Stellan Aberg, pianist & composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I think that music is one of many ways of self-expression. Our feelings, emotions, passions, desires need to be expressed, just like our thoughts – and we chose different means to do just that – for some it is art and creation, for some – violence and destruction, others simply don’t have the need… Ever since I was a child, I felt that my singing, writing poetry, music or dancing, as silly as it probably was, in my mind it was making the world a better, happier place. And I still hope that it does.

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

Inspiration is everything, and everything can be an inspiration. I feel like I can be inspired as much by falling snow or the sound of a waterfall as by Brahms or Radiohead. Is it possible that a short conversation with a stranger on a bus can influence your life to the point of changing it completely? Of course! Can your world turn upside down just from hearing Sokolov’s divine Adagio of Mozart’s  K.332 from the last row? Definitely! Life’s tiniest moments can be the most influential ones – if you let them, if you are ready. And I am trying to be always ready.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I am just starting my journey. I feel like a fearless child who is unaware of the treacherous pitfalls and meanness of the world. The greatest challenge is to gather faith and conviction that what I do matters, not just to me, but to someone out there whose day might get brighter after hearing my music.

You are also a composer. Does performing influence your composing, and vice versa? And if so, how?

For me, performing is composing, and composing is performing. One of the hardest things for me to do is to decide when the composition is done, and in fact, it never is – which is a cliché that is as old as the art itself; when I perform it again it re-composes, re-writes, re-shapes itself for better or worse, sometimes becoming un-performable, so the process turns into this maddening Mobius strip. It really is a glorious experience that I treasure more than anything. It is a rush, it is a trip, it is an adventure. That is what I mean when I’m paraphrasing Salvador Dali: “I don’t do drugs. I write music.”

How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?

We all hate labels, and yet we label everything. I am reluctant to put just one label on my music, but I am terrified of covering it with multiple ones, to the point you can’t see behind them. If I heard my music somewhere, I’d probably think “Oh, that sounds like Ravel, or wait… Rachmaninoff? And now Philip Glass? That is kind of jazzy… but not really…” So, in other words, I would be probably intrigued, but then again – I’m really not trying to find or define my language – I just speak it and hope it makes sense to others. If I had to analyse my works from the music theory point of view – which I really don’t do, especially when I’m writing! – I’d say that it is solidly rooted in classical tradition and heavily influenced by jazz, minimalism, new-age, neoclassicism and many other genres. This amalgamation comes naturally to me, and I hope it does to listeners as well.

Tell us more about your new single Letter to Keith…..

Since October 21, 2020 I have been obsessively thinking about Keith Jarrett, who has been one of my favourite musicians for most of my life… I started listening to his albums again… and again, and again…. and I felt like I had to write him a letter – and when words fail, as they miserably did, music steps in… so I wrote this tune as a humble tribute to a legend. While not trying to imitate his style (as if it were possible anyway!), I wanted to express my feelings the best I could. While making the video for the piece, I decided to shoot it as a love letter to my Steinway piano – which seemed appropriate – with shots inside the piano’s action, under the strings, on the hammers. For people who know how the grand piano is constructed, some footage would raise questions how it was even possible to shoot without taking the instrument apart. All I can say is that my piano was not harmed in the production of the video.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That my music passes the test of time, and someone somewhere in 100 or 200 years still listens to it. Since there is no way for me to know it now, all I can do is put my heart and soul into it, not obsess about fads and trends, and write as I feel. We should definitely revisit this question in 100 years and see if it worked!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I hope to always be an aspiring musician. One can never stop learning, improving, climbing the ladder of perfection, which is really a goalpost that is fleetingly ephemeral, and moves away as soon as we get closer.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I would like to be 10 years wiser and still do what I love, whatever that might be then.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

As Chris McCandless wrote before his death in the wilderness of Alaska: “Happiness is only real when shared.” I am the happiest when I write music and create my sound world, but sharing it and finding a few souls who “get” it would make that happiness perfect.

What is your most treasured possession?

My constant need to create. Something. Somehow. I can never understand when people say that they are bored. I pray to the gods of the universe that never happens to me.

Postscript:

I have always been fascinated with our desire to know more about the artists, composers and performers. As if factual knowledge of biographical information would shed a different light on composers’ work. Does it? Does it colour it differently? Or from a different angle? It obviously doesn’t change the music, but it definitely changes our perception of it. But is that a good thing? How does knowing a composer’s age, social status, nationality, schooling, sexual orientation, even looks help us to understand their music, or even simply determine if we like it or not? Is music itself so powerless that it needs help? Or, just as an overly engaging and eventful visual aspect of a performance, this knowledge can be a distraction or even diversion? I want my listeners to hear the music and feel, emote and think about themselves, not about me. And just listen. Listen in the dark.

Released on February 26th 2021, Letter to Keith is a solo piano work by Stellan Aberg created as a humble and respectful homage to iconic pianist Keith Jarrett, one of Aberg’s inspirations. This is the second in a series of singles that will emerge over the year, each one accompanied by an artistic photograph, a poem and a music video.

The video for Letter to Keith is in turn a love letter to Aberg’s Steinway piano, featuring stunning footage of the instrument inside the action, on the hammers, and even under the strings, all while the piano is being played.

The complete album ‘Center of the Void’ will be released in autumn 2021


Stellan Aberg Piano

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