Silvia Colasanti: ‘The collaboration with Quartetto di Cremona enriches my music’

Silvia Colasanti, photo Barbara Rigon

Whether employing flowing melodies, driving rhythms or dense sound clouds, the music of Silvia Colasanti (Rome, 1975) is always lyrical. On Monday 29 January Quartetto di Cremona will perform the world premiere of Ogni cosa ad ogni cosa ha detto addio in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam.

The concert forms part of the brand new String Quartet Biennale that will take place in the Dutch capital from 27 January to 3 February 2018. The ambitious programme presents a great variety of music in concerts, workshops and masterclasses, opening each morning with a string quartet by Joseph Haydn, mastermind behind the genre.

Apart from classical and modern repertoire there are new works by composers such as Jörg Widmann, José Maria Sánchez-Verdú, and Silvia Colasanti. Colasanti’s quartet was commissioned by the Biennale and will be played in the first early morning concert, along with Haydn’s quartet nr. 28. Colasanti: ‘I have often collaborated with the Quartetto Cremona, which greatly enriches my work.’

Why did you call your quartet ‘Ogni cosa ad ogni cosa ha detto addio’?

This is the title of a collection of poems by the Italian poet Valentino Zeichen. It is dedicated to the city of Rome, not only as it appears to us today, but also at the time of the Roman Empire. Zeichen speaks of themes such as nostalgia and adulthood; the book is about beauty and time that passes, about the city and its contradictions. I must add, however, that I have avoided trying to compose a musical equivalent of the poetry, my quartet is not a translation of poetic lines or thoughts.

I dedicated Ogni cosa ad ogni cosa ha detto addio to Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, secretary of state in the government of Paolo Gentiloni for the department of culture. I admire her because she is not only active in politics but also in numerous organizations in the cultural field, especially music. She is a highly sensitive woman. Our roads crossed only three years ago, but we developed a relationship of friendship and deep esteem.

Your quartet is on the programme with Haydn’s quartet nr 28. In 2010 you wrote ‘Chaos: Commento a Haydn, Hob. XXXI:2’ for chamber orchestra. Will your new string quartet also reflect on Haydn?

No. In my new work our oldest musical roots – those of Monteverdi – coexist with the most advanced achievements of the recent avant-garde. Thus distant and veiled harmonies can resonate in a new shape without losing their original power of expression. The quartet is in a single movement, with alternating contrasting sections. It is based on two different ideas: the one more rhythmic and aggressive, the other more delicate and lyrical. For this second idea I took some harmonies from Monteverdi’s madrigal Darà la notte il sol. I reworked these with modern timbric, formal and harmonic techniques so that the ancient material is still audible, but in a different guise.

You seem to have a preference for melodious music.

Indeed, it’s a shame there were years when it seemed music could no longer be lyrical. But I strongly believe the melodic aspect of music must continue to exist, though reinvented with the means and words of the present. In this respect there are many composers who I admire, but I will mention one name to represent all of them: György Ligeti. He taught us how all the traditional musical parameters can be redefined.

What do you do first when you begin working on a new piece?

I start from a basic idea that I try to crystallize into a structure, a project. This initial idea however is very fluid and absolutely not rigorous, so I always leave open the possibility to welcome new ideas that pop up while composing. I do not work at the piano, nor at the computer, but only use my head. – And paper, pencil and rubber.

Quartetto Cremona often performs your music, did you work together with them on this new piece?

I have known Quartetto di Cremona for over ten years now, practically since it was founded. We worked together for the first time at the Fondazione Spinola-Banna per l’Arte, for a wonderful project on contemporary music. That meeting sparked a close collaboration, also in the writing phase. They have a profound affinity with my music, not only with its technical aspects but also the thoughts and emotions behind it.

This deep understanding allows us to work with mutual profit, both during the composition process and in rehearsals. Their questions, their doubts are a source of reflection for me and have occasionally led me to review something. I always seek a close relationship with the interpreters, and our intense collaboration greatly enriches my work.

More info and tickets for the concert here

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The Berio Project: Joseph Puglia performs 34 Duetti per due violini

On Sunday 21 January the American-Dutch violinist Joseph Puglia will perform all 34 of Luciano Berio’s Duetti per due violini in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam. He’ll play together with 18 different violinists ranging from students to amateurs, including children who boast half size violins. Puglia is first violinist of Asko|Schönberg and a passionate advocate of contemporary music. With this ensemble he premièred the violin concerto Roads to Everywhere the Dutch composer Joey Roukens composed for him in 2016.

That same year Puglia released his first solo cd, in the famed series ‘Ladder of Escape’ of the record label Attaca. It is entirely dedicated to Berio and opens with the 34 Duetti, a series of miniatures dedicated to friends and composers who Berio admired. Each piece tells its own story and uses different techniques; the thirty-four portraits also have an educational function. Berio’s idea was for them to be performed by a combination of professionals and young musicians, as Puglia does both on the cd and during his concert in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.

In some duets, the difficulty of the two parts varies considerably. In number #17, ‘Leonardo Pinzauti’, for example, one violinist only plays a scale, while the other weaves graceful lines through it. On the cd Puglia performs it together with his eight-year-old pupil Sebastian Cynn, who ardently saws away at his violin, giving the music a disarming fragility. Puglia’s oldest partner is Vera Beths, with whom he plays number #6, named after Berio’s colleague Bruno Maderna. Berio catches his joyous personality with playful music, at times evoking a mangled waltz.

