Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I have to say my parents. They created the circumstances where it was very easy for me to develop an interest. They put me in a music school and had me take piano lessons at an early age. Later on, it was my high school teacher. We had the opportunity to take music as a major in high school which meant two very intense years of art history and music history, as well as an introduction to serious music. That was very influential. More recently, in terms of doing what I am doing now, it’s my closest environment, my wife and two colleagues from my previous work. They made it very clear I needed to explore music a bit more, and more precisely, the piano.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
As a composer, especially of the music that I have released in the most recent years, I think it is partly the same answer as the first question. My mum was in a choir that sung some interesting repertoire, e.g. Arvo Pärt, Benjamin Britten, Fauré and some things that were interesting for me to hear at a young age. At first, I wasn’t really interested but I felt I needed to listen. A lot of that type of music has influenced me, leaning more towards classical music which I never did before.
On the other hand, I used to play jazz and when discovering Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett, I kind of connected the dots and understood there was a way of expressing yourself outside of a genre. This planted the seed that it’s ok to make music just because it feels right or it’s beautiful.
What have been the greatest challenges or frustrations of your career so far?
One of the challenges is that I am a really bad instrumentalist. I am not technically trained, and I have many limitations in what I can actually play. I am also very bad at reading sheet music. However, in a way, that has been a blessing too. The restraints have been instrumental in making things simple and playable. It has dictated a way of playing and composing. So, this is not really a frustration, but it is a challenge. My last record was a big step for me and it is quite difficult to perform this album because it has a lot of musicians, and technically there is a lot more going on and I am not of the level that venues would be willing to take the risk and book that show.
There is a slight frustration there in the sense that I have created a story, something I want to tell, and it is, for me, a logical sequel of a trilogy of albums. It would have been great if that coincided with people being ready and venues being ready to host this performance. I really wanted to make that record and I am very happy I did, so, it doesn’t really matter.
What are the special challenges or pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I have had the good fortune of working with really good people which has been just fantastic. Because they understand what I want to do and what I want to say. Also, my experience has been mostly with Maarten Vos from Utrecht, Echo Collective from Brussels, Cappella Amsterdam, and Acme from the States. They understand the type of music well and they are on such a high level that for me it was just a treat to see things coming out the way they did. It is also an amazing learning experience; they helped me greatly, from checking over the arrangements to translating it into live music. I’m going to play with Acme again in the States. I’m doing two new pieces and I’m excited to do so because I know how good they are, so I’m not worried at all.
What are the challenges and pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
It depends on what type of commissioned pieces. I haven’t done any commissioned pieces for ballet or anything like that. Although I do have a history of working in advertising where I would be the intermediary so I know quite a bit about commissioned work. The main thing is that if you are not commissioned because of your artistry but instead for your skill or craftmanship, then it is a very difficult process because everyone has an idea about music and has an opinion on it. There is a saying that goes along the lines of a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and that is usually the case, and I don’t like that. Very often, the first ideas are the best ideas.
Of which works are you most proud?
I don’t know if proud is the right term or word to use but I’d say I’m very thankful for a couple of pieces landing on my lap. I’d say Midwayer, the first piece of my first album, because I think everything is in there and I have no idea how that piece came about; it was just there and performing it for me feels like a piece that speaks to everyone. Hanging D, of course. The title track of my last album Henosis and the composition Anamnesis. They take me back to the beginning of this five-year period, where I realized that all I’ve discovered was already in me and there is a lot of hope that comes from that.
How would you characterise your composition language?
Lyrical, melancholic, minimal, at times romantic, and dark.
How do you work?
I have two ways, I’d say – deduction and induction. One is basically sitting behind the piano and playing until something presents itself and feels right. Then either it is ready, or you elaborate on it for a few days or weeks. Revisiting what you have and seeing it with fresh eyes. Often times accepting what it is and making sense of it afterwards and other times going for a walk, reading, or having a chat and trying to come up with feelings or concepts for a musical idea or a production idea. You start working from there and then it can be very sound-driven or composition-driven. Usually the best things come from composition first, obviously.
Who are your favourite musicians or composers?
Ryuchi Sakamoto, Keaton Henson, especially after his record Six Lethargies. I’d say Mahler; recently I rediscovered Scriabin, Arvo Pärt. Radiohead, Kevin Parker, Justin Vernon (I’m forgetting like a million), Chopin, I’d say.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I’d say, you’re successful if you find your voice, you act out this voice and it resonates with the people around you, in a way that has some relevance or maybe a lot of relevance for them in their lives.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Find your voice. Don’t focus too much on what other people say or what others are doing, and keep going until you feel that it’s right, and even if it’s not right, if you keep going, it kind of will be at some point. Develop some trust in listening to your inner voice. Most people are looking at what is happening in the moment and, although it is the logical thing, it’s a learning process. Some people, from the start, they already manifest something that’s unique because they know exactly who they are and what they want or have to say. It’s ok to mimic and learn and spend hours discovering or practicing. At some point, it will surface, then embrace it, and don’t question it.
What would be your idea of perfect happiness?
Pretty much the same one as success, I’d say. I’d say, happiness is a state where you don’t feel judged and you have no judgement.
What do you enjoy doing the most?
Well, that would be sleeping! I enjoy writing music the most, besides spending time with my kids, but that’d be the obvious answer. The moment of creation and the curiosity when things come together in serendipity. When you are manifesting things that you didn’t know would ever be possible. That’s just blissful.
Joep Beving’s latest release, Henosis (Deluxe) is out now on Deutsche Grammophon. He is based in Amsterdam and will be performing in the US, Europe and UK through 2020.