INTERVIEWS - Michael Hoppé
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Vangeliscollector.com had the opportunity to talk with Michael Hoppé about his new album, Solace, his friendship with Vangelis, and how it came to be that Vangelis performed the Michael Hoppé composition, "The Parting", on Michael's new album. Mr. Hoppé was wonderful to talk to, a very nice man whose passion for music was evident immediately. It was truly a pleasure talking to him! I feel that this is more of a conversation than an interview, and I thank him very much for sharing his memories with me and with all of us.
Michael Hoppé - A Guide Down Memory Lane
by Uncle Don
Vangeliscollector: Hi Michael, this is Don at Vangeliscollector.com. Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. I should warn you up front, I am not a professional journalist. I'm a big Vangelis fan and you wrote in your e-mail and on your website that you're a big fan of his and that he has been a big influence on you. If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you about your days at PolyGram and about your new album, Solace. But before that, I'd like to ask you a question. This topic came up recently in an internet user group (rec.music.newage). The magazine Stereophile, in their February 2003 issue, made some comments about the new age genre. In looking at declining sales figures, they surmised that New Age has run its course as a genre, "dead" if you will. I was wondering what you thought of such a pronouncement?
Michael Hoppé: Basically, New Age music is developing into something else. It hasn't abandoned what its always had...it has developed into other things. It now involves vocals, which wasn't considered "New Age" before Enya, and also has encompassed many styles of world music. New Age music isn't gone, it's just evolved. In many retail outlets, you will find New Age music in the classical music section. For many, New Age is a lifestyle music and the music was "new" back many years ago, but look at Vangelis, whose music has evolved throughout the years. New Age music has had a good run.
vc: I guess from an industry standpoint, which loves to classify music, such a pronouncement about a genre must have some impact.
MH: Well, I think the old "New Age" is on its way out. I am on the Grammy Selection Committee for New Age music, and with five of my colleagues,we sit down every year and we select which albums we think should be considered "New Age"...
vc: Do you think that the New Age category might go by the wayside as far as the Grammys are concerned?
MH: No, I don't think so. There's a great deal of music being produced that fits well into this category that would not fit well at all in other categories, such as pop or classical. Without this category, there would be nowhere for many artists to have their works considered for a Grammy. What would happen to great artists like Kitaro or David Lanz? The Grammys would not be complete without them.
vc: Now, I had this great fear that during this interview, I would mispronounce your last name (laugh-thankfully, Michael laughed too)!
MH: It's Hop-Pay (Hoppé).
vc: Let's talk about PolyGram. Going through your biography, it says you worked there for 15 years. When did you actually start there?
MH: I started on the same day that man landed on the moon. I landed at Deutsche Grammophon (later Polydor) in Hamburg. As my background was in classical music, I was to be the assistant to the head of Deutsche Grammophon. But my involvement in classical music was not used, and instead, I was put into something that I knew nothing about - namely pop music! Eventually, I became the head of Polydor International, and that's when I was involved with Vangelis, when I was in Hamburg (Germany) in '79. So my career started in Hamburg, then I went to Canada for four years, and then back to Hamburg to the head office, and then eventually to New York and finally to Los Angeles.
vc: And you stayed in Los Angeles...
MH: It is a beautiful place really. When I brought Vangelis over here in '86, he really loved it, but we'll get to that later.
vc: You started out in Hamburg, then to Canada, and then back to Hamburg in 1979, when Vangelis signed to Polydor after his RCA contract ended.
MH: Yes, I arrived shortly after he signed, and he was working on the China album at the time. Sometime later, his manager, Yiannis Zagrofos, called me and said Vangelis is working on a film. It was called "Chariots of Fire" and I remember when he told me this, I was writing it down going "Chariots of what?" (laughs). He wrote this music and at the time nobody knew what it was. The film eventually came out and the rest was history.
vc: Did you get to know Vangelis before that time?
MH: Very well. I was very fond of him. We always got on well..I felt I always understood where he was coming from. I love what he does and I am not at all surprised at the fan base he has because he is truly a remarkable artist. He is the most astonishingly gifted musician I have ever met.
vc: And now he has recorded one of your own compositions, "The Parting"...
MH: The piece of music he did for me, he did in one take. No editing. One take. Shall I tell you how that happened?
vc: Oh yes!
