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Tom Hodge: Paganini Rocks' post-rock surprise

img  Tobias Fischer

Was the „Aerodynamic“ interpretation a kickstart for Paganini Rocks in a way or had you already been tinkering with the idea for a longer period of time?
Paganini Rocks actually came some time before Aerodynamic, but Aerodynamic got more exposure earlier because of the Myleene Klass Pantene advert and the subsequent Ministry of Sound release. Paganini Rocks definitely opened my eyes (and ears) to the possibilities of merging seemingly radically-different styles into one composition, and applying a classical vocabulary to non-classical music.

What is it about classical music that still makes it relevant to you today?
This is difficult to answer, because I grew up playing classical piano and loved it, so it is difficult to imagine people who might think of classical music as irrelevant. Classical music is everywhere, and is certainly as much for ‘now’ as it was for ‘then’- but I suppose people can always do with a gentle reminder.

And yet, in various ways, classical music and more contemporary forms of expression like Rock and Electronica are mutually exclusive. Where do you  see tangents and intersections?
I agree that typically the manner in which classical and rock/electronic music have been appreciated is extremely different: the concert hall, the hushed reverent silence, the fancy clothes, the polite applause. But many of these boundaries that can stand in the way of people coming to classical music are slowly being broken down by new writers, performers and enthusiasts who have been as influenced by Radiohead as by Beethoven.

What made Paganini's famous Caprice No. 24 so particularly appealing to you?
I was intrigued as to why so many other composers found it so interesting! Then the music inevitably drew me in too. The melody and harmony are very robust; it can cope with seemingly endless changes of harmony, time and structure.

Were the various previous interpretations in any way an influence on your version?
Not particularly I don’t think, although I would be very interested to know if anyone has noticed influences from the myriad other interpretations. I guess I was most familiar with two: the wildly differing versions of Rachmaninoff and the South Bank Show!

Did you ever ask yourself whether Paganini would have liked your interpretation?

Hmm, the original will and intentions of the composer: this is one of the classical music establishment’s problems, isn’t it? They should lighten up a bit.
No but seriously, I think of the pieces that I have had a go at reworking as a bit like jazz standards - in the case of my Mingus rework, it is actually a ‘standard’ of course. I would not attempt anything with them if I did not think that fundamentally they were marvelous pieces of music, but why not try to express them in a new light that feels relevant first and foremost to you and hopefully then to others? People are forever reworking (as opposed to rerecording) great pop songs or great jazz numbers; why not classical music too? It is one musician’s tribute to another to perform, rearrange or remix someone else’s work. Having said all this, I appreciate of course that a certain sensitivity to the original intention does go a long way.
As for Paganini, he was a virtuoso, a showman - I like to think he might have liked the post-rock ‘surprise.’

Your edits both of „Aerodynamic' and the Caprice stand out because they are both immediately captivating, yet substantial at the same time. Is the project in some form also a reaction to the often-heard claim that entertainment and “real art“ do not go together?
This is an extremely flattering question. Thank you. I would be delighted if I was thought of as exactly that - substantial, yet approachable, or ‘immediately captivating’ as you kindly put it. I also write a lot of applied music and the entertainment/real art question is a pressing one. But really I am writing music that has come about as a result of the huge variety of genres that interest me. It will inevitably be too ‘lite’ for some (certainly there is still the school of classical where art music couldn’t possibly be allowed to be too comprehensible) and equally too complex for others, but hopefully for some people it will provide a conduit to a genre of music that perhaps they never believed they would be listening to. After all, this is something that the Internet, iPod, YouTube and the joys of instant ‘link-clicking’ make more possible than ever.

An entire new generation of artists has begun working with a classical vocabulary, awarding their own twist to it. In which way, would you say, may this actually come to stimulate and even change the more conservative corner of the classical music camp?
This is of course great news. And I hope I can play my part. A logical question will hopefully be for a new listener - where has this musical vocabulary come from? And wit that, the door to classical music is opened.
To the second part of the question, I’m not sure really who the conservative corner are - opera goers who only like Puccini? Radio listeners who only like Mozart piano concertos or Chopin etudes? Or are we talking only about the Four Seasons and Pachelbel? Sounds like my new list of potential reworkings! I do think that certainly here in the UK the majority of classical organisations are working really hard to make their concerts more approachable regardless of how ‘difficult’ or conservative or indeed approachable the music being programmed.

You're set to go on tour with some of your own music and Paganini Rocks. How will these pieces be ported to the stage?
This is my most pressing challenge at the moment! My recent and forthcoming gigs are likely to be in trio form of piano, cello (with fx) and laptop. However I am hoping to expand to add any or all of violin, mallets, double bass and maybe an operatic voice. I am ultimately looking to end up with sub-groups that can move between genres as seamlessly as possible. This might include the historic classical grouping (piano, violin, cello); something percussive and shimmery: (piano, mallets); something electronic (laptop, electric cello); something jazz (piano and bass) and so on. I am a keen improviser as well so I am working hard to keep that as part of the gig make-up. The short answer is that the live sound will be very different from the recordings!

Your Paganini variations were recently performed live by Pianist Warren Mailley-Smith. The audience seemed to love them. As an artist, one is generally more critical of one's own work. How do you personally feel, did they hold up sandwiched in between Beethoven and Rachmaninoff?
When I saw the programme I was terrified! I find reworking Rachmaninoff to be much less intimidating than having to be on a concert programme with him! My appreciation of the shape of the programme arc was slightly coloured by the excitement of the premiere. The audience was very kind. I actually think in principle concertgoers on the whole are encouraging towards new work. And of course Warren did a great job- parts of the solo piano variations are ferociously difficult. I will certainly be writing more solo piano music in the future.

Homepage: Tom Hodge

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