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De Standaard (Belgium)
Saturday, September 17, 2011
translated from Dutch
The circle is finally complete
Tori Amos makes classical record with daughter of eleven
by Cathérine De Cock
Tori Amos' new album Night of Hunters was inspired by the great classical composers. A conversation about dead geniuses (Bach and co) and wise girls of eleven (her daughter Natashya).
Four hundred years of classical music history spans the twelfth solo album of Tori Amos, her debut at the renowned classical label Deutsche Grammophon. Two years after her Christmas album Midwinter Graces and her pop album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, the American singer-songwriter is full of classic. On Night of Hunters, a song cycle about a broken relationship, Amos reinterprets the work of classical masters such as Fréderic Chopin and Franz Schubert, not with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans but supported by, among other things, the Apollon Musagete Quartett.
How intimidating it was to be in the shadow of classic giants' own work?
When I was asked by Deutsche Grammophon to do this project, I realized immediately how risky it would be like to mess with the great classics. You have to believe that you are the architect of your songs. You are either a performer who gives life to someone else's musical cathedrals or a designer. And I have always seen myself more as a composer. I wish to give the classical pieces a new twenty-first century impetus. As a female artist, I found it exciting to merge my vision with the work of who established male composers. Most are also famous in reveries. Schubert, for example, misunderstood and died with a broken heart. The aura that hangs around his work does not interest me as much as the power of his creations. I have not selected the wonderful music of Handel, Mozart and Liszt for that reason, because I felt that the merger of their energy with the mine would produce no added value.
This worked rather than liberating experience?
You are liberated and intimidated. That is why I had to work hard and at the same time be inexorably sensitive. I have approached the old masters with a tender cruelty.
What do you find in classical music that's not in pop music?
A language you can constantly expand. The complexity of the musical structures challenges more than pop music of today. That is not always the case, though: sometimes a classic piece is anything but exciting and it sounds like so many other pieces from that time. It differs not from the classics of contemporary popular music, where you often hear the same thing. In the 1960s pop music's borders were pushed, yet now it's become a staid affair.
Did the songs on this album grow spontaneously?
Inspired was not good enough: this time I also studied very hard. It was a battle of attrition.
When you studied classical music at the prestigious Peabody Institute as a child, you left slamming doors. Is this record a sweet revenge?
I left because the teachers were not open to contemporary music. Everything that was not strictly classical was cast off. Their narrow-mindedness felt like an artistic death penalty: an absolute path there I had to adhere to. (coy) However I do not feel that the old, dead men with whom I work now against my avant-garde approach would have any objection. Because in their time they were themselves modern.
The circle is now finally complete, now that I am a few years older. (laughs) I have traveled, learned and tasted of music and cultures from all over the world. Also working on the musical of the fairy tale The Light Princess for London's National Theatre has helped me very much. I would never had been able to make this record if I hadn't had all those experiences.
What was your first memory of classical music?
(think long after) Gosh, I was so young... I read all notes when I was four. Handel's Messiah was probably the first. I will certainly have heard masses during (Amos grew up as the daughter of a pastor, ed.). Actually, classical music has always been in my life.
What does the switch to the classical label Deutsche Grammophon for you as an artist?
I hope that each record brings me to a higher level of consciousness. But where that journey brings me, I don't know, because I live in the moment. "Now" is all I know. I try not to think too far ahead. What that does not alter is the fact that next year we observe the twentieth anniversary of Little Earthquakes (her debut album in 1992, ed.) with a compilation album of songs from my entire oeuvre recorded with the Metropole Orchestra. There were strings on some songs, but they were not all played by a fifty piece orchestra with brass and Woodwinds -- they are just something else.
You write as happy married woman a concept album about a broken relationship. How personal is this record?
My husband is and remains my muse. Night of Hunters... the story is based on previous experience, which come together on the record during one evening. Sometimes you forget that two partners must be equal in a relationship to do it. We are fixated on romance, but if one partner grows while other remains on the ground, rushing the error anyway. For me it's all about the psychological process where the female main character must by.
Has the urge to tell stories become larger over the years?
I do not wish to write a diary, as I have already done that. I love the infinite possibilities that stories can offer me. Stories have the power to lead a listener to anywhere, to any place or period. That is not to say that I now want to write that isolated numbers more poems, it simply means that this form of communication currently attracts me the most.
The story goes further: also your eleven-year-old daughter Natashya also sings on the record. Why wish you hair?
As the story gradually started to form, I had the feeling that it had to have a mystical, mischievous creature in it. That being, Anabelle, helps the female main character to take her life into their own hands. I heard sing in the shower and Tash thought: I have my being. We talked a lot and developed the character together. Tash has a lot of friends with divorced parents. One day she asked me: "why do adults always split apart?" I found that a smart observation. A bit like Anabelle the woman from this album to other insights can bring about how relationships work.
Tash knew perfectly what this record was about. If you talk with her, you might not think she is eleven. Except when dirty jokes are told: they like her peers is five minutes long in a dent with laughter. (laughs) She has a world view that I did not have at that age: very open. This is because she has been going on tour with me since her first year of life. She constantly meets people backstage from different cultures that are her new worlds.
She will be going to the Sylvia Young Performing Arts School in London (where also Amy Winehouse and ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton have studied, ed.). That was completely her decision: she pushed us to enrol her there. She did hit, and follows her own audition within her own path, where that leads also.
Do you feel the generation gap?
Between my daughter and me, there's not one gap, but there are several mini gorges: I'm now 48. (laughs) I don't see the years between us as something uncrossable but as a possibility to exchange ideas together. I am fascinated by how the young generation think and live. I love to marvel at their creativity. It is no coincidence that different generations worked on the album. Andreas Ottensamer, clarinet player of the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra, the arranger of the 1920s, is a young strings was 61. All of them have inspired me.
Along with your daughter, your niece of nineteen also sings. Your husband Mark Hawley recorded the album in his studio on your estate in British Cornwall. Why you so eager to work with family?
Everything is intensified by our strong bond. We understand each other. When my niece and my daughter were recording their vocals lines, I was in the same room and I felt that they really for and sang to me. You can get energy from direct blood ties. However, I see my family in the first place as artists. As a producer I am single but righteous, no, against them.
Night of Hunters appears on Deutsche Grammophon. The Night of Hunters tour stops in the Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp on 28/10 and in the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels on 29/10.
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