Miha Gantar, Embracing the possibilities of the Infinite!

Written by | Featured Interviews, Interviews

Editors Note: This Interview was the cover story for the Autumn 2024 edition of the Jazz In Europe print magazine. Since the release of this edition, Miha has now released the follow-up 5 CD Box set titled “NYC” that he spoke about in this Interview. You can find details of this latest release on his website or at the Cleanfeed Records shop on Bandcamp.

Slovenia-born pianist Miha Gantar has unveiled his latest set, a remarkable 5-disc box set titled “Amsterdam.” This ambitious release delves into a myriad of musical landscapes, encompassing solo and duo piano performances, a captivating piece with a string quartet, and the opening showcase of a piano trio setting. In the liner notes, the esteemed Reggie Workman aptly notes, “It’s a clever idea, but would be only half as interesting if the music wasn’t exceptional. Each piece of this rather massive work entices and lends the effect of anticipation, as if ‘to be going on to a next chapter of an engrossing book.’” The 5 CD Box set titled “Amsterdam” transcends being just a collection of musical compositions; it stands as a testament to the artist’s evolution, a celebration of profound human emotions, and an exhilarating auditory journey that beckons the audience to explore limitless horizons through the universal language of jazz. In this exclusive interview, we sat down with Miha to delve into the vision behind this project and to uncover the depths of his artistic journey.

Miha’s musical journey began at a very young age, with fond memories dating back to when he was just 5 years old. He recollected those early days, saying, “I can remember being in the basket on my grandfather’s bike and we were just singing. My grandfather was a choir conductor, and I spent a lot of my early years with my grandparents, there was music on all the time.” His musical exposure went beyond singing, as he spent countless hours listening to classical CDs, which were a prevalent presence in his early life.

The piano became Miha’s instrument of choice, a passion that has persisted throughout his musical journey. He had access to a piano at his grandparents’ house from a very young age, and this early fascination with the instrument led him to pursue formal piano lessons. While his initial musical education was rooted in classical music, he began to explore jazz towards the end of his primary music education. Miha explained, “I started to develop the urge to create on my own and jazz as a field offered that to me.” Recognizing his growing interest in jazz, Miha’s teachers supported and guided him in this new direction.

Miha’s journey through piano studies took him on a path that led him from Slovenia to Graz in Austria and eventually to New York. He shared, “New York was always a dream of mine, that’s where I really wanted to study. He had started at the New School of Music in the fall of 2019, and just six months later, the pandemic hit. Despite this setback, he still managed to immerse himself in the city’s musical culture, finding great inspiration in the way people talked about and nurtured music, as well as in their remarkable performances.

Opting not to return to his native Slovenia after his New York experience, Miha made the deliberate choice to establish himself in Amsterdam. He noted, “Amsterdam seemed like the perfect city for me. It’s a truly cosmopolitan city with a vibrant music scene. I thought this would be a great place to develop as a musician in the long term, both from a position of stability and curiosity. Musically, the energy there reminds me of New York; it’s a very vibrant city in that regard.”

I was eager to delve into Miha’s artistic vision, especially regarding his latest ambitious 5-disc box set, titled “Amsterdam,” which has just been released. This extensive collection ventures into multiple musical realms, encompassing solo and duo piano performances, as well as a captivating peice with string quartet and the opening disc with a piano trio setting.

In the process of creating this project, Miha sought to introduce himself to the world on his own terms. Discussing the vision behind this latest release, he expressed, “The journey for this set started in 2020 when I moved to Amsterdam. It’s interesting because during the process of creating this project, I not only introduced myself to the world but I also introduced myself to myself!” He went on to explain, “All the experiences I have had during my life and all the influences of my studies seemed to come together to form a core artistic vision. I hadn’t experienced that before.” Miha realized that having the opportunity to work on his own terms in the studio was a sacred experience for him. “I was able to purely exist in the sound, in the music.” He emphasized that one of his primary motivations is to share that vision and the associated emotions with the public.

Miha Gantar with the Koma String Quartet | Photo by Milagro Elstak

As mentioned earlier, Miha’s 5-disc box set, “Amsterdam,” showcases a diverse range of lineups, with each disc featuring a different configuration, including a piano trio, piano with a string quartet, a duo with saxophone and clarinet, solo piano, and duo piano. This selection of settings was carefully chosen to enable Miha to express his artistic vision in the broadest possible manner.

His aim was to harmonize horizons with fellow musicians whom he greatly admired, each with their distinct musical voices. Miha’s intention was to blend these individual voices to create something truly unique, with the ultimate goal of touching the emotions and souls of those who experience his music.

