Background

I've been hooked on music since I was very young, quickly taking up the piano, violin and clarinet, and later training as a singer. Composing, improvising and arranging were part and parcel of my musical world from the start, as was a love of listening to and learning about different forms of music-making from around the world. I've always been thirsty to know, do and understand as much music as possible.

All of this is still here in what I do today: playing, composing, arranging, performing, producing and teaching music in a variety of ways. I enjoy the diversity of what I do, and find that the different strands of my work support, feed and strengthen one another. I feel very lucky to be swimming in music all day long, and am particularly keen to help my students discover the benefits of developing their musicality and living day-to-day in their own musical worlds.

Qualifications & Awards

- BMus : Royal Holloway, University of London (First Class)

- MMus Advanced Musical Studies : Royal Holloway, University of London (Distinction)

- MMus Composition : Royal Academy of Music (Awarded Charles Lucas Prize for Composition)

- PhD Composition : Royal Academy of Music (AHRC Funded; Awarded Manson Fellowship)

- DBACE 2010 Prize for Composition & Performance

- Nominated for a British Composers Award

Music projects include:

- Two albums of songs as ok Bertie!, and the Crowded Planet iOS App that accompanies the first album

- WOMAD Festival Main-Stage Performance with Kyai Fatahillah Gamelan Ensemble 2019

- LSO Soundhub Membership 2014-2015, with performances at LSO St Luke's

- Performances at the Kyoto Musical Festival, Japan

- Composition projects with the Youth Orchestra of the Middle East, Dubai, UAE,Vanderbilt University, Nashville Tennessee, USA, and UPI University, Bandung, Indonesia.

Piano

"Robert is an amazing teacher. He's taught me for years, and I've gained so much from it. He's a dedicated, patient, and talented pianist and teacher. A really sweet and kind person who cares about his students. Very lucky to know and be taught by him."
- a current student

The piano was my first instrument, and has a special place in my musical landscape. I've composed many pieces that include the piano, and regularly perform my compositions, my arrangements of rock and pop songs, and classical repertoire. Here is a performance of my piece 'There For Me' for solo piano, taken from a concert at LSO St Luke's as part of the LSO Soundhub programme.

 

Composition

I've been creating and re-creating music since I first started learning to play. Composition is just something I do every day, whether it's writing music for classical ensembles, or arranging pop and rock music at the piano, or recording and producing my own songs, or helping students to make their own music, or improvising gamelan melodies.

I've been very fortunate to have composed and collaborated with incredible musicians and performed my music in wonderful settings all over the world. I am grateful to my composition tutor at the Royal Academy, Brian Elias, who steered me in new directions and helped me discover a full spectrum of creative possibilities.

Here is a clip of harpist Mali Llywelyn performing one of my pieces. It's one of my favourites.

Much of my composing practise now centres on my stage persona ok Bertie! Under that name I've written two albums:
Music from a Crowded Planet (2017) and We're Done For (And Other Responses) (forthcoming 2019).

As part of the Music from a Crowded Planet project, I worked with programmer Matthew Hasler to create the Crowded Planet App for iOS. Anyone, including myself, can download it and use it to remix the sounds from the album in their own way, via the album artwork. I also use the app to perform the songs from the album.

To enter the world of ok Bertie! and to download the app, you can visit bertieweb.com. In the meantime, here is the Crowded Planet artwork I drew for the album and app, together with a video of one song, which was created from the app visuals.

 
 

Gamelan

"I couldn't recommend Robert more highly. He has endless enthusiasm for music and for teaching. His lessons always lift my spirits and nurture my creativity."

Lauren, current student

From childhood I have been fascinated by all sorts of music from many different parts of the world. Sundanese gamelan music has come to play a particularly important role in my musical development and practise. I am very grateful to Simon Cook - the UK's foremost expert on Sundanese gamelan and Musical Director of Sekar Enggal gamelan ensemble - for his inspiration, training and guidance, which have enlightened by composition, piano and singing work as well as leading to a wealth of teaching and performance opportunities.

A gamelan is the name of an ensemble of instruments from Indonesia. Typically, a gamelan consists of variously-sized gongs, metallophones and drums. Other instruments - such as Indonesian zithers, flutes and bowed-stringed instruments - can also feature depending on the context and style. Gamelan music is played in a variety of settings: as an accompaniment to singing, dancing, theatre and martial arts, as background music at special events such as weddings, and as concert music in front of audiences or for listening on recordings.

There are different kinds of gamelan ensemble, which are classified according to their region of origin within Indonesia. Probably the most well-known outside of the country are Central Javanese and Balinese gamelan ensembles. Another less-often-heard kind is Sundanese gamelan, originating from the province of West Java. Although the different kinds of gamelan share some common features, they largely have different sets of instruments, tuning systems, styles and repertory. Sundanese gamelan music ranges from the very delicate and intimate to vibrant and energetic. It suits me very well!

Since 2016 I have taught the Sundanese Gamelan module at the
University of Manchester, UK. In keeping with Indonesian tradition of naming gamelan instruments, I have called the University of Manchester set and community: Gamelan Adumanis

Adumanis is a compound form of the Sundanese words ‘aduh’ and ‘manis’. It could literally translate as something like 'ouch that's sweet', meaning that something is so beautiful that it could alsmost hurt! But it could be more broadly understood as a kind of ‘sweet dissonance’ or ‘sweet clash’. Sundanese musicians often place high value on musical juxtaposition, which is captured in the musical concept of ‘adumanis’. There’s a kind of aural vibrancy that occurs in the bringing together of contrasting tuning systems, textures and sounds, and even styles. It’s exciting and always surprising!

The way our gamelan community in Manchester has evolved over the past few years has lead me to believe that Gamelan Adumanis would be a very appropriate banner for our kind of music-making: hopefully both true to and revealing of Sundanese aesthetics and to ourselves.

As a group, we embrace the forms of juxtaposition that are inherent in much Sundanese music. But there are other ways in which we create our own ‘sweet clash’. It arises in our concerts, for which we invite guest musicians from diverse backgrounds to perform with us. Our performances so far have included collaborations with Moroccan oud player
Soufian Saihi, tango violinist Yuiko Asaba, and  kora player Joshua Doughty. Through collaboration, we find ways to combine our instruments, sounds and styles - always with remarkably good results. On each occasion, we also probe at perceived boundaries between our music cultures, discovering the surprising parallels in how we play our instruments and organise our music.

I continue to enjoy, experiment with and bow to the extraordinary music of West Java, which to my mind is one of the world's great musics. In the Summer of 2019 I was very fortunate to work and perform with Sundanese gamelan master and composer Iwan Gunawan, his band of musicians from Bandung - Kyai Fatahillah - and some of the leading UK gamelan players including Simon Cook, John Pawson, Andy Channing, and Ellen Jordan and Jade Flahive-Gilbert of Asada Duo. This project culminated in a main-stage performance at the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park, and a composition collaboration between myself and music students at UPI, Bandung, during which we combined my Crowded Planet app with the gamelan - with very exciting results!

Here is a clip of the Kyai Fatahillah performance at WOMAD 2019.

 

Contact

For projects, performance or teaching requests, please feel free to get in touch with me at:
robert@robertszymanek.com.