I am sitting at the dining room table of ace cellist and improviser Gil Selinger. Gil is one third of our classical improv trio, Duende, along with me on horn and Evan Mazunik on piano. We gave a concert in the city last Wednesday. You had something of an introduction to his background in the last interview; I wanted to take this chance to continue to interview Gil about all things improv.
JA: Let’s start your thoughts about the concert.
Gil: It was an interesting mix. The Duende CD [“Mosaic“] had a lot of structured arrangements. In concert we worked in a freer manner. We left it a lot more wide open. We only had one day [before the concert] to “rehearse,” so it worked well. One of the underlying premises of this Interzone series of concerts was to present not just the whole group, but also solos, duos, etc. This is what we did here: trio, horn and cello, cello and piano, solo piano, piano and horn. We also used ideas from each of us. We did different kinds of improv ‘games’. We used some audience participation. It was very successful – I was a little nervous about it – Evan and you have more experience in it. But it worked well. NY is a tricky place – there are so many different kinds of events competing for your attend. We came up with something that no one else has done – territory that no one else has done (to my knowledge) – we’re exploring new ground.
JA: How would you characterize this kind of music or improvisation? For people who don’t know what improvised classical music can sound like.
Gil: Ideally, it should sound like good music. It’s fascinating for us as musicians to make music like this; it’s a hugely different skill than re-creating music. For the audience we want them to take something away from it. I see my role as giving the audience insight into the realities of existence that can be both pleasant and unpleasant but which will ultimately leave them enriched. Improvisation is one of our main tools that we use in our creation process. I find this to be the most interesting and compelling ways to do this and that’s why I do it.
JA: Can you tell us about working with (pianist) Evan Mazunik as a duo?
Gil: Evan is a musical kindred spirit for me. We’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing, talking. When we sit down to play we can finish each other’s musical sentences. It’s an unbelievable luxury to rely on someone to understand where you are and where you’re going next. But we’ve spent a lot of time getting to that point both on and off the instrument. We have a CD – White Barn Duets – that was a fantastic recording to make in a professional studio owned by a friend of mine so that we could take as much time as we needed to record. We could record without any time pressure – a very rare luxury for a musician to be able to record like this. Usually it’s just the most successful rock band that can do that. We’re very proud of the music on it, but we have now progressed beyond what we were doing at the time. We’re looking towards making a new recording soon. Our rehearsal technique is very much about the “why” of what’s happening in the music. Why did you do this or that? Trying to understand each other’s musical choices. We also work in traditional classical forms. We base improvisation on, say, sonata form, or a collection of short movements, or a fugue. We draw from traditional classical music concepts. Lately, we’ve been working for using more tonality in our improvisations – a tricky subject for an improviser. I’m really interested in walking that line between clear tonality and open free-form playing. Working toward late Romantic styles where keys are somewhat blurred for a while. Like Mahler.
JA: Are you in other groups?
Gil: I’ve lately concentrated on fewer things, trying not to get involved in too many projects. In NYC it’s easy to do too much. I’m working with composers on solo cello pieces. I keep a connection to the downtown free improv scene – I sit in on many projects, but I’m not a regular member. I’m also involved teaching and playing Soundpainting and composing. I’m also working a book on compositional approach to classical improvisation. I’m in a transitional stage right now.
JA: What are your thoughts on the future?
Gil: I hope that this budding movement in this kind of improv continues to grow and that more and more musicians start creating rather than just re-creating. It seems that more young musicians coming out of school or more interested in this. It makes me more optimistic for the future of classical music. The old way of doing things in classical music is just not making it – it is quite stale. There needs to be an evolution of performers and composers in this direcitons and I am looking forward to being part of it.