Arguably the most beautiful duet is number #20, ‘Edoardo Sanguineti’, which concludes the cycle. At Berio’s request, the second part is played by an orchestra of violins. Puglia performs it with students of the NJO Summer Academy and colleagues such as Peter Brunt and Emmy Storms. For a moment you think you’ve ended up in one of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but soon the exhilarating patterns make way for more introverted lines, interspersed with silences.

Anyone who dedicates a CD to Berio cannot ignore his famous Sequenze, solo pieces in which he explores the possibilities of instruments to the extreme. Sequenza VIII was composed in 1976 for the violinist Carlo Chiarappa. It is based on two tones (A and B), which form the starting point for an immersive exploration of the violin. Ranging from sweet cantilenas to ferocious thumping; from hushed flageolets to swirling, seemingly polyphonic loops. Puglia’s performance is flawless and seemingly effortless, with an impressively refined dynamic and audible pleasure.

The two other pieces on the CD are also very worthwhile. The pianist Ellen Corver proves to be an empathetic accompanist in Due pezzi per violino e pianoforte. The spirited, almost terrifying Corale su Sequenza VIII makes for a deeply exciting listening experience in the combination with Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht.

With this CD Joseph Puglia presents a highly convincing business card, proving once more that ‘modern’ music is not a priori dry and unapproachable, but can be passionate and emotional. Undoubtedly the live experience will be even more exhilarating.

More info and tickets here.
CD available here.  

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Composer Victoria Borisova-Ollas: ‘I wondered what the music of the pharaohs sounded like’

The latest achievement of the Russian-Swedish composer Victoria Borisova-Ollas (1969) is Dracula. This opera based on Bram Stoker’s book on the famous vampire was premièred at The Stockholm Royal Opera in October 2017. ‘A colourful and highly atmospheric musical score’, containing ‘one of the most emotional scenes in any Swedish opera’, wrote a critic.

Seven years earlier she composed her highly successful clarinet concerto Golden Dances of the Pharaohs for Martin Fröst and the Swedish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This was dubbed ‘a wondrous song from an ancient realm that reaches very far’.

On Saturday 13 January 2018 the concerto will be performed in NTRZaterdagMatinee by Residentie Orkest and Martin Fröst. In 2010 Fröst also played the Dutch première, with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; I interviewed Borisova-Ollas for the live broadcast on TROS Radio 4.

You were born in Wladiwostok in the easternmost part of Russia, near China and Korea. Yet you studied in Moscow, why so far away?

Russia is a very big country, indeed. The Soviet educational system was good, but centralized. If you didn’t live in the central towns of Moscow, Leningrad or Kiev, you had to go far away to study. I had wanted to be a composer from when I was very young, but the academy of music in Wladiwostok didn’t offer composition in its curriculum.

Therefore my mother sent me to The Central Music School in Moscow when I was 13 years old; it was the junior department of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Fortunately that same year they decided to do an experiment and let us, who were still quite young, study composition directly as a main subject.

Why did you continue your studies in Sweden and England after graduating?

I went to Sweden because I married a Swedish man. I had already finished my education by then, but found the climate in Sweden very much different from what I was used to in Russia. I realized that in order to understand how the cultural climate works in Sweden, I should continue my schooling there. After having studied at the Malmö College of Music for some years, I took part in an exchange programme with the Royal College of Music in London. I was really curious to find out how people teach composition in different countries.

What were the differences?

I found the British system to be rather similar to the Soviet one. You start studying music from an early age and move through ever higher levels of education to eventually reach the conservatory. A difference was that in England you had more opportunities to study modern styles of composing; during my years in Russia contemporary music was only just being discovered.

In Sweden I couldn’t quite work out where and when musical education actually started. Almost all of my fellow composition students had only had private teaching. There were no schools or music gymnasiums to prepare young people, so it was all up to chance: if you were lucky with your first teacher maybe you could enrol at the conservatoire. The basics of music were learnt at a much later stage than in Russia and Britain. Fortunately all this has changed, there are more music schools now in Sweden.

You composed ‘Golden Dances of the Pharaohs’ in 2010. Was it your own idea, or a commission?

I had been thinking of doing something with ancient Egypt for a while, already. I always have a list of some ten titles in my mind. When Martin Fröst asked me to write a clarinet concerto for him, the theme of the pharaohs immediately sprang to mind. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who commissioned it also thought it a great idea, so we decided to go ahead and do it.

Why ‘golden dances’, not just ‘dances’?

My idea was to create something dancing for Martin Fröst, who is not only a great clarinettist, but also moves very beautifully while playing. When I was thinking of his stage performance, I came across an art-book on ancient Egypt. On the cover was the famous golden mask of pharaoh Tutankhamun. This image is iconic: when we think of ancient Egypt, we think of gold, of mighty things.

Curiously however we  never think of sounds. We know practically everything of their daily habits, but not about the instruments the Egyptians used, how they danced or how they sang. The mask triggered my imagination. I thought: let’s imagine a dancing party in the pharaoh’s palace. How could it have sounded? With this in mind I started composing.

At the beginning we hear a voice on tape. Who is this, and what text is he reciting?

