The new classical repertoire

Hans EkTue 25th October 2016

The EST Symphony is part of a wider movement to bring jazz and pop into classical music

It is high time for jazz and pop to find their way into the traditional classical music halls and finally assume their rightful place. 

Last summer I arranged and conducted music for the album EST Symphony with the surviving members of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, several other Scandinavian jazz musicians and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Even though the genre is defined as jazz, EST overlapped with classical music in several ways, not least in how pianist Esbjörn Svensson played. He was greatly inspired by Bach and Shostakovich, and this could be heard clearly in the trio: a kind of avant-garde electronic music mixed with impressionism. 

It is precisely these overlapping points that interest me, not simply to get a symphony orchestra to play jazz. 

There is an atmosphere about EST’s music that allows a large orchestra to join in and take part, both as a soundscape but also to assume a more active role. I try to work in both ways. This also makes me think about David Bowie’s 'Berlin Trilogy', which I have performed together with the Gothenburg Symphony. This is music that so many people have heard and already have a relationship with.

In addition to the obvious classical composers, musicians such as David Bowie, Björk and Brian Eno have influenced me the most. I see all three of these composers as a clear part of the classical music tradition, and they should now be brought in to the orchestral fold as an integral part of the repertoire. After all, what does classical music mean to us today anyway? 

In the classical world, many live with an understanding that the music of our time is synonymous with first performances of works by contemporary composers, while all other music is seen merely as entertainment. It could be Prince or jazz, but it is not accepted as part of the classical music tradition. However, I see it as exactly that, a clear part of our tradition that should find its place in the orchestral repertoire. 

So what happens when stars such as David Bowie and Esbjörn Svensson pass away? Does the music only live on as recordings? 

The orchestral world has a different problem – an increasingly narrow contemporary repertoire attracting smaller and smaller audiences. With all the potential of an orchestra, imagine if we could play Bowie’s 'Warszawa' from the album Low at a concert together with Beethoven

The original performances might be impossible to recreate, but my starting point with EST Symphony was to explore and develop the compositions. There are threads connecting us to classical music here, and we can start working with these. A project such as this should never only look backwards, but can try to move things forwards. There is something inherently symphonic about this music, and that fascinated me.

EST has a fantastic treasure chest of songs, gems worthy of living on in different forms. The trio had a close relationship with pop through their clarity, and with the classical world in their sophistication. In general, jazz can be seen as part of a historical evolution that can be interesting for both the audience and the orchestra itself.

Non-vocal music that is not purely classical but which has characteristics of jazz and pop will have many more listeners in the future. Many people recognise themselves in this trend, this dramaturgical dynamic between the intimacy of chamber music and the more grandiose symphonic highlights. If Debussy had been born in the 1930s and Bill Evans in the 1860s, Debussy would have become a jazz pianist and Evans a composer. 

It is important that projects such as EST Symphony, or the upcoming recording of soprano Renée Fleming in my own arrangements of compositions by Björk, must be carried out for the sake of the music, and not simply as part of some kind of flashy spectacle or show. 

The situation today is critical in terms of how the orchestral world relates to our own time and how we can continue to attract younger audiences. For this reason, we need a dynamic contemporary repertoire that injects new blood into the orchestral system. The time is now!

You can discover more about the EST Symphony in the latest (November) issue of Jazzwise magazine. For more information about the album, which is released on October 28, visit: est-symphony.com

 

Hans Ek

Hans Ek is a conductor and arranger

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