The image should especially pierce piano lovers: a concert grand piano crashing out of the ceiling onto a stage in super slomo. The interior bulges out, keys fly around. Moments later, the ruined piano empire turns out to play a part in a real piano concerto after all. It could be a one-off screening, were it not for the fact that the video of the fall is ingeniously shown in the concert hall, next to the cool grand piano on which the live part of Simon Steen-Andersen's Piano Concerto is performed.
Distortion is essential
The Danish composer and multimedia artist is this year's guest at November Music with the work Inszinierte Nacht. In it, the Danish artist takes on four world-famous pieces of 'Night Music'. For example, he has the famous revenge aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni performed with electronic beats and distorted voices.
The result is hallucinatory, though it will horrify many a hardcore classical music lover. But that is also somewhat Steen-Andersen's intention. Although respect for tradition is an important feature of his work. His arrangements perhaps make the original work more special: "At one point I got an insight, so banal as to be almost embarrassing: that you can only perceive something as distorted if you know what the object looks like 'undistorted', so to speak. In contemporary music, you often only have the distorted, fragmented or estranged. For me, the transformation - the experience of difference - is precisely what makes it interesting“.
Not only does he distort the night music, he also uses film projections and samples in the concert. It is a technique he has continued to develop throughout his career, and which he now performs on a spectacular scale. There is that famous piano concerto with that destroyed grand piano, but even grander is the work TRIO, in which he has a choir, a big band and a full orchestra playing together with film projections.
It starts with massive closing or opening chords, and then develops into an overwhelming sound composition that does not lack humour either.
It is something he did not immediately envisage, he explains in a 2018 interview: "The first time people laughed at a concert of mine, I was completely surprised. But maybe funny is just the wrong word. I do strive for humour... Those moments that I deliberately called punchlines are often just surprises, but with limited material."
It is characteristic of Steen-Andersen that he directly incorporates such chance discoveries into his work: "If you create a strong expectation towards one thing and then go the other way - that's also a joke.... You look forward to this big deal, and instead you have this sad cadence."
You could call his way of working 'organic'. He himself sees it as he describes in a 2019 interview: "...It makes sense that you cannot start with an idea that is music and then later get an idea about how it should be staged and even later in the process a third idea that has something to do with the lyrics or the story, for example. In the very best version of this method, the ideas all arise at the same time. You get an idea that affects the staging, the music or sound and the story, etc.”
Live is always better
Even though many of his works can be seen on video, the live experience is certainly indispensable with this versatile artist: "I want to enhance those things that are unique to live concert and make something that communicates in a bit more direct and concrete way. As a main motto, you could say I'm trying to step out of the abstract parallel that music, for better or worse, often is."
But what should we call him now? On that, he is clear: "Even if I take on other roles, make videos, stage other things or deal with movement sequences, I remain a composer. I don't suddenly become a film director or a video artist. I am a composer."