It’s Martin Fröst himself, whose voice has a kind of ancient…


Yes, we changed the timbre of his voice. Thus I refer to Herodotus, the father of historians, who travelled through Egypt in the 5th century B.C. I quote a text from the book he wrote about this: ‘Concerning Egypt I will now speak at length, because nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world besides are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness.’ I asked Martin to read these words, and then we gave the recording an ancient touch.

Since you’re deeply rooted in Swedish musical life now, do you consider yourself a Russian or a Swedish composer?

I would like to see myself and my music to be cosmopolitan. And anyway, what might the nationality of music be?

More info and tickets here.

Part of my talk with Borisova-Ollas can be heard on YouTube

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Zara Levina Piano Concertos: Rachmaninoff meets Shostakovich

The name of Zara Levina is not widely known, but this will soon change. The Swedish pianist Maria Lettberg recorded her two Piano Concertos together with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ariane Matiakh. Their spirited performance of Levina’s powerful music was nominated for the ‘Classical Instrumental Solo’ Gramophone Award 2018.

Zara Levina (1906-1976) was the daughter of a Russian teacher and a father who passionately played the violin. She turned out to be a child prodigy: at the tender age of 8 she gave her first piano recital. Six years later she finished her piano studies at the conservatoire of Odessa. Though a career as a concert pianist lay in store, she decided to become a composer, moving to Moscow to study composition with Reinhold Glière and Nikolai Myaskowski. She continued studying the piano however, with Felix Blumenfeld and Bertha Reingbald.

Like many of her colleagues Levina suffered under state censorship, yet she managed to develop a successful career as a composer. She finished her Piano Concerto nr. 1 in 1942, in the heat of World War II; it was premièred three years later. In spite of the circumstances the work has an optimistic and confident character. Written in the tradition of the grand Romantic piano concerto, it pits a virtuoso piano part against an energetic and dramatic orchestra.

The first movement opens with sweeping chords from the piano over the entire keyboard, answered by a broad, unison theme in the orchestra. Levina sounds very self-assured: soaring melodies and pounding rhythms leave the listener virtually gasping for breath. The second movement is intensely lyrical, with supple runs from the piano, beautiful solos by the woods, and undulating strings with a touch of melancholy. The third and last movement is witty and lively. Its spiky rhythms, hammered piano chords, cheeky brass and droll woodwinds hint at the subtle parody Shostakovich liked to spice his music with.

Quite different in character is Piano Concerto nr. 2 that Levina composed in 1975, a year before her death. She suffered from a heart disease all her life and knew she was dying. She considered this to be her best work, yet couldn’t witness its première. There’s only one movement, the tone is darker, and virtuosity is not an issue per se.

Instead of taking the lead the pianist interacts subtly with a sometimes hushed, at other times rumbustious orchestra. The rhapsodic style full of contrasts calls to mind the Groupe des Six, though the underlying wistfulness makes it unmistakably Russian. – Levina truly is a kindred spirit of Shostakovich, her almost exact contemporary.

It is a shame Levina’s music is not better known, for it is engaging from beginning to end. Maria Lettberg and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra give their best under the accurate and dedicated direction of Ariana Matiakh. Their fresh and vivid performance ideally brings out the high quality of Levina’s music. Fingers crossed the Grammy nomination will indeed result in a Grammy Award.

Zara Levina: The Piano Concertos was released on the label Capriccio in 2017. The price is € 16,99. Available here

Here’s a YouTube video of the recording process, including interviews with Matiakh and Lettberg


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Opslaan en vernietigen: aanklacht tegen verkwanseling cultureel erfgoed

Een Saoedische prins betaalt 450 miljoen dollar voor een matig schilderij van Leonardo da Vinci; een Nederlandse politicus looft een kratje bier uit voor een nieuwe compositie. In een notendop vangen deze twee uitersten onze huidige omgang met cultuur. De totale minachting enerzijds en de onvoorstelbare overwaardering anderzijds zijn twee kanten van dezelfde medaille. We beoordelen kunst niet om haar intrinsieke, maar om haar economische waarde. Het doet er niet toe of de prins het schilderij mooi vindt, het is slechts een trofee, zoals de politicus componeren beschouwt als een onbeduidende hobby.

Jacqueline Oskamp signaleert ditzelfde verschijnsel in haar boek Opslaan en vernietigen, dat onlangs verscheen bij uitgeverij Ambo|Anthos. Hierin uit zij haar verontwaardiging over de dreigende teloorgang van drie belangrijke Nederlandse muziekarchieven. In 2011 schrapte staatssecretaris Halbe Zijlstra de overheidssubsidie aan Muziekcentrum Nederland (MCN); het Nationaal Muziekinstituut (NMI) en de bibliotheek van het Muziekcentrum van de Omroep (MCO).

Niet sexy

Dit was een van de maatregelen waarmee het Kabinet-Rutte I veertig procent bezuinigde op het budget voor podiumkunsten. De ongekend rigoureuze korting was een knieval voor gedoogpartner PVV, wier leider de kunsten had gebombardeerd tot ‘linkse hobby’. Zijlstra op zijn beurt sprak van ‘subsidieslurpers’. De cultuursector zou te veel ‘met zijn hand naar Den Haag en met zijn rug naar het publiek’ staan. Dit populistische beeld ging er bij het grote publiek in als koek. Zo werd een serieus debat over het belang van kunst en de taak van de overheid daarin vermeden.

