Sven Helbig grew up in Eisenhüttenstadt, went to New York shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, and lives today in Dresden. Helbig’s symphonic images are closely connected to his life, experiences, aspirations and also the voids between epochs, systems and continents.The piece “Eisenhüttenstadt”, in particular, illustrates how sound is generated from the strength of his chain of associations. “The composition describes the moment in which, after 20 years, I returned again to the places where my grandparents had had their garden or where I had gone to school. I discovered all this in a completely changed state. Not only were the houses gone, but the whole concept of the city had disappeared. My grandparents had moved to Eisenhüttenstadt when they were 38, because my grandmother did not want to carry coal anymore and there was district heating there. It was a planned city, straight from the drawing board, which had to be populated by people from the whole republic. When I was born there, there was no one older than 40. There was not a single old paving stone which could have reminded you of yesteryear. The concept of this first socialist city attuned to the people only went in one direction: forwards. When the money ran out in the seventies, this concept dwindled. Now nothing is left of it, and, even worse, this design cannot age with charm. There is no ‘pleasant morbidity’, instead there is just debris. There are weeds growing where my grandparent’s house once stood. Everything is gone. There is nothing which one could still cherish. That is why I included a porcelain carillon in the piece, to capture the romanticisation of a lost age. The piece bears the name ‘Eisenhüttenstadt’, because it captures the place and the day which moved me so much.”
Through various projects, Sven Helbig realised early on that music works best above and beyond standardised concepts. He grooved on both sides of the Atlantic as a drummer, and in 2003 he produced the project “Mein Herz Brennt” (My Heart Burns) based on song ideas by Rammstein. A year later he performed “Battleship Potemkin” with the Pet Shop Boys, and in 2009, he recorded with the Fauré Quartett as producer of their “Popsongs” album. The friction between the feeling of security of yesteryear and the challenges of the present is one of his central motifs. In this respect, Helbig’s little symphonies are in fact substantial works, for they continue to expand within their framework.
The motifs are not overloaded, but instead settle in the ear, so that they linger even after the last note has sounded. Helbig’s music thus runs counter to the societal trend, with more and more information crammed into less and less form; information media are reducing in size, yet information density is increasing. Helbig, on the other hand, pursues the aim of minimising information while maximising form, in spite of the small formats. With this consistent path of simplification he wants to reach not only advanced classical music experts, but also those listeners who know less about classical music. “When one writes a three-and-a-half-minute symphony, a song is automatically created”, according to his credo. “There is a genetic relationship; but in a song, one has to express within just a few bars what a symphony affords a whole movement for expressing. However, if one compresses a symphony in all of its dimensions of length, dynamics and emotions, then a song is what remains — whether one likes it or not; it doesn’t work any other way. In this respect, the Pocket Symphonies are in fact symphonic songs.”
The composer sought high-ranking colleagues for this series of twelve interrelated symphonic songs. The Estonian-American conductor Kristjan Järvi has conducted almost all of the world’s great orchestras, and was the co-founder of the famous Absolut Ensemble. At present he leads the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony, which also plays on this recording. Järvi called the Pocket Symphonies “probably one of the best things I’ve ever done”. For the recording, Helbig also continued his collaboration with the Fauré Quartett, who were awarded an ECHO in 2010 for “Klassik ohne Grenzen” (Classic without Borders).
“Pocket Symphonies” is the antithesis to the usual musical crossover. It is an organic piece of music, supported by inner logic and artistic necessity. A piece of music which, in a spectacularly unspectacular way, forms a single entity from the possibilities inherent in classic and pop music elements, defeating all speculation about conventional or new musical categories.