Sunday, 18 March 2007

Storm warning: gail force music

cyntillating sounds opus two

We had hail, strong winds and even snow today, the 18th of March; the winter we’ve missed this year seems to be catching up with us in the end. Dutch winds can be extraordinary: an exceedingly flat country next to the wild and stormy North Sea, we have had our share of broken glass due to hail stones ‘the size of golf balls’. No wonder really that the landscape here is dotted with huge modern wind mills, the high tech version of the age old icon, a natural source of energy in these harried days of inconvenient truths. Wind energy, wind power, together they are a musical play on words, in the Dutch language that is, one that has recently inspired a theatre production.

Stand up comedians are a relatively new thing here in the Netherlands, but they are booming business. Stand up trumpet players are far more exotic. André Heuvelman is such a colourful bird. The solo trumpeter of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, a member of the distinguished and creative Netherlands Blazers Ensemble (English translation is just NBE) and a conservatory favourite for the next generation, Heuvelman develops his talents, unbridled energy and creativity in a Foundation he has (aptly?) named extase (ecstasy -no, not the pills).

So the stand up trumpet arrives, message in his heart, technique in the back of his sedan, for an evening’s entertainment, una voce. Having worked together with the famed film director Cherry Duyns, Heuvelman has built an hour long routine that mixes music, emotion and movie magic. It releases classical repertoire from its present day straight jacket by placing it in a new context, the story of a little boy whose inner strength, whose answer to the fickle finger of fate, is playing the trumpet.

Ask any radio host, musicians are not good interview subjects. They do not speak well, communicating best via their instruments. When using words, they are usually at a loss for them. Heuvelman is exceptional in this way, certainly in the context of his country and heritage, one in which self exploration is nearly always equated with self absorption; the Dutch saying is difficult to translate but it boils down to: be normal, that’s crazy enough in itself…

But here is a musician whose facial expressions are endless, whose face is elastic, who dares to share a vulnerability that all artists know well but few musicians dare to face, in any case those classically schooled and orchestrally employed. Windkracht is an effective monologue of an hour or so which tells Heuvelman’s personal and musical story, laying bare his fears, triumphs, ideals and idols, one in which a trumpeter dares to sing in counter tenor falsetto, dares to improvise with a double bass blues riff (on film) and one in which he submits himself to the erotic movements of a tango dancer who circles and re-circles him in tight black clothes and provocative red heels.

Granted, some elements of the show are not completely successful in this work-in-progress (which took place in our living room, without lighting, audience at a nose’s length): reading from prose is, for example, harder than it looks. But the musical mix of Schubert, Monteverdi, de Falla, Booker Little and Goebaidulina, augmented with Heuvelman’s own jazz improvisation, is tender, sweet and extremely moving. It’s about him, it’s about his body, his life, his music. As opposed to the restrictive etiquette of classical music stages, Windkracht is refreshing, touching and special.

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