Monday, April 3, 2017

De Materie Opens World Minimal Music Festival in Amsterdam

Opening concert at Muziekgebouw aan t 'IJ featuring  Andriessen's De Materie on Wednesday April 5 is sold out.
General rehearsal at 16.30 is open for attendance. Tickets are still available.

Ensemble Academie
Reinbert de Leeuw dirigent
Kristina Bitenc sopraan
Georgi Sztojanov tenor
Nina van Essen spreekstem
Elsie de Brauw spreekstem

Here is the programme note written for BBC about De Stijl (De Materie, part 3) for the last year Total Immersion Louis Andriessen festival at Barbican, London.

De Stijl (1984-85)
for 4 women’s voices, female speaker and large ensemble

Considered to be one of Andriessen’s classics, De Stijl is sharp and abrasive in tone, and has something of the air of a manifesto. It draws together ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘artistic’ and ‘popular’ musics, foregrounding the notion of style as the conceptual motor of the piece. The title pays homage to the journal De Stijl, first published by Theo van Doesburg in 1917 in Amsterdam, which served as the theoretical grounding for the movement known as ‘neo-plasticism’ in the visual arts.
               Although De Stijl is often performed as an independent piece, it is actually the third part of the stagework De Materie (1985-88), in which Andriessen investigates ways in which the mind or spirit handles the material world. The combination of rigorous structural planning and a diversity of stylistic elements is common for all four parts of De Materie.
               Red, Yellow and Blue; bold, black intersecting lines; black, grey and white rectangular fields; asymmetry: these might be the keywords to describe the geometrical abstraction characteristic of the painter Piet Mondrian, who was the most prominent artistic figure of neo-plasticism. One of his most emblematic paintings is Composition with Red Yellow and Blue (1927), and it was precisely this work that Andriessen used as a kind of model for the proportions of De Stijl.

The music is a free transposition of the proportions (durations) and colors (instrumentation) of the painting. It takes the shape of a Passacaglia, a set of variation on an ostinato bass. The funky-like bass theme, first played by piano and bass guitar, is a restless melody of improvisatory spirit. It appears no fewer than fifty-eight times, sometimes comprehensively disguised, and with only its metrical structure preserved and detectable. 
               Two literary texts were used. The first, sung in Dutch, is by the theosophist and mathematician M. H. J. Schoenmaekers (who greatly influenced Mondrian), and is about the figure of ‘the perfect cross-line’. The second text, mainly spoken by a dancer in English, is by M. van Domselaer, and describes Mondrian’s love of dance. The words about the cross-line are always followed by the B-A-C-H motive. The female voices that convey the cross-line text are invariably strained and dissonant. They come across as a kind of vocal perpetuum mobile that critically mirrors the text. After a climax a boogie-woogie begins on piano, and in the staged version of the piece the dancer/speaker takes a prominent role from that point on, narrating Van Domselaer’s text while projecting the image of the perfect cross-line with a laser beam.
               Andriessen was never interested in creating a singular musical style, suggesting that if his music really does express something like his own specific language, it is due to his limitations, not his acumen. Thus, for Andriessen, style appears to be a strategy for avoiding these limitations. And in the process he endlessly introduces musical references of remote and unlikely origin, as though to confirm that music is not really about style, but about other music.

Text © Jelena Novak


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Het Klankcafe: Andriessen, Caso and Keesmaat about Anais Nin & Odysseus’ Women

Odysseus' Women + Anaïs Nin

Friday, December 9, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam

19.15 uur / Foyerdeck 1 / Inleiding
Dramaturg Koen Bollen in gesprek met pianist Gerard Bouwhuis, componist Louis Andriessen en regisseur Jorinde Keesmaat.

20.15 uur / Grote Zaal / Hoofdprogramma
Louis Andriessen Odysseus' Women
Louis Andriessen Anaïs Nin

Monday, November 7, 2016

Six Films on Hoketus by Bas Andriessen

Six films on Hoketus, Introduction by Bas Andriessen, the author:
HOKETUS was an influential ensemble for contemporary music in Holland from 1976 -1986. On september 14th 1986 the group gave 2 farewell concerts (afternoon & evening)  because it's musicians decided it was enough. It had existed 10 years. In this period the group had commissioned several composers to write pieces for them. And they had played all over the world. They were regarded highly in the international new music scene. This year it is 30 years ago that HOKETUS stopped and 40 years ago that they started. In 6 video films I reflect on the history of the ensemble and it's way of working & thinking.

