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Elisabeth Harnik – Joëlle Léandre

Joëlle Léandre is regarded as the "Grande Dame" of double bass in Improvised Music. In the 40 years of her career she has performed with many jazz greats, and composers like Cage and Lacy have written musical pieces for her. The Graz-based pianist and composer Elisabeth Harnik, who is a generation younger, has performed both solo and with exponents of contemporary jazz worldwide since 1996 and has also been awarded numerous prizes. The two women artists have a lot in common. They have broken free of the confines of musical convention by following their own ways very early on. Both have a compositional vein, both are excellent improvisers. Abstraction and pulse, passion and poetry — that is what the musical dialogue between these two exceptional musicians has in store for us.

Elisabeth Harnik, free-lance composer and pianist, was born 1970 in Graz and currently lives in Gams (County of Styria / Austria). She studied classical piano and later – with Beat Furrer – composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz. Harnik started her artistic career both as interpreter of her own works as well as pianist and vocalist in various areas of improvised music. The "repertoire" and it's extensions in composition and improvisation is her central focus.

In addition to her work as composer she appears as improviser at various national and international festivals. She works within an electro-acoustic inspired sound-world, using unique preparations and extended techniques. Besides her solo performances she is member of many ensembles for improvised music (Barcode Quartet, Plasmic Quartet, Wild Chamber Trio, DEK Trio, ReDDeer a.o.) and has performed with numerous internationally recognised representatives of the contemporary jazz scene in Europe and abroad such as Johannes Bauer, Thomas Lehn, Mikołaj Trzaska, Gianni Mimmo, Joëlle Léandre, Isabelle Duthoit, Jaap Blonk, Paal Nilssen-Love, Alison Blunt, Dominic Lash, John Butcher, Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis, Tim Daisy, Michael Zerang, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Fay Victor, Taylor Ho Bynum, Clayton Thomas and many more.

Harnik has toured in Europe, United States, China, Australia, Brazil and her compositions have been performed regularly at concerts and festivals for contemporary music. She received a great number of rewards and prizes. In 2017 she holds the SKE Publicity Award Austria.


French double bass player, improviser and composer, Joëlle Léandre is one of the dominant figures of the new European music. Trained in orchestral as well as contemporary music, she has played with l’Itinéraire, 2e2m and Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. Joëlle Léandre has also worked with Merce Cunningham and with John Cage, who has composed especially for her – as have Scelsi, Fénelon, Hersant, Lacy, Campana, Jolas, Clementi and about 40 composers.

As well as working in contemporary music, Léandre has played with some of the great names in jazz and improvisation, such as Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Evan Parker, Irene Schweizer, William Parker, Barre Phillips, Pascal Contet, Steve Lacy, Lauren Newton, Peter Kowald, Urs Leimgruber, Mat Maneri, Roy Campbell, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Mark Naussef, Marilyn Crispell, India Cooke and so many others… 

She has written extensively for dance and theater, and has staged a number of multidisciplinary performances. She got the DAAD at Berlin, is welcomed as artist resident at Villa Kujiyama (Kyoto). In 2002, 2004 and 2006, she is Visiting Professor at Mills college, Oakland, CA, Chaire Darius Milhaud, for improvisation and composition. Her work as a composer and a performer, both in solo recitals and a part of ensembles, has put her under the lights of the most prestigious stages of Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Current tour dates

2018 | 1 – 8 November

2019 | 13 – 24 March

2019 | 16 – 26 May


Contact us if you want to offer a date for this tour, and we will advise you on availability.

Cover by Lasse Marhaug

Elisabeth Harnik – Joëlle Léandre Duo
Tender Music (Trost Records)

“The record is going to be interpreted, rather than identified. That's the problem with critics and everybody. They think they have to interpret what's going on – all they have to do is see it. But they have to put a lot of baggage aside to see.” — Ed Moses, from The Cool School (Arthouse Films: 2008), directed by Morgan Neville

Ed Moses was a visual artist who belonged to the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles during the late 1950s, and was part of a group of artists known as the "Cool School," which included Edward Kienholz, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, John Alton, and Wallace Berman, among others. This group helped transform art in the second half of the 20th century. Ed Moses passed away at the age of 91 on January 17th, 2018 as I was writing these liner notes and already using the quote above to introduce them; an odd and sad coincidence. For me, his statement sums up the problematic importance of the art and/or music critic- they're the ones who tend to leave the record, but they often interpret the "facts" of an artist or musician's activity (any creative activity) instead of identifying them. 

When I was asked by Konstantin Drobil to write liner notes for Tender Music, the first duo album by Elisabeth Harnik and Joëlle Léandre, who have been playing together in this format since 2016 (the recording comes from their third performance together), I wanted to figure out how to submit something that wasn't based too strongly on my working relationship and friendship with Elisabeth. Also, I felt that celebrating the duo's music in a promotional way was merely obvious and would do nothing to convince a person unfamiliar with either Elisabeth or Joëlle's years of work to buy the recording- if you're reading these words you already own a copy of Tender Music. And I'm left, once again, to consider Ed Moses' point- to identify as opposed to interpret. 

Why is this duo's music important in the face of so much other music being released and made available, through so many different formats at this point in time? The six pieces included on this album range, for the most part, between 5 and 10 minutes in length, entitled "Ear Area" I to VI, and completely improvised. The instrumentation is restricted to piano/prepared piano (Elisabeth), and acoustic bass and voice (Joëlle), but this does not mean that the music is in any way limited. As Elisabeth said when she wrote to me about the project: 

"Piano and bass do have a strong 'history' together (in classical music, in contemporary music, in improvised music...) on which we can rely musically. At the same time we take new risks and surprise each other in order to formulate new relations between our instruments. It's this interplay between 'listening' and 'demanding' that fascinates me in a duo setting. Having a strong counterpart has such an inspiring and encouraging effect on the music and I am very thankful for these moments!" 