MH: I had left PolyGram, and my wife and I were living in Los Angeles, and a concert for Vangelis was arranged here at Royce Hall.
vc: Yes, at UCLA?
MH: That's right. And he was living at the time in New York (in 1986) and I think he was ready for a change. So, he needed to fly here for the concert, and I went to the airport to get him. But he wasn't there. Well, he doesn't like flying very much and I was asked if I would perhaps give him a call. So I called him up and said "V, couldn't you make the plane?" and he said "No, I couldn't stand it...it would be great if you could come over here and fetch me...!"
So I went and brought him here. We spent the evening together. We talked about what I was doing , now that I had left PolyGram, and I sat down and played him a tune called "The Parting". He said, "Yes, lovely...move aside would you?" (laughs) So I got off the piano bench and I asked, could I record this? and he said "Why not!" So I recorded it. And he played "The Parting", a song which I played in about three minutes, and which he performed in around eight minutes, with all his modulations and key changes, and as I said, performed it in one pass.
The 1986 recording was really only a memory until a engineer friend recently offered to clean up the tape, take all the hiss out of it, and transfer "The Parting" to a CD. I thought the track sounded so beautiful. Then I sent it off to Vangelis,actually with no thought of putting it on my own album. We spoke together and he said "My God, I totally forgot I sat down and played that. It brought back so many happy memories...if it is contractually alright I'd like to give it to you as a gift for your own album." We cleared it with his lawyer, and that's how it happened.
vc: You must feel very honoured, because when I think about his discography, there are very few occasions that I can recall of Vangelis recording a composition by another composer like this.
MH: Very honoured. I believe you are right, I don't know, perhaps you know...
vc: I cannot think of anything recent, you perhaps have to go back to the 1960s.
MH: The performance is vintage Vangelis, you can hear all his sounds, the things that he does so effortlessly.
vc: What can you tell me about the rest of Solace?
MH: The album is really remarkable because of the technology involved. There are four orchestral pieces that were recorded in Prague by The Prague Symphony live over the Internet. I never went to Prague. This was done from the studio here in Santa Monica in Los Angeles. We had a monitor here and they had one as well in Prague, and I could see the entire project being recorded live. There was no delay, it was streamed over the Internet. All the music had been sent over as files and then printed out there in Prague. The compositions were really well played by this top-notch orchestra. I could talk to the conductor over the Internet and make suggestions..."perhaps more bass there, less strings", etc. We could control the camera in Prague from our computer in LA, and I could zoom in on the performers. Amazing really! Finally technology has been good for the music business!
The other tracks on Solace were recorded here. They vary from pieces for cello to guitar, violin, soprano vocalise...a variety. All have different textures but form a similar mood of bringing comfort...solace. That's what it is, and with Vangelis' sublime playing completing the record.
vc: Do you think you'll go to Prague someday?
MH: I'd love to. It's a beautiful city. With this album, I did not want to record an entire orchestral album, just a few pieces, and I wondered how I would go about doing it. The technology that allowed me to "go" to Prague and achieve this is a miracle really...
vc: Do you perform live in concert?
MH: I did last November, one of the very first times in my life. I was in Seoul, Korea. I have quite a good following there...
vc: I was going to ask you about that!
MH: They really understand my music there. As I said earlier, Classical music is my background, and many of my compositions share a link with the characteristcs of classical music. In Korea, they love classical music and so the style of my music appeals to many people there. They are a people who respond to music with a lot of heart. I like to think that is what my music has...
When Vangelis performs, one can hear his heart in his music, not just his remarkable technical ability, the colours and the sounds he displays. The heart, the loving depth of his music is something I go for. And I find that many people in Korea, and elsewhere, feel the same way about my compositions.
vc: I enjoyed looking at the pictures of your Korean trip on your website (click here to take a look!), it looks like the adventure of a lifetime.
MH: It was! Wonderful memories of the concert hall with the other Korean performers. It was very moving for me to hear the audience's appreciation for what I was doing.
vc: Will Solace be released there?
MH: Yes it will. It will be a slightly different compilation of tracks, with a different jacket design. A Korean group, "Andante" has recorded some of my songs, and they will appear on this edition.
vc: That's great! I have a friend in Korea who I will send a copy of the US version and he'll send me the Korean version!
