Garreth Broke

Upright Vol. 1 by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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One of our recurring favorites – featured several times here at Piano & Coffee – recently returned with a brand new project, which truly speaks to the heart and soul of all the things we stand for. Upright Vol. 1, created and curated by British pianist and composer Garreth Brooke, is a flawless selection of sheet music for the very best contemporary solo piano music out there. Overflowing with pieces composed and transcribed by a variation of artists (quite a few that we’re well acquainted with), freely given by the composers and carefully edited to perfection, the PDF is a gold mine for glorious music from all around the world – and is available for free.

In an interview with pianodao.com, Brooke said, “The seed of it was my own curiosity – I heard Sergio’s piece Istanbul and I was totally intrigued by it.” Stemming from a desire to play the pieces he found most beautiful, Brooke decided to reach out to the composers of some of his favorite scores and quickly ended up with a rather large collection of them – ultimately leading to the idea of turning the collection into a book of sheet music. The first edition of Upright has 12 different pieces by 12 different artists, including Michael Price, Daigo Hanada, Matt Stewart-Evans, Sergio Díaz De Rojas and Simeon Walker; for every piece, there is a short introductory description of the composer and their composition, followed by the beautifully calibrated sheet music.

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The selection can be purchased from as little as £0.00 up to any amount the buyer feels appropriate, and any profit made is going straight to Music for Relief: a charity providing immediate support to people who have had to endure a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. In spite of the whole project being a non-profit, Brooke made sure to keep the PDF of a high quality, spending a lot of time making the sheet music look, sound and feel just right. With pieces varying in level of difficulty and style, the first edition of Upright is truly a grand beginning; and though the releases will be irregular, there are plans for a second edition to be published, hopefully before the end of 2018.

So for any piano teachers out there, looking for something fun and modern to surprise their students with – or for the piano players longing for a deep dive into the amazing contemporary piano music we have the pleasure of surrounding ourselves with – head on over to bandcamp, where you can get your hands on Upright Volume 1.

 

P&C interview: Garreth Broke and Anna Salzmann by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

With the September EP, Garreth Broke and Anna Salzmann began a project to cope with and comment on the stages of grief, portrayed in the different seasons. Following the first EP came three more – December, March, and June. With Garreth’s heartfelt pieces ringing with accuracy relevant to each season and Anna’s incredible, abstract paintings so clearly following each note of each piece, the project has been a joy to keep up with. The artistic duo joined us for a second interview, telling us about the latest – and last – addition to the project.


What can you tell me about the June EP?

Garreth: It’s summery, hopeful, and - I guess inevitably, given that it’s me - occasionally pretty bleak! I really wanted to write something that would sum up the whole series, a series which began with a track called The First, a minor key waltz that I wrote around the first anniversary of losing my Mum to suicide. At the time I was still in the middle of some pretty intense grief - probably still in shock, to be honest. The First opens the September EP but for most of the rest of the series I made a conscious effort to focus my thoughts elsewhere, to look at the landscape around me, to respond to it in music, to try to find some hope. I think that comes out particularly in the March EP. The track Hope is one of the most joyful things I’ve ever written, I love it. So when it came to this final June EP, I thought the best way to sum up the whole series was to refer back to The First. I wrote an even bleaker minor key waltz, and called it The Last. It’s the opening track.

Anna: Why “The Last”?

G: It’s a neat pairing with The First, for one thing, but more than that - grief is a process. Sometimes it’s really painful but there are also times when you completely forget about it and then it will hit you again out of nowhere. I guess The Last is about being hit again by grief, and knowing that while it might feel terrible, it’s survivable, and actually necessary. I think I’m getting quite good at grieving.

Anna: [sarcastically] Yay…

Garreth: [laughs] … I guess the point is that there is no “last” grief; it just goes on and on. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life anymore, you just have to accept that sometimes you’re going to have to spend some time grieving. I guess the June EP is about that: grief is incorporated in it, but it doesn’t dominate it. The next track is called Take Flight, and it’s totally different in character. It’s almost a dance, it’s just such a pleasure to play. I remember the day I composed it, it was almost like it just appeared out of nowhere, and I remember you really liking it.

