In the lead up to his debut release ‘Pocket Symphonies‘, Sven Helbig gave an exclusive concert at Saatchi and Saatchi Headquarters, followed by a public concert in the evening at the Apple Store, in Regent Street.
The Saatchi & Saatchi concert is the pinnacle of Helbig’s aim to bring his music directly to young people on the move – with the help of an oyster card campaign, linking to the album title Pocket Symphonies.
Sven Helbig has excelled as a composer, producer, and arranger in many musical genres including Classical, Jazz, Rock and Hip Hop. Helbig’s career, began when he was the founder of the Dresden Symphony Orchestra. He has developed his work through producing, composing and orchestrating for musical projects such as the ballet at Sadler’s Wells Theatre London; Independent projects such as the choral work Da Wird Auch Dein Herz Sein, created for 250,000 voices at the Church Convention 2011, combining his own composition with directing. Helbig has also worked in popular music, working with artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Rammstein and Snoop Dogg.
‘Pocket Symphonies’ was fully orchestrated by Sven himself and was recorded with the Fauré Quartett and Estonian-American conductor Kristjan Järvi, with his orchestra, the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony. Järvi has proclaimed the Pocket Symphonies to be “probably one of the best things Iʼve ever done”. The album released on Deutsche Grammophon, has a selection of 12 short symphonic songs aimed to reach a young creative audience who enjoy a variety of musical styles.
So after a tremendous concert, we spoke to the music maestro about his album and the future of classical music.
Could you tell us a little bit about Pocket Symphonies, when you started composing it and the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been locking myself away for one year. This album is special for me as it is the first time I have composed it entirely in my head, without using an instrument. I usually sit down at the piano or with a guitar and develop a melody, but I realised that the touch and the physics of the instrument meant that it makes suggestions to you and changes the progress of the music dramatically. This time I just took long walks and would wait for the music to develop in my head. Sometimes there would be nothing and then it would just suddenly pop into my head.
The idea for Pocket Symphonies was to write twelve songs that capture evening moods – twelve ways of ending the day. And I wanted to use my favourite instrument, the orchestra. This is where the term ‘symphonies’ derives, and ‘pockets’ because they are just small moments; pockets of captured time.
How did composing away from an instrument have an effect on the music and would you use this technique in future compositions?
It’s free. It’s pure. Only when the music is complete in my head do I write it down. But walking and imagining music is a long process, that’s why it has taken me a year. Sometimes nothing happens and then all of a sudden there’s an idea, like a story that develops.
But it’s also a very efficient method of composition in some ways; you’re always thinking about it and you don’t waste any time at a boring party! But it also means there’s no rest. I’ve already used it for other compositions after Pocket Symphonies including a choral word for the choir in Stuttgart.
In your TEDx talk, you said that you don’t like the terms ‘classical’, ‘popular’ and ‘cross-over’, could you elaborate on this?
If the definition is so strong then it is hard to bring the walls down. I would invite a friend to a classical music concert and their first question would be ‘what should I wear’?
Cross-over and fusion have specific connotations of amplified violins, or busy drums; music from the ’70! Everything is now so accessible on the internet, everybody mixes much more. And yet pocket symphonies are cross-over in the sense that they bring together so many things that have been crossing over in my head since I was young, all the different influences that have shaped me: drums, clubs, bars, my jazz trio, New York, opera, classical music…
So, if we try and get rid of any definitions and genre, would you say that the only future for classical music is no genre?
It’s hard to say because of course classical music has a long tradition. The concert halls with fantastic acoustics, craftsmanship…I don’t want to break this all down. That said, there is a problem with calling it classical. It sounds so old! Where does classical music stop, the 1950s, 60s? If you say contemporary music then strange chords and 12-tone music comes to mind, but Pocket Symphonies are contemporary. Using terms is always a tricky thing.
Who is your audience for Pocket Symphonies?
It’s for my people. I played drums in a hip-hop band and here you make music for your ‘homies’. There’s a sense of collaboration between the people on stage and in front of the stage. On stage is just a bit more concentrated reflection of the life in the audience. Pocket Symphonies are for people who work, for creative people who are mixed and interested in culture. It’s for you, my friends my family and I hope you enjoy it.
‘Pocket Symphonies’ is out now! Purchase on iTunes.