MH: That version should hopefully be coming out next month. (Note...it is out now!)
vc: Do you get involved in your sleeve designs?
MH: Yes, on both the US album and the Korean album. On the US album, I was searching for something that I could use for the cover and eventually took the picture myself.
vc: It's a nice shot. Where did you take it?
MH: The place is Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, taken when we were there last July.
vc: I guess between your career at Polydor and your career as a performer, you've traveled the world.
MH: Yes, sometimes too much!.
You know, it's wonderful when you can do what you really love. I remember at the beginning of my career, of being very unsure of myself, even when people like Vangelis told me, "Come on Michael, be an artist!" You see, because I am self-taught, I thought I would be unable to pursue a career in music. I remember being over-awed by the talent I was dealing with at Polydor, and wondered if I had any ability to offer anything at all. Thankfully, I found my own voice...Vangelis was right again!
vc: It must have been an incredible challenge for you, being a record company executive, and having someone like Vangelis encouraging you to be an artist. But being an executive and knowing, from a business perspective, how difficult it is to do that.
MH: In the end, I could not help but do what I do. I did wonder, for the first couple of years..."My God, what have I done?" (laughs) I remember a very close friend and musician had to encourage me to record some of my own music with him. He really encouraged me. He took some of my compositions, and when he played them...I was so moved , I frankly wept. I was that moved. His name is Tim Wheater, and the album was The Yearning. And although I had done two albums previously, this was the first time that I was very much involved as a co-performer as well as the composer. I realized that when somebody takes my music like Tim Wheater or Martin Tillman or other great talents such as featured on Solace, you reach a sense of validation. That's what gave me the strength to carry on. It wasn't a joyride after I left Polydor, that's for sure! Los of nagging doubts...!
MH: I didn't know who I was then. Was I an artist? I wasn't really fullfilled as an exec in the end because I wanted to be one thing but I was another.
vc: I cannot imagine what you went through.
MH: I can tell you the one person that saved me, and that was my wife. She helped me to figure out my own thoughts and to not stand in my own way of what I wanted to do. She helped me to clear all that mental chatter I went through: "What will happen if I do this or that?" She helped ease my head and my heart.
vc: Do you miss the industry at all?
MH: I did, but I don't now. I feel very fulfilled with what I am doing.
vc: Having been an executive yourself, knowing about the drive for sales, I guess you have also had the pressure to produce sales of your music.
MH: Yes, of course. But I haven't waivered. I walk a very definite beat and I have not departed from it...it is exactly what I like doing and want to do. I feel the music is true, and because of this I think, I have developed a loyal fan base. Sales are improving in spite of the trials and tribulations of this crazy business!
vc: I remember reading several Vangelis interviews about the pressure from the record companies to "succeed", especially after Chariots of Fire and continuing to this day.
MH: Yes. Well, with Vangelis, he is a private man and nothing makes him happier than being surrounded by the people he cares for and being able to play. He literally feels a connection to the keyboard. For him, that is success.
vc: Are you surprised that he's stayed in Athens so long?
MH: No, not at all, because he doesn't like flying. And also, I think he's decided to go back to his roots.
vc: Did you go to Athens for the Mythodea concert?
MH: No, I didn't. This was before we re-established contact with each other. Did you go?
vc: No, I was not able to go. I'm content to have the DVD!
MH: Oh yes, it's wonderful. The tenth track on the CD with the two sopranos, it's dazzling.
vc: You talked earlier about bringing him in for the 1986 concert in Los Angeles. How was that show?
MH: Very good. Vangelis is always incredible and when he is being spontaneous, he is quite extraordinary. The Royce Hall concert...he was legendary then, as now, and people expected a great deal from him. He did not disappoint.
vc: I suspect that he'll never perform again in the United States and I missed that show.
MH: Yes, a lot of it is due to the whole hassle of traveling.
vc: It must be very difficult with all the equipment you have to move around.
MH: And extremely expensive!
vc: If you don't mind, I have a couple of minutia questions for you regarding Vangelis from your days at Polydor, which you might not know the answers to.
vc: The first question is in regard to the 1980 album See You Later. This album was released in just about every major market in the world, except the United States. Do you have any idea why that was?
MH: Probably...this was before Chariots of Fire, correct?
