Volkmar Zimmermann’s eclecticism
Volkmar Zimmermann, classical guitarist and guitarist in many genres with different guitar types, and I have spoken about The Kinks and King Crimson. We’ve spoken about the Estonian and Lithuanian love of choir and vocal music, his interactions in this music, we’ve talked about the processing of a string, usually electric guitar ones, and the pollination of the electronic comet onto the classical planet. Commonality between us is a given and to speak to an open person about music is quite different than someone who is always career oriented. Volkmar and I speak about music and the sociocultural similarities and differences of our countries, the United States and Denmark.
The culmination of many musical streams and cultures flows from Volkmar in conversation. Volkmar is all over the place as a musician and guitarist. He is not merely a classical guitarist; he is more. This one hydra headed career is particularly joyful to write about as all of what Zimmermann has done is of the highest quality regardless of genre. Stepping back from personal preferences, my task is joyous since I enjoy the same “all over the place” nature and only regard whether the work is compositional or not in its intent. This expose is to show the myriad of work one European guitarist involves himself with in around forty years.
An extraordinary richness of recordings and musical collaborations may dilute focus, but this is not borne out in Volkmar’s historical record. From Carl Maria von Webers “Miene Lieder” to the Corona Quartet’s many recordings exemplifies projects Volkmar will seek out.
CARL MARIA VON WEBER – MEINE LIEDER, MEINE SÄNGE
Released – 2002
Signe Asmussen (mezzo-soprano), Jan Sommer guitar, with Volkmar Zimmermann guitar
CD 2002, Classico CLASSCD 410
Signe Asmussen, our soprano on these delicious von Weber renderings, makes my heart soar with her perfection of expressive dynamism. Coming from a family of opera singers, I can recognize this perfection, and I am quite moved by her qualities as a grand interpreter.
These songs are light, German country songs, landler, lieder and intended to be played in the parlor, but the beauty and breath of expression is quite evident from the outset. The mastery of balance and execution are amongst the best. Any lover of German lieder should appreciate von Weber’s simple, organic but erudite harmonies. This presentation with Jan Sommer and Volkmar Zimmermann on guitars is breathtaking and sensuous. Signe Asmussen’s wide and expressive voice is well served in these arrangements originally for piano, transcribed by Jan Sommer.
The Corona Guitar Quartet
Zimmermann and Per Dybro Sorensen cofounded the Corona Guitar Quartet in 1995. Having released four CDs, a fifth is in the works. Devoted to music of all periods, the quartet has been a magnet for new music. Below is a list of this quartet’s, mostly, premieres. A group that fosters and births new works is an important group.
Composers Kristian Rymkier, Hsueh-Yung Shen, Pepe Ferrer, Charles Norman Mason, Dorothy Hindman, Gordon Williamson, Franco Sbacco, Alain Michel Riou, Peter Helms, Richard Payne, Faye-Ellen Silverman, Fred Frith, Greg A Steinke, Jonas Tamulionis, Persis Parshall-Vehar, Carson P. Cooman, Charles Norman Mason, Edvard Nyholm Debess, Kristian Blak, Jim Clarke, Luca Vanneschi, Østen Mikal Ore, John Frandsen, Hans-Henrik Nordstrøm, Hannu Pohjannoro, Jørgen Teller, Christer Irgens-Møller, Niels Winther, Svend Hedegaard, Dan Marmorstein, and Cornelia Zimanowski have had their works either premiered and have written for the Corona Guitar Quartet.
CD REVIEW OF
5 CONTEMPORARY DANISH WORKS FOR GUITAR QUARTET
TUTL/IRIS 0301, 2003
1. John Frandsen: Three Dances (Andantino)
3. (Presto Energico)
4. Østen Mikal Ore: Neon Enlightened
5. Wayne Siegel: East L.A. Phase
6. Hans-Henrik Nordstrøm: Fluctuations (Andante)
8. Svend Hedegaard: Via
“Northpoints”, by the Corona Guitar Quartet, has moments of the purely sublime and astonishing. A contemporary offering, my favorite track is “Neon Enlightened” by Osten Mikal Ore and composed in 1998.
Coming from folded string formlessness, headstock pitches, a soup of cosmic noise, “Neon Enlightened” crawls on a wet shore to breathe air in descending bent pitches and arrives at a wholesome wide intervallic chord, a sort of Debussean’ chord that does diminish by small intervals into a more tension driven combination. These two items combined with the bending are tossed around as landmarks with interjected effects; headstock pitches, harmonics and beautifully interspersed fretboard slams. Folded strings make for great color, everything is for maximum color, and this ends the work of a little over ten minutes of a spectacular array of fireworks.
“I cannot really recall any revisions actually, we played the piece as delivered from Osten”. The piece is complex in effects and the temporal. I assumed that a lot of revision was needed coming from the quartet to the composer.
“We found out how his effects work out best for us, and that was quite different from player to player. He was sitting with us and working out the expression in real time”.
“We worked a lot on it to begin with, especially the rhythmical things were challenging. We worked on the piece for some weeks before premiering it, and then of course intensively before we recorded it”.
“There was a lot work during the recordings: you know, we record and then we listened, then we discussed, then we did it again after discussions.”
The brilliance of “Neon Enlightened” cannot be understated and is the highlight of “Northpoints”. For my money, the CD is worth this one piece; the other pieces range from tape loop sounding pieces, as in the video on the New Mill Homepage, to John Frandsen’s “Three Dances” which open the CD with a feeling not unlike Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire”. Frandsen’s work is solid and rhythmically rigorous and his harmonic palette is rich.
Stating that his first childhood musical experience was the classical piano, he moved to the guitar as I did, fueled on the emerging electric guitar scene post-British Invasion.
