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Interview: Band Of The Week: Composer Rene Gruss

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When I was first approached by classical composer Rene Gruss, I told him I didn’t know anything about classical music and that I would pass him to a writer who did. He insisted it should be me, a person who is untrained in classical music, to write about him as that is his target audience. It is Gruss’ mission to bring classical music to a new generation of fans, but not classical as we know it. Gruss calls his brand of classic cool music.

Gruss considers himself something of a maverick on the Internet, composing music in the classic way and not in the modern classic idiom. He is attracting what may seem an unusual fan-base made up of all kinds of people but heavily populated by metal-heads. His blend of classic orchestral music and world music is beautiful, harmonic, and rich. It is recorded with a real orchestra (no synthesisers here), recorded in the Czech Republic, and something of a homecoming for this New Zealand native (now living in England).

His father is a Czech native from Bohemia and his mother is a Greek Opera singer who encouraged her son to love music. At a young age Gruss was a virtuoso on both the piano and violin when he was discovered by renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Menuhin secured Gruss a place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London to study violin. While there, Gruss discovered the beauty and joy of composing and eventually left London, returning home to New Zealand to study music composition at Wellington's Victoria University. Now, after many frustrating years dealing with antiquated people and stagnated by outmoded, elitist ideas he has decided to go his own route.

He composed his own symphony and paid to have it played by an orchestra in Prague, conducting it himself, editing it himself, and eventually publishing it himself. The resulting debut album, Bellatrix, is available. The stunning soundscapes and power of emotion on Bellatrix is overwhelming. It’s this power and ethereal beauty that is garnering Gruss so many fans. Amongst his fans he can count many high profile musical artists including Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.

Recently Rene was nice enough to take a while to talk me through classical music, composing, and his discovery that metal-heads love classical music.

What is the difference between “classic cool” and classical music?

Classical is pretty much historic music as understood by most people. Classic Cool music is contemporary music made by living people; that’s obviously a major difference, and it’s the context of it that makes it interesting. The context is because our particular music-making these days is so technologically dependant. I see classic cool music as a return to acoustic based music, by musicians that play acoustic based instruments, effectively in some form of technical way, for a soulful, spiritual reason, without the technology.

Tell us about your new work.

The new work that I’m working on now, I call urban classical. Classical is historical; urban classical is my music. Classic cool music is my music plus jazz plus anybody else who writes acoustic or is after an acoustic based style that incorporates the classic essence that’s looking to get into the human soul effectively through a more humane approach. Opposed to our society, that is very technologically dependant these days for its production of music.

Are you influenced by the classical composers, and which ones most? Are you influenced by modern day mainstream music?

Classical composers, of course; you can’t not be influenced by them as a classical composer – or classic cool composer. I’m influenced by them more in spirit than anything else. I’m influenced by their work as a spiritual model of what I’m trying to emulate in our society. What that basically means is that the feelings I feel when listening to their music, I want to emulate in my own music, in my own time, with my own style.

Which ones most? Well, all the great masters. Of course Bach in particular, because I have an intellectual quality to my music. I write in terms of technical elements. Mozart, of course because genius and talent, to me, is the ultimate concept. There is only one issue in my book, when I look at musicians nowadays and in the past: are they talented? I’m not interested in their marketing, in their technology. Do they have raw talent? This is a big, big thing for me. Are you talented and look to Mozart as the supreme concept of talent.

Am I influenced by modern mainstream music? At the moment in contemporary music I would have to say no. There is nothing out there in the last few years that I feel inspiration for, that I feel I could learn from, that I feel motivated to collaborate with, no. I am inspired by popular musical styles, predominately from the last 15-20 years, but not currently, no. I find it very threadbare out there for inspirational, talented people at the moment. I think it’s a desert.

How was Bellatrix made?

Bellatrix I actually produced the recording myself. I wrote all the music, of course. I went to the Czech Republic to record all the music with the Prague Chamber Orchestra. It was quiet a daunting prospect because it was in a foreign language which I hadn’t spoken and don’t speak a word of. I went there because my father is Czech and there was a natural symmetry at the time. 

I conducted the orchestra after never conducting an orchestra before and I heard the music for the first time, in reality, off the paper when I went to the first rehearsal. Then I had four days or five days to turn that first hearing into a recording, in a foreign language. Then I edited it and I produced the recordings all myself and brought them back and released it as an independent.

That is unheard of in the classic world isn’t it?

That is very, very unheard of because it’s quite expensive to do and in order to afford to pay to produce that recording I had to sell my house. I made the decision that music is what I wanted to do. I wanted an authentic recording with real musicians. It was recorded in what is called the Rudolfinum which is the major concert all of Prague, which is one of the most beautiful and one of the most acoustic. So it wasn’t recorded in a studio, it was recorded in a magnificent building with real musicians, in an incredibly inspiring setting. I wanted that authenticity and that cost me a house to put that together. I’m a proper nut! (laughs)

So what do you want for you music in the future?

The future for my music is to push forward this style, which I’m doing, and of course I have a vision where I want a new kind of an orchestra; an orchestra of young people, an orchestra catering to the new audiences that I am attracting, like the metal market. A lot of these people have never been to a mainstream classical concert before so I’m surmising that there is a big market out there on the Internet who are discovering me as their first point of call of classical music who might find the masters through me first.

If they were to come to a concert of mine, I don’t want to take them to the Festival Hall, to take them to a stuffy, old classical concert. I would like to bring them to a concert of young people with a new orchestra of young people dressed like them, looking like them, playing a new kind of sound — still acoustic based — in a new environment. So the next stage for me when I get the contracts or patrons or whoever people who would be interested in this idea are, would be to put a new kind of twenty-first century orchestra together for these new audiences and the new sound I’m producing.

***

To hear Rene Gruss’ music you can visit his website where he gives away free music everyday, which he calls classic cool cuts; or you can always go and have a look at his MySpace space. Just to help you get a feel for the sound and emotion of Rene’s music, Blogcritics is happy to present you with a video for one cut from Gruss’ debut album Bellatrix called “Beautiful Light.” Listen and enjoy!

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About A.L. Harper

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I think this guy is just alittle bit high on himself.

    “..like the metal market. A lot of these people have never been to a mainstream classical concert.”[struck a nerve]

    uh, hello..How about Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Concerto Suite LIVE With the New Japan Philharmonic. Whereas Mr. Malmsteen composed all the music himself to include electric guitar in classical composition.

    Apocalyptica covered Metallica’s songs in the classical vein.

    Back in the 80’s the christian thrash band Believer tried there hand at classical with the only thrash song to include a female opera singer & strings.

    As for “Modern” stylings, Will Ackerman,George Winston,Ken Bonfield,etc.. have come pretty close to creating a classical atmosphere. Ken Bonfield classifies his material as Baroque.

    Honestly, I like Mr. Gruss’s work but he isn’t a pioneer as he wants people to believe.

  • Brandon

    You’re pointing out all these obscure points in time where metal overlapped classical music that most people that listen to metal have never been too. He’s talking about a real classical concert, where the whooole thing is classical music, not just some covers. He’s not being high on himself, you’re just being sensitive to something he’s not even saying. Just sit there on your computer and feel salty.