Though born in 1988, Martin Kohlstedt has been around for longer than one would expect of such a young man. He has been involved in multiple projects and has even founded his own production company
Kohlstedt seems to be catering to a very specific audience with his work. It’s those people who enjoy piano music but not in the traditional classical style. Kohlstedt, because he received a traditional training, does use classical elements, but they’re stripped down. The overall nature of his pieces is quite simplistic, which makes his music far more contemporary than the work of other pianists.
His two solo albums Tag (2012) and Nacht (2014) consist exclusively of piano recordings without additional instruments and are seemingly unedited, for even the pedals and the mechanics of the piano are audible. Both works mark a turning point in his career that had become too much about selling his work rather than doing things from the heart, as he said in an interview at Immergut Festival 2016 in Neustrelitz.
The first time I saw him was in May 2015 at his gig at Peter-Weiss-Haus Rostock and he stayed true to the nature of his two solo albums. There was barely any stage lighting, no amplification and no supporting act. The sound of the instrument just managed to fill the venue and, in contrast to similar settings with a different musician, nobody fell asleep. His compositions are intriguing and occasionally even catchy, but not in the way that they become annoying. Before every other song, Kohlstedt shared with the audience brief anecdotes that gave insights into the creation of the piece or his relationship with it. He seemed to be an introverted character when he talked to the audience, calm and collected, and very well-considered in his choice of words. That changed every time he turned around on his chair to play the next tune.
One and a half years later, on 27 November 2015 to be precise, I went to one of his solo shows for the second time. He was playing at the Dreikönigskirche in Dresden-Neustadt, a venue that played a particular part in that night’s concert. As I’ve learned from some of his videos on YouTube, Kohlstedt likes meddling with his own material and coming up with new mixes of songs that started out as bare piano pieces. It made sense for him to expand into the sphere of electronic music, a genre that he has already worked with in multiple projects. Also, it allows him to play larger venues and festivals.
Not only were the room and the stage a lot larger, along with the grand piano that he played he used a Fender Rhodes keyboard, a synthesizer, a loop station and another foot-controlled effect board. That night, only a few of Kohlstedt’s songs remained naked piano pieces. And even those did change. He hardly ever plays a song the same way twice, no matter if he adds digital effects to them or not. He says his songs are his sons and they age and develop as time goes by. His albums are merely snapshots of his children. I was less aware of that when I first saw him because I wasn’t as familiar with his songs back then.
However, the spin he put on his pieces with his electronic equipment is arguably of a different scale than the changes that happen within the confines of the keyboard . Kohlstedt did indeed stick to the core elements of the compositions but he twisted them around, distorting them, adding rhythmical elements and changed the whole dynamic of the original songs. A quiet piano piece turned into something that sounded like the gentle breeze of an impending storm and then dissolved into a thunderous finale. The stage lighting, which was still unostentatious but more sophisticated this time, together with the baroque altar turned certain parts of the performance into monumental and surreal moments that made me think of a sinister count sitting in his castle playing the organ while there’s a thunderstorm outside the window.
Although he really seems like a peculiar character, Martin Kohlstedt has something that is a rare trait among musicians: credibility. Even though his facial expression oscillates between soothing pleasure and agitated mania, which might evoke the idea that you’re watching a creepy lunatic hammering away on a piano, he does not loose that trait. This is entirely credited to his music as it gives him a great deal of latitude. Kohlstedt is also an artist who doesn’t shy away from a chat with audience members after the show. Needless to say, I’ve got a very reliable source saying that a new album will be released by the end of 2017. I can’t wait. And I will definitely go to see him again.