Dutchman Joep Beving has been viewed tens of millions of times online, sold out two Australian shows and he neither sings nor plays pop music. What does this pianist offer that translates so well from Amsterdam to Melbourne, New York and beyond?
Joep Beving sold out shows in Sydney and Melbourne this month with what a perplexed media likes to call a non-existent profile, which is to say it exists independent of the media.
That leaves reporters to fall back on talking about his lanky frame (well past two metres) and long hair and beard when trying to discuss his appeal, as much as talk of the sound and tenor of his home-recorded debut, Solipsism, and his new, major-label debut, Prehension.
The pianist, whose first name is pronounced yoop, works at the line between classical piano, ambient and what might almost be called restorative sounds. Think of him in a similar, albeit slightly shallower, pool to German Nils Frahm, Australians Fiona Joy and Sophie Hutchings, and English/German Max Richter.
Today Beving is speaking after a long session rehearsing in the Opera House, not long after arriving in Sydney, and he’s politely accommodating. It helps that while he’s still jetlagged, he’s feeling better than expected – “so far,” he says, warily.
There’s probably going to be rest next but that itself raises an interesting conundrum. Beving’s music in its reflective melodies and flowing rhythms is the kind of calming, focused-but-not-fixed-to-a-place material that can be restful and soothing.
But what does Beving do when he needs to rest and be soothed and taken away from the day-to-day given playing his music is his day-to-day mode? Maybe some office work and financial statements? That brings forth a rare burst of laughter.
“No, no, I’m not very good at that. Basically, my music was to get me out of my work routine,” says the Dutchman, whose original career was in advertising, with music merely a hobby. “And to tune in to myself.
“Now I listen to my music once in a while, the new pieces I am working on, and more and more classical music to also learn.”
There was always something more than the tone of gentle, ruminative music for the man who once tried to sell us things we didn’t know we needed. You might even call it a message.
“Why the universal, you could ask. Why does it speak to so many people?,” Beving asks of his music’s success. “We are either trained or we’re designed to respond to particular stimulants. For me it’s rediscovering the human skill in things so for me the message would be we have a common or shared understanding of what it’s like to be human. And we should not lose that connection.”
The message was a personal one first.
“In the way my own need was to tune into something meaningful or essential, instead of trying to make sense of my Facebook feed or Twitter feed and newsfeed every day,” he says. “But what I would really like is for everyone to make their own stories and have their own memories.”
As this suggests, more useful than his height or hair, there is some investigation warranted into some of Beving’s practical choices that mark him out from your standard concert pianist.
Why play an upright? And not just an upright but one whose innards and workings are exposed and its mechanics clearly heard alongside the notes.
The symbolism is striking in its simplicity and its exposure – opening the music and himself up to view. Was that intentional?
“It was mostly for pragmatic reasons: it came from me having an upright piano in my living room where it all kind of started,” Beving says. “The way I recorded Solipsism was a naked, simple, honest version of recording piano, allowing for all the noises to be part of the recording. And also to play with the moderator pedal continuously on to allow me to create very minimalist and atmospheric music and play really soft and still have volume that would be picked up by the microphones.
“It would be more difficult to create on a grand piano. And also I didn’t have one.”
As for the symbolism, Beving “wouldn’t go that far” but he does describe his approach as “very low threshold”.
“A lot of what I do has to do with understanding reality or our relationship to reality. Solipsism was a point where I wanted it to be completely transparent and something you could easily relate to, almost like they were on the piano stool themselves.
“Basically, I was trying to reunite [us] and things that are authentic, things that are real, things that we can feel and have meaning in our lives.”
Joep Beving’s Prehension is out now through DG/Universal