Concertino for Piano and Small Ensemble

My trip to Venice in October 2011 was in order to attend the premiere of my Concertino, which was written earlier in the year for the Ex Novo Ensemble. The concert took place at the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello where I had been a student of Rubin de Cervin and Sinopoli for one year in the 1970s. (Photos: Roderik de Man)

Chamber music at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam

Bimhuis and chamber music

Bimhuis and chamber music

The performance last night with Frances-Marie Uitti and Paul Griffiths in “there is still time” was a most beautiful and poignant event. The work is described in Paul Griffiths’ website as “scenes for speaking voice and cello, the spoken part using just Ophelia’s vocabulary in Hamlet”. And in the programme as “an intimate and touching portrait of love and loss, memory and hope…” Paul Griffiths himself performs the text. Here are some reviews of the piece from his website:-

I found it to be a wonderful and novel way to renew the tradition of chamber music. I don’t know if it is the case (I’ve heard it said) that composers now tend to neglect chamber music in favour of big ensembles, orchestras, opera houses. If so, listening to this duo for speaker and cello, should remind them of the power that exists in a minimal setting.

I can pay tribute to Uitti in this way – the harpsichordist Gerard van Vuuren said to her after the performance that the bow becomes part of her arm, and the cello becomes part of her. I have a feeling about that too. For me, as soon as she picks up the bow something inside says “oh, this is special”. Anyone reading these reactions should make sure to see her (she tours quite a lot) and find their own way of describing exactly what it is she is doing with this instrument. It’s a remarkable achievement. There is the two bow technique, the admirable improvisations, the possibilities of the instrument itself (last night an electronic cello and [I think for the first time] her recently acquired METAL CELLO). But in the end, it’s not about these aspects, it’s about what Gerard pointed to………

There is nowhere for the performer to hide in this setting. Indeed, it’s not about hiding, it’s about intimacy. The public is very close to the sound. In the Bimhuis last night, there was no stage, so the performance space dissolves into the auditorium and the auditorium dissolves into the bar space behind. And from the bar, it’s just a vista of water. So the venue seems to be all about openness. It’s uplifting, that’s for sure.

Afterwards people were going up to Frances’ little gaggle of instruments like curious spectators in a zoo. A dangerous moment. Those instruments can bite if approached carelessly. And one woman caught her leg on a spike. Heh-heh.

The instruments can make tiny tiny sounds. The metal cello was having its waist tickled at one point by some bow hairs. A faint breathy sound came out.

As to the musical material in general, you would expect some lamentation at certain points……..and yes, there is enough of it to satisfy an Elgar, I think. And when the two bows come out and there are four note chords, the chance to have some rich tonality is not funked. So some baroque chord progressions appear. But arrived at from an oblique angle, touched on and quickly abandoned.

All the while, the voice, through the microphone, is making sounds that can, if they want, marry together with the cello ones. Those faint breathy cello sounds I mentioned were matched by breathy sounds from the speaker. And when the voice rises to a shout, out comes a second rank cello that can be slapped about a bit and doesn’t mind. (Mmm…..I wonder what that feels like…..?)
The movements are well proportioned. There are some short ones. This is vital, because the big trap awaiting improvisers is the tendency to be prolix.

Afterwards, people sat quietly. I didn’t myself feel like moving either. Eventually I carried some of the instruments downstairs to the dressing room and then joined my friends in the bar for a few beers.

Ophelia drowning – above it’s Harold Copping – just for a change……….

Pasta, union meeting, Mozart and the Red Light District

Amsterdam, Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJ

Amsterdam, Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJ

A delicious pasta yesterday evening at Frances-Marie Uitti’s house, not far from the Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJwhere the composers’ union meeting (Componisten 96) was to take place. Chatting away, Frances quickly threw together a tortelloni. Spices, broccoli and parmegiano. Mmmm. Better than you would get in a restaurant, of course. And we drank a good red wine. Frances is my best friend in Amsterdam and a top cellist and improviser. But I shouldn’t forget also to mention the large and imposing marmalade cat that resides at this same address……………

Nice conversation, as usual, but mainly we were meeting to decide which events to attend in the upcoming Holland Festival. Frances herself is giving two performances during this festival, on the 8th and 9th of June.

Then I walked quickly to the union meeting. Saw some friends and colleagues there – Peter Adriaansz, Roderik de Man, Michel van der Aa, Martin Altena, Martijn Padding and David Dramm. Louis Andriessen was also in attendance. There was a long presentation of what will be the new structure for administering contemporary music in Holland and many questions about it. Then some other business. Quite heavy stuff. So I was glad to drink a glass of rosé during the break.

Cycled back through the Red Light District. Lots of drunken men swaying around the narrow lanes, making it difficult to get by. And two pedestrians crashed together suddenly. I thought there would be a punch-up, but fortunately it was good humoured. As always, the atmosphere in this quarter irritated me and I was glad to be out of it. Years ago, coming down from the composer Jan-Bas Bollen’s apartment on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal we had to step over a huge drop of blood on the doorstep – obviously left there by an addict shooting up. Then a few doors away you had the prostitutes sitting in the windows. I remarked to Jan-Bas, how bizarre it was, this juxtaposition of sordid 20th century life and exquisite old buildings. He said “no, this is the oldest part of town and the prostitutes were always here. This is where the sailors came when the boats docked”.

In one of these streets, Mozart (may his name live forever) stayed, during his visit to Amsterdam, aged nine or ten. He spent seven months or so in Holland and wrote twelve works, including two symphonies….

Lunch in the Chinese quarter



We met up with a friend on Monday at De Waag op de Nieuwmarkt and ate round the corner at the Nam Kee on the Zeedijk.

We discussed Chendra’s video clips on YouTube. My favourite is Lamento de Pollux (Chendra is himself dancing in that one) with very effective music by Santiago Lanchares. It’s a work-in-progress, but already excellent. I told Chendra that the clip reminded me of Un Chien Andalou. But when we looked at the film later (and also at L’Age d’Or) he didn’t see any resemblance to his work and I couldn’t find the words to explain what I meant………whoops.

After lunch we went back to the Nieuwmarkt and sat at a terrasje drinking coffee. Spring has arrived you see.

Then we walked over to the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ and picked up a brochure for next season. I like that building very much and the positioning there by the water is just great.

Together with Jeroen Kohnstamm to Het Nationale Ballet

We went with Jeroen, a friend of Chendra’s, to the ballet in the Muziektheater. I like that theatre very much. Het Nationale Ballet is a really good company. I enjoyed the evening. Particularly an excellent electronic score by Jacob ter Veldhuis, who I’ve sometimes met at Roderik and Annelie de Man’s house.

Choreographers go on trying to work with traditional ballet vocabulary, just as we are still trying to do something with violins and cellos. That’s not an exact parallel, but….the point is you get that sometimes disconcerting combination of old and new.

Dinner at Dantzig aan de Amstel next door. Meat! Mmm!