Anna: It made me cry!

Garreth: But in a good way, I think?

Anna: Yes, it was beautiful!

Garreth: For a while I jokingly called it “Anna cries” but eventually I changed it to Take Flight, because it’s a really positive, stirring, moving kind of song, and I always feel like I’m taking off towards the end when my right hand starts playing those rapid arpeggios. I guess the flight thing is also a reference to Murmuration on the September EP.

Then, finally, there’s another track called Making Something from Nothing on a Random Evening in Dobrota in June. This is really a departure from my usual style - it’s even more jazzy than normal. It’s also a collaboration with a friend of mine, Phil Smith, a musician and radio producer. I wanted to get that feel of a hot summer evening in southern Europe. Phil sent me some field recordings of cicadas from a tiny village in Montenegro, and then I just made up this jazzy chord structure out of nowhere, came up with a melody and he improvised a response, and it’s just there, as it is, in all its slightly random glory, mistakes and all. I love the process of improvising - you just let things happen and extract the good bits. I’m sure Phil feels the same. And sometimes you have to keep the slightly rough bits in the mix, because the “mistakes” make it real. Anyway, for the EP cover Anna created some pretty spectacular art, like she’s done for all my EPs - do you want to describe it, Anna?

Anna: I wanted it to be summery, a bit heavy, a bit dark, a landscape. But I also wanted it to be abstract. I really wanted to be able to feel the heat, the sun, the cicadas, the long evenings. When I look at that painting it feels a lot like longing for that place where summer never ends.

Garreth: Like the long evenings?

Anna: Yeah, but also like being a teenager again, or a child, and having those endless-seeming summer holidays, that felt like they’d never come to an end.

Garreth: And I took the art, did a bit of digital manipulation and created this video, which was fun.

So the year-long project of yours is coming to an end – how does it feel? Did you both get to express and portray all the things you wished to?

Anna: That’s an interesting question. When I look at each EP they are artistically very different. I think the March EP was the most exciting for me in terms of the art that I created, just because I used a different format - the leporello format - and with that leporello I had this order, this chronology, and it was a bit more like telling a story. And I always feel like spring does that. As you watch plants grow, the countryside coming to life, growing out of the earth, I thought that was very fitting.

Garreth: I guess there are a few bits that I seriously considered including but eventually dropped - a lot of improvisations fell by the wayside. I also really wanted to do an arrangement of a favourite Welsh folk song of mine, but I just couldn’t find a place where it fit naturally in the series. Maybe I’ll release it at some point. But I never had a concrete plan about all the things I wanted to portray – it was more that I wanted to create a sort of diary of the things I’d experienced throughout the year. I needed a structure, and doing one per season seemed logical. I wanted to focus on something other than myself - landscapes were an obvious choice.

Were there any significant differences in your respective creating processes from beginning to end? Did they change or stay the same?

Anna: As the project has gone on, we’ve become busier and busier and have had less time to spend creating art at exactly the same time, which was always our process.

Garreth: We still work together a lot, though, don’t you think?

Anna: Yeah, I guess, but we used to work at exactly the same time. You would sit down to compose while I painted and your composing would influence what I painted and vice versa. Now it’s more like you compose and then I listen to it and react to it.

Garreth: Yeah, but your paintings definitely influence the final product. But my way of composing has definitely evolved. I still start all my compositions with improvisations, but I now record everything I do so as soon as I’ve done a good one, I’d listen back to it and try to capture that in sheet music. It’s much more efficient for me because I can focus on the good ideas and discard the bad ones quickly.

What will you take with you from this experience?

Garreth: I’m really happy with all the music, and I really enjoyed it. I also really loved working with 1631 Recordings - they have been so good to me.

Anna: And I’m also really pleased with the collection of art we now have and I think it goes really well together. We work well together! It’s fun, I like it!

Garreth: Me too!

 

What might the future hold for you two?

