CLIFFORD BORG: BEYOND CLASSICAL MUSIC
A few years back, pianist Clifford Borg had approached me with a mock-up of a double album he was planning to release. It was an ambitious project to undertake for a budding musician with just one album to his name, but an exciting one too. For various reasons, he eventually abandoned the idea of a two-CD release, opting instead to put the records out separately. The first of these was Origin, a collection of Borg’s original classical compositions released in 2008. The album attracted a lot of positive critique locally and abroad, helping the young pianist to establish himself at the forefront of Malta’s new generation of neo-classical composers.
Six years on, the second disc, Cross-Origin, is practically finished. Unlike its predecessor, it is an eclectic foray into other genres, capturing other sides to Borg’s musical character that venture beyond classical music. Borg’s music to date has often been tagged as chillout or new age, and to some extent, perhaps it is. At its core however, there is a classical heart beating; one that is not averse to crossing over into other sounds and styles. Borg’s eclectic tastes are also evident in his recent collaboration with the band Counting Clouds, whose latest album Dream Sequence features Borg on piano. With two albums on the go, it’s hardly surprising that, bar a performance in Belgium last summer, he’s kept a relatively low profile in recent months, but took some time to answer a few questions about what he’s been up to and what lies ahead.
How do you balance the classical and contemporary sides of your musical character and how does one impact the other when it comes to composing?
One needs to be versatile. I do love modern synthesised sounds, but let’s not forget that I am a pianist first and foremost and so the foundations of all my compositions start on the piano. For Cross-Origin, I started by recording the original piano pieces on keyboards, extracting different tracks from the piano pieces and converting them into different sounds. The rest of the arrangement was added on later.
Having performed countless foreign gigs, do you feel there’s something different about how audiences abroad and local ones respond to your music, and do you have a particular favourite performance?
I feel that audiences abroad tend to be more open about their feelings and the way they react to new music. If I have to choose just one favourite performance, then it would have to be the one at St James church in London in 2009. Others also dear to my heart include the Salle Rossini in Paris in 2007, and performing an exclusive concert for President George Abela last year.
More recently, you collaborated with US band Counting Clouds. How did you get together and what aspects did you find you connected most?
We first hooked up around five years ago via You Tube. They’d heard my songs and felt that my style would be perfect for what they were doing. After some time communicating, I didn’t hear from them for a while until, last December. They asked me to play piano on their latest album, Dream Sequence, which was released last month on Go Fish Records. I only had a month and a half to record all the piano parts, but I do love a challenge. Listening to the finished product, I’m happy I accepted.
Was it difficult working over a long distance?
Working virtually certainly had its challenges. I decided to record the piano parts at home rather than in a studio, but I didn’t really know how to set it all up. A friend helped me figure out how to install and use the necessary software to record music, which wasn’t easy. Eventually I got the hang of it and sent the files over to label owner and band manager Mike Wornath and vocalist Vionna Chamberlain, who mixed and mastered all the tracks on the album. Having to communicate online was sometimes frustrating. But on the other hand I think it’s rather fascinating how the internet made it possible for people on different parts of the planet, who never met, to produce an album together. In the few weeks it has been out, the album has been doing very well, with one of the tracks picked up for inclusion on a Ministry of Sound release.
You’re quite close to releasing your third album. How does it compare to the music you’ve recorded so far in terms of sound, direction and influence, and what you are reaching for as a musician?
The two albums I’ve released to date, 2000’s Drifted and 2008’s Origin were both piano-based. I wanted this album to sound different and reach a bigger audience, which is why Cross-Origin features a variety of sounds and styles – from dance music, electro-tango and Bossa Nova to swing, ambient, chillout and world music. The piano remains present as the main element. I also sing on two of the songs, so that’s another side of me that’s never been heard.
What is next in your schedule for 2014, and when will the first taste of your upcoming album be released?
I’m playing in London in a few days’ time. The concert is being organised by the British High Commission to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Malta’s Freedom Day. I will be performing original pieces, while Thea Garrett will sing two of my compositions, Longing Dawn and Ave Maria. On May 30, I have another piano performance in Belgium. Sometime during the coming months I will be releasing Emergence as the first single off the new album. It’s a remix of the original version that appeared on the Origin album. We’ve already been working on the music video for the song with Marlon Polidano, who has already produced fantastic videos for other local artists. I’m planning to release the album digitally at first, with the physical CD format to be launched at a later stage.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (23 March 2014)