Sunday, 25 March 2007

Nationality ~ Musicality

cyntillating sounds opus three

There is a heated debate raging here in the Netherlands at the moment on the subject of passports. Usually you only need one in life to travel from a to b, but in this ever shrinking and mobile world, many people nowadays have two. For some, an opportunity, for others, a problem. A Dutch daily yesterday advertised for persons under the age of 5 months, looking for those babies who (already) have two passports…, for a photo shoot! The discussion is clearly digressing from the politically suspect to the completely ridiculous. Nationality as considered equivalent with loyalty: how can a subject of the King of Morocco, for example in these Islamic-sensitive times, be completely loyal to the secular Dutch monarchy and its government? It all gets even more sticky when considering the fact that the wife of the local Crown Prince has got a second passport. Born in Argentina, that country, like Morocco, never ‘let their people go’, at least not on paper.
And as this debate comes to a full emotional boil, a petite yet charming event took place on Saturday in the central city of Utrecht: the semi-annual gathering of the ‘Friends of Dutch Music’. In contrast to those painters with Dutch passports, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, de Kooning (bet he had two!), etc., Dutch composer’s are not really all that well known around the world. And some of those better known were indeed born outside of Holland; they therefore get subsequently dumped as ‘not really Dutch to begin with’. Should we be so strict with American citizenship in terms of music, the USA wouldn’t get to keep anyone of significance, except perhaps those with names beginning with Arrow, Feather or Eagle.
Actually, there are a number of famed Dutch composers. Jacob van Eyck, for example, who died exactly 350 years ago, is one of these, our local ‘blind Lemon Jackson’ as it were; Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck is another, and closer to this era, Louis Andriessen. The most famed, by far, even for those over 18, is. of course, DJ TiĆ«sto (remember the Olympic Games in Athens?).
And so the Dutch friends gathered to honour and enjoy their own. The proceedings got a creative kick off when a virtuoso recorder player, Saskia Coolen, performed together with the virtuoso and guru carilloneur of the Utrecht Cathedral, Arie Abbenes, her instrument of a foot’s length teaming up with his bell tower 112 yards high (highest church steeple in the Netherlands). She could certainly hear him, even without looking up: seems he could hear her via her mobile phone.
Camerata Trajectina, an ensemble which has been performing old music in the Netherlands since the avant garde movement of that repertoire in the 1970’s, continued the concerts with good ensemble work and well pronounced Dutch teksts (and that is not easy). There was a lecture by Van Eyck expert Dr. Thiemo Wind. A huge, young talent, pianist Ralph van Raat, wound up the proceedings by performing works by contemporary Dutch composers all of whom had, in one way or another, been inspired by the bell towers so prevalent in their country.
Dutch music certainly has good and true friends. Rightly so. It is excellent in the fields of old music and contemporary, even avant garde repertoire. But should we even be labelling it as such these days? Have all the relevant passports been checked out, are there any doubles out there? Such a tiny country has always been in a constant and often strained relationship with its enormous neighbors. As many regret the lack of a Dutch history of music as constant and renowned as its history of painting, those Friends that gathered Saturday were still convinced that, as the souvenir t-shirt explains: it ain’t much if it ain’t Dutch.

Want to read more?:
Dutch Culture in a European Perspective, Douwe Fokkema and Frans Grijzenhout, editors
Contemporary Music in the Low Countries, Emile Wennekes and Mark Delaere
The Essential Guide to Dutch Music: 100 Composers and their works, Jolande van der Klis, editor

For those in the neighbourhood this coming July, the Berkshire Music Festival will be featuring Dutch music and artists at Tanglewood:
See further where you can even order the cd: Who’s Afraid of Dutch Music without even showing your passport