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Education: Rotterdam Conservatory, Cambridge University // Activities: composition, writing

Saturday 18 February 2017

Musical meditation premiered

Here, I want to express my gratitude and admiration for conductor Jaap van Zweden, who has premiered my 'Solemn Night Music' with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Phiharmonic Orchestra, both ensembles under his music directorship. Over a sunny morning breakfast on a terrace in Amsterdam, he simply asked me to write a piece for him of ca. 10 minutes, which took me by surprise - especially when he immediately took his mobile phone and set the process of commissioning in motion with the staff concerned. Before any idea of the piece even existed in my mind, he planned the performance dates, which gave me ample time to start the writing process. Since I could not attend the rehearsels and performances, I simply sent-in the printed score which he realized brilliantly without ever raising a question - in those days, I was carrying my mobile phone with me as an extra limb. Listening to the recording later-on was not only a satisfying experience but, above all, a surpising one, as if I had posted a score into a magical machine which spawned-out the full-blooded, live realization, without needing any intervention or advice from the composer, as if he were one of those old dead ones making-up most of the repertoire.

It is normal, that with a premiere, the composer makes slight adjustments during rehearsels, when his ideas are tried-out for the first time and the result may be a bit different from how it had been imagined, like tempi which are always faster in the mind than how they are experienced with the physical instrumental sound, and with the acoustics. And indeed, there were some very small things I could polish afterwards and which will add to the overall sound at a next performance. But what I would like to stress is, that this experience, for me, confirmed the distinction between 'language' and 'content' of a musical work. This piece makes use of a very traditional language with a vocabulary entirely familiar as it would have been used by composers at the beginning of the 20th century. But what is being 'said' in the language, the 'content', is not familiar, because it is new. This means that there are no problems with the language, which conductor and players will feel familiar with, and all rehearsel time can be spent on the content: expression, getting ensemble playing together and the balance right, and the players simply getting used to the piece. I was very impressed by Van Zweden's rendering the music so well and with such feeling of narrative and fluency.... truly a musical mastermind and especially, -heart.

The piece is a shortish meditation on the passing of time, with themes and motives gradually being transformed, and in the last episode returning but in another guise, so that we hear things developing and changing, but their character remaining intact, like how people develop over time, keeping their identity but in changing forms. Press reactions were favorable: "... evocative.... arching lyricism... fine sense of traditional orchestral colour... unashamedly beautiful.... this overripe chromatically complex music is gorgeous....." That is, apart from one critic who found it beautiful but not contributing to contemporary musical developments: if it were uglier, he would probably be more happy with it. I was surprised by these positive reactions, since often I get really irritated or even: angry reviews, full of scorn about 'oldfashioned idiom', as if the musical language is all there is to music. This is one of the devastating inheritances of postwar modernism, the idea that musical developments take place along a line of progressive musical language into an unforeseen but utopian future. That in art history, there are as many revivals and revisions as explorations of the language, is forgotten or denied. Also, a revival can be - at a certain moment in history - truly modern, as the historical record shows.  I won't go into this, since I have treated it exhaustively both in 'The Classical Revolution' and on my website. The book, by the way, will be issued again in its 2nd edition (paperback for a very attractive price) by Dover Publications NY this August.

I only hope that also other orchestras and other conductors will see the point of new classical music, instead of shying away from something they (still) don't know. It is regrettable that in the musical field, there is not much interest in what happens in other artistic fields, otherwise one would have been pleasantly surprised by the new figurative, or realist painting, and new traditional, or classicist, architecture as - for instance - by Leon Krier, the great explorer of classical languages in his field, and builder of the traditionalist town Poundbury in Dorset (UK).


It seems that the techinical problems with this blog have subsided.... So, I will resume posting, probably irregularly, due to busy work and bad weather conditions.