Better Know A Weisslich: Leo Svirsky

Leo’s probably one of the smartest people I know. His work as a pianist betrays an omnivorous taste that borders on the encyclopaedic. As at home thundering through Stockhausen’s Kontakte as the most delicate Beuger or the most bombastic Beethoven. He is a relentless promoter of new pieces, both as a performer, and as the host of an intimate and uncompromisingly long and quiet concert series held in his front room, which attracts a calibre of performer that belies its humble setting.

His compositions lie within the wandelweiser tradition. Often a single page holds a set of carefully chosen pitches and a small set of instructions. Take for example, his exquisite Trauergondel (https://soundcloud.com/leo-svirsky/trauergondel), in which tiny fragments of Liszt gently float against each other inside the ghostly and transparent exoskeleton of the original piece, or For John McAlpine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKzC_kgiL0Q) for small ensemble.

Two of his largest works set texts by Paul Celan, Atemwende (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R852iUgalTA) and the more recent Tenebrae (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkWgGPppynQ), which was premiered in Dusseldorf this summer; an “opera” in which harmonies unfold with a meticulous slowness.

As an improviser on accordion or piano he is active in the Dutch free improvisation scene and has released records with the violinist Katt Hernandez (https://soundcloud.com/leo-svirsky/sets/leo-svirsky-katt-hernandez) and his more jazzy group Trialectics (https://soundcloud.com/trialectics).

His roles of pianist, composer and improviser reach a nexus with the album Songs In The Key Of Survival (http://ehserecords.com/ehse024/). Sparkling and morphing piano improvisations sandwich a set of what I am ill-advisedly calling “singer-songelweiser” voice-and-piano compositions which resolutely refuse to play ball. Simple patterns and lost-connection cellphone silences leave songs on pause before another relentlessly pessimistic lyric reminds us that “the glass is half piss” or “critique itself becomes impossible”.

Here’s a fantastically restrained recording of some of the tracks from Songs In The Key Of Survival dovetailed with free impov:

-David Pocknee

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