Paul Hankinson

Photo © Stefanie Marcus

Photo © Stefanie Marcus

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Paul Hankinson – “Echoes of a Winter Journey”

When the Australian pianist Paul Hankinson reflects upon the particular Schubert moments which inspired his purely instrumental solo piano album “Echoes of a Winter Journey” they all share one thing in common: They are not merely musical moments-in-passing but rather heart-stopping miniatures of pure emotion which, from the very first seconds, unfold and develop a fascinating life of their own. Just like those moments when, walking through the city lost in thought, hectic with to-do-lists, a familiar fragrance worn by a passing stranger suddenly triggers a flash-flood of memories until everything is illuminated.

On “Echoes of a Winter Journey” Hankinson (based in Berlin since 2006) offers new interpretations of ten Schubert motives. Intuitive but not improvised, the album versions are intentionally defined pieces. Only two of the pieces were actually inspired by Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise” (1827): ‘Gute Nacht’ grows out of the opening song of the same title, ‘Komm mit mir’ is based on a motif from the final song, ‘Der Leiermann’. Hankinson, 41, would like the album title to be interpreted as “an invitation to the mood of the record” – “It’s more about exploring this Schubert-feeling and in particular my memories of these little magical heartbreaking moments. Somehow there is winter in all of them.”

It’s fine, filigree, focused. But also: fleeting, contemplative, heavy with a blanket of snow. Yet the pieces on “Echoes of a Winter Journey”, at least in recollection and despite all melancholy, always have an element of hope. In keeping with the spirit of Albert Camus, who said: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” This is music, furthermore, in which the nuances in the silence between the notes are felt to be an equally valued part of the piece. The space allows for one’s own thoughts, feelings and memories.

The idea for the concept album arose in the middle of the everyday: “I was in the supermarket”, explains Hankinson, “when suddenly that motif from ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ popped into my head. The rotation of the spinning wheel as a rhythmic cell – it’s fundamentally a pop song! It’s genius. Schubert was 17 when he wrote it. I went home and didn’t allow myself to listen to it. I began to improvise, to play with the motif, based only on what I could remember. I gradually drifted further away from the original but the emotional essence contained in that cell was still present in ‘Nimmer und Nimmermehr’ - the piece which emerged. I didn’t want to change that essence, I wanted to extend and develop it. I wanted to explore the memory of the piece more than the piece itself.” And so the creative process for the album was established, which Hankinson describes as a kind of “distillation”. After 9 months he had filtered ten Schubert moments down to their essence and out of that created ten new pieces of his own.

Not only in the almost hypnotic ‘November’ does Hankinson generate delicate pianistic crystalline figures, gently draping them in a glass cabinet – leaving the door open. Emotional response desired. It comes from the poignant intimacy that occurs when the listener takes this music into their confidence.

“No one feels another’s grief, no one understands another’s joy. People imagine they can reach one another. In reality they only pass each other by”, Franz Schubert once complained and in doing so greatly underestimated the power of his own music. In Hankinson’s variations he achieves a feeling of going into oneself and coming out of one’s shell simultaneously. And this apparent juxtaposition manifests itself as emotional synchronicity. The astounding thing about these Schubert moments, according to the personable Australian, is their ongoing emotional relevance: “You would think they would feel 200 years old, but they don’t. Locked up in these harmonies and melodies are feelings which always ring true and tangible, and so they become our own emotions in the here and now.”

“Echoes of a Winter Journey” was recorded by Wolfgang Loos in the label’s own studio in Berlin Spandau. The studio was a time-honoured ballroom in the 20s and boasts a brilliant acoustic. The implementation of the recording, just like the pieces themselves, was also reduced to the essential. Just Hankinson and a Steinway concert grand. In Symbiosis. The recording took just two days and was barely edited. It was not about seeking perfection but rather the conservation of emotions. It was about creating something which can be of use in people’s everyday lives: perhaps as a meditative oasis of calm. Hankinson would also be glad if people wished to play one piece or another on their own pianos at home, thus adding another ongoing, individual emotional component to the project – corresponding sheet music will be available.

As multifaceted as “Echoes of a Winter Journey” is – from the longing of ‘Fantasie’, through the tender ‘Liebesglück’ to the turbulent ‘Nimmer und nimmermehr’, - the artist Paul Hankinson is equally as versatile. As a three-year-old kid he could already tinkle back any song he picked up from the TV or radio. He began to write his own songs before his first day of school and had even written a musical by the age of 14. He graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium with the University Medal, gave concerts for years, playing Beethoven, Brahms and of course Schubert with complete devotion and won numerous competitions and scholarships.

