Scene: Steve Luck | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle-based musician Steve Luck releases his new single, Blue Dot. The composer, pianist and producer, who has won awards for his TV and film work was inspired by the famous Pale Blue Dot image of the Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft and the outcome is a beautiful meditative piano piece, accompanied by a beautiful video featuring timelapse footage of the night sky that Steve captured in Northumberland.

Here, Steve tells us more about the region’s neoclassical scene…

Neoclassical, modern classical, contemporary classical, indie classical…nobody quite knows what to call the music that only relatively recently has become a recognised genre and quietly grown in the public consciousness. The increase in awareness of this new developing musical trend is mostly due to heavily promoted influential releases from the likes of Ludovico Einaudi, Yann Tiersen, Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter. 

Mostly instrumental, sometimes with a poignant, meditative feel, this genre is often performed using classical instruments. However, what gives it a broad appeal is the influence of what you might call minimalism with a popular sensibility. Traditional instruments are combined with electronics and modern studio production techniques to create a fresh hybrid form displaying influences from pop, dance, electronic, ambient and film soundtracks. Sometimes introspective but with a heavy emphasis on repeated melodic patterns, the music is at once, accessible, captivating and powerfully cinematic and ranges in scope from serene solo piano pieces to complex, uplifting trance anthems for orchestra and electronics.

I first became interested in this genre as a music student back in the late 1980s when I became obsessed with a bootleg cassette version of the album  December by the American pianist George Winston. Here was something I hadn’t heard before – accessible, moving, joyous and a refreshing departure from what seemed like the stuffy world of traditional classical music. In those days it was categorized as New Age, a term which hasn’t aged well having latterly become synonymous with the cheesy midi synth music that has been known to accompany a variety of esoteric alternative therapies. And despite various forays into many other genres as a jobbing musician (as a classically trained keyboard player in rock and world music bands, as a piano teacher and in my work as a media and film composer turning my hand to whatever genre was required by the project) I have always gravitated towards the neoclassical aesthetic. 

In 2014 I began composing some neoclassical solo piano pieces and for a few years, I performed one or two to visitors at the Ouseburn open studios events (my studio is in the wonderful 36 Lime Street warehouse alongside around forty or so other artist studios) The music was almost always well received, with people commenting that they loved this style of music, often adding that they wished there were more opportunities to hear it played live. An idea began to form.. a sort of ‘If you build it they will come’ sort of idea and out of this the Atmospherica concert series was born. 

Beginning in 2018 I set up a series of small-scale, intimate concerts in my studio (max capacity 35) making use of a recently acquired 1905 Bechstein grand piano. It was important to me to try to promote original music and independent musicians and so I decided that this series would only feature composers performing their own music. At the first event I performed my first full-length set of my own pieces. Other early featured artists included Simeon Walker and Oliver Brouwer. As word of the series began to spread I attracted interest in performing at these concerts from artists based in continental Europe who were touring in the UK. Europe, particularly Germany and Scandinavia, is somewhere that this genre is more popular and longer established with greater infrastructure in the form of artists, labels, publishers, promoters and fans. I put on a concert featuring the German piano and cello sibling duo Ceeys (now known as Bruder Selke who incidentally are the founders of the neoclassical weekend festival Q3 Ambientfest in Potsdam) as well as one featuring Swedish artists Jakob Lindhagen and Vargkvint. I began to realise that there is, in this genre as in many others, a friendly, supportive community of fellow artists from around the world.  During 2018 and 2019 the concerts were taking place approximately monthly and we were gradually developing a committed audience. I played some successful shows underground in the dark inside the Victoria Tunnel and for music which primarily, although not exclusively, features the piano I developed a strand of the series and called it the Great Northern Piano Sessions. The first of these took place at Gosforth Civic Theatre in October 2018 and featured four pianists ( Simeon Walker, Oliver Brouwer, Mark Deeks and myself) who had all performed in the smaller studio shows earlier in the year. We recently held the seventh edition of the Great Northern Piano Session at the theatre with the eighth scheduled for later in the year. Also scheduled for later in the year after an extended break that began with COVID,  is a return to the smaller intimate concerts in the studio. 

Here in Newcastle and the North-East there is a small group of committed artists and composers working within this genre. Some names you should definitely check out are…

Benjamin Fitzgerald
Newcastle-born Benjamin Fitzgerald is a pianist and composer, who combines contemporary classical, minimalist jazz, folk & electronica. Performing alongside his 6-piece ensemble, Fitzgerald utilises a mixture of transcendent strings, loops and beats, ethereal saxophone and intricate polyrhythmic piano lines. Together they produce a melancholic, trance-like sound to create a truly mesmeric and captivating experience for the audience.

Philip Alexander
As a child Philip was classically trained on the piano, growing up in his hometown of South Shields. His solo piano music is often melancholy in style but always with a glimmer of hope and he is rapidly developing a devoted fanbase following his debut EP release ‘Blindsided’ in 2021. His critically acclaimed single ‘Hope’ swiftly followed, and the prolific pace of releases continues with a new EP called “Crystal Moon”

Charlotte Butler 
This Sunderland-based pianist and composer produces the most beautiful piano miniatures, deftly conjuring a variety of emotions in a series of impeccably performed fleeting solo piano pieces.

And slightly further afield from Leeds check out Simeon Walker who not only composes some beautiful neoclassical music but also curates the Brudenell Piano Sessions at the wonderful Brudenell Social Club. 

If you are reading this and are a North-East based neoclassical composer please do get in touch. I would love to chat to you about your work and see if there is a way we can put you on at an Atmospherica show. Email me [email protected] 

For more about the series or to sign up to the mailing list visit www.atmospherica.co.uk 

For more about me visit www.steveluck.com 

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