Hannes Minnaar is in luck. His #corona tour with Bach’s Goldberg Variations starts on July 1, the exact day when the maximum of a hundred visitors per concert is released. – Provided the concertgoers keep a distance of 1.5 meters et cetera. So the Grote Kerk in Zwolle can admit considerably more people than expected, but even so the concert is already completely sold out. The lucky ones who have obtained a ticket will also be treated to the world premiere of Gedanken zu Bach by Daan Manneke.
Manneke composed this by way of a prelude to the Goldberg Variations, at the special request of Hannes Minnaar, whose name does not immediately trigger associations with contemporary music. ‘But I’ve always been interested in it’, says the young pianist. ‘As a teenager I played music by composers such as György Ligeti, Simeon ten Holt and JacobTV, on my own initiative!’ – This changed when he enrolled at the Amsterdam Conservatory: ‘During my studies the emphasis was on the classical-romantic repertoire.’
In 2010 his career gained momentum when he won third prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition. ‘As a result, I was naturally cast into the role of classical piano virtuoso and invited to play concertos by Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov. Fantastic repertoire, but with an impressive performance history that weighs heavily on one’s shoulders. Paradoxically however, the interpretations of all those phenomenal predecessors had an inspiring effect on me. Through all the doubts I discovered more and more my own voice. Meanwhile my love for contemporary music never stopped.’
As part of his debut in the series Master Pianists in 2019, he performed three movements from Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus by Messiaen. ‘It fitted in perfectly with my programme, in which I also played music by César Franck. Moreover, I had wanted to play something by the early Messiaen for a long time. Like “Le Baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus” in which we are totally immersed in a beautiful, (almost?) kitschy soundworld, without a trace of irony or guilty pleasure. It simply is loving fascination for a number of melodious chords with a paradisiacal effect. This piece made me wonder what music actually is. It only works if you completely surrender to it.’
Tombeau pour Ton de Leeuw
In the repertoire of his Van Baerle Trio we also find Tombeau pour Ton de Leeuw by Daan Manneke, who studied shortly with Messiaen. Yet Minnaar emphasizes he hears no references to the music of the French grandmaster. ‘In Tombeau pour Ton de Leeuw, Daan Manneke’s love of Renaissance and early Baroque music shines through. The gesticulation is gamba-like, graceful, with modal rather than tonal harmonies. That goes for much of his music, by the way.’
Thanks to this piece, Minnaar met the composer in person. ‘Coincidentally, we are strongly connected through our roots in Zeeland. My father was born and raised in the same village as Daan, Kruiningen – near Yerseke where I grew up myself. Before my father was born, Daan came to my grandparents’ house, where he taught my older uncles and aunts how to play the piano. My own first piano teacher was a sister of Daan’s wife. Despite all this common ground, it took until the performances of Tombeau pour Ton de Leeuw before we finally came into contact with each other.’
In 2018, on the occasion of Manneke’s eightieth birthday, Minnaar played the premiere of his piano cycle Grand Archipelago. The 50-minute piece was written for six different pianists. ‘The six of us sat on stage, listening to each other. In turn we played the movement that was dedicated to us, a wonderful and unique experience. The piece he’d written for Jelena Bazova contained literal quotations from a Bach chorale, to which Daan gave a special, personal twist.’
Minnaar was impressed and asked Manneke to write a solo piece with Bach references for him. ‘Fortunately he reacted positively, and gradually my idea took shape. I was planning a tour with the Goldberg Variations in 2021 and thought it might be interesting to programme the new composition as an introduction to the Goldberg Variations. Daan agreed.’
‘But then this “corona tour” suddenly popped up. Fortunately Daan had already started composing during the crisis, and he succeeded in completing his piece just in time. It takes only about ten minutes, but consists of six movements that together form a whole, a kind of mini Archipelago. In the heart (movement 3) is an intensely sad Aria/Ayre, in which the harmonies of the Bach chorale ‘Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig’ are played by the left hand, while the right hand quotes fragments from ‘Flow my tears’ by John Dowland.’
‘The music around this is totally different, including a berceuse and two toccatas. The composition ends with a powerful dominant chord that acts as a colon for G major, the key of the Goldberg Variations. I am very happy with it. Gedanken zu Bach really reflects our times and fits into the programme wonderfully.’
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The concert in Waalse Kerk of 6 August was streamed live, and is now on YouTube. At the request of Daan Manneke, Hannes place his Gedanken zu Bach not before the Goldberg Variations, but after Variation 15. It works beautifully. (Manneke starts at 39:24).