MH: Unfortunately, this was a time when the company had limited interest in what Vangelis was doing, and it is possible that the particular territory was lost for Polydor at the time See You Later was released. I'm pretty sure we had it out in Canada. The US territory I believe was lost due to disinterest.
vc: Suddenly, Chariots of Fire was released and that changed everything.
MH: Yes it did.
vc: Vangelis spoke a lot in interviews about the pressure to release hits after Chariots of Fire. Of course, Blade Runner came out afterwards and there was great expectation that it would be released, but it didn't...
MH: Right. Actually, first there was Missing, but there was only something like 18 minutes of music, so that wasn't released, and I think he did not, or Polydor did not want to make an albums-length worth of music for it. (VC note: it must have been Polydor, as a bootleg has recently surfaced of a full-length soundtrack) Regarding Blade Runner, I think there was a contractual difficulty and that's why there was an orchestral version of it. It wasn't Vangelis' fault, it was between Warner and Polydor.
vc: Then he had Antarctica in 1983 in Japan only. So there was no worldwide Vangelis solo release from 1981 until Soil Festivities in 1984. Was there a lot of discussion in Polydor about this?
MH: Well, regarding Antarctica, it was originally only planned for the Japanese territory. But then it became a huge hit about those wonderful dogs, so then Polydor wanted to go with it worldwide. But there were initial contractual difficulties later resolved.
vc: It's incredible how Vangelis is involved in these huge hits, quite unexpectedly, like with Antarctica. It also makes me think of 1492 and how that became such a huge hit.
MH: Yes, due to the connection with the boxer, Henry Maske. He was looking for a theme to enter the ring with and Warner knew they had this song for a film that was not a huge success but sounded wonderful. The theme had a life outside its original concept, as all great music seems to have!
vc: Right, his music seems to transcend what its originally released for.
MH: That's what happens with a lot of music... take Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli with the song "Time To Say Goodbye" for Maske. They had that tie-in. It worked perfectly as sales confirmed!
vc: I wanted to say, as we're chatting, I'm looking at your album liner notes, and I read this quote, "Dark clouds become heaven's flowers when kissed by light." How did you discover this quote?
MH: It is by the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, and my grandfather photographed him. My grandfather was a famous society photographer and I have used some of his images on some of my releases. The Poet features a portrait of Tagore on the front. I love his poetry, and when I was considering what to use, I thought this beautiful line was the most appropriate. It really sums up how I feel.
vc: What do you like to do in your spare time?
MH: Well, I like traveling, fly fishing and I like recording my music - especially when it comes out right!
vc: Do you have any new projects you're thinking about?
MH: Oh yes, "thinking" about but let's leave it at that. (laughs) Right now, I really want Solace to reach as many people as possible. I really consider it to be my best work.
vc: How are the people at Spring Hill Music?
MH: They're friends of mine. They've put out four albums of mine. The last one with Tim Wheater reading love poems by Carl Sandburg. My grandfather had photographed Sandburg and this image was really the catalyst in making The Lover.
vc: About how many albums have you had released?
MH: About 13 commercial releases, 4, soon to be 5 of them have been released in Korea.
vc: I have another question. Your website, did you set it up yourself?
MH: No, friend of mine did it.
vc: Computers are great. What do you think about the use of computers to download music, file swapping, that sort of thing that seems to be increasing. I would think as an artist it might be frustrating...
MH: In a way it is. I remember speaking with someone recently who said she really like my last album and then she said "I don't want to upset you but I download the other 11 albums." (laughs) My feeling is if one has the privilege, as I do, of being able to do what you want and be in the creative business that I am in...then it is my own determination to do so. If people are downloading my music for nothing, I only hope that the music is helping to improve their life. I really love the thought of people enjoying what I do...When I receive letters from fans who enjoy my music it helps to make it all worthwhile...burning or no burning!
vc: That's very interesting. Of course, the industry rails against this thing.
MH: Of course, the industry has to be this way. But it won't always be this way. The industry will evolve.There will be more efficient ways to purchase downloads.
vc: Yes, I hear you. Of course, for me as a collector, to think about music as something you can only download to a hard drive, that would be very sad! (laughs)
MH: Yes, I know what you mean. There's a certain quality about "ownership," especially at a certain age. I think when I was younger, music was almost a form of kleenax, disposible, but necessary. Perhaps as you get older, you buy less but keep more of those things that are more precious to you.
vc: For me, it's historical. I hope you do not mind the freeflowing format of this interview!
