Exploring free improvisation with a classical ensemble

Clarinet student Marie Rotevatn has recently returned home from a very special concert experience at the Leipziger Jazztage. As an intern in the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, which focuses on real-time improvised music, Marie and the ensemble were asked to freely improvise music to accompany the 1922 silent film Nosferatu.

Real-time music is music that is improvised in the instant within a framework of classical music references and repertoire associations. It could also be described as free classical music.

“It sounds different to jazz improvisation. I like that, because it demonstrates that your qualities as a classically trained musician are appreciated” (Marie Rotevatn)

A pioneering project

Professor Geir Lysne is the curator of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble’s real-time music programme, which is pioneering classical orchestral music by letting the ensemble’s musicians create the music. This is a completely new approach to classical music performance. Marie says:

- It also sounds different to jazz improvisation. I like that, because it demonstrates that your qualities as a classically trained musician are appreciated. These are classical musicians doing something extraordinary, and I think that helped make it an exciting product. The two German soloists seemed to be of the same opinion.

Friimprovisert filmmusikk av Det Norske Blåseensemble under Jazztage i Tyskland.
The Norwegian WInd Ensemble
freely improvises music to accompany
the 1922 silent film Nosferatu.

Standing ovation

The project is now attracting international attention, and the opening concert at the international jazz festival Leipziger Jazztage where the ensemble accompanied the silent film Nosferatu was met with a standing ovation by the sell-out crowd. Marie says:

- It was a very special concert experience; something really out of the ordinary. It was an intense concert, as we had to keep our concentration for so long. We had mostly rehearsed short sections beforehand and barely the whole film in one go.

I found the ensemble’s level of concentration different than during rehearsals. Everyone was full of creativity and ideas that they wanted to express; so much so that Geir had to stop several initiatives along the way. In other words, the ensemble could have carried on playing for longer without running out of steam. Everyone wanted to take responsibility and contribute. 

Preliminary discussions are now taking place over two new productions in Germany next year, where they are planning a new improvisation project based on the music of Debussy as well as a Nosferatu tour.

Anything can happen

In addition to Nosferatu Marie has also participated in the school concert production Anything Can Happen. During the latter the ensemble worked with two improv actors and spent two weeks holding concerts organised by the Cultural Rucksack in Østfold county.

“It was a new and good experience to help create something that has never been performed before and will never be heard again” (Marie Rotevatn)

Marie is the first student to participate in the pilot project, which is part of CEMPE’s focus on professional practicum. Senior Lecturer Brit Ågot Brøske Danielsen is documenting and evaluating the project, and she will also carry out accompanying research into learning in different areas of practice.

Friimprovisert filmmusikk av Det Norske Blåseensemble under Jazztage i Tyskland.
The Norwegian WInd Ensemble
freely improvises music to accompany
the 1922 silent film Nosferatu.

Marie talks about her experiences during the practice placement:

- I have learnt a lot about listening during this placement, and it has probably made me better at listening during ensemble performance. Having to communicate all the time and not hide behind the music stand also turns ensemble playing into something different.

The feeling of having created something was really nice. You could perhaps say that you normally create a new version or interpretation of a work, but it was a new and good experience to help create something that has never been performed before and will never be heard again.

Last updated: 8. January 2016