I wanted to know more about the structure and compositional process behind Miha’s music, especially considering its non-traditional form. While the music displays a sense of structure, it doesn’t adhere to traditional conventions. Each piece within the box set primarily evolved in the studio, allowing for an organic and spontaneous creative process.

Miha explained that the approach to composing and structuring his music was contingent upon the specific lineup or group of musicians he was collaborating with for each project. He emphasized that his goals for each piece, as well as his pre-production work with the musicians, were critical in shaping the final composition. For instance, in the collaboration with Michael Moore, Miha could afford to let the music emerge naturally due to Moore’s extensive improvisational experience. However, for the piano trio set, Miha and the ensemble engaged in extensive rehearsals to develop systems that defined their sound, form, and energy state. This was accomplished without relying on traditional notation; instead, he worked from a series of sketches.

In essence, Miha’s message was clear: the compositional approach and musical vision for each piece depended on the specific project, with the common goal being the creation of music that would emerge organically and authentically.

While working in a controlled environment like a recording studio provides its own set of challenges and indeed advantages, transitioning that music to a live performance setting adds a different layer of complexity. I was curious to understand Miha’s perspective on the process of translating his studio work to the stage.

Miha shared his insights on performing the music live, emphasizing the importance of distilling the essence of the group’s message and making it replicable in a live setting. He also highlighted the significant impact of the audience’s energy on the music, particularly in performances with extensive improvisation. Furthermore, Miha recognized the role of specific live environments in enhancing the experience. He illustrated this by noting that the vocal duo he forms with Marta Arpini, that appeared on his first Box set, thrives in small and intimate venues, while the piano trio excels in larger spaces, allowing the music’s energy to evolve more dynamically.

Returning to the notion of releasing the music as a 5-CD box set, it’s interesting to consider this approach in a musical landscape where streaming largely dominates music consumption, and the “concept album, especially in non-classical genres, is often associated with the 1970s. I was eager to delve deeper into Miha’s rationale behind this choice.

Miha emphasized, “I mentioned earlier that I wanted to produce music on my own terms, and a major aspect of this is to be able to curate how the music is presented and to tell a story with the work as a whole.”

He went on to explain that this approach grants him the ability to take greater creative risks. he also expressed that in this format, each aspect of the music contextualizes the other. He stated, “If I only released an album here and then another album there, I think they would each exist in a kind of vacuum.”

Miha Gantar-and-Michae Moore | Photo by Milagro

Miha added, “I think every recording a musician does is a snapshot in time, and in this way, I’m signifying that all of this music is connected.”

Releasing music in this manner in the current industry landscape is far from common. Many labels are primarily concentrated on generating streaming numbers, and it takes an organization with a distinctive vision to support a release of this nature. Miha discovered a partner who shared his vision in the form of the Portuguese label, Clean Feed Records.

Miha shared his first encounter with Pedro Costa from Clean Feed, which occurred at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2018. His producer, who was also a Clean Feed artist, introduced him to Pedro during the festival.

Clean Feed Records had been a significant source of inspiration for Miha during his formative years as a musician and when he felt he had accumulated enough material, he reached out to Pedro at Clean Feed Records and was fortunate to be given the opportunity to release his music on the label.

Miha expressed that collaborating with Clean Feed is a perfect synergy when it comes to sharing a musical vision. This partnership enabled him to bring his artistic ideas to life. Following the completion of the recently released box set, Miha has been anything but idle. During this period, he’s been diligently crafting the follow-up to this project. Once again, it will be a box set, but this time, the recording took place in New York, featuring an entirely new ensemble of musicians.

Miha’s Amsterdam set is just a part of his larger vision, which involves traveling to various musical hubs around the world to replicate the project with local musicians. He explained, “There are so many musicians worldwide who have been a great source of inspiration to me and whom I deeply respect. I aim to continually document the creative results that emerge when these connections are established.”

Amsterdam marked the project’s inaugural phase, while New York is the second, and Miha has already laid the groundwork for future endeavors. He enthusiastically shared, “The box set from the New York sessions is set to be released in the spring of the following year, and then I’ll be embarking on the next leg of this musical journey.”

Beyond the projects we’ve discussed, I was eager to delve into Miha’s future plans. He shared that he’s presently engaged in composing a Big Band album, unveiling his commitment to exploring the realm of larger musical ensembles. Additionally, he aspires to expand his role as a composer, particularly within the classical music domain, with a long-term vision of composing a symphony.

Miha also expressed his intention to deepen his knowledge of the jazz tradition, emphasizing that a solid grasp of the genre’s foundations is essential to pushing it forward creatively. Lastly, outside the realm of music, he has a distinct ambition: “Getting a pilot’s license is firmly on my bucket list.” It seems Miha’s future is poised for a vibrant blend of musical exploration and high-flying aspirations.

Last modified: May 25, 2024