If you put on the self-titled debut EP by Some Professional Help and start to question track by track if you’re listening to the same band, you’re not alone. If fact, that’s sort of the point of Scott Alexander’s Bay Area collective. Each of the songs on Some Professional Help features a different band, the only constant being Alexander, the singer, leader and songwriter of this orchestra-leaning indie-rock ensemble.
Initially, Alexander—a bassoon player by trade—tried to form a group with a set lineup, but because all the musicians he felt most comfortable with were committed to other bands and orchestras as well as session work, he wisely chose to use this to advantage. Each song became a different collaboration, pushing the boundaries of how much Alexander could achieve across only six songs.
“Nadja” is one of the EP’s standouts, and in typical Some Professional Help fashion, it’s far from just another song a broken-hearted guy writes for a girl who did him wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s an ode to a woman who’s financial and emotional generosity played a role in the creation of some of the most popular and iconic classical-music pieces of all time. But since we’re over our heads when it comes to anything and everything classical-music-related, will let the Peabody- and UCLA-educated Alexander take over from here.
“One of the things that I have always found inspiring about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is that unlike so many composers, he was not a prodigy,” says Alexander. “He didn’t even start composing until he was in his 20s and found no immediate success while squeaking out a paltry income teaching music. Nadja (Nadezhda) Von Meck was a wealthy Russian businesswoman who started a correspondence by mail with Tchaikovsky. Upon learning that he was considering leaving music for a more lucrative professions, she decided to support him financially so that he could devote himself full-time to composition. Nadja stipulated that they were never to meet in person. The 13 years of support Nadja gave was not just a financial fortune, but an emotional one. They exchanged more than 1,200 letters between 1877 and 1890. She became his most intimate confidant and, eventually, went bankrupt herself. Without Nadja, Tchaikovsky’s name and music would likely have been forgotten. There would be no Swan Lake or 1812 Overture, and there would be no Symphony Pathétique.”
Of course, a song with such high-minded lyrical ambitions deserves more than your typical, run-of-the-mill music video. Alexander immediately thought of cellist Marica Petrey, a filmmaker who studied performing arts in St. Petersburg, to direct the clip. Again, since the 19th century Russian art scene and how it relates to 21st century indie rock is way above our pay grade, we’ll turn it over to Petrey.
“In search for some common ground between our indie songwriter and the world of a 19th century Russian composer, I began with the color palette,” says Petrey. “Gold was an easy choice: Everything about century Russian literature, music and dance feels opulent to me—19th century Russian literature is even referred to as the ‘Golden Age.’ The song’s narrator was in desperate need of money, his prayers and letters falling on deaf ears. Ultimately, I thought it would be fun to combine an American Gothic look with the palette and feel of Russian iconography—religious paintings that were hung in the corner of Russian households for centuries, serving as one’s window into the sacred or heavenly world. Turning the narrator’s fixation, Nadja, into an icon-brought-to-life felt appropriate since Scott’s narrator was constantly peering into the unattainable, wishing for the same kind of patronage that Tchaikovsky was so fortunate to have with Nadezhda Von Meck.”
We’re sure you’ll lover the result of the collaboration between Alexander and Petrey as much as we do. We’re proud to premiere the video for “Nadja” today on magnetmagazine.com. Watch it now. You might learn something. We did.