Following his move to Berlin in 2006, he turned his energies toward pop music resulting in the release of the album “Writ in Water” under the name Montmorensy in 2011. His piano cover of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ (interwoven with Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’) has become a YouTube sensation, having already garnered over 2.5 million views. He recently wrote arrangements and orchestrations for the collaboration of the platinum certified Australian pop singer Megan Washington with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. Currently Hankinson is working at the Münchener Kammerspiele as composer and pianist for the production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Trommeln in der Nacht”.

One thing remains to be said which is close to his heart: “I know that the classical element can sometimes feel like the music is reserved for an exclusive club. I think Schubert would have detested this elitist attitude – as I do too. He loved to gather his friends in living rooms. It’s really important to me that everyone feels invited to listen to this music, whether they know Schubert or not.”

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Paul Hankinson – „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“

Wenn der australische Pianist Paul Hankinson jene besonderen Schubert-Momente Revue passieren lässt, die sein rein instrumentales Solo-Piano-Album „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“ inspiriert haben, dann ist allen eines gemeinsam: Es sind keine musikalischen Nebenbei-Momente, sondern maximal überwältigende Miniaturen purer Emotion, die ab der ersten Sekunde ihrer Entfaltung ein beeindruckendes Eigenleben entwickeln. Ganz so, wie diese Augenblicke, in denen man gedankenverloren und to-do-listen-hektisch durch die Stadt läuft und plötzlich ein Fremder, im Vorbeigehen, mit dem Duft eines vertrauten Parfüms das Erinnerungsdiorama anknipst, bis alles hell illuminiert ist.

Auf „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“ hat Hankinson, der seit 2006 in Berlin lebt,  10 Schubert-Motive neu interpretiert. Intuitiv, aber in der Albumfassung dennoch nicht improvisiert – es sind bewusst definierte Stücke. Allerdings wurden nur zwei davon tatsächlich von Franz Schuberts Liederzyklus „Winterreise“ (1827) inspiriert: „Gute Nacht“ entwickelte sich aus dem gleichnamigen Eröffnungsstück, „Komm mit mir“ basiert auf einem Motiv aus dem Finale „Der Leiermann“. Den Albumtitel möchte der 41-Jährige auch eher als „Einladung in die Stimmung der Platte“ verstanden wissen – „Dieses Schubert-Gefühl, und insbesondere meine Erinnerungen an einige von Schuberts magischen, herzensbrecherischen Momenten. Irgendwie steckt in ihnen allen der Winter.“

Es ist das Feine, Filigrane, Fokussierte. Aber auch: das Vergängliche, Schneedeckenschwere, Kontemplative. Und dennoch haben die Stücke auf „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“ – spätestens im Nachklang und trotz aller Melancholie – immer etwas Hoffnungsvolles. Ganz im Sinne von Albert Camus, der sagte: „Mitten im tiefsten Winter wurde mir endlich bewusst, dass in mir ein unbesiegbarer Sommer wohnt.“ Es ist zudem Musik, die all die Nuancen der Stille zwischen den Tönen als gleichwertigen Teil des Stückes begreift. Die Raum lässt für eigene Gedanken, Gefühle, Erinnerungen.

Die Idee zu dem Konzept-Album entstand mitten im Alltag: „Ich war gerade im Supermarkt“, erzählt Hankinson, „und plötzlich hatte ich das Motiv von 'Gretchen am Spinnrade' im Kopf. Das rotierende Spinnrad als rhythmische Keimzelle – im Grunde ein Popsong! Schubert war 17, als er dieses geniale Stück schrieb. Ich ging nach Hause und erlaubte mir nicht, es anzuhören, sondern begann aus meiner Erinnerung heraus mit dem Motiv zu spielen, zu improvisieren. Ich entfernte mich immer weiter vom Original, wie bei 'Stille Post', aber die emotionale Essenz dieser Keimzelle war im neu entstandenen 'Nimmer und nimmermehr' immer noch präsent. Ich wollte sie auch nicht verändern, sondern vielmehr erforschen und erweitern. Ich wollte die Erinnerung an das Stück mehr erkunden, als das Stück selbst.“ Und so setzte sich der Entstehungsprozess, den Hankinson als eine Art „Destillieren“ beschreibt, fort. Nach 9 Monaten hatte er das Essentielle aus 10 Schubert-Momenten herausgefiltert und 10 eigene Stücke daraus erschaffen.

