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 (, 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 ( for small ensemble.

Two of his largest works set texts by Paul Celan, Atemwende ( and the more recent Tenebrae (, 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 ( and his more jazzy group Trialectics (

His roles of pianist, composer and improviser reach a nexus with the album Songs In The Key Of Survival ( 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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