Max Richter invites us into his studio in Berlin, where he recently composed a new take on Vivaldi's The Four Seasons for classical record label Deutsche Grammophon.
All rights (including reproduction) reserved to Max Richter
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah, or a solid reserve of confidence at least, to even think about tinkering with Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, a piece of classical music most people could whistle on demand.
Max Richter has thought about it. In fact he has been thinking about it for a long while. So when the classical record label Deutsche Grammophon approached him to reimagine the piece for its 'Recomposed' series, Richter didn't have to think twice.
'Yeah, it was actually something that I had been wanting to do for ages,' says Richter from his Berlin studio. 'When I told Deutsche Grammophon this was the piece I wanted to take on, they gave me this kind of puzzled look. But they said ok.'
Richter's biggest challenge was finding a way of listening to a piece that suffers from over-familiarity anew. 'It was that over familiarity that made me want to do it,' he says. 'It's one of those pieces that you listen to so often, you begin to hate it. So in some ways, this project was a way of learning to love it again.'
Richter's work - on the albums Memoryhouse; The Blue Notebooks, a collaboration with Tilda Swinton; Songs from Before, with Robert Wyatt; 24 Postcards in Full Colour; and Infra (other collaborators stretch from Roni Size to Julian Opie) – is minimalist mood music of the highest quality, drawing influences from Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Michael Nyman and Brian Eno but going its own sweetly-sad way. Vivaldi's quartet of violin concertos meanwhile is definitively Baroque. Minimal it is not.
But Richter insists that The Four Seasons is anything but a museum piece. 'A lot of it is pattern-based music, repeated cells. So in that way it is very modern. There is a lot of energy and drive in it so what I have done is just that turn that up, make those pulses hit harder so it becomes almost like electronic music.'
Unlike previous releases in the recomposed series, Richter didn't just 'remix' a recording of The Four Seasons. He went back to the score and recomposed it. 'The original brief was to just remix it but I really didn't want to do that. So this is an analogue remix in a way. I am stretching things and looping things but with the original score. I didn't want to just remaster it because there is only so much you can change.
'The tricky bit is really knowing how much of me to put in it. There are bits that are just perfect and I didn't want to touch so I have just left great chunks of it in. But composers have always done this, taken pieces and reworked them. It's nothing really new.'
Max Richter's mini Berlin guide
A long-time resident of Berlin, Richter also offered us a few inside tips on the city. Altes Europa and The Barn, top his list of daytime hangouts. For after-dark activities he recommends KaterHolzig, a huge former soap factory, that has become a happening bar/club/theatre/restaurant multi-space. For galleries he recommends The Museum for Contemporary Art at the former Hamburger Bahnof.
This article was published in November 2012
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