The musicians break open limitations and preconceptions by moving effortlessly through the various musical histories Elisabeth describes above, overlapping them, combining them, colliding them; and then doing the same with their own unique personal creative histories – applying techniques and melodic/textural territories that are distinctly their own, developed in other ensembles and fields of endeavor, and brought together through the parallel lines of expression in this duo. The longest and final piece feels like an epitaph to those histories, piano chords and voice disappearing into the air. 

The importance of the music of Elisabeth Harnik and Joëlle Léandre, both in tandem and in other circumstances, also has further resonance and significance in a broader social context. Consider the amount of time they have worked relentlessly in the often male dominated fields of jazz and new, experimental, and improvised music. As we close in on the second decade of the 21st century, it is still clear that we are living in a far from equitable world. To face that discrepancy as an artist for decade after decade, often under the gaze of outright hostility, is something that needs to be identified. Elisabeth expresses this fact much better than I ever could: 

"I have known and respected Joëlle's work since I was in my middle 20s. I was very lucky to have met musicians of her generation, and one generation before, personally in the 1990s. I can say that I found my intrinsic approach to the instrument with free improvisation through her in that time period! Performing with Joëlle in a duo format, creating music with her and having the possibility to get access to her musical knowledge- also this energy, this power, this rage, this directness, this passion... that was involved in creative music from the start! -and her experience as a musician on the road for more than 40 years, is a great honor and challenge and bliss for me." 

I can't ask more of a musician, a visual artist, a writer, a filmmaker, a choreographer, a dramaturge, a photographer, a architect, a designer, of an artist, than to contribute creatively and with generous passion despite ongoing adversity. Without question, with this album and with their careers, Elisabeth Harnik and Joëlle Léandre have done so. One of the definitions of the word "tender" is "humane." Is there a better way to identify and celebrate their work, the gift of it to all of us, than to call it humane music? — Ken Vandermark, Chicago, January 21, 2018

Jeder Faser wächst ein Tönen Mit Joelle Leandre (Kontrabass) und Elisabeth Harnik (Klavier) waren zwei kongenial-schräge Musikerinnen zu Gast im Grazer WIST. Mit Klopfen und Zupfen zeigten die beiden “Grandes Dames” der Avantgarde dabei, dass da mehr Dinge zwischen Himmel und Erde sind, als die schnöde Schulweisheit und träumen lässt.

Schon optisch ist Joelle Leandre beim Spielen ihres Leibinstruments (wenn auch mit geliehenem Bogen) eine Erscheinung: Was da alles an Kraft mitschwingt, wenn Saiten gezupft, gebogen und geschlagen werden, ist schon körperlich schier unglaublich. Musikalisch ist die tremolierende Kehligkeit, die Dominanz des körnenden Sounds in ihrem Spiel ein ohrenöffnendes Erlebnis. Doch damit nicht genug: Durch eine variantenreiche Vokalperformance, in der französische Kaffeebestellungen genauso amalgamiert werden wie text-entäusserte Operngesten, lässt Leandre ganze Welten vokaler Praxis aus den Fugen geraten; Worte fliegen auf, doch der Sinn hat keine Schwingen. Elisabeth Harnik öffnete am Klavier indessen ein Panoptikum der jüngeren Musikgeschichte; Von Cowell’schen Bansheeklängen bis zum “Prepared Piano” eines John Cage, von zaghaften Jazztupfern bis zur treibenden Rhythmik von Ligeti-Etüden war alles zu hören, was Klaviertechnik bieten kann, verpackt in präzises, zuweilen sprudelig-glissandierendes Spiel. Im Zusammenklang zeigen die beiden Koryphäen zudem ein Gefühl für weite Bögen, die auch radikale Avantgardismen durch Konturierung ihrer Energiegehalte erlebbar machten. — Felix Jurecek

Subtilität & Leidenschaft. Genauso wie die steirische Komponistin und Improvisatorin Elisabeth Harnik die Klangmöglichkeiten ihres Klavieres auszuschöpfen weiß - vom Zupfen, Streichen über Präparationsklänge bis hin zu den üblichen Anschlagstechniken; so tut dies die französische Kontrabassistin Joëlle Léandre, gefragte und gesuchte Partnerin und Interpretin in der internationalen Improvisations- und Jazzszene, kunstvoll mit all den Möglichkeiten, die ihr ihr Streichinstrument bietet. (Und darüber hinaus, wenn sie auch ihre Stimme effektvoll einsetzt.) Beim "Open Music"-Abend im Grazer WIST gestalteten die beiden Musikerinnen einen Abend voller improvisatorischer Momente, in denen sie ihre Kunst und ihr Können ganz in den Dienst kreativer musikalischer Kommunikation gestellt haben; ein Abend aus Abstraktion, Puls, Leidenschaft, Poesie - Subtilität und Ironie. — Franz Josef Kerstinger, Ö1 Zeit-Ton 

Tags: Elisabeth Harnik, Joëlle Léandre, Duo, Piano, Klavier, Prepared Piano, Double Bass, Kontrabass, Trost
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Peter Gannushkin

Harnik / Léandre’s “Tender Music” Available for Pre-Order

“Tender Music”, the debut album of the Elisabeth Harnik – Joëlle Léandre Duo, is now available for pre-order! Beautiful, insightful improvisation pieces by two master-musicians full of creativity and musical knowledge! Recorded by ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corp). Read more..

Mar 20, 2018  |  Share: