June 14, 2024


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Interview with Helge Iberg: Truth in art has to do with talent, quality … Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and contemporary composer Helge Iberg. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Helge Iberg: – I was born in the county of Telemark, Norway, which is famous for it’s beautiful mountain scenery, it’s folk traditions and harding fiddle music.

However, I grew up in the rural industrialised part of the county, and my early musical experiences stems from the provincial, but urbanized, musical culture. My father was an amateur musician who encouraged me to take piano lessons and listen to all kinds of music. So, I developed an early interest in both classical and jazz music. My father took me on small “tours” as a musical “wunderkind”, and I could tell from the reactions of people listening that I had some kind of “musical voice”.

JBN: – How did you develop your piano playing?

HI: – I started playing the piano very early, at the age of four or five, and became a so called “child prodigy”. So, I dreamt for a career as a classical pianist travelling around the world. In my early teens I had to abandon my plans for such a career due to a neurological problem, which I was diagnosed with many years later. Later on I studied music, religion and history of ideas at the University of Oslo. In my adult life I have concentrated on contemporary composing, but I have also written essays and books about society and culture. My piano career has been somewhat limited because of my neurological “obstacles”, but in the latest decades I have dedicated myself to physical and mental exercises that makes my piano playing easier. That means a sort of «restarting» my activity as an improviser and jazz player.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: The Black on White Album?

HI: – I re-created these iconic Beatles-songs quite substantially, while at the same time trying to preserve the melodic simplicity needed to safeguard the music’s deep human appeal. The songs themselves are evergreen and alive, but can in my context only be justified by musical reflections that should surprise and delight – preferably without being “artful”!

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JBN: – How was the album formed?

HI: – Interestingly the impulse for this album started as an innocent request at a dinner party, where a friend encouraged me to play a Beatles-song. Then someone suggested I should make a recording with my own interpretations of Beatles material. That was really the start of the project. After deciding upon the project, I sat down at the piano trying to recall Beatles songs that I love. I also chose some famous songs that are a bit «corny», to see if I could «reframe» them in a new direction. I did not «compose» my interpretations, but formed them improvising at the piano.

JBN: – How do you believe your background as a composer plays into your interpretations on this album?

HI: – Although I don’t use the musical language of my composing in these songs, there are obviously some tonal colours, and a certain freedom of moving in a wide musical spectre that relates to my composing experiences. I do think that the composer´s ability to form a musical story or drama can be traced in my playing. Anyhow, I loved using some classical romantic elements that «lures under my skin», but which are hard to incorporate in a contemporary musical language.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

HI: – When I played the Beatles-song at the dinner party, it really astonished me that the music formed an instant connection to the people listening, and how easily I was able to connect my own musical ideas to the song. I believe that if a musician is able to frame his musical feelings in the music, the audience will react accordingly, that is by evoking a certain understanding and feeling that becomes common or “one”. This phenomenon helps the artist to trust his own creativity and inspire the musical situation. You may call that some kind of magical communication. But it has to happen truthfully, not as a wish to please or seduce someone.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

HI: – To write musical scores is a wonderful task, deeply satisfactory. It can, and must, be an intellectual challenge; but without the will and ability to let emotions resonate in the work, the music might end up as experiment or “science”.

To perform music by the piano – instantly creating from impulses that come to your mind, is a somewhat »magical» experience. Not to speak of the venture of creating music together with high skilled improvising colleagues. That can(!) be an enterprise of unconditional human togetherness.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

HI: – Standard tunes are wonderful, their style of melody and harmonic richness is in some ways sort of unchallenged by todays’ music. But todays world of jazz is a broad spectrum of fascinating expressions forms related to rock-and pop, ethnical rhythms, folk songs, contemporary classical music, performance culture or musical experiments of divergent seriousness. There’s something for everyone to choose from, a bit confusing may be, but as complex and diverse as our time and society itself.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

HI: – I think music is a big part of the phenomenon we call spirit, because music is a language without concepts. A language that can be perceived by anyone without being translated. People are struggling for meaning of life today. Some believe that music can be a new religion. But music cannot save your life like religions pretend to do. Anyhow, I believe that music can create some kind of reconciliation or atonement that does not exist in “real life”.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

HI: – To acknowledge that music is not an “industry” would be a good start.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

HI: – Even if I risk sounding pretentious, I would say – truth. Truth in art has to do with talent, quality, mastery, feelings and honesty.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

HI: – I try to stay openminded and listen to alle kinds of music, but of course, it is impossible to keep up with all the exiting music creations that happens around the world and can be reached through digital streams. And: I our culture we are bombarded by impressions and expressions. Almost everyone seems to want attention these days. No wonder many are seeking silence and solitude. But paradoxically: many will find their kind of silence in music. That is a part of our mystic attraction to the world of music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Helge Iberg - Grappa.no

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