Fiery. His playing is fiery.
But how can anyone from the cold, dark North be fiery? A paradox? Or is it prejudiced to believe than an artist’s temperament has anything to do with his geographical birthplace?
Let’s see. The story of an artist should contain facts about his education, his origins and, to top it off, a lot of fabulous reviews. Niklas Sivelöv has remarkable critiques from all over the world, but let’s look at a few early snapshots.
Once upon a time in Sweden, in a small town called Skellefteå, a little two-year-old boy smashed his drum set – a small indication of future thoroughness of approach! His sisters used to sing and listen to the current pop music, so Niklas tried to copy what he heard on the family harmonium or on the Hammond Organ – at that time his favourite instrument. Soon, he created his first radio programme, featuring his own material. Eight years old, a very self-confidant young man who knew what he wanted ... and made it happen.
The ability to put his mark on music and find his own expression was clear from an early stage. A developed an enquiring curiosity and a strong determination to follow is personal vision were, from the start, two key factors.
One day on the radio he heard a concerto by Mozart. He wanted to play it, but his teacher wouldn’t let him. Too young. He was unhappy, but it was all for the best since he couldn’t yet read notes. He learnt that later at the age of 14. Why do you need notes when you can play anyway? Now, Niklas claims with greater insight that Mozart is best interpreted when you are very young or very old.
He composed and improvised. Continuously. Beside his pianistic career, he has a brilliant career as a composer. Many works, chamber and solo-music, are successfully performed around the world.
Things started to move fast. After the local music school, he entered the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm at the age of 16. One of his teachers was Liisa Pohjola, who became very important to his development though her enthusiasm and encouragement. He was given freedom to express himself. Niklas graduated Summa Cum Laude. Later, he studied in Bucharest with G. Amiras, himself a student of the famous Neuhaus, and in London with Maria Curcio Diamond. Awards came quickly.
The playing of Niklas Sivelöv is thrilling and unique. What is it that makes him so special? First, let’s examine his origins and their influence on his temperament. His mother’s ancestors came from the Russian part of Karelia, and his father’s family included many Swedish musicians, but Niklas’s fiery temperament derives from his own personality and was never stifled by the cold environment of the North.
What makes a great musician? Talent and hard work are of course essential. But, when talking to Niklas Sivelöv, you start to understand a musical universe and vision. He approaches material empirically, as a kind of research. It may take a substantial amount of time, but the actual note-learning and memorizing processes go quickly. He does not want to stagnate or become too firmly locked into a specific way of thinking. This leads to a certain restlessness, a creative stubbornness that is a heritage from his childhood: to have the courage to avoid mainstream solutions. From this also comes his determination to penetrate the heart of what he’s playing. He is, for example, able to improvise cadenzas for concertos by Mozart with ease, insight and spontaneity – historically a highly developed skill that has been overlooked in present times.
He has the powerful ability to add his personal ‘presence’, with intensity and drama and, maybe above all else, a philosophical outlook that lets him constantly consider the elements, the complexity and the organic structures of music. His repertory is wide, and he has equal interest in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods as well as in the music of the 20 th Century up to our own time. Perhaps he is best described by a music journalist, who wrote: “Niklas Sivel öv is an extremely intelligent pianist who has the ability to use all the resources of the piano through his very brilliant technique.” Or, as the record producer Paul Myers said: “For more than forty years, I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the better known pianists of the day. It is reassuring to know that their traditions are being maintained by Niklas Sivel ö v, who is surely destined to become one of the household piano ‘names’ of the future.”
The elegance of his interpretations - to make music emerge so naturally that it feels as though it is born at that very moment – is one of his unique talents. This is no easy achievement. In his own words: “You need chaos to find clarity, change and genuine understanding of the material.” This can be a hard process, but in the long run leads to something that is rare in young pianists: your own artistic profile. This creative ability has inspired many composers to write works for him, including two piano concertos.
But Niklas Sivel öv is also many other things. He is Professor at the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen, with an international piano class. He is an established and brilliant composer with a wide range of works and with a ‘waiting-list’ of works requested by other major performers. In addition, he has a well-established and successful collaboration with many leading international instrumentalists and singers.