Improvisation in music is a way of practicing art that mainly belongs in jazz and pop music. With solos the artist lets loose a personal interpretation on a song. In classical music improvisation was also very common for a long time. Composers such as Bach and Mozart were not only virtuoso composers but also improvised and varied exuberantly on their themes. Orchestral work by classical composers often includes so-called cadences; space for the soloist to give his own interpretation of the piece. Ironically, cadences of famous musicians have been put back on notation and are performed as written music
The chord scheme is often leading for the harmony and the rhythmic structure and the solo has to fit into this. In pop music there are numerous examples of this; the well-known double guitar solo at the end of The Eagles’ Hotel California (yes, we hear you singing ti-du-du now) is completely within the chord scheme of the song. Violinist Merel Vercammen was asked to do something new for the Gaudeamus Muziekweek, the oldest music festival in the Netherlands; to make an album in which improvisation is central and then with classical musicians and classical music as a starting point. Merel Vercammen is a Dutch violinist, trained at the Utrecht Conservatoire and the prestigious Royal College of Music, where she graduated cum laude. In the summer of 2019 she will release two albums, Symbiosis and The Zoo. Symbiosis is a classical album with music for violin and piano.
The Zoo is of a very different order. These are tracks where musicians create a piece of music in real time. Without a pre-arranged melodic structure, rhythm and atmosphere. Improvisation from beginning to end, that is. Like Merel Vercammen the musicians often have a classical background, but there are also jazz musicians like Rembrandt Frerichs (piano) and Ties Mellema (sax). Recording locations were a church in Batenburg and the Orgelpark in Amsterdam. During the album introduction of The Zoo, on the last day of the Gaudeamus Music Week in TivoliVredenburg, we hear Merel Vercammen with cellist Maya Friedman and pianist Rembrandt Frerichs. We experience it as a concert that is exciting from start to finish and musically of an unprecedented level. It is, as Vercammen himself says, playing with your intuition, trusting your technique and each other. The musicians communicate with all the senses and that comes across. In the encore Merel Vercammen makes the audience sing a note. That’s the keynote for the rest of the piece.
We feel like we’re watching and listening to something new. The style of the improvisations cannot be pigeonholed (which we don’t). What makes this fascinating is that the music is created on the spot and that we as an audience witness this. This makes The Zoo truly a new step in the performance practice of music. The Dutch label trptk has also seen this and made a nice production of it. The recording and production was in the hands of trptk’s mastering engineer Brendon Heinst. They use recording and playback equipment from the premier league. Merging for the AD conversion, audio over IP and as DAW; JCAT for the network connections, Hegel and KEF Blade for the (multi-channel) mastering; Furutech for the cabling. And recently trptk has partnered with DPA for the microphones. These have been used for The Zoo and the sound quality is so good that you can expect to hear more and more tracks from The Zoo at demonstrations and shows. In any case, we are happy to have heard it live and are curious to see what more this collaboration between Merel Vercammen and trptk will bring us.