Hauschka – Not your typical concert pianist

Hauschka – Not your typical concert pianist

Main pic: Hauschka, aka Volker Bertelmann. Photo credit: Maeike Foecking

Hauschka to play Quebec City’s Le Palais Montcalm in first visit to the region.

By Rosanna Haroutounian

Electronic music coming out of a piano is unusual, but not if the piano is being played by German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann. Known on stage as Hauschka, Bertelmann will bring the weird and wonderful sounds of prepared piano to Quebec’s Le Palais Montcalm on Sunday April 12.

Bertelmann says he researched Eastern-European last names on the Internet to find the Czech name Hauschka, a stage name he says gives him a lot of freedom.

“When you are a pianist and you use your original name, it sounds a little bit like you are a classical pianist and you stay in that tradition,” says Bertelmann. “I wanted to keep the way open to change, so when I want to do a trombone record I can do a trombone record.”

He says that for now, prepared piano is the main instrument he plays.

“I’m putting all sorts of stuff in the piano so it sounds like an orchestra.”

American composer Henry Cowell first manipulated a piano in the 1920s by plucking, thumping, or sweeping its strings to alter the sound.

“It was the early punk movement,” says Bertelmann. “He felt the grand piano was an instrument of the establishment.”

John Cage, an apprentice of Cowell, was the first to develop music on a prepared piano, and he did so for practical reasons. Commissioned to write music for a dance piece in the 80s, and finding no room for a percussion ensemble on stage, Cage learned to improvise percussion sounds using the grand piano.

“I’m also using the piano in a percussive way,” says Bertelmann. “Things that would sound profane on a normal piano sound funny or interesting or weird once you put the right preparations on there.”

Bertelmann is also known in his native Germany as one half of the rap duo God’s Favorite Dog.

“I was always a big fan of rap, R&B, funk and soul, especially for dancing.”

Hauschka, aka Volker Bertelmann. Photo credit:  Maeike Foecking

Hauschka, aka Volker Bertelmann. Photo credit: Maeike Foecking

Bertlemann says he was “totally fascinated” when he heard American hip-hop group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for the first time in the 1970s. He began rapping after reconnecting with a cousin who was studying in the United States.

Following their performance at a music festival, the duo was offered a record deal with Sony.

“It was very funny that this was happening so fast.”

Bertelmann says that a month later they were opening for the biggest rap band in Germany, Die Fantastischen Vier, and continued to do so for about two years.

Bertelmann says the experience was important for his personal development. He says he was often left feeling unfulfilled and tired after his concerts as a rapper.

“Nowadays, when I’m performing a piano concert, I feel totally uplifted,” he says. “A lot of times, I can’t sleep because there’s so much adrenaline.”

Today, Bertelmann says his concerts are unpredictable and vary from night to night.

“Every concert I perform is unique, because I don’t prepare beforehand,” he says. “The idea comes from the fact that I can perform different styles.”

Bertelmann says he examines the venue, piano, and acoustics to determine what to play at each show. His pieces vary from religious and lyrical to rhythmic and techno music.

He says his latest album, Abandoned City, sounds distorted and darker than his previous work.

“It’s great because piano has an image as a very pure instrument,” he says. “There has to be some rawness in there. I want to add something in my music that is physical.”

Released in March 2014, Abandoned City is Bertelmann’s seventh solo album. Bertelmann says he is currently writing music for a symphonic orchestra in Leipzig, Germany, as part of a one-year residency. He also writes and performs with other bands and creates film scores. Bertelmann’s last film score was presented at the South by Southwest film and music festival in March.

He says the audience’s reaction also influences his decisions about what to play. Whether they laugh and how they clap are some of the ways he says the audience communicates. He adds that he is excited to play for a Canadian audience again.

“Canada has a completely different character,” he says. “The diversity I have in Europe, I can find that in Canada.”

“You also have the huge influence of American culture, and I like that as well,” he adds. “When I come here, I find there’s a lot of support for my kind of job, that you can hardly find in Europe.”

Bertelmann says he is very interested by the mix of French and English languages in Quebec.

“People are wandering between those two worlds and I love that,” he says. “I think that’s a big gift.”

Bertelmann says it was in Montreal that he first learned of Quebec City’s history and is eager to see it during his first visit to the city.

“You never have the first time again,” he says.

Quebec electronic artist Millimetrik will open for Hauschka on Sunday at Le Palais Montcalm.

Tickets are available on Réseau Billetech.

Categories: Arts & Culture

About Author

Rosanna Haroutounian

Rosanna Haroutounian was raised in Mississauga, Ontario, and studied journalism and political science at Carleton University. She currently works as an English assistant at a college in Quebec City. She enjoys reading, baking, being outdoors, and travelling the world when time and finances allow.

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