In the second half of the nineties of last century I organized all kinds of programs about contemporary music in a small theatre in my hometown Nijmegen in the Netherlands called O'42. Amongst these programs were live interviews I did with Dutch composers combined with performances of their music. At a certain moment my main guest was composer Huib Emmer. In our (phone-)conversations about what to do that evening Huib and I agreed to invite The Piano duo (Gerard Bouwhuis & Cees van Zeeland) to play some of his music. This meant that there were 3 guests that all had been prominent members of HOKETUS, so I thought: wouldn't it be nice for the audience if we could show them some images of their former ensemble as part of my interview with Huib? So I went to work.

To keep a long story short: when I approached CNM (Center for Dutch Music) to ask if they knew if filmed material of HOKETUS existed they -to my relief- not only were able to confirm that it did but they even said that the farewell concert of the group in 1986 was filmed and that they had these video recordings at their disposal. Wow! Well, would they be so kind to send me some of that? "No problem", was the cooperative answer and within a week I received a mailed package in which to my total surprise were 3 video-tapes (those were still the pre-internet and pre-dvd days of video folks!) with so much (edited!) material on it that there was reason to presume they had sent me the entire concert. Very impressive!

A little bit strange was that I was not told to deliver it all back to CNM. And also in the aftermath of my Huib-interview there came no CNM requests of this kind. So these unique images (the 3 musicans told me they never had seen them) remained in my possession. And more strange: if this were copied versions, why then was nothing ever done with the original material? Why was it filmed & edited, but never shown to an audience? Why were these tapes catching dust in some forgotten archive to remain unseen?

I decided in 2015 -when I realized we were approaching the 30th anniversary of the ensemble's end and the 40th birthday of it's  start- I was going to do something myself. In the mean time I had become a TV-program maker for local TV in Nijmegen so I had gained some of the necessary knowledge. I had invested a little in the equipment how to do that technically. And with regard to the content: it was territory I had become kind of experienced in.

I knew I was not going to make a documentary. Since this is a no budget enterprise it was obvious from the beginning that there was no money to travel long distances to do archive work. film abroad, etc. The only thing that was within the realm of the possible was to take my camera's and visit some of the musicians and composers involved, interview them, and create a filmed oral history. That would be one film. Then I would also make a video of every composition I had the farewell concert version of by combining these images with an interview with the composer of the piece + remarks by some members of the ensemble.

Of course it wasn't possible to interview everybody involved. So I had to make choices who I was going to interview and who I wasn't. Which criteria should I use in deciding which ensemble members I was going to approach for an interview?
Since HOKETUS consisted out of identical instrument groups it immediately seemed logical to me that I should interview one member of each instrument: percussion, bass guitar, pan pipes, piano/keyboards, sax. That I decided to choose for Paul Koek (perc), Gerard Bouwhuis (p/keyb), Huib Emmer (bass g), Patricio Wang (pan p) & Peter van Bergen (sax) was because at a certain moment this were the 5 musicians that formed an important edition of the group LOOS.

These films are dedicated to all the musicians that once were members of HOKETUS and made it the internationally influential Dutch ensemble it was.

HOKETUS part 1 "HOKETUS 1976 - 1986 An oral history" by Bas Andriessen

HOKETUS part 2 "HOKETUS" by LOUIS ANDRIESSEN int & live HOKETUS / video Bas Andriessen   

HOKETUS part 3 "BINT"  by CORNELIS DE BONDT int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen

HOKETUS part 4 "SINGING THE PICTURES" by HUIB EMMER int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen 

HOKETUS part 5 "GRAY MATTER" by GENE CARL int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen     

HOKETUS part 6 "SPÅRA" by KLAS TORSTENSSON int & live HOKETUS/video Bas Andriessen    

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Six Films on Hoketus, Trailer

Recently Bas Andriessen (not related to Louis Andriessen) completed the series of six films he made about legendary ensemble Hoketus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Andriessen and Opera: The Bell Rings Thirteen Times