Volkmar and I conversed on Facebook Chat.
“When I was a kid, I listened to Bee Gees, Hollies, Manfred Mann, Small Faces, all the stuff we heard in school.”
“Later Cream and Jefferson Airplane caught my attention. Roots blues and Chicago blues was underpinning the music I liked, so I went to the source”.
“I also listened to a lot of Kraut-Rock. That was actually quite important. I started with electric guitar – the blues mainly (I love the bands of John Mayall) then I came into acoustic guitar – folk. I particularly loved John Renbourne”.
“We had this rock-jazz-wave in Germany: Chick Corea was very popular and from Germany, Klaus Doldinger, Volker Kriegel (who comes from my home town, he “invented” rock-jazz).
“Shortly before I tried to come into the conservatory, I was maybe 17-18 at that time, I played with bands in my home town of Wiesbaden and made an LP with a group called PSI from Wiesbaden with pianist and composer Matthias Frey”.
OLE BUCK: CONCERTO FOR 2 GUITARS AND ORCHESTRA (2007)
Sommer/Zimmermann Guitar Duo with Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martins Ozolins. World premiere performance 02.03.07 at Vilnius Congress Hall, Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Ole Buck is a very special composer in Denmark, his music could be described as poetic minimalism; he is a Buddhist. ‘Concerto for two guitars and orchestra’ (2007) is a piece I love because of its repetitiveness and its “space”. It is a concerto because the guitars are soloists together with orchestra.” I’ve had a time of it as a composer attempting to compose something meditative. Clear to me is I don’t have the discipline.
“This is an extremely difficult piece because you have to be concentrated and not fall out of the patterns; at the same time you come into a state of meditation during the performing. This is such a wonderful piece of music because it seems like food for the performer. This is not pure minimalism, in my opinion it is more like some kind of written improvisation on drones.”
I asked, “What are some of your criterion for choosing a piece to involve in?”
Volkman, “In general, I like pieces that are not too idiomatic for guitar, often I like the music of non-guitarists. It turns out to be more interesting”.
“I don’t care for those overly idiomatic pieces like Andrew York’s, Francis Kleynjans’ and so on. This is SO boring and filled with clichés, but the composer is very much allowed to look at the guitar’s possibilities and techniques”. This is my feeling about Ole’s music. The guitar work is excellent; minimalism has been a hard one for me as a listener and composer.
ROBERT JÜRJENDAL: MUTABILITY (2013)
Five Seasons (Robert Jürjendal – electro-acoustic guitar, electronics, Volkmar Zimmermann – guitar, Aleksei Saks – corno da caccia, Madis Metsamart – percussion, Sara Fiil – soprano). World premiere performance 6.04.2013, debut concert at Tallinn Music Week, House of Blackheads, Tallinn, Estonia. Recorded by Estonian Classical Radio ERR. Lyrics by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
You can get me with Percy Bysshe Shelley because I love English Romanticism. He was expelled from Oxford, what could be better than to stir up powdered wigged Enlightenment dips in knee britches with items like atheism and free love? The English Romantics didn’t use “Laugh out loud”. Instead they’d write an air moving sixty-page epic poem on laughter.
The guitar, vibraphone and trumpet sound good together in the grey and dreary opening. This is a good state of being to express a certain love of midnight and the dream world. “Mutability’s” music is as a temporal cloud disappears, as a thought pollutes the day, Shelley exists in a complaint, and it is a colorless and cold existence, the moon and cloud gone as death does mark the body. In Robert Jurjendal’s music, his sense of time and place impresses me. No, the music is not period music but it is music of feeling the Romantic period’s midnight’s allure and the grey misty temporality of a manse of stone crumbling, unattended by the demise of a bloodline. Such was Shelley’s world and captured in Jurjendal’s music. Zimmermann’s harp-like expressiveness is truly wonderful.
HSUEH YUNG-SHEN: POLAR NIGHTS (FOR 4 GUITARS) (2008)
Corona Guitar Kvartet, from album “Corona Guitar Kvartet” (Albany Troy 1084,
“I came in contact to Shen through our former member Olavur Jakobsen. Shen had written a piece for Olavur’s ensemble Adubaran. So, I asked him for a piece for the CGK. After we played through, we found out that it was one of the best pieces we had received from a US based composer and decided to record it. It is scored for both 8-string guitar and Terz guitar, therefore the bigger range along with two regular guitars.”
As rich in material as it can be, “Polar Nights” lives as a natural landmark. As with Ore’s “Neon Enlightened”, color is primary although the extremities of color are not reached in Yung-Shen’s music. Ice is heard as an impression and there are brief moments of the actual impressionist period of music being recalled in stark beauty. This music is highly recommended for its originality and beauty.
I am curious about the Lithuanian connection, Volkmar.
“After the Berlin Wall came down, I wrote letters to the different ‘Music Information Centers’ in Eastern Europe. I was very inspired, and I wanted to get in contact with Eastern European composers who wrote music for guitar. I received an answer from Lithuania, that there is a composer called Jonas Tamulionis, and I contacted him, which led to the piece he wrote to us. Then we travelled through all 3 Baltic States – after they became independent (went away from the Soviet Union after a revolution), and premiered ‘Per Sounare a Quattro’ in Vilnius. We premiered Østen Ores’ ‘Neon Reflections’ at the EU-concert”.
“The contact was deepened during the years, and when Lithuania became member of the EU, the CGK played at the official gala concert at the Vilnius Congress Hall, with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. The whole thing was festooned with EU flags, Lithuanian and Danish flags; ambassadors at the concert, TV and radio broadcasted it. We also played at the Lithuanian embassy in Copenhagen, when the EU-flag was set up at the embassy. The Danish secretary of foreign affairs was there and so on.”
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