In de algehele ontzetting over de draconische bezuinigingen sneeuwde het lot van de archieven een beetje onder. Weliswaar gold behoud van ‘cultureel erfgoed’ als top prioriteit, maar de Canon van Nederland bevat niet één componist. De aantrekkingskracht van een in kilometers materiaal vervat muzikaal geheugen bleek gering. Klassieke muziek kampt toch al met een imagoprobleem, stelt Oskamp. Die is simpelweg niet sexy, om haar woorden te parafraseren.


Dat de archieven van MCN, NMI en MCO uiteindelijk ontsnapten aan de papierversnipperaar is te danken aan onvermoeibaar lobbywerk van direct betrokkenen. Het MCN-materiaal over naoorlogse Nederlandse componisten vond onderdak bij de afdeling Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit van Amsterdam. De zeer diverse NMI-collectie – van vooroorlogse Nederlandse componisten tot betekende partituren van Willem Mengelberg – verhuisde naar het Haags Gemeentearchief. Het MCO, met unieke handschriften van zowel lichte als klassieke muziek, bleef op zijn eigen plek in Hilversum. De inventaris wordt gecatalogiseerd en deels gedigitaliseerd. Vanaf 2020 stelt de Gemeente Hilversum zich garant voor de exploitatie.

Of de redding definitief is zal nog moeten blijken, betoogt Oskamp. De collecties worden niet meer geactualiseerd en zijn bovendien zo weggestopt dat slechts doorgewinterde professionals ze weten te vinden. Voorlopig kunnen onderzoekers nog putten uit de specialistische kennis van de vroegere beheerders, maar die verdwijnen gaandeweg uit beeld. Wanneer de archieven opnieuw beoordeeld worden naar bezoekersaantallen, ‘zal de uitkomst fataal zijn. Deze zogenoemde oplossing lijkt een sterfhuisconstructie’.

Functioneel geheugen

Toch zijn archieven van wezensbelang voor een goed begrip van onze cultuur, schrijft Oskamp. Zij citeert met instemming de Duitse wetenschapper Aleida Assmann, die de term ‘cultureel geheugen’ muntte. Assmann maakt hierbij onderscheid tussen een ‘functioneel’ en een ‘opslaggeheugen’. Het functionele geheugen put uit een collectief bewustzijn van een gedeeld verleden, zowel immaterieel (herinneringen) als materieel (standbeelden, herdenkingsplaatsen). Dit functionele geheugen hebben wij actief paraat, op basis hiervan creëren wij een gemeenschappelijke identiteit. Daarnaast is er een enorm reservoir aan passieve kennis die ogenschijnlijk niet ter zake doet en onbenut blijft.

Maar omdat wij ons steeds anders tot elkaar en tot het verleden verhouden, wisselt voortdurend het perspectief. Wat wij nu volkomen onbelangrijk achten, blijkt over 40 jaar onmisbare informatie; elke tijd kent immers zijn eigen prioriteiten en invalshoeken. Juist vanwege hun wezenskenmerk – ‘het grote perspectief’ – mogen archieven nooit geofferd worden aan de waan van de dag. Dezelfde documenten kunnen toekomstige generaties tot nieuwe inzichten brengen. Zo toonde archiefonderzoek van verschillende musicologen aan dat Nederland al lang vóór de ‘Notenkrakers’ openstond voor moderne muziek.

Van verheffingsideaal naar rendementsdenken

In Opslaan en vernietigen tracht Oskamp ook te formuleren waaróm de kunsten tegenwoordig zo ondergewaardeerd worden. Het socialistische verheffingsideaal maakte vanaf pakweg de jaren negentig plaats voor een toenemend cultuurrelativisme. Hoge en lage kunst werden elkaars gelijke; premier Rutte bewierookt zowel ‘de Toppers’ als het Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest. Tegelijkertijd vatte de gedachte post dat kunstenaars ‘hun eigen broek moeten ophouden’. Dat dit rendementsdenken haaks staat op de alledaagse werkelijkheid waarin particulieren noch bedrijven gulle gevers blijken, werd gemakshalve vergeten.

Oskamp noemt hiernaast de teloorgang van aloude instituties en de opkomst van minderheidsgroepen, die elk hun eigen identiteit formuleren. Dit staat haaks op de conservering van wat gezien wordt als een fossiel verleden. Papieren archieven spreken bovendien niet tot de verbeelding van de moderne mens, die vooral uit is op beleving. Misschien kunnen de instellingen zich omvormen tot musea en bezoekers een zintuiglijke ervaring bieden, oppert Oskamp.


Zelf voelde ze een zindering toen ze in het NMI een handgeschreven compositie van de jonge Mozart vasthield. Juist hierin schuilt de kracht van archieven: een gedigitaliseerde brief of partituur blijft immers een kopie. Bovendien verandert de digitale technologie voortdurend, terwijl papier – mits goed geconserveerd – duizenden jaren meegaat. Hoewel Oskamp niet pleit voor behoud van elk bonnetje of kattebelletje doet zij een dringend beroep op de overheid ons immateriële erfgoed te beschermen.

‘Is de Nederlandse muziek levensvatbaar zonder geschiedenis?’, vraagt zij retorisch. Het antwoord van bovengenoemde VVD-politicus laat zich raden: het zal hem worst zijn. En precies daarin ligt het probleem, concludeert Oskamp in een raak maar schrijnend citaat van Elie Wiesel. ‘Het tegengestelde van cultuur, schoonheid, edelmoedigheid is onverschilligheid, dat is de vijand.’