            Writing music for unconventional ensembles and music theatre has been a constant in Louis Andriessen’s career. Together with the American composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams, and his compatriot Michel van der Aa, he is one of the foremost composers of postmodern contemporary opera (so-called ‘postopera’). The four-part De Materie (1985-88) is representative of his bold and manifest operatic activity. Both in terms of music and staging, the postopera Rosa, the Death of a Composer (1993-94, staged by Peter Greenaway) stands among Andriessen’s most transgressive and ‘juicy’ pieces. Reinventing the culture of Western movies, exaggerating its macho elements to the edge of political correctness, subordinating the role of the ‘diva’ who sings naked most of the time, Rosa is still too hot to handle for many. In a different way, the delicate Writing to Vermeer (1997-98, again in collaboration with Greenaway) tenderly recomposes baroque music and its wider culture. The film-opera La Commedia (2004-08, directed by Hal Hartley) is a complex multimedia event rethinking love, death, heaven and hell, and looking afresh at romantic music through Andriessen’s very particular lens. Having in mind his small-scale operas Inanna (2003) and Anaïs Nin (2009-10), as well as the early collaborative opera Reconstructie (1969), Theatre of the World (2015) arrives as Andriessen’s eighth operatic offspring.

               When we hear the opening solo bass trombone of Theatre of the World, our first association might be with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza V (1966). Andriessen’s former teacher’s piece was a tribute to Grock, ‘the last of great clowns’. It was his capacity to appear hilarious and deeply melancholic simultaneously that made Grock’s performances so famous. This trombone-clown reference is in a way a perfect match for this piece, subtitled ‘a grotesque in 9 scenes’, where melancholy and irony are the main motors of the ‘drama’. The solo bass trombone elaborating a descending glissando motive slowly involves another trombone part and the two lines grow into a background structure supporting the singing of the principal character, the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. The legacy of Padre Atanasio - ‘the last man who knew everything about the theatre of the world’ - is also a play on the absurd: he is praised both as a great scientist of his time and as a ridiculous charlatan.

               Theatre of the World is certainly not the first stage work in which Andriessen is attracted to the grotesque. The fourth part of La Commedia - The Garden of Earthly Delights - was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s eponymous phantasmagorical oil on wood triptych, a colourful and amusing portrayal of human nature and its fleshly appetites. The painting features a number of nudes engaged in all kinds of sexual perversions and leisure activities, flying, and swimming among fantastical ‘buildings’, giant fruit, birds, butterflies, seashells, fish, etc. Likewise, the first part of La Commedia refers to the anarchic behavior suggested in Bosch’s painting The Ship of Fools, which depicts a bizarre company floating in a barge. As a metaphor for mankind, the barge drifts away in an unpredictable direction. And in keeping with this passion for distortion, we might easily locate the ‘horse drama’ Rosa, the Death of a Composer in the line-up. It is a Brechtian parody about film, opera, and their interrelationship. It mockingly depicts the world of western movies and an alleged conspiracy against composers. The Uruguayan composer Huan Manuel de Rosa is a macho violent guy who appears to care more about his horse than his mistress Esmeralda. Yet despite his cruelty, Esmeralda does everything to please her lover. She even paints her body black to appear more like Rosa’s mare... Finally, the depiction of a character from De Materie comes to mind as another example of grotesquerie, with the painter Piet Mondrian evoked as a ‘dancing Madonna’ in Part 3, De Stijl.

               In Scene 4 of Theatre of the World Athanasius Kircher, the boy and Pope Innocent XI are on a journey on the river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness that flows through the Underworld. Suddenly they realize that they have arrived at Babylon. The tower of Babylon is the one depicted by Pieter Bruegel, in another painting laden with symbolism and critical of the actions of humanity. The fact that the libretto is written in seven languages (Italian, French, English, Dutch, Middle Dutch, Spanish and Latin) probably refers both to the Tower of Babel myth, and to the fact that Kircher himself spoke several languages. The motive of the ship sailing on the river that makes one to forget is again a potent invocation of human nature in its more superficial, grotesque aspects. The tender and ecstatic aria of Sor Juana speaks of pyramids, of Pharaoh, and of associated glories. Its music reminds us both of Andriessen’s song ‘Y Después’ (1983), which uses Lorca’s text in Spanish, and of the ‘Earthly Delights’ of La Commedia. It is profoundly melancholic and ecstatic at one and the same time.