MH: No, not at all. I am rather enjoying it.
vc: Well, let me switch gears again. You became friends with Vangelis during your time at Polydor, and I believe he left that label about the same time as you did. Mask was his last solo album, and he had Invisible Connections on the Deutsche Grammophon label...
MH: Yes, he always wanted to do something for that label, so when he had success with Chariots of Fire, Deutsche Grammophon took his request seriously. I then put him in touch with Deutsche Grammophon and they did meet. Probably, that's why he's been constantly developing, even back then, to where he is now, with a Mythodea-type project.
You see, Vangelis has no limitations...
vc: That's the amazing thing about him. You think he is heading in a certain direction, like with El Greco and Mythodea, and then he releases this piece of music for FIFA that has been remixed for clubs.
MH: There is nothing musically that he cannot do. And as you know, almost all of what he does is recorded in one take. Like for Blade Runner, I was there with him when he was recording, and he would be looking at this monitor in front of his keyboards, just looking at it and he would record the score right then and there, that's it.
vc: You've been to his Nemo Studio?
MH: Oh, many times.
vc: What can you tell me about it?
MH: I remember as head of Polydor International, we had a three-day workshop in London, and one of those nights was spent at his studio. I don't really remember all of the details, but I was recently looking at some images of the studio and saw pictures of some glass balls, and I was given one by Vangelis and only then realized where it came from when I saw the photo! (laughs)
vc: I read these amazing stories about Nemo and think about what a creative time there in his life...people were in and out, numerous musicians coming and going...
MH: People would come in off the street. There was this Irish worker who walked in, who had a really great voice. He just walked in. Of course, he did some albums with Jon Anderson there. Lots of things happening there...
vc: Did you ever try to convince him to move to Hamburg where you were?
MH: Oh no, I would have never done that. After London, I believe he settled in Paris...
vc: He stayed in America briefly, correct?
MH: Yes, around '85-'86.
vc: He didn't stay in America long. I don't think he liked it! (laughs)
MH: No, he loved it here. He didn't leave because he didn't like it. He left because he had to go to Court.
vc: Ah, the lawsuit over Chariots of Fire.
MH: Yes, in London. He had to be there. The lawsuit was a terrible thing and totally unjustified, brought by some fellow who stayed with him briefly at the studio...
vc: Stavros Logaridis. Thank God Vangelis won that case.
MH: Yes. That is why he left this country.
vc: So he might have stayed here if not for that?
MH: No doubt at all that he would have stayed here considerably longer because over here in LA, where he was living, it looked very much like Greece. He was very much at home here.
vc: It breaks my heart to hear that. (VC note: I had many visions flashing through my head when I heard this, living in the US as I do, of the projects he might have done here in the States if he would have stayed...) He still has his management office in LA and I often wonder if he'll come back to the States to visit his office manager, Cherry Vanilla, who runs his operations here. Have you met her?
MH: I have not met her yet, hopefully will do that soon. I think the biggest thing simply is that he just hates flying.
vc: I've read those stories that he'd much rather take a luxury cruise ship or simply dirve.
MH: Yes, it's true. But that is why he left here. He was happy here. He was working on the score for a ballet, Beauty and the Beast.
vc: He did that over the phone to London.
MH: That's right. I was with him in the studio when he was doing it.
vc: I've heard little excerpts. As a fan, I would love to hear every little piece of music. I guess he records all the time.
MH: That's right. He came out to our place here and you could tell that he was the most relaxed sitting at a keyboard.
vc: Do you feel the same way when you sit at the keyboard?
MH: In my performance in Korea, I had to overcome my nervousness in performing. When I play, it's generally to record. I do perform sometimes for people here. Let's just say I'm much more conscious about it than dear old Vangelis! (laughs)
vc: After this great chat, I am really anxious to hear your new album!
MH: As you know, Vangelis just performs so beautifully, and this track on the end just makes a wonderful fading out to Solace. He really is my idol.
vc: Michael, thank you very much for sharing your memories with me, and best of luck with your new release, Solace.
MH: You're very welcome.
I had such a great time talking to Michael, he was very open and never tired, even though I kept him on the phone for a long time! Please take a look at his website, www.michaelhoppe.com, and take a listen to his music. It is truly a reflection of this warm, friendly man.
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