Nicht nur im beinahe hypnotischen „November“ pianiert Hankinson filigrane Kristallfiguren, die er liebevoll in eine Vitrine drapiert – deren Tür jedoch offen stehenbleibt. Berühren erwünscht. Es ist von ergreifender Intimität, wenn diese Stücke sich dem Hörer anvertrauen. „Keiner, der den Schmerz des andern, und keiner, der die Freude des andern versteht! Man glaubt immer, zu einander zu gehen und man geht immer nur nebeneinander“, hatte Franz Schubert einmal geklagt, und dabei die Kraft seiner eigenen Musik deutlich unterschätzt. In Hankinsons Variationen erreicht sie gleichzeitig ein In-sich- und Aus-sich-heraus-Gehen. Und das vermeintliche Nebeneinander erweist sich als emotionale Synchronizität. Das Besondere an den Schubert-Momenten sieht der sympathische Australier in ihrer immerwährenden emotionalen Aktualität: „Man denkt, sie müssten sich 200 Jahre alt anfühlen, aber das tun sie nicht. In diesen Melodien und Harmonien stecken Gefühle, die immer wahr und jederzeit greifbar sind – sie werden zu eigenen Emotionen im Hier und Jetzt.“

Aufgenommen wurde „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“ von Wolfgang Loos im labeleigenen Studio in Berlin-Spandau, das in den Zwanziger Jahren ein altehrwürdiger Ballsaal war und über eine brillante Akustik verfügt. Auch die musikalische Umsetzung wurde – genau wie die Stücke selbst – auf das Essentielle reduziert: Nur Hankinson und ein Steinway-Konzertflügel. In Symbiose. Die Aufnahmen dauerten lediglich zwei Tage, editiert wurde kaum. Denn es ging nicht um Perfektion, sondern um das beherzte Konservieren von Emotionen. Es ging darum, etwas zu erschaffen, das auch als Alltagsbegleiter funktioniert. Als meditative Ruheoase. Hankinson würde es zudem freuen, wenn der eine oder die andere die Stücke zuhause am Klavier nachspielen und so eine weitere, ganz individuelle emotionale Komponente hinzufügen würde – entsprechendes Notenmaterial wird begleitend erhältlich sein.

So facettenreich wie „Echoes Of A Winter Journey“ ist – von der sehnsuchtsvollen „Fantasie“, über das zarte „Liebesglück“, bis hin zum aufgewühlten „Nimmer und nimmermehr“ –, so facettenreich ist auch der Musiker Hankinson: Schon als Dreikäsehoch klimperte er jedes Lied nach, das er in Radio oder Fernsehen aufschnappte, noch vor seiner Einschulung begann der kleine Paul, eigene Stücke zu schreiben, und mit 14 Jahren hatte er bereits sein erstes Musical komponiert. Am Queenslands Conservatorium of Music schloss er mit Auszeichnung ab, trat jahrelang als Solist mit Orchestern auf, spielte voller Hingabe Beethoven, Brahms und natürlich Schubert, und gewann zahlreiche Wettbewerbe.

Nach seinem Umzug nach Berlin im Jahr 2006 widmete er sich auch der Popmusik – unter dem Namen „Montmorensy“ veröffentlichte Hankinson 2011 das Album „Writ In Water“. Auf YouTube sorgte er mit seiner Klavierversion von Ed Sheerans Song „Perfect“ für Aufsehen (in die er mal eben Pachelbels Kanon eingeflochten hatte): Fast 2,5 Millionen Mal wurde sie bereits aufgerufen. Kürzlich schrieb er Arrangements und Orchestrierungen für die Kollaboration der platindekorierten australischen Popsängerin Megan Washington mit dem Sydney Symphony Orchestra am Sydney Opera House. Aktuell ist Hankinson als Komponist und Pianist Teil des Ensembles von Bertolt Brechts „Trommeln in der Nacht“ an den Münchener Kammerspielen.

Eines liegt ihm abschließend noch ganz besonders am Herzen: „Ich weiß, dass ein klassisches Element sich manchmal anfühlen kann, als sei es einem exklusiven Club vorbehalten. Schubert würde diesen elitären Gedanken jedoch verabscheuen! Und genauso geht es mir auch. Es ist mir wichtig, dass sich jeder eingeladen fühlt, diesen Stücken zu lauschen – ganz egal, ob man Schubert kennt oder nicht.“
Ina Simone Mautz

Paul Hankinson - Biography

Paul Hankinson is an Australian pianist, composer, arranger and songwriter based in Berlin.

Having discovered the piano at the age of three, Paul’s childhood was filled with music and creativity. A life-long love affair with classical music began in his teenage years and he went on to graduate from the Queensland Conservatorium with the University Medal.

It was classical music which initially took him to Berlin although once there he strayed from the path and began writing theatrical symphonic pop songs, culminating in the release in 2011 of his album “Montmorensy – Writ in Water” (Traumton) to critical acclaim.

