Nils Frahm, the Berlin based, Hamburg born German pianist and composer parades before The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall audience with absolute panache. Arguably the perfect setting to witness his pioneering style of composition. For those unfamiliar, it’s one that finds its roots in classical yet melds seamlessly with modern synthesized structure and layering and in Frahm’s case, humour is an extra addition to tonight’s performance. More than his music and the sounds he’s projecting, Frahm spends time establishing for the crowd he’s a personality behind the piano. Sharing how ‘amazing’ the music he’s creating sounds within the confines of such a prestigious venue – a comment delivered partly in jest to support the follow-on acerbic repartee, that he feels humbled to be playing inside ‘Australia’s biggest billboard’. Yes, Frahm is a man for the people and a modern musical genius.
“It really sucks I think that art and artists are used to promote brands and advertisements, but It’s no biggie, that the bullshit is projected on the outside and we can enjoy on the inside – come in close.” He says.
Frahm while performing is best likened to a mad scientist tinkering in his laboratory, focused on delivering it seems via duality. On one hand his musicianship is showcased via the deftness with which he plays each of the instruments assembled on stage as part of his live set-up. This includes a grand piano, mellotron, upright piano and a myriad of synthesisers. Yet the other side of this performance comes through Frahm’s interactions with and in educating his audience on how he tackles composition.
In fact the banter he engages in during early parts of the show is where the lightness lands. Gradually he unveils the magnitude of his talent, and it’s vast. His mastery of keyed instruments help assert his credentials in training undertaken apparently with a protege of a protege of 18th century composer Tchaikovsky. Gliding effortlessly across the ivory are his fingers, mesmerising to watch and it is as if he is led by an otherworldly force. Around the 50 minute mark of the set it becomes difficult to discern any one piece from another, especially when a composer is lost in his own creative state (as Frahm’s admits to being), but the piano interludes provide both he and the audience plenty of moments for introspection and meditation. These moments elicited from pieces spanning some of Frahm’s extensive catalogue. I feel certain I hear La from 2015 release Screws and Says from 2013’s album Spaces, Ambre, from 2009 Wintermusik and 2018 album release All Melody offers, My Friend the Forest, delicate and soft are the sounds of this track. At some points you can hear the sighing of the keys underneath Frahm’s fingertips.
This show is built around this year’s album release All Melody aptly titled because it sums up the emotive nature of experiencing Frahm live. It’s superfluous to know the tracks by listing… it’s all, melody.
The second half of the show does yet allow for more recognition in favoured tracks. #2 is discernible and a clear highlight for many here tonight. The audience drift endlessly between presence and unconscious states of blissful delirium. A further treat is the song before the encore, which apparently is our most favourite track of Frahm’s, the data, algorithmic feed has told him so. His elaborate introduction to this track enables our ease in devouring the arpeggio C Minor synthesizer and Una Corda, pan flute organ sounds layered with piano for 6 minutes. It barely matters, we’re all transfixed, eager to be guided where Frahm is willing to take us.
In closing he prepares us for the better part – an encore, which he feels clearly worth staying for. And my word it is. Featuring the infamous toilet brushes beating down on the grand piano, we are overawed by 16 minutes at least worth of Spaces For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More.
Photo credit Prudence Upton