Van onverschilligheid kun je Oskamp niet betichten. In haar ijver het belang van overheidssubsidies te onderstrepen voert zij echter een wat wijdlopig betoog. Hierdoor raken de muziekarchieven geregeld uit beeld en beziet zij sommige zaken door een gekleurde bril. Zo zou de muziekwereld te klein zijn om vriendjespolitiek te bedrijven aangezien iedereen elkaar op de vingers kijkt.

Dit gaat voorbij aan de vele controverses rond het Fonds voor de Podiumkunsten. Deze instelling kreeg vaak het verwijt modernistische componisten te bevoordelen ten opzichte van hun meer behoudende collega’s. Bewezen zijn die malversaties niet, maar de – op archiefonderzoek gebaseerde (!) – cijfers wijzen wel in die richting.

Opslaan en vernietigen is een terecht pleidooi voor structurele ondersteuning van de archieven van MCN, NMI en MCO. De boodschap was wellicht krachtiger overgekomen in een essay, maar hopelijk blijkt zij niet aan dovemansoren gericht. – Anders moeten we op zoek naar een Saoedische prins.

Jacqueline Oskamp: Opslaan en vernietigen: muziekarchiven bedreigd (2017)
In 2016 publiceerde Oskamp Een behoorlijk kabaal, een literatuurstudie van het Nederlandse muziekleven. Lees hier mijn bespreking.
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Aribert Reimann: “Ich schätze sowohl die musikalische Tradition als auch die modernen Entwicklungen”

Aribert_Reimann By Aldus Rietveld – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Trotz seines hohen Alters ist der deutsche Komponist Aribert Reimann (1936) immer noch sehr aktiv. Im Oktober 2017 feierte seine Oper L’invisible nach Maeterlinck-Texte seine Uraufführung an der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Am 14. Dezember erklang die Uraufführung seines Zyklus Die schönen Augen der Frühlingsnacht in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam. Er komponierte diesen für die Sopranistin Mojca Erdmann und das Kuss Quartett. Es handelt sich um eine Adaption von Liedern des wenig bekannten romantischen Komponisten Theodor Kirchner. Drei Fragen an Reimann.

Was streben Sie als Komponist an?

‘Ich komponiere seit meiner frühesten Kindheit und schätze sowohl die musikalische Tradition als auch die modernen Entwicklungen in meiner Arbeit. Von Anfang an habe ich versucht, eine eigene Stilsprache zu entwickeln, die unabhängig von Mainstream-Mode oder Strömungen ist.

Drei Elemente sind mir sehr wichtig: Form, Klang und Ausdruck. Das Singen steht sowohl in meinen Opern als auch in meinen Instrumentalkompositionen im Mittelpunkt. Beim Komponieren denke ich nie an ein Publikum, aber ich freue mich, mit meiner Musik Menschen jeden Alters zu erreichen.’

Wie kamen Sie auf die Idee Die schönen Augen der Frühlingsnacht zu schreiben?

‘Schon in jungen Jahren hörte ich eine Reihe von Liedern von Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903), der von Größen wie Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy und Johannes Brahms unterrichtet wurde. Ich lernte sie kennen als ich mit dem Bariton Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Aufnahmen machte für eine Kompilation deutscher Lieder von 1850 bis 1950. Ich war so begeistert dass ich mich entschloss, die Kirchner Lieder mal zu bearbeiten.

Als die Sopranistin Mojca Erdmann und das Kuss Quartett mich baten ein Werk für sie zu schreiben, kamen mir diese Lieder wieder im Sinne. Dann habe ich letzten Sommer diesen Zyklus komponiert für Sopranistin und Streichquartett.’

Wie haben Sie die Arbeit aufgebaut?

‘Es hat eine ähnliche Struktur wie mein vorhergehender Zyklus …oder soll es Tod bedeuten? Dies ist ein Arrangement für Sopran und Streichquartett mit acht Liedern von Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Dieser Zyklus ist durchschnitten von sechs Intermezzi, die durch ein wiederkehrendes Thema verbunden sind. Die Intermezzi können daher nicht separat durchgeführt werden.

Für Die schönen Augen der Frühlingsnacht habe ich diesmal sechs Lieder von Kirchner ausgewählt, und für die gleiche Besetzung adaptiert. Der Unterschied ist, dass ich jetzt sieben Bagatellen hinzugefügt habe. Der Zyklus beginnt mit dem ersten und endet mit dem letzten, die Lieder werden dazwischen gelegt.’

Angst für Verlockung

‘Die Bagatellen können auch als eigenständige Komposition gespielt werden, enthalten aber subtile Bezüge zu Kirchners Liedern, so dass sie nicht ganz im luftleeren Raum stehen. Manchmal ist das eine Geste, ein Akkord oder sogar ein einzelner Ton. Ich habe mir den Titel aus der ersten Zeile des fünften Songs ausgeliehen. Wie immer bei Heinrich Heine soll es auch hier etwas ironisch gemeint sein.

Schöne Augen können wunderbar sein, aber auch genau das Gegenteil. Ich denke Kirchner meinte eher das letzte, denn in dem Lied Unterm weißen Baume sitzend hat er den Heine Text geändert. Statt ‘Dein Herz liebt aufs neue’ , schreibt er mehrfach ‘Mein Herz liebt aufs neue’. Als ob er fürchte auf eine unglückliche Verlockung herein zu fallen, und Angst hat sich wieder zu verlieben. Ich habe dieses Lied als letztes in dem Zyklus gewählt. Es endet sehr dramatisch und verzweifelt, dann nimmt das Streichquartett das Ende der ersten Bagatelle wieder auf und beschließt den Zyklus.’

