From 20-29 October the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ hosts the 6th edition of the Cello Biennale. As always the programme is packed from morning till night with concerts, masterclasses, a market for cello builders and music publishers, and a competition for young cellists.
The opening concert on Friday 21 presents Unraveled, a new work by Composer Laureate Mayke Nas, for the four cellists of the Biennale Cello Band, Slagwerk Den Haag and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
On Wednesday 26 October Jean-Guihen Queyras will play the Dutch première of the Cello Concerto by Gilbert Amy (1936), with the Symphony Orchestra of the Amsterdam Conservatoire. The French cellist is a great champion of Amy, who is little known in Holland. Queyras was kind enough to answer five questions after his concert in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ on 13 October.
What attracts you in Amy’s Cello Concerto?
I love this concerto first of all because it’s very expressive. He composed it in 2000 when he was already a mature person, and I find that in his later works he is very free. Particularly in this piece: it sings, tells a story and has a strong rhetoric, though the form is rhapsodic.
Sometimes this is a bit puzzling, for it’s more or less divided into eight short parts which are all related, however freely. The overall quality has an absolute French flair: in the orchestration you can hear that there is a kind of inspiration, a parenthood of composers such as Ravel and Messiaen.
Amy studied with Messiaen, but also with Stockhausen, and worked together with Boulez. Do you hear their influence, too?
Yes, you can definitely hear Gilbert’s background, and again, this is what I find particularly interesting in this concerto. You can see that he worked with quite rational persons – in a time when ‘brain’ was the thing, at least in France. Directly after World War II the serialism of Boulez and Stockhausen was paramount, so there is that aspect.
But take Stockhausen: he was very rational, and yet had a very mystical side. Gilbert doesn’t have that, he is not mystical at all, but apart from the rational concept, there is a sort of quality where you may even hear some Dutilleux.
Sometimes it is almost like a solo cello piece, with mewing gulls, or softly caressing sounds. How do you see the relation between your instrument and the orchestra?
That’s again a very French thing. You have a main line, the solo line, which is quite continuous, I play almost all the time. The orchestra is very often used as a resonance body of the cello, like a prolongation of its sound. This working with resonance is really very French. It’s what Boulez does, and many other composers, I’d call this typical français.
The writing for my instrument is very classical, Gilbert doesn’t use extended techniques or other modernist playing instructions. When you see the score you’re not like: oh, my god, what’s this? The writing is absolutely ‘normal’, so in principle everyone can perform it. There is a lot of interaction with the percussion, and I love to connect with this and make my instrument sound unlike a cello. It’s a great compliment you should feel caressed by my playing.
You just performed the Double Concerto for Piano, Cello and ensemble by György Kurtág, are there similarities with the way Amy treats your instrument?
I would say that in the melodic line itself, there are some common things between Kurtág and Amy. The main difference however is that Kurtág will never write a ‘concerto’ in the traditional sense. The Double Concerto we just played is one of my favourite pieces in the world, but it’s not really a concerto.
As the cello and piano, the two soloists, we are very often just part of this incredible universe that you can’t define. In the case of Gilbert we’re absolutely dealing with a classical concerto in the sense that you have one major character that just goes on and on. Nothing will stop him or her, and the orchestra comments and responds, so that’s quite different.
Gilbert Amy is hardly known in the Netherlands, how about France?
Gilbert is very well-known in the French musical world, though of course mainly in the scene of new music. Obviously he didn’t become as notorious and famous as Boulez, who was ten years older.
With some hesitation I’d say that being a French composer in that time – next to Boulez – was probably the most difficult task one can imagine. Taking this into account I think he was doing, and is doing, very well. He found his own voice and that’s the most important.