A homoerotic inspired orchestral work will soon be heard in Abu Dhabi

Rick van Veldhuizen: ‘I also want to explore that frayed shadow side of life in my pieces.’Statue Pauline Nothing

If you’re a young composer and the Concertgebouw Orchestra knocks on your door for a piece, that’s a reason to jump for joy. If it is also recorded: even more fun. But when your work is resumed a year later and is even played seven times on an international tour, that is very special.

It happens to Rick van Veldhuizen (28), whose Mais le corps taché d’ombres will be performed from Thursday 22 September in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam under the direction of Daniel Harding. Later it can be heard in Heerlen, Alicante, London and Abu Dhabi. A salient detail, given that last concert location: the piece is based on a homoerotic poem. Homosexuality is a crime in Abu Dhabi.

Should we see a statement from the orchestra in it? ‘That would be nice, but I doubt it’, says Van Veldhuizen. The piece dates from 2019 and was intended for the Mahler Festival of 2020, to precede Mahlers Ninth Symphony to sound.

To keep an eye on

How did the orchestra end up with Van Veldhuizen? ‘When I was still a student at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, my teacher Joël Bons passed on lists of young composers to the orchestra to keep an eye on. I stood there. In 2015 I made a piece for the Spiegelzaal, for three instruments and a narrator. That was really small beer, but that’s how they knew me. In 2018 I was called by Joel Fried, the then artistic director, if I wanted to make a piece for string orchestra.

‘I asked: can we also have a harp? A string orchestra alone sounds different lush, it needs a skeleton. The harp is very suitable for marking the rhythmic points.’ He worked on it full-time for six months, ‘because I wanted everything about this assignment to be right’. Due to corona, the premiere did not follow until 2021. Nice: led by Fabio Luisi, a big name. Not fