MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony conducted by Kristjan Järvi on the Gramophone Player below: