Last Friday, February 22nd, British pianist, composer, and orchestra conductor Gavin Greenaway, performed the piano in an intimate concert in Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill (London, UK), to present his latest album: ‘Woven’.
Stella Lungu, new collaborator in SoundTrackFest, was there and has written this article, including some pictures and videos, to show us how was that night.
Last night brought us together for the premiere live performance of Gavin Greenaway’s new album titled ‘Woven’, which was launched on February 15.
Hidden away on an uphill North London street, Lauderdale House provided the ideal intimate setting for Gavin’s delicate musical story.
As the fog was slowly settling over Highgate, we made our way into the arts centre and were greeted by the welcoming staff. After about half an hour of conversing with other guests and admiring the beautiful photography adorning the building’s walls, we were lead upstairs towards the Long Gallery where the performance was set to take place.
The dimly lit chamber was dominated by the imposing grand piano, which seemed to hold on to the composer’s most intimate secrets, as only one’s closest confident would.
‘Woven’ is Gavin Greenaway’s highly anticipated second solo album, following his widely acclaimed first album titled ‘Il Falco Bianco’, which was released in May 2016.
After having worked in the music business for about three decades writing and conducting music for other people, the prolific Emmy ® award-winning composer, pianist and conductor felt that he was never spending enough time writing music for himself. And so, as he approached 50, he decided to write something personal. This prompted him to release his first solo album ‘Il Falco Bianco’, followed by ‘Woven’ and, we hope, many more beautiful albums.
After a brief introduction, Greenaway makes his appearance and commences to play ‘A Beginning’, which is the first piece on the album. He takes us on a musical journey through the story of his album, briefly pausing after every piece.
He performs the playful ‘We Danced For Seven’ flawlessly and jokes that the piece which was written in 7/8 time was said to be ‘impossible to play’.
The composer stops for a brief moment after playing ‘Autumn Came So Soon’, letting us know that Side A of the record has ended. He reminisces about the feeling one gets when they need to take a short pause while physically having to get up and flip the vinyl to the other side.
‘Woven’ stems from the composer’s love for the concept album, where one puts a piece of music on and that takes them on a journey for about 45 minutes.
As his album didn’t feature any lyrics, Greenaway contemplated as to how he would tell the story, and thus, decided to tell it through the titles of the pieces.
He wanted the titles to tell the story, but not to be so specific that the listener couldn’t then relate and hear their own story. This is the same reason why he is reticent about saying what his story of a particular piece is. He says that the individual pieces are not as important as the journey it takes you on.
Observing the other guests in the room, it was very clear that Greenaway had been successful in taking each and every guest on their own unique and equally relevant journey.
Greenaway continues his performance with Side B of the album, playing ‘The Fall’, ‘Adrift’, and ‘The Melting’ without taking a break in between. The melancholic ‘The Fall’ transitions into a dreamy ‘Adrift’, and concludes with a mesmerizing ‘The Melting’, much like Autumn falls into Winter, which is then met by Spring, filling the listener’s heart with hope. Watch the beautiful performance of the three pieces below.
For this album, Greenaway used various fabrics and materials to ‘prepare’ his upright piano. All of the sounds on the album, from delicate sustains to unusual percussive timbres, are derived from the piano.
The actual techniques used on this album came about from the composer’s need to give his ears some rest, while still playing loudly. His idea came from the practice pedal found on the upright pianos, which puts a sheet of felt between the strings and the hammers. Greenaway found a piece of felt and tweaked his piano. This resulted in a sound that captivated the composer, which was very soft and had a specific sustain.
One of the techniques used on this album was placing a foam earplug between the strings. The result dampened it all down, creating an almost muted guitar sound. The composer would end up multi-tracking all of the album’s pieces, with some of them having two layers, and others up to seven or eight.
A good example of that is ‘Singing Old Songs’, which you can hear in the video below, in which the composer took three English folk songs and ‘wove’ them together, which is part of the whole concept of the album. It’s the idea of weaving things together and telling a story that is made up of textures and layers. Each of the tunes in this piece has a slightly different treatment.
Naturally, given the techniques used, a live performance would have presented itself with a myriad of challenges. The composer revealed to me after the concert that three weeks ago he wasn’t even thinking about putting together a live performance of ‘Woven’ due to these logistical challenges.
When Greenaway finally decided to put together a live performance, he even contemplated using four different pianos and pianists. In the end, he managed to felt the grand piano found in Lauderdale House just like the upright he used in ‘Woven’. This resulted in a beautiful and successful first performance.
After playing ‘Singing Old Songs’, the composer proceeded by playing ‘We Travelled Far’ and ‘Goodnight My Love’ without pausing.
In an interview Greenaway gave last week, the composer revealed that the slightly Eastern sound and his inspiration for ‘We Travelled Far’ was the Sakura Season in Japan. This piece was originally named ‘Mono No Aware’, literally translated as ‘an empathy toward things’. It is a recognition of beauty and of the fact that things don’t last forever, just as the beautiful blossoms of the cherry tree only last for a short amount of time.
To the joy of the audience, Greenaway ended Friday night’s performance with a well-known piece from ‘Il Falco Bianco’, titled ‘Smoke’.
He concluded by thanking his collaborators and teared up as he thanked his wife for her support. Greenaway lovingly joked that if she doesn’t like a piece, it doesn’t make it onto the album.
After the performance, everyone made their way towards the venue’s café, where a most humble and friendly Gavin Greenaway came to say hello and engaged in conversation with everyone.
The composer revealed that he is in the process of deconstructing the album into the layers and that this is a project that should happen at some point this year. This is definitely something we shall all be looking forward to.
After about an hour we said our goodbyes and walked out into the foggy night, our most recent memories still being drowned in the delicate piano textures that had us travel through space and time, even for just a few brief moments.
‘Woven’ is available for purchase on vinyl, CD and in digital format on a number of music distribution platforms, including the composer’s website. You can purchase your own signed copy of the CD or vinyl from the official store at https://www.musicglue.com/gavingreenaway/
We will see Gavin Greenaway on stage once more on March 23, this time conducting Hans Zimmer’s ‘The World of Hans Zimmer – A Symphonic Celebration’ at the SSE Arena Wembley in London, in a tour that will start on March 17 in Krakow (Poland) (read more).
Article by Stella Lungu