               The singing characters in Theatre of the World are primarily male. Padre Atanasio is most of the time followed by the boy who turns out to be a devil in disguise. The boy, sung by a soprano, could also be seen as Athanasisus’s alter-ego, and Athanasius is often annoyed by the questions he asks.  Likewise, the character of Pope Innocenzo XI is portrayed as particularly grotesque and conservative. His stiffness is underlined. A minor role is given to the hangman of Rome, too. And there are also three witches, a reference to the witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: on the evil side and with the power of prediction. The young lovers, He and She, are likewise a reference to Romeo and Juliet. And hovering above all those characters there is the celestial presence of Sor Juana, a Mexican nun and poetess who was allegedly the platonic love of Athanasius Kircher.  Hers is the most tender and most passionate music in this piece. In the context of Andriessen’s other operas, the character of Sor Juana might be located somewhere between Hadewijh (De Materie) and Beatrice (La Commedia).

               The characterization of women in Andriessen’s operas is profound, and, I dare to say, more searching then the characterization of men. Even when an opera is named after a man, the most impressive roles may well be sung by women. The most obvious example of this is Writing to Vermeer, where the title character never appears, but is nonetheless the one who holds the power to objectify the women. They are the objects of his art, and he is the subject who regulates their existence in painting, but also in ‘real’ life. Beatrice was a female ideal for Dante (‘he was sure that she was sent from heaven’), singing with a celestial voice from above. Sor Juana also appears to be singing from far away (as it were, from Mexico). Those figures stand for an Ideal of female beauty (for Dante and Kircher respectively). They appear as objects of desire, of comfort, and of longing, and as such they are out of reach.

               One boundary that Andriessen dismantles in his operas is between different vocal types: jazz singers, opera singers, early music singers, folk singers. He has no interest in such distinctions. The voices he envisages performing his compositions are often without vibrato, and ideally they exhibit folk, jazz, ‘classical’ and early music qualities all at the same time. The situation is not different in Theatre of the World, where, for example, the three witches, as well as He and She, are cabaret singers. Already for some time Andriessen’s vocal muse had been the Italian singer Cristina Zavalloni, whose extraordinary multifarious voice featured in the chamber opera Inanna (2003), the opera Anaïs Nin (2009-10), the Passeggiata in tram in America e ritorno (1998) for solo voice and amplified solo violin, and the double concerto for voice and violin La Passione (2002). It also takes pride of place in La Commedia, where Cristina appears as Dante, Cristina and the ‘voice’. In Theatre of the World Zavalloni is Sor Juana. She is given six arias that refer also to Joana’s poetry. Musically they are also reminiscent of Spanish-Mexican folk songs.

               In terms of musical language Theatre of the World could be seen as linked to La Commedia to form a diptych. It is at least equally eclectic. It is intriguing to see just how many references, quotations and self-quotations Andriessen uses. The solo trombone reference appears at the beginning of Scenes 1, 8 and 9, where it is further developed in an ensemble context. The whole character of Sor Juana is based on a kind of double reference – located somewhere between Hadewijch and Beatrice. There are several clear references to the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, most obviously at the beginning of scenes 4 and 5. In the best tradition of De Stijl, an alto saxophone, bass clarinet and guitar bring us a mambo-beat theme that appears to be a quotation from ‘Tequila’ by The Champs. And suddenly above this Latin rock theme the three witches start singing the motive from Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’: Elysium from the mouths of witches who are also cabaret singers! And the children’s song that was used as a kind of epilogue in La Commedia, is echoed in Theatre of the World Scene 3 in instrumental form.

                At the end of his operas Andriessen often introduces some kind of Epilogue. In Rosa it was an ‘Index’ singer parodying some of the concepts used in the opera.  In La Commedia it was a children’s choir mocking the whole situation. And in Theatre of the World the characters of the four philosophers – Leibniz, Goethe, Descartes and Voltaire - are introduced only in the Epilogue. They question Kircher’s scientific contribution (‘he knew nothing about anything at all’), but finally agree that his name will be remembered. Towards the end, the bell rings thirteen times, just as in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘The Devil in the Belfry’ (referred to in the score). The tranquility of a remote Dutch village, whose inhabitants consider the most important things in life to be sauerkraut and clocks, has been disturbed by the arrival of the devil-musician. He arrives with a fiddle that is bigger than him, takes control of the bell tower and rings 13 times on village’s bell! Order, tradition and boredom have all been banished!

Text by Jelena Novak

The text was written for/commissioned by Dutch National Opera at the occasion of European premiere of "Theatre of the World". Dutch version of the text was published in the program booklet.









Monday, July 18, 2016