Mozart and Miles Davis. Musical worlds apart...right? Think again: Dutch violinist and composer Yannick Hiwat joined NYO musicians to discuss the power of creativity and connection, thinking outside the box and the lessons we can learn from Jazz. NYO musician Phoebe joined him for a chat to learn more about his life as a young musician.
Phoebe: What role did music play in your early life and musical education?
Yannick: I went to a performance art high school in Rotterdam and studied classical music in the ‘Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands’ (JON). It was very inspiring to study and make music together with all sorts of musicians: pop musicians, metal guitarists, funk drummers. That experience really opened up new musical paths for me. Classical music was my aim, but with so many influences around me, I developed a very broad musical scope which has proved very useful in life.
Phoebe: Having moved away from classical music towards jazz, do you think your grounding in classical music has given you a different perspective on the music that you perform now, compared with your peers?
Yannick: Absolutely. The education part is similar in a way. It’s a really personal journey in terms of your goals and what you want to achieve on your instrument from a technical perspective. I think whatever style of music you play, it’s really up to you to reach your desired level, but I’ve learned a lot through listening to other styles of music. Playing in orchestras helps you to listen to music in a certain way and to understand how it fits with the rest of the orchestra. That understanding has really helped me when improvising music; understanding how my part fits in with what’s happening around me. Equally, I do a lot of arranging and producing and my orchestral experience helps in all of that as well.
Phoebe: Do you think classical musicians and jazz musicians can learn from each other?
Yannick: Yes, absolutely! For example, as a classically trained student, I practised my scales, like religion, for my technical exams. When I started diving into jazz and improvisation, I thought, ‘how come, when chord changes come, I don’t know my scales?!’. It was the way I was thinking about it and approaching my instrument. Instead, I needed to use my technique as a vehicle to create something or perform a piece somebody else has written. You need to internalise what you’re doing on your instrument. For me, working with you, it was so fulfilling to see how adept you are to improvising. It’s just a realisation that you have so much knowledge and so much expertise on your instrument, so it’s a case of thinking ‘how can I apply what I already know?’. Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Gaining more knowledge is easy but applying what you already know is something that classical musicians can learn more from jazz musicians.
Phoebe: In lockdown, I learned so many things that I wouldn’t have normally. Is there anything that you’ve learned or explored more, that you wouldn’t have done otherwise?
Yannick: In a way, life slowed down which allowed me to evaluate the things that are really important to me. In a way, I’ve been able to choose the things I want to dive deeper into, especially digitally. I was doing this before lockdown, but I was able to develop those skills more, which felt really good. At the same time, when I see you guys, I really admire your technological skills and it makes me realise that I have a lot of catching up to do!
Phoebe: What is the one track or song that has carried you through lockdown?
Yannick: It’s hard for me to pick one artist or one tune! I would say that music in general has gotten me through. Without music, I would be having a really hard time. Music really kept pulling me through all of this. How has it been for you?
Phoebe: I have definitely been the same! Finding new music has been a great way to distract myself from everything that’s happening in the real world. I’ve gotten into hip hop, which is probably one of the only genres that I hadn’t listened to much of before. My favourite, at the moment, is called ‘Championship’ by Meek Mill, which incorporates brass and stringed instrumentals, which I really love.
I’ve heard from many people that they got into new music during lockdown. At the same time, there are governments all around the world who don’t provide for live musicians and industry freelance performers properly. Do you think people will value music more after lockdown?
Yannick: I love that question. I’ve thought about it a lot, actually. We’ll always keep creating, because there is no other way. People will always feel the impact of it and feel that we need it. Sometimes, decisions will be made that you strongly disagree with, but we are the ones that create, and we just have to keep going. In the end, people will always feel the value of it, even if we don’t see that. In the long run, that can’t be broken down; it’s too strong.
Phoebe: Do you think the live music scene is going to change after lockdown? Do you think people will rely more on technology because they’ve learned about it and they know how to use it now, or do you think the desire to perform live again will push everything live straight away?
Yannick: I think for your generation, and what you’ve learned during this period about technology, it will enable you to think in new creative ways of what live performance can be. For instance, I never knew how to multitrack until way later than your age! So, I think the future is bright. We’ll keep the good and lose the bad, but I don’t see the live experience going anywhere. At the same time, it’s personal. What have you learned from it and what can you do with that information? That will determine it. As soon as we feel like we’ve got something to say and they give us a stage, we’ll be on it!
Phoebe: If the coronavirus disappeared tomorrow, and I was given my ideal concert, I would probably choose to perform or listen to a massive live orchestral piece with as many musicians as possible. If the coronavirus disappeared tomorrow, what would be your first ideal gig?
Yannick: Yes! Absolutely! I’m playing in a group at the moment, but we are all based in different locations all over the globe and we’ve had to work online, so, the first thing I would do is fly to the same location and play together. Once that happens, they won’t be able to get us off the stage!
Phoebe: What does it mean for you to be working with NYO?
Yannick: It’s an incredible honour for me. I was really excited to have received an invitation to join these activities and now that we’ve actually completed the project, it’s given me so much joy and happiness to see you. In a way, it made me feel teenage again, seeing all this innovation, talent and passion. I feel so proud that I got to work with you. Seeing the gift that all of you have makes me way more confident, especially in these challenging times, that the future is bright. You are that future, so for me to have that chance to see it first-hand and work with you, it gives me so much confidence that you’re going to take it to the moon! You’re going to do things that I won’t be able to imagine or think of, so I’m thankful I’ve had a chance to experience that.
You can read more about the artists we have worked with over winter, in their interviews to NYO musicians on our blog.
Photograph by © Venour.