"A New Symphony"
" When Off-Record contacted me to participate in the Erik Satie's Vexations Series, I was immediately interested in the project. Erik Satie is a composer whom I love very much and have often performed as a pianist. However, I had never looked into this short piece to play 840x in a row. The unusual idea of Alain Lefebvre (Off-Record label) and Wataru
Iwata to interpret Vexations freely but under the instructions of 40 performances immediately appealed to me as a pianist, but especially as a composer. Challenge that I accepted as the opportunity to highlight my two favorite roles.
The first directive I imposed on myself was to respect the essence of the score as much as possible. So I based myself on the musical material that she offered and discovered that, despite the constraint of repetition, there were multiple possibilities to play with her writing. It opened up the composition space by touching different musical universes. Which was a real playground for my various musical influences ranging from baroque to jazz. The general form of the piece that I have chosen is like a classical symphony of the late 17th century articulated around 3 movements (vivid 20x, slow 10x, vivid 10x). The form is the first freedom taken from the starting point. I felt that this taking of liberty did not seem to me to be a betrayal of the composer's spirit, given his whimsical temperament. I wanted to create a kind of macro-work that integrates Satie's piece into mine. To continue to give a wink at the composer, I have added an evocative title to each movement as an illustration of the temperament.
My second directive was, despite the 40 executions, to keep the attention of today's listener as long as possible. The evolving architecture, spread over the 3 movements, is organized through mathematical games distributed via the notes of the theme from a
rhythmic in the lines and the resulting harmonic encounters. This allows an unwinding of the executions with more relief.
In terms of the instrumentation used, the piano remains central in a completely traditional game but with a touch of modernity brought to it thanks to the post-production tools in the studio. I worked on it with French musician Emmanuel Delcourt. Benoît Lavollée (Fr) plays the leitmotiv on the vibraphone and marimba in the 1st movement called ‘My Lewis Caroll Version’ (vivid 20x). Bruno Ramos (Fr) on the double bass supports the piece as a whole.
The 2nd movement ‘Through the Crystal Silence’ (slow 10x) is the most lyrical, it is the only one that is played in a slow tempo as requested on the score by Satie. This movement is a kind of historical unfolding of musical writing. At the beginning the treatment of the theme refers to the counterpoint then slides towards a more 19th century pianistic
aesthetic to end with harmonic jazz colors.
The 3rd movement ‘The March of the Janissaries’ (vivid 10x) is a movement so called « exit ». Its title, inspired by a choir from Mozart's opera ‘L’Enlèvement au Sérail’, is also a nod to the moment when, judged talentless by his teachers at the Conservatory of Music and dismissed after two and a half years of lessons, Satie decided to enlist in an infantry regiment.
For the mix and mastering, I worked with Erwin Autrique from ICP studios in Brussels gives breadth andthe finished touch to this "new symphony".
Composition: Erik Satie & Grażyna Bienkowski
Piano: Grażyna Bienkowski
Vibraphone & marimba: Benoît Lavollée
Double bass: Bruno Ramos
Post-production & additional instruments: Emmanuel Delcourt
Mix & mastering: Erwin Autrique
Grażyna - pics by Lara Herbinia
Grażyna Bienkowski is born in Belgium to Polish parents, Grażyna Bienkowski is a pianist, cellist, composer and musicologist based in Brussels.
She started learning the piano aged 7 with Stéphane Stas and a few years later the cello with Etienne Capelle.
After graduating high school, she studied Musicology and Cultural Management at university and completed her training at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels. Passionate about jazz music,
she had become familiar with most major jazz great pianists by the time she completed her studies.
During her schooling, Grażyna also developed an interest in composition through film scores by composers such as John Barry, Zbigniew Preisner, Alberto Iglesias.
Grażyna has taken lessons, master classes, workshops in piano, cello, chamber music and music pedagogy with musicians from different backgrounds from classical to jazz music. Between 2006
and 2014, Grażyna worked at the Opera de La Monnaie and for BOZAR in Brussels as a cultural development officer and pedagogue. She also held the position of project coordinator in Passa Porta (International House of Literature in Brussels) for festivals and meetings for 5 years. She occasionally was invited as a freelance musicologist in debates, conferences or talks around music.
2005 marks her first steps in composition with neo-classical pieces for dance performances.
Drawing on influences as diverse as Sergeï Rachmaninov, Steve Reich, Mickael Nyman, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans, she has written many instrumental piano-based pieces for small musical formations.
In 2010 she released Antichambre, her first EP for piano solo.
Literature and poetry always played an important part in her inspiration and she naturally became a songwriter in 2015, when she initiated Wolves, a female duo in which she handled all composition and writing, played the piano, keyboards, cello and vocals. Products of Love, a 14 track LP was released under the Belgian label Homerecords.be in 2018.
Grażyna Bienkowski has performed in many countries (Belgium,France, Germany, Italy, Morocco among others) under her own name but also under joint efforts with artists such as DAAN (B), Karin Clercq(B), Emmanuel Delcourt (F), Pierre Hurty (F), Ken Stringfellow(US) as a live/studio musician, and for radio and TV performances.
She is a member of the Belgian Screen Composers Guild and part of the team of composers in the Belgian film music company Rabada.
Today, she is dedicating herself to the composition and production of her most personal works.
From the beginning, her music was described as narrative and sensitive, with a very personal strength, escaping the rules of any style classification but subtly playing with them.