Synergy in composition: Nils Frahm plays the Orpheum

Timbre Concerts

Lately, in places like friends’ cars and cafes, composition and classical music seem to be making headway with the younger generations. The revival of this music, which is usually associated with stuffy halls and institutions, is due, in part, to the work of contemporary composers such as Nils Frahm.

Last night Frahm played the Orpheum Theatre.

Frahm, a German musician based in Berlin, combines classical composition with the mainstays of old-school techno drops and drum machines. Monday was the first stop of a North American tour that follows the release of Frahm’s ninth solo album All Melody and the tape Encores 2. There was no opener and, observing the stage before hand, it felt as though a mad scientist was about to get to work. A labyrinth of upright pianos, a grand piano, synthesizers and organs stood in the middle of the stage.

Moving with a sort of erratic perfection, Frahm navigated between the instruments. Most songs would start with a theme on a piano and then move towards a layered, looping electronica. Often, in the midst of a heavily synthesized section, one forgot that the piece started off with just a few notes on the piano. The sound seemed to grow organically from minimal solo piano to trance to techno and back. Most striking was the sustained booming when a song plateaued: reminiscent of Vangelis.

The crowd was very pleased, but a bit confused as to how to conduct themselves. There was a lot of movement during the songs as people squeezed past each other in the hushed darkness. This comes from the variety of textures of the music. During the standing ovation he said: “I wish you would have stood up 20 minutes ago … we could have had a proper rave.”  

Frahm, who intimately spoke to the audience throughout the show, relayed his excitement and jetlag. He was jovial with the crowd, and looked over his shoulder as a phone alarm went off, making the whole theatre laugh.

Frahm’s light-show was minimal and well suited to his work. He took advantage of the beautiful facades of the Orpheum by lighting up the back wall as he played. A few white lights shone above him during the slower parts, and when it sped up the lights went faster and faster.

The orientation of the night was centered on the compositions that make up All Melody. Distinct piano met booming synthetic choruses in tracks like “The Whole Universe Wants to be Touched,” “A Place” and “Forever Changelss.” Frahm played his most famous song “Because This Must Be” after he told the audience that this would be the definitive last track before he went to sleep in his tour van—which was understandable after almost two hours straight of playing.

However, Frahm, champagne glass in hand, couldn’t stay away. He came back to play two softer melodies in order to send us, dreamily and wide-eyed into the rainy Vancouver night.