Garreth: I’m gonna make a CD of the collected EPs. I’m also preparing all the sheet music for all the EPs and my Coping Mechanism album. I’m going to spend some time making sure it’s really well presented, and then I’ll publish sheet music books for both projects. I want Anna’s art to be featured very prominently in those books, both on the inside and the outside, and I might even include some writing. Oskar Schuster does a great job with his self-published music books and I want to follow his excellent example! Aside from that I am going to take some time to improvise again for a while, and learn to play other people’s music.

Anna: I’m still hoping that we can do a performance piece at some point, where I paint large scale paintings as you play.

Garreth: That would be a lot of fun.

Anna: I would also like to have the opportunity to exhibit all the pieces I’ve made for your music over the time. And then I have a picture book project I’ve been working on, which I’d like you to make the music to.

Garreth: Definitely more concerts - I’ve got a few scheduled for the autumn. I played several house concerts this spring and I’d like to do more of them - they are such an awesome experience. I’ve attended a few as an audience member recently and they are usually so much better than concerts in traditional concert halls. Just more intense, somehow.

Anna: I started making art for other musicians as well - Dominique Charpentier’s EP Esquisses came out on 23rd June, and there’s an album with a group of musicians coming soon. I really enjoy creating art for musicians and I wouldn’t mind doing more!

Garreth: If people are interested in keeping track of us they should sign up to my mailing list, or follow Anna on Instagram, or either of us on Facebook (Garreth/Ana).

 

 

Premiere: March EP by Garreth Broke by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

Piano & Coffee is always eager to cover the works of visionary collaborative duo Garreth Broke and Anna Salzmann, especially when the project covers the seasonal changes happening outside our very windows. 


Broke’s spring-themed EP, March, simply leaves nothing to be desired. The melodies seem full and fresh, yet familiar as if the tunes are old friends nearly forgotten. Much of modern classical music doesn’t dare to go where Broke goes tonally in his EP. While the methods are familiar ones, the content of the playing is where Broke’s piano shines. Subconsciously, as well, the music forms mental images of space and landscapes that hint at raw, wide open countryside and the bite of a cold wind despite sunny skies. 

The accompanying artwork by Anna Salzmann also rings a strange bell, like the artwork hung for years on the wall in a childhood friend’s living room. The medium of watercolor and rough paper give the pieces an approachable and reciprocally vulnerable feeling, allowing even the timidest to feel welcomed into the curious world of swooping brushstrokes. Colors in these accompanying pieces are suggestive but not overt; introducing the first greens of spring while still staving off the icy blues of winter lingering. 

Overall this collaborative project gives the impression of the big melt that comes just as spring creeps in – while not gone, the snow and ice give way to a new season, and the process of change is both sloppy and sluggish, and tranquil, if not meditatively, beautiful. A wonderful emotional arc can be traced throughout the whole of the project; from subdued, as one can be at the end of winter, to invigorated, as one likely is as spring begins. 


Donwload and stream the March EP on Bandcamp.

December by Garreth Broke by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Camila Craig

December, the transient collaboration by Anna Salzmann and Garreth Broke, introduces us to the harsh Nordic winter with mellow tunes and smooth watercolors. Over five tracks, the artists craft a melodic journey from tranquility to vitality, and create hope for a new spring.

The opener called The Frost Falls as We Sleep builds gradually as the piano proceeds, just like autumn leaves falling to the ground in early December days. Salzmann’s watercolors, which resemble rain drops and puffy clouds, give a nostalgic – but welcoming – air to the song, and embrace the start of winter with an open end.

In contrast, Flakes Unwatched and Improvised has a faster and more hurried pace. Visually, we can perceive clear snow and naked trees defusing on the pages, while the music creates a happier, more excited atmosphere.

A Clear Quiet Light is the shortest song of the EP and it works as a bridge in the musical story. The pace slows down again, but this time the visuals and the music work together to create an early morning vibe. As a premonition for the next song, this last one is a warning sign, as it prepares the public for the dead of winter. We Walk appears at first to be the last song in the collection, but is only a smooth transition to the actual end. The watercolors give the illusion of frozen fields but nevertheless a bright blue sky. This symbolism can only be understood as the end of winter and the possibility of a new season.

