Lyrical improvisation

An improvised Lied performance, impromans, is often similar to the format of a classical concert performance. I perform as solo singer in dialogue with the pianist Conny Antonov. Given a word from the audience, we improvise music and text inspired by our inner and shared images and dramatic situations that emerge in our interactions. The work is inspired by styles of the art song repertoire, mainly from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. In this work, musical qualities such as phrasing, timbre and dynamics are more central than in opera improvisation.

An impromans is characterized by traits from chamber music, where the performers interact above all in a close dialogue in a joint musical space, or layer, or situation, whereas  the performers’  their inner images might differ. The music often changes direction, which leads to significant dynamic changes and changes of styles within the same improvisation which creates a texture of contrasts and shifts. Sometimes I use staged action, as in opera improvisation, but mostly I choose to use the body as in a Lied performance.

At first I experienced being the only singer in Impromans, the only one to use words, as both a relief and a rather frightening experience. As the responsibility grows, so does the space for action, since I as singer can choose a certain development of the narrative with use of the words. The things I sing are what happen, no one else can come with a contrasting offer. But how to find so many words, to fill a whole concert? I perceive spaces, places and situations inside my imagination, and they guide my reactions in the song. Sometimes I turn to an imagined other actor, sometimes alone with the experience, and sometimes in a rhetorical situation, in dialogue with the audience. If I just wait for the image or the situation, the words and the music, or rather the approach to the situation,  will come to me. In Lieder, the sensations and inner experiences of the vocal persona (the character) of the song  are often more central than driving dramatic actions. Experiencing, and sensing images and situations, setting words and portraying details and images inside the experience is a way to wait, and not try to take responsibility for a certain line of development that is to be driven forward. It also creates a greater sense of calm in the musical interaction, where we can rest in uncertainty during longer amounts of time. Conny often paints phrases with longer lines and trajectories than I do, and if I don’t wait, I might risk breaking his line of musical development.

During the first years of our work we often used a dictionary, asking members of the audience to pick words. I then chose to find a way into the word, where the word was situated ‘in the middle’ of the improvisation, whereas I could prepare space for it by creating a platform and a presentation; a context for the word. In improvisations where I perform in a more staged setting, I communicate the situation to the audience by directing my focus versus the audience and tell what I see and experience. Communicating a narrative in this way creates a greater amount of distance to the situation, since I use a rhetorical approach, and address the audience directly, as a narrator rather than a character.

Please see the dissertation (Impromans, lyrical improvisation) for more descriptions and analyses.