Erfolgreiche Uraufführung

Die schönen Augen der Frühlingsnacht wurde hervorragend und mit berührendem Ausdruck ausgeführt von Mojca Erdmann und dem Kuss Quartett. Streicher und Sängerin zeigten ihr tiefes Verständnis für die Musik von Aribert Reimann, dessen Zyklus …oder soll es Tod bedeuten das Konzert beschloss. Das Publikum im Amsterdamer Muziekgebouw war begeistert und hat minutenlang geklatscht. Der Zyklus wird noch zweimal gespielt: Samstag 16. Dezember im kleinen Sendesaal des NRD in Hannover, Montag 19. im Watergate Club Berlin.

Vor der Uraufführung sprach ich mit Aribert Reimann über ‘Die schönen Augen der Frühlingnsacht’ und ‘… oder Soll es Tod bedeuten’ im Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam. 


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Wat ‘hoorde’ de dove Beethoven? Martijn Padding formuleert een antwoord in Glimpse

Vrijdag 8 december speelt het Residentie Orkest in het AVROTROS Vrijdagconcert Beethovens Tweede Symfonie en het Tweede Vioolconcert van Prokofjev. Een niet direct voor de hand liggende combinatie, maar het cement tussen de opgewekte muziek van de Duitser en de opruiende klanken van de controversiële Rus vormt Glimpse van de Nederlandse componist Martijn Padding.

Hierin verklankt hij zijn visie op Beethovens Tiende Symfonie, waarvan alleen schetsen bestaan. Altijd in voor een geintje schreef Padding zijn 12 minuten durende stuk voor een orkest dat speelt op darmsnaren, maar het mag ook uitgevoerd worden op moderne instrumenten, zoals het Residentie Orkest nu doet.

Nederlands geluid

Padding heeft een naam hoog te houden op het gebied van tegendraadse composities en kreeg in 2016 de prestigieuze Johan Wagenaar Prijs. De jury noemde hem ‘veelzijdig, inventief, origineel en virtuoos in zijn instrumentaties. Zijn werk is dwars, eigengereid en heeft een onmiskenbaar Nederlands geluid.’

Vaak wordt Martijn Padding omschreven als vertegenwoordiger van de ‘Tweede Haagse School’, naar analogie van de ‘Haagse School’ rond Louis Andriessen bij wie hij studeerde aan het Koninklijk Conservatorium in Den Haag. Zelf zegt hij: ‘Die aanduiding wordt vaak verkeerd gebruikt. Het gaat bij componisten als Louis Andriessen en Diderik Wagenaar niet om het harde geluid, een beukende stijl, maar om een open houding. Dat herken ik in mijn eigen werk.’

Liever spreekt de componist van een Nederlandse manier van componeren. ‘Die zit hem in de volstrekte transparantie, zowel in het idee van een stuk als in de klank zelf. Wij hebben een zekere rechtlijnigheid van denken. Een Nederlandse kunstenaar zal nooit een zijpaadje inslaan. Dat maakt ook het verschil tussen pakweg de Italiaan Giralomo Frescobaldi en Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, of tussen de Fransman Pierre Boulez en Louis Andriessen. Nederlanders zijn puur gefixeerd op de binnenkant van de compositie, op het bouwwerk.’

Publiek ‘bouwt’ zelf het klankbeeld op

Dat geldt ook voor Glimpse, dat Padding in 2010 componeerde als opmaat tot de integrale uitvoering van Beethovens 9 symfonieën in het Holland Festival door oudemuziekspecialisten Anima Eterna en Jos van Immerseel. Hij koos de orkestbezetting van Beethovens Geschöpfe des Prometheus en liet zich inspireren door diens muzikale schetsen.

‘Ik wilde een stuk schrijven over de stilte rondom Beethoven, en over de werveling in zijn hoofd waarmee de noten van een symfonie ontstaan’, zei Padding hierover. ‘Voor mijn stuk gebruik ik noten van Beethoven, maar het is vooral mijn fantasie over het scheppingsproces van Beethovens Tiende.’

Zo stelde hij zich voor hoe Beethoven voor zijn orkest zit en gaandeweg tot een compositie komt. ‘We maken als het ware het hele compositieproces mee, het orkest wordt gesymboliseerd door twee pauken. Hij denkt… de pauk klopt het hele stuk door… we horen een flard… hij denkt verder… nog een flard. Pas na driekwart van het stuk trekken de flarden zich samen tot een symfonisch moment.’ Aangezien Padding slechts ‘superzacht de contouren’ aanlevert dient het publiek, luisterend met de hand aan het oor het uiteindelijke klankbeeld als het ware zelf te realiseren.

Na de wereldpremière repte de Volkskrant van een ‘tantaliserend proces, waarin motieven en akkoorden komen langswaaien als uit een verre zaal waarvan iemand af en toe de deur even opendoet. Zelden komt de muziek helder door: Beethoven was immers potdoof op het eind van zijn leven. Het fascinerende is dat Padding met dit wazige, maar zelden tot gearticuleerde gedaante uitgroeiende klankmateriaal een stuk heeft gemaakt dat zowel zijn eigen vingerafdrukken draagt als die van Beethoven. Hij weet de toehoorder de illusie te geven dat hij werkelijk ervaart wat zich tussen de dove oren van Beethoven heeft afgespeeld.’

