Aart Strootman wins Gaudeamus Award #Gaud17

On Sunday 10 September the Gaudeamus Award for composers under 30 was granted to the Dutch guitarist, composer and instrument designer Aart Strootman (1987) in TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht. The jury, consisting of Joe Cutler, Christopher Trapani and Mayke Nas, chose him from the 5 nominees who had passed their first selection.

For this year’s edition 288 scores were handed in, from 36 different countries. The Gaudeamus Award consists of a commission of € 5000 for a new piece to be premiered in the next Gaudeamus Muziekweek. Strootman’s fellow nominees were the Americans Chaz Underriner, Ethan Braun and Sky Macklay, and the Serbian Ivan Vukosavljevic.

The jury comments on Strootman: ‘An artist who sees no boundaries between performing, composing, improvising, and designing instruments. He’s a complete original, whose sonic invention is an inspiration and who approaches composition with a remarkable freshness, reinventing the sound of each instrument within an ensemble down to the finest detail. A performer, an improviser, an inventor and a unique composer.’

Strootman was happily surprised: ‘I hadn’t expected to win the prize, I’m very honoured.’ Asked what he had in mind for the commission, he answered: ‘I don’t know yet. I’m immersed in writing a new piece for the Bang on a Can All Stars at the moment, for the upcoming November Music Festival. I’m going to concentrate on that and work very hard. – But first I’m going to have a stiff drink.’

Like last year, the jury selection betrayed a predilection for composers focussing on sound and texture. From the jury report we learn that Underriner ‘shows extreme attention to detail’; Braun writes ‘beautifully poised music’; Vukosavljevic ‘understands the physicality of sound’, while Macklay ‘finely balances process and intuition’.

However enchanting their works may be, of the 5 composers Macklay seems to be the only who dares surprise us with outright recognizable melodies and rhythms. She also likes to poke fun at tradition, as in her contageous Many Many Cadences for string quartet.


Insomnio performing Ballet Mécanique TivoliVredenburg 10-9-2017 (c) Herre Vermeer

With her spunk Macklay comes closest in spirit to ‘Bad boy of music’ George Antheil, whose Ballet Mécanique sparked off the afternoon. It got a dazzling performance by the Utrecht based ensemble Insomnio under the baton of Ulrich Pöhl.

This high energy piece for percussion, sirens, electric bells, (player) piano’s and airplane propellers is a modern classic. Antheil wrote it in 1924, combining the machine-like roar of the futurists with Stravinskian ostinati and repetitive motifs that pre-echo the minimalists. Pöhl and his musicians blew the roof off TivoliVredenburg and got a thunderous applause.

One would wish young music pioniers would venture further into unmapped territories. Exploring the physicality of sound and the effect of layering chords may lead to hypnotizing, meditative textures, but the overall soundworld becomes so similar you can hardly tell one composer from another. Hopefully next year’s jury will have more ear for truly original voices and select a wider variety of styles, so a new Antheil will not be overlooked.




About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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