And finally, after a long pause, The Empty Church erupts in an explosion of color and lively melodies. A great mix between bright reds and musical sparkles portrays the beginning of a new season, with welcoming new sounds, shades, and feelings. 


Stream and download this beautiful EP on 1631 Recordings' Bandcamp.

P&C interview: Garreth Broke and Anna Salzmann by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

Photo taken by  Lana Yanovska

Photo taken by Lana Yanovska

A perfect match in many ways, composer Garreth Broke from Bristol, UK, and artist Anna Salzmann from Frankfurt, Germany, managed to find each other in the most unexpected manner possible – an instant connection in a Berlin-based gay club led Garreth to quit his job in England and move to Germany. They found inspiration in each other and went on to create phenomenal collaborations together, currently working on their project called December – a brief, sombre reflection on winter.


Could you guys tell me about your introductions to your respective art form, and when you started creating your own?

Anna: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or painting.

Garreth: I’m kind of the same. My Mum used to play the piano, and I had lessons from about the age of 5 or 6. Mum got me a great teacher who was an amateur composer, and he taught me how to improvise. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head: I had always enjoyed the piano but never really loved it, but once I started improvising I could play for hours on end. But neither of us started sharing our work publicly until we met each other. I always felt like my music wasn’t good enough to be shared. I studied music at a very traditional university where we really focused on the “greats”, the western canon, Bach, Beethoven, that kind of thing. I found it really difficult to find a place for my music at university because, well, how do you compete with Bach? You can’t!

Anna: I felt like I was always looking for something but I could never quite put my finger on it, and I felt like until I found out what that was, I would never be able to share it.

How do you inspire each other? Could you both describe your creating processes for me?

Garreth: When I moved to Germany I was unemployed, didn’t speak German and had no friends and hardly any money, but Anna bought me a piano. I spent my days looking for work and studying German and playing the piano. I found that Anna kept getting really excited about the stuff I was composing, and it was the first time I can remember when someone other than my parents would really listen to what I was playing and tell me how beautiful they found it. It gave me a confidence in my music that I had never found before: I realised I didn’t have to try to compete with Bach or Beethoven, I just had to explore what I was interested in.

Anna: And it inspired me for my own work. I started creating pieces to the music. Before I met Garreth I used to dance, and so music and movement - and creating with both - is something that I like to do. I often work in ink and watercolours, and I sometimes think that working with these two media is a bit like dancing, especially in combination with Garreth’s music. It is a very physical experience. They are so fluid; they have a movement of their own. It is like dancing. When you dance you make a movement with your body but that movement goes further than your body - it influences your surroundings - and that’s how it feels with ink and watercolour, these very watery media. They have a flow. I think that ink and watercolour transport my energy onto the paper or the canvas better than any other medium, and the energy is then influenced by the music, and that makes painting - at least the way I do it - so much like dance.

Garreth: We have this fairly small apartment in Frankfurt (it’s so expensive here!) so we don’t have much space and that means we both work in the same room. I’ve got a corner with my piano and my computer, and Anna has her corner with her work desk and easel, so we can work on our own thing but we’re never completely unaware of what the other one is doing. I’ll focus on the piano for a while and then I’ll turn around and Anna will have done something which I think is totally awesome, and I’ll look at it for a bit and we’ll chat about what we’re doing and then I’ll turn back to the piano and my composition will grow and Anna will keep working and then we’ll turn back to each other again. And in that way our stuff grows together and alongside each other. They sort of intertwine. It’s honestly the best feeling. It’s such a good feeling that I think there’s a danger we could become a pair of hermits, like “yeah, I guess we better go to that party, but wouldn’t it be nice just to stay in and make something!”

Anna by  Lana Yanovska

How did you get the idea for December? What can you tell me about the process of creating it?