Het concert vormt onderdeel van de radioserie AVROTROSVrijdagconcert en wordt live uitgezonden op Radio 4. Info en kaarten. 
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Ensemble 1904: loving CD portrait of almost forgotten Poldowski

Poldowski re-imagined is the name of the latest CD of the French Ensemble 1904. Poldowski who?? Like many of her female colleagues, this Polish-British composer (1879-1932) is as good as forgotten; also her name is problematic. Born as the youngest daughter of violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski, she was baptized Irène Régine Wieniawski. Yet she published her first compositions as Irène Wieniawska. After her marriage to Sir Aubrey Dean Paul in 1901 she called herself Lady Dean Paul and several variations hereof, before finally deciding on the short but powerful Poldowski.

Although she inherited her father’s talent, Poldowski never knew him: Henryk Wieniawski died on a tour of Russia when she was 10 months old. She stayed behind in Brussels with her British mother. Her father had been a professor at the conservatoire in the Belgian capital. According to some, Poldowski studied piano and composition there, but this is not supported by archive material.


Poldowski started composing early on and published her first mélodies (songs) in 1890, with a Belgian publisher. About six years later she moved to London, where she quickly made a name for herself as a pianist and composer. Although she married an Englishman and assumed British nationality, she continued to use French texts. She had a great predilection for the poetry of Paul Verlaine, who at the time was also popular with fellow-composers.

On its new CD the French Ensemble 1904 presents all her 22 Verlaine settings. Not in their original version but in arrangements for piano, violin and double bass. These were made by pianist and artistic leader David Jackson in tribute to Poldowski. She often made arrangements of her songs for chamber ensemble, but these were all lost. Jackson took inspiration from her Sonata for violin and piano, but also gave free rein to his own imagination. Hence the ‘re-imagined’ from the title.

Impressionist splashings

What immediately strikes the ear is Poldowski’s flair for text setting. The parlando style of singing – with only one note per syllable – makes the words easily understandable. Her music sounds very French and is reminiscent of the mélodies of Debussy and Ravel. The declamation is almost casual, yet subtle twists and turns make the emotions acutely palpable. At times, as in Impression fausse, we hear tormented outcries that betray her partly Slavic origins.

The atmosphere is mostly melancholy, but sometimes also inflammatory. As in the mischievous Cortège about a circus lady whose slave peeps under her skirts. That Poldowski herself was an outstanding pianist is evident from the varied and colourful piano part. Often she weaves impressionist splashing waterfalls through the vocal part, at other moments supporting the argument with hammered chords. The lines of violin and double bass added by Jackson fit in seamlessly.

Loving portrait

It takes some time before you are captured by the appealing charm of her music. Jazmin Black-Grollemund has a warm soprano voice, but her generous vibrato is at odds with the reticent expression so typical of the French mélodie. The intonation of the strings is not always flawless and the dynamics are somewhat uncontrolled. From the sprightly Colombine (Track 13) things become more balanced, the performers sounding more sovereign and confident.

One gets the impression the remaining songs were performed in a concert setting before; surely the preceding ones would also benefit from some more live experience. But these are just minor comments on what is undeniably a loving portrait. Ensemble 1904 breaks a convincing lance for Poldowski, and the excellent cd booklet contains a lot of useful information. May this edition be the prelude to a rediscovery of Poldowski, her music deserves it.

Ensemble 1904: Poldowski re-imagined
22 Mélodies on the poèmes de Paul Verlaine; Irène Régine Wieniawska; arr. David Jackson
Resonus RES10196
€ 14,99 
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Vanessa Lann: pianists ‘Vicky Chow and Saskia Lankhoorn can play anything’

Vanessa Lann (c) Teo Krijgsman

On Friday 1 December the piano duo X88 will present the world première of naked, I by Vanessa Lann at a recital in the Amsterdam Bimhuis. The American-Dutch composer wrote it especially for this adventurous piano duo, that performs complex contemporary music as if it were rock. It consists of the Canadian Vicky Chow, pianist in Bang on a Can All-Stars, and the Dutch Saskia Lankhoorn, who is a member of Ensemble Klang.

Like many foreigners, Vanessa Lann (New York, 1968) came to the Netherlands in the nineties, attracted by the vibrant musical life of the time. She is now firmly rooted here, thanks to successful works such as Inner Piece for solo piano (1994), Resurrecting Persephone for flute and orchestra (1999), Illuminating Aleph for cantor, choir and instrumental ensemble (2005), and her opera De Stilte van Saar (Saar’s Silence) in 2013.

Being a pianist herself, she has written many works for grand or toy piano. Four of these can be heard on the portrait cd Moonshadow Sunshadow that was released in 2015. Her work often has a theatrical aspect and Lann likes to fiddle with our expectations. This holds for her new piece for two pianos as well, of which the mere title may evoke confusion. Thus I assumed ‘I’ in naked, I meant the cipher 1, wondering how many pieces there were to follow in this new cycle.

None, Lann tells me. The title refers to the scientific term ‘naked eye’, which describes what the eye can perceive without microscope or telescope. ‘Since there are no electronics, the piece is about the raw/naked/honest expression of two people and two grand pianos. A piano is a big instrument, and the question is whether the two women are in control or not. In an almost ritualistic manner the piece confronts the performers with their capacities, not just as players, but also as individuals.’

