There have been times when jazz was shocking and painful dissonances in contemporary music would cause outrage. Piotr Orzechowski, the person behind Pianohooligan, relates to those times – he agitates listeners by juxtaposing the aesthetics of improvised jazz with contemporary structures.
Chain of Successes
Piotr Orzechowski was born in 1990, which puts him now in his early 20s, but he has already gained significant awards. In 2011 he bested 41 other pianists in 2011 to receive the Grand Prix at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Solo Competition. That autumn, together with his band High Definition, he won first prize in the young bands competition at the Belgian festival Jazz Hoeilaart.
He was noticed by the head of a competition jury, Tommy LiPuma – the legendary producer of Miles Davis and Barbara Streisand recordings. Rumour has it that he told Orzechowski: "Remember, do not look behind. Whatever happens, follow the exact same path you are on." When observing Pianohooligan’s attitude, he took the advice seriously. He told Dawid Karpiuk in an interview:
Musicians in Poland play the same thing as Americans used to play several decades ago. What a nightmare. Those people work at museums. It is not my intention to be a museologist, I want to revive the spirit of jazz, step away from academic music. I am awaiting a confrontation.
Orzechowski has found the lost spirit of jazz in Krzysztof Penderecki – the most recognized living Polish composers worldwide, who by 1960 was employing an exceptionally radical musical language. Pianohooligan devoted an album to Penderecki’s early compositions - Experiment: Penderecki is a tribute, but also a reinterpretation and a renewal of the renowned composer’s accomplishments.
Most Penderecki’s pieces are for large orchestral ensembles. Orzechowski "rewrote" them for grand piano and Rhodes electric piano. In the original arrangements, these compositions crush audiences with their arsenal of noisy instruments forming jarring, invasive sound textures. Pianohooligan, with a much more modest instrumentation at hand, had to turn to tricks and loopholes.
He handles his piano according to the spirit of sonorism - the genre of Penderecki's early achievements. In other words, sounds Orzechowski obtained do not normally come from tapping the keys with his fingers. Pianohooligan pulls his piano’s insides out – he plays directly on the strings, and adjusts the instrument for deep bass tones. As one would expect of a hooligan, he behaves flippantly – he even strips his piano at the Presidential Palace.
These days, Pianohooligan collaborates with Marcin Masecki – they are working on Bach Rewrite, a project in which they are also accompanied by Capella Cracoviensis. They revise Bach’s concertos for harpsichord and perform them on electric pianos – Orzechowski uses the Rhodes, while Masecki plays an electric Wulitzer. They record their music at the European Krzysztof Penderecki Center for Music, which opened in May 2013 in Lusławice, near Kraków. Recently they presented their project for a large audience during summer solstice celebrations in Kraków.
Maryla Zając writes in Polskamuza.eu that:
Each of the compositions has a dash of the musicians’ personal innovation added to it – it surfaces in the extended jazz cadenzas, these longish solo acts magnetizing the listeners, surprising them with their ingenuity, and creativity of musicians, who work to expand the sonic sensations by introducing tone clusters, stamps, or by stroking the instruments.
The hooligan of Polish piano music strives to present his music in all kinds of venues. He has played at Polityka magazine's Passport Award ceremony and at the Presidential Palace, on the bank of Vistula River and at the Open’er Festival beach on the Baltic coast. If this continues, sonorism, with its new face, will recover its popularity from few decades ago - and contemporary music will not be associated solely with philharmonics anymore.