Paul has worked with artists as wonderful and diverse as Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke, Damian Rebgetz, Fiora, Katharine Mehrling, Cusch Jung and Siobhan Stagg. His song “Human Race” (performed by Fiora) was recently featured in the German film “Einsamkeit und Sex und Mitleid”.

As composer, pianist and musical director he has worked in theater (Münchener Kammerspiele, Hebbel Am Ufer, Gessner Allee, Neuköllner Oper, Bar Jeder Vernunft, Pfalz Theater, Brisbane Powerhouse) and film (including live silent film soundtracks for the Australian Cinémathèque) as well as creating music for his own concerts and recordings.

He has written arrangements for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Babelsberg Film Orchestra, the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival and the Berlin Comedian Harmonists. As a Signature Artist for online sheet-music store Musicnotes he arranges piano covers of popular songs for digital download. His cover of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ has over 3 million views on YouTube.

His solo piano album “Echoes of a Winter Journey” was recently released on Traumton Records. He aspires to make music which can be of use in people’s lives, providing a moment of peace or empathy, of beauty, melancholy or joy, a moment of humanity, of connection.

On the wall above his desk is a sign which reads “Who is it for?”


the dussmann dream


I remember very distinctly the first time I took the M1 Tram to Friedrichstraße.. December, 2003.. dark at 4 pm.. the first time I saw that beautiful softly-lit building with the distinctive 4 storey tall sign jutting out of its side boasting those impressive deep red letters in a font which should be called Beethoven: Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus. This being a good few years before my first iPhone I fished my little green Pons Wörterbuch (Deutsch-Englisch) out of my backpack and a few moments later stared up in bewildered wonder .. ‘This place has a Department Store for .. Culture? .. .. .. Honey, I’m home’

I get the same feeling walking into Dussmann now as I did then.. well.. it’s two feelings at once. Firstly there’s the ‘kid at the amusement park’ feeling.. the excitement in the potential of what I might discover.. the excitement I always feel when I’m close to stationery (Schreibwaren). Secondly there is the relief.. the relief I feel when surrounded by knowledge, creativity, art and understanding.. books, music, movies, paper, pencils, scores.. and even more so the relief in the realisation that all of the other people in there are there for the same reason as I am.. they love to read, they love to listen, they love to learn, explore, understand.. they love beauty, they love knowledge, they love inspiration and they want to take it home with them in a little red bag. Those moments in life in which we share an unspoken connection with a room full of strangers are so beautiful and so important.

Whenever friends of mine from Australia visit Berlin, I always take them to Dussmann and they are always as gobsmacked as I was that first time. That such a place exists.. and flourishes.. says something about Berlin. This is a city which supports, celebrates and upholds culture. I have seen many a red bag with its precious contents tucked into a suitcase on the morning of leaving.

I have a kindle somewhere.. but I love to hold the book in my hands, to feel the weight of it, to smell the paper. I have iTunes but I love to read the CD case and liner notes and I love to listen to it on my little stereo. Most of all I love taking home a new score of piano sonatas by Haydn or Schubert or Beethoven and a new 2B pencil. That’s the best feeling.

I remember going into Dussmann a few weeks after my Montmorensy album came out in 2011.. would it be there? It was! Just tucked in front of Morrissey. I felt quietly proud as I walked back out onto Friedrichstraße .. somehow.. validated.

photo: Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus

photo: Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus

My friend Juliane enhancing the window display!

My friend Juliane enhancing the window display!

So.. 7 years later.. on December 8, 2017 my new album “Echoes of a Winter Journey” was released on the beautiful Berlin label Traumton. Two days earlier I had left Berlin to go on a summer journey, playing on a cruise ship along the west coast of South America (but that’s another story). Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Stefi at Traumton informing me that Dussmann love the CD and have requested material for their window display. I felt terrible I wasn’t there to help! Over the next few days I started getting messages from friends who just happened to be in Dussmann doing their Christmas shopping.. letting me know that not only was the CD seemingly everywhere inside, it was also being played in-store.. sending me selfies with the window display!

Then came the news that it was number 1 on the in-store customer charts (Kundencharts). Well I just couldn’t believe it. The whole thing felt like a Weihnachtswunder (Christmas Miracle) .. like a Dussmann Dream. “You know Benny from ABBA?” my father would tell people.. “Well he’s number 5!”

Now I’m back in Berlin.. it’s the end of January.. "Echoes of a Winter Journey" is somehow still number 1. The whole thing has been so unexpected and so much fun and so incredibly helpful and all I can say is Danke Dussmann.. Danke for your kindness and support! Heartfelt thanks to Chiara Fenoglio and her beautiful team for bringing about.. the Dussmann Dream!


Echoes of a Winter Journey

by Paul Hankinson