The Ancienne Belgique is welcoming pianist Joep Beving, the new darling of the neoclassical repertoire that is the current hype on Spotify playlists. The Brussels-based Echo Collective will accompany him, and seems to have found a new partner in crime after the untimely death of Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Echo Collective will soon convene at the Brussels Jet Studio to record their first album of original compositions. After numerous collaborations and a well-received album of adventurous arrangements of Radiohead’s Amnesiac, it is the logical next step in the career of the post-classical group that was founded in Brussels by the American-German violist Neil Leiter and the Belgian violinist and harpist Margaret Hermant.
When we rang them, they had just performed their first concert with Joep Beving. “We were very much looking forward to it and were well-rehearsed, but the audience in Nijmegen was very excited too,” they tell us about the live première of Henosis. On the album of the same name, the tall Dutchman had already expanded his horizons by injecting his tranquil piano playing with the strings of Echo Collective, but also with synths by Maarten Vos and voices of the chamber choir Cappella Amsterdam.
“Sometimes things just fall into place,” is how Joep Beving described your collaboration on his social media earlier this year. How did you find each other?
Neil Leiter: We first met at 30CC in Leuven, where he was performing a solo piano set and we were performing our Radiohead project. We felt an immediate connection. His music is similar to other collaborations that we’ve done with A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Stars of the Lid, or Jóhann Jóhannsson, with a mix of piano, electronics, and strings. It was very serendipitous how things just fell into place.
His shaggy hair and beard make him look like an enormous teddy bear, but what is working with Joep really like?
Margaret Hermant: He is super gentle and really patient, but also very clever. Joep placed a lot of trust in us and we exchanged a lot of feedback. He didn’t really say very much. We didn’t need to talk about what we were doing to feel what it was about. It was almost as though we were just reading the same book.
Leiter: When this kind of music works, the people onstage feel the energy collectively. It happens without too much conceptualizing. Until now, Joep has always been a solo artist. So part of the work with this album and live show is to create a collective vision. Our former experiences helped him to get to that point. We understand the sound he tries to achieve. “Maximizing the acoustic” has always been an objective.
Joep became one of the most streamed pianists in the world thanks to popular Spotify playlists such as Peaceful Piano, which have made instrumental music hip. Is that noticeable during the live shows?
Leiter: Absolutely. We play for mainly young audiences. Streaming is a new and accessible form of distribution, so it tends to be picked up by younger people. Although this music is still part of the classical genre broadly speaking, it reaches across boundaries, but in the same way a Brahms or Mahler symphony would pull you in.
Ten days before Jóhann Jóhannsson’s sudden death, just over a year ago, you performed together onstage. How do you cope with that?
Leiter: Losing Jóhann was a shock. Playing his music from time to time helps us to continue our relationship with him.
Hermant: Your past is stored in your body. I noticed that yesterday because Joep is now working with almost exactly the same instrumental setting as Jóhann and also has a very intimate sound. Jóhann played with more layers of sound and was more minimalistic, while Joep sounds more melodious. The approach may be different, but the feeling isn’t. I was struck during the concert by how much we miss him.
JOEP BEVING WITH ECHO COLLECTIVE 16/5, 19.00, Ancienne Belgique