Here we touch on a second layer: ‘The prounoun “I” refers to identity, who am I, who are you, how do we relate to each other? Naked, I explores the vulnerability of the players, as well as the power required of them in performance. It is inspired by extremes: when does soft playing become too soft, how long will a certain pattern hold our attention, what is scary, what is funny? In a sense both pianists try to determine who they are in relation to the piano as an instrument, and also to each other.’

Piano duo X88: Vicky Chow & Saskia Lanhoorn (c) Peter van Beek

This links naked, I strongly to De Stilte van Saar: ‘In my opera I address the theme of how we deal with our personal and social media identities. We create a two-dimensional, idealized image on Facebook, which we will eventually meet. Thus, in a way we become our Facebook identity. I composed it for Silbersee and Ensemble Klang, in which Saskia Lankhoorn played the toy piano.’

Lann is thrilled by the energy and virtuosity of Lankhoorn and Chow: ‘They can do absolutely ANYTHING, play ANYTHING, they’re quite fearless. But in this work they are “naked”, for they have to show themselves while playing the simplest of patterns.’

Halfway through they change pianos. ‘Like in my piece Moonshadow Sunshadow for two violins, you then hear the same material as before, played on the same instrument, but by a different performer. In what way does it sound different the second time: does the character of the pianist play a role in how we listen to the raw material? This question intrigues me: what you see is what you get.’

In their recital the duo will also perform premières by Nik Bärtsch, Tristan Perich and Pete Harden. The concert will be repeated in the Red Sofa series of the Rotterdam Doelen on Saturday 2, and in Korzo Theatre The Hague, as part of the Festival Dag in de Branding on Sunday 3 December.
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Kate Moore wins Matthijs Vermeulenprijs – as first woman composer ever

Kate Moore, ©Marco Giugliarelli for the Civitella Ranieri Foundation

On Saturday 2 December the Australian-Dutch composer Kate Moore (1979) will receive the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for her composition The Dam. The prize was established in 1972 and consists of € 20,000, made available by the Performing Arts Fund. It is named after the Dutch composer and music critic Matthijs Vermeulen (1888-1967).

Until now it has invariably gone to men, some of them even getting it twice. Moore will receive the prize coming Saturday as the first woman ever, during Festival Dag in the Branding in The Hague. After the ceremony in the Korzo Theatre, her piece will be performed by ensemble Herz.

Kate Moore combines repetitive patterns with an opulent sound world. This summer she surprised friend and foe with her oratorio Sacred Environment during the Holland Festival Proms in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The large-scale work for orchestra, choir, soloists and live video was inspired by the sacred grounds of Australia’s first people.

The at times overwhelming masses of sound evoked memories of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. In general Moore’s music is more restrained; it often has a dreamy, seductive atmosphere. She regularly combines instruments with artistic sound objects, which form a subtle but important part of the composition. She also built her own ceramic percussion instruments.

Moore composed The Dam in 2015 for the Canberra International Music Festival, Australia. It was originally set for soprano and chamber orchestra, including a didgeridoo and an electric baritone guitar. Two years later, the British ensemble Icebreaker asked her to make an instrumental version, in which the didgeridoo was replaced by pan flutes; this version was awarded the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize. For the Herz Ensemble Moore made yet another arrangement, in which both didgeridoo and singer are re-instated.

For The Dam, Kate Moore found inspiration in nature: ‘It is based on the rhythms of the sounds made by cicadas, crickets, frogs, birds, flies, spiders and other creatures that inhabit a waterhole in the bush’, she said. ‘Far away from human intervention, their evening song becomes a great choir joyously singing out into the vast universe. It is possible from far away to hear where the waterhole is without being able to see it, and it is also possible to hear the shape of the landscape around it as many tiny creatures create a sonic pointillist landscape. I am attracted to the almost but not quite polyrhythmic tapestry of sound they create.’

The jury calls The Dam ‘both an exciting, immersive composition and a rich sounding of our times. The ultra-soft, mysterious motoric movement with which the work opens, convincingly develops into a grand musical gesture.’ Furthermore, the report lauds the ‘organically woven evocative interplay of lines’. The jury also praises Moore for having the guts ‘to combine an almost monomaniac musical movement with an extremely precise sound performance.’ It concludes: ‘Moore does not want to nuance or soften in her music, but rather touches the listener directly without compromise.’

That afternoon also the Willem Pijper Prize will be awarded, to Moore’s Mexican colleague Hugo Morales Murguía (1979) for his composition Equid (2014). This will be performed by Slagwerk in the Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague. According to the jury report, the piece has a ‘signal function’, because it ‘inspires to listen in a different way to the sounds of everyday life’. The composition prize is curated by the Johan Wagenaar Foundation for the Municipality of The Hague.

Normally Dag in de Branding only lasts one (Satur)day. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Johan Wagenaar Foundation however, an extra concert was added the day after. On Sunday 3 December, the piano duo X88 will give a recital in Korzo featuring four world premieres. The pianists Vicky Chow and Saskia Lankhoorn will perform, among others, Preservation (Pearl Morpho) by Pete Harden and Naked, I by Vanessa Lann.

A complete overview of the two-day festival can be found here.
Here’s a live performance of The Dam by the Herz Ensemble


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