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

Thursday 15 December 2022

Première 2nd Violin Concerto

The première of my 2nd violin concerto on 18th and 19th November this year, by brilliant soloist Jing Wang and the Hong Kong Philharmonic under star conductor Jaap van Zweden, was a success: 'highlight of the evening' with only Mahler's Fist Symphony on the rest of the program. One of the concerts was broadcast on HK radio.



This concerto (2021) was a shared commission by the HK Phil and the Shanghai Symphony, but performances by the latter orchestra have been postponed due to the ongoing covid problems on China's mainland.

Both conductor and soloist did a wonderful job with a complex and colourful score; the orchestra - belonging to the top orchestras of east Asia - was playing with great sensitivity. Hopefully, performances in Shanghai will be possible somewhere in the future, and also a European première.

This second concerto, in one movement, was inspired by Chinese traditional silk painting and poetry, but not written in a 'Chinese style'. Under the colourful and rather improvisatory surface, there is a classical structure holding the music together with exposition, development section and recapitulation with extended coda.

The first concerto (1974) is in a much more classicist musical language; it won prizes at the Wieniawski Composition Contest and the Prince Pierre de Monaco Contest in the seventies. Unfortunately, at the time no orchestra wanted to perform it, due to its 'non-modern' language which was considered 'outdated' - an assessment entirely distinct from any artistic consideration, as was the custom during the period of modernist ideologies dominating contemporary production.

Meanwhile, with the erosion of ideology, it transpires that this 1st concerto was, like all of my work in the seventies and eighties, much ahead of its time, now that we can look back at the last century as being bigotted and stuck within a narrow-minded and false idea of music history. In these times, contemporary music is searching for ways to repair the breach between new creation and the existing performance culture, where it is not historical ideas but musical quality that is the fundament of its relevance.



Sing Tao Daily, 1 Dec 2022

For this evening’s concert Jaap van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra presented the world première of John Borstlap’s Second Violin Concerto: ‘Dreamscape Voyage’, inspired by Chinese painting and poetry. The music in the woodwinds seemed to be an artistic conception of the sounds of wind between the mountains (this made me think of the Miho Art Museum in Japan which I visited a couple of years ago, as if you travelled through a fairy tale country). The light sounds of the harp added to the beautiful effect. In playing the main theme on the violin, in harmony or in contrast with the orchestra, soloist Jing Wang created something like the perspective as found in traditional Chinese painting. Heavy or light, or with silences… the music had the rhythm of a poem, and made you sometimes think of Gustav Mahler. - The composer, moved by Chinese poetry, has created a marvellous musical work, and the reception of this new piece was the highlight of the evening.

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