Garreth: I need to explain a bit of context for it to really make sense. Earlier this year I released my first album, Coping Mechanism, which was a response to my mum’s death to suicide. Anna had been encouraging me for a long time to release an album. She’d promised to do the artwork and just generally kept on encouraging me. I worked on the music for about 12 months and in June ‘15 we ran a successful crowdfunding campaign and then literally just after the crowdfunding campaign finished my mum took her life. She had suffered with depression for about half my life; she had been so positive at times, and then at times so desolate, so low. It was always this thing hanging over me, the fear that she would die.

And then she did. And you’ve got to remember that she was the one who had first encouraged me to make music, who had sorted out the piano lessons, and who kept telling me that I needed to record it. So to lose her like that when I was finally acting on her advice was pretty brutal. By that time I had got enough confidence to realise that I just had to be myself, not to try to pastiche something else. So I just poured all that emotion into the album, all the grief and all the happy memories, everything. After I finished it I was totally drained. Emotionally spent. There’s one track in particular, “Mum”, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, but I can barely play anymore. I played it in a few concerts this year and I’ve decided that I need to give it a rest for a while because it just hurts. It just breaks me.

So I needed something different to work on, something less immediately emotional. Anna’s painting professor had recommended a graphic novel / art book called The River by Alessandro Sanna and I bought it for her birthday last year. It’s an amazing book. It’s just a series of watercolours, hardly any text, and it depicts the landscape of the river Po during each of the four seasons, beginning with autumn and ending with summer. The paintings are incredible - they’re so rich, so alive. I was never really interested in art until I met Anna and I think this book was another one of those “lightbulb” moments, when I just thought WOW.

The idea of writing something for each of the seasons just made sense to me. I grew up on a dairy farm in West Wales and I’ve spent a lot of time with my parents and my siblings walking through the landscape, whatever the weather. When you’re a farmer you just have to get out in the weather and get on with it, no matter how cold or wet it is. So I feel kind of connected to the landscape, wherever I am. And the landscape changes so much, it’s fascinating, and we have a tendency to ignore it. The idea of releasing a series of pieces that somehow recreate that experience of being in a landscape during the changing seasons really appealed to me. So I improvised a load of autumnal pieces and sent a demo to my favourite record label, 1631 Recordings, and they released it!

Anna: You love those guys.

Garreth: I really do. They’re so cool, like… the artists on their list are incredible. They really are doing so much exciting, fascinating stuff. It’s kind of surreal because when I was first getting into this I thought to myself “I really want to be on 1631 Recordings, but I’m not good enough, maybe that’s something I can work towards”, and then I just felt brave one day, took a risk, sent them an email and they took me! You can buy the September EP from them now, and they’ll be putting out the December EP on 1st December. Naturally, Anna did some artwork for the September EP and she’s done loads more for December.

Garreth by  Lana Yanovska

Garreth by Lana Yanovska

Anna: It’s just so nice to work together that it felt natural that I should make some art for whatever Garreth composed next.

Garreth: The video comes from working with Anna and noticing something which I’d never really paid attention to before, which is that when you get close up to art, when you look at it repeatedly over a long period of time, you notice all this detail that you had missed the first time. I wanted to find a way to recreate that experience. I started experimenting with making music videos that focused on the little details that I liked, and I just found myself really enjoying the process. It brings the music and the art together, tries to give the viewer/listener something more of the experience we had when creating it.

Anna: We wanted to make the artwork last throughout the course of the music. Not to be just one single shot, but to offer different perspectives and experiences of the art. I think with the details, the close-ups, you find different aspects of the art. Like with your music.

Garreth: Yeah, like the more you listen to an album, or play through a piano sonata, the more you notice the details, the little things. I recently bought Bon Iver’s 22 A Million, I’ve listened to it so many times, and I keep spotting new things. There’s so much detail there. It appeals to me on a surface level, because it’s just really beautiful, but then the more you get to know it, the more you love it. And making a video of the December EP did two things: it would help people to enjoy Anna’s art in the same way that I enjoy it - close up and personal – and it’s a way for us to continue to work together.

