Mathilde Wantenaar: Lush harmonies in new piece for Dutch Radio Choir

Mathilde Wantenaar

This season NTRZaterdagMatinee makes up for decades of neglecting female composers, featuring well-known names such as Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin next to lesser-known composers such as Calliope Tsoupaki and Kate Whitley. On Saturday 23 March the Dutch Radio Choir will present both Gubaidulina’s Canticle of the Sun and Dit zijn de bleeke, bleeklichte weken by Mathilde Wantenaar.

This piece for choir a cappella was commissioned by the renowned radio series in Concertgebouw Amsterdam. As always the concert will be aired live on Radio 4. Underneath you find the translation of my text for the programme booklet.

Mathilde Wantenaar (Amsterdam, 1993) has been steadfastly working on her development for years. In 2011 she attracted attention with her entry for the annual composition competition of the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble. Seven years later the wind players asked her for their project Bach & Sufi. “She sliced up the Hohe Messe, inclined her ears towards Persia, and arranged a musical treat that amply transcends good intentions”, opined de Volkskrant.

In 2014 she won the Alba Rosa Viëtor Composition Prize with Sprookjes 1, 2 & 3 for violin and piano, and a year later her Song of Songs for soprano, guitar and percussion won an award in the Princess Christina Composition Competition. She composed pieces for pianist Ralph van Raat, vocal ensemble Wishful Singing and soprano Johannette Zomer. In 2016 she presented the successful chamber opera p e r s o n a r for the Opera Forward Festival of Dutch National Opera. Her Octet for Strings, written for violinist Liza Ferschtman, represented the Netherlands in 2017 at the International Rostrum of Composers.

She studied composition with such diverse teachers as Willem Jeths and Wim Henderickx at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, graduating in 2016. Wantenaar does not limit herself to composing, however. During her studies she also took cello lessons and vocal training, and currently she is enrolled at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague to become a professional singer. She has a great affinity with the human voice and even her purely instrumental compositions are remarkably melodious.

Elusive atmosphere

No wonder her first commission for NTRZaterdagMatinee is a composition for the Dutch Radio Choir. For this a cappella piece she chose a poem by Herman Gorter, Dit zijn de bleeke, bleeklichte weken (which roughly translates as These are the pale, pale weeks). This is not the first time she was inspired by Gorter’s poetry. In 2017 she made a setting of De stille weg (The silent road) for chorus, piano and violin, a commission from the Festival De Muze van Zuid.

Wantenaar was attracted by ‘the stillness, the stratification, the visual, the elusive and the transient’ in Dit zijn de bleeke, bleeklichte weken. The poem evoked strong images in her: ‘In my mind’s eye I envisioned the poet sitting in a quiet room at a table next to the window. The sun is hidden behind an endless expansive cover of white clouds, it is as if the world has been drained of all colour, even though there is a lot of light.’

‘Outside there is life, but in the poet’s room everything sounds muted, it feels as if time is standing still and the sky has solidified. We sit under a bell jar, shimmering dust particles float in the air and in the meantime the world slowly passes us by. It is nice to be there, but at the same time also oppressive and lonely.’

Wantenaar translated this static, somewhat floating feeling into a 3/2 metre, which we often associate with older music. The text is sung largely homophonic and the tempo is low, time seems to stand still. Under the calm atmosphere, however a ‘mildly longing romantic undercurrent is simmering’, says the composer. Underneath this yet another layer is concealed, with a ‘darker feeling of constriction’. The play of light and dark finds its equivalent in a varied dynamic, the tranquillity is expressed in sonorous harmonies. A single dissonant chord echoes the subcutaneous tension that shimmers through the poem.

Concertgebouw 23 March 2.15 pm: NTR ZaterdagMatinee
Dutch Radio Choir /Philipp Ahmann; Ivan Monighetti, cello
Wantenaar – Dit zijn de bleeke, bleeklichte weken (commissoned by NTR ZaterdagMatinee, WP)
Tchaikovsky – Nine Sacred Pieces
Gubaidulina – Canticle of the Sun



About theaderks

Thea Derks is a Dutch music journalist, who studied musicology at Amsterdam University. She' specialized in contemporary music and always has an eye open for women composers. In 2014 she wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw and in 2018 she published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
This entry was posted in music, news, women composers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Mathilde Wantenaar: Lush harmonies in new piece for Dutch Radio Choir

  1. Pingback: Mathilde Wantenaar on her new opera A Song for the Moon: ‘With music you can achieve anything’ | Contemporary Classical – Thea Derks

  2. gsmfloor says:

    Hallo Thea! Ik ben reuze benieuwd naar dit stuk van Mathilde! helemaal onderaan -bij het verdere programma- mijn oog viel erop (sorry!) staat iets wat ik niet begreep: Van Tsjaikovsky ninge sacred pieces. Ik ben niet zo thuis in alle werken van Pjotr, maar ik begrijp inmiddels dat het “nine”moet zijn. Is het zinvol dat nog aan te passen of niet?

    Had je een leuke presentatie van de Os afgelopen weekend? Wanneer zou het zinvol zijn om te informeren bij Astrid in ‘t Veld of zij wat ziet in het vioolconcert van Kuyper met Merel Vercammen? Hartelijke groeten, Gert Floor

    Contemporary Classical – Thea Derks schreef op 2019-03-20 13:57: > theaderks posted: ” This season NTRZaterdagMatinee makes up for > decades of neglecting female composers, featuring well-known names > such as Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin next to lesser-known composers > such as Calliope Tsoupaki and Kate Whitley. On Saturday 23 March the > Du” > >


    • theaderks says:

      Dank Gert, ook voor je correctie van mijn tikfout.
      Ik verheug me ook erg op het nieuwe stuk van Mathilde Wantenaar, miste vandaag nét lunchconcert met de voorpremière.
      De lezing bij boekhandel Broekhuis was een groot succes. Zie ook de foto in mijn agenda.
      Vioolconcert van Elisabeth Kuyper heb ik al besproken met Astrid in ‘t veld Ik heb haar ook de opname gegeven maar het kost tijd en er zijn veel factoren waar rekening mee moet worden gehouden….


  3. theaderks says:

    Thanks, Clare, always a pleasure to introduce new music to such dedicated listeners like you!


  4. Clare Shore says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Mathilde Wantenaar, Thea … I’m listening to some of her works on SoundCloud as we speak! Wishing her good luck on Saturday’s premiere ❤


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.