Anna: And, actually, it’s a way for us to kind of perform together. It’s a way of showing our work on almost equal terms. My art is movement when it’s being painted, but then after you’ve finished painting, it stays static.

Garreth: And the experience of looking at art in a gallery is something that can be quite static, which I never found that interesting.

Anna: The observer moves from one piece to the next...

Garreth: ... but the art is fixed. And my music isn’t fixed. I love improvising so much that I rarely stick to the same notes every time because I find it boring. I think, why do I have to make a definite version?

Anna: I think that’s why I love accidents in my art, because they make it less boring, less predictable. Like when I’m using a slightly old nib on my ink pen and it drips on the paper, and then I have to deal with that because I can’t erase it. And actually I don’t want to erase it, because it’s good!

Garreth: I’m the same with the music: I record everything I improvise and when I listen back to it, I realise that I’ve accidentally done something that I really like. Life is full of stuff that you can’t plan. And it’s a question of how you deal with it. Do you try to carry on regardless? No. You can’t. So you have to be flexible. I had no plan to move to Germany before I met Anna. Literally no plan. The whole thing happened by accident! We just randomly met.

Anna: But it was a good accident.

Garreth: Yeah. It’s serendipity. If you approach life’s randomness with a positive attitude then good things happen. But if you approach life with a negative attitude then life will drag you down. Think positive and good stuff happens. It’s really as simple as that. Improvisation on the piano is like that: you have to know the basic rules, scales, chords, harmony etc, and then you just have to let it happen. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t improvise, but it really is like you only have a certain amount of control over it.

The video for December will only be up for a couple of days. What motivated that decision?

Garreth: As I was composing the music for December, I was thinking about all the different ways the landscape changes during the winter, and reflecting on the landscape of my childhood in West Wales. We don’t get much snow there, and when we do it rarely lasts more than a few days. In the winter we usually get frost, but it is usually gone almost as soon as the sun hits it, so if you want to look at it you have to make sure you’re out at the right time or it’s gone. So I was thinking about how temporary all these changes are, and also reflecting on how winter is the time of year when most plants appear to be dead, which led me to think about how ephemeral everything is.

At the same time, it’s become a real commonplace to warn children about what they put on the internet, because what’s on the internet “lasts forever”; what they put up as a teenager might be read by a prospective employer in twenty years time. That seems to be the dominant narrative about the internet: be careful about what you put on there, because it’s like carving something in stone. That’s a radical oversimplification of how the internet actually works and will likely evolve, but that’s the way I’ve been taught to think about it. So I wanted to do something deliberately non-permanent: the video is here for a bit, and then it’s gone, like the winter weather, like life. You guys can choose to look at the video if you want to, or you can choose not to. It really makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. But one thing you can be reasonably sure of is that if you don’t look now, you won’t be able to later. Same with the frost. Same with life.

Do you have any coming projects you’d like to tell me about?

Garreth: There are lots of projects brewing in my head but the only definite plans I have is that there’ll definitely be two more EPs in this project, a March EP and a June EP, coming in March and June of 2017.

Anna: I’ve been commissioned by the University of Birmingham law department to work on a project with some of their undergraduates. It’s a really interesting, complex project. In a nutshell the students pick a case that they have studied that they wanted to explore in more detail, and they are invited to give their personal responses: how does it make them feel, what does it say about the legal system and society etc. Then they send me their thoughts and I interpret those thoughts and add my own and turn them into art.

Aside from that, I’m working on several different series of artworks at the moment, and probably the best way to find out more is to interact with me on Instagram. Most excitingly in December I’m going to put up for sale one work of art a day, and all the proceeds I’m going to give to charity. It’ll be like a cross between an advent calendar and an art auction, and the artwork of the day will go to the person who gives the most money and all of the proceeds will go to my chosen charity, WESER5 Diakoniezentrum, a Frankfurt based charity which works to improve the lives of homeless people.


Keep up with these two talented artists on their respective social medias (Anna’s FacebookInstagram, Website and Garreth’s Facebook, Bandcamp, Website) and don’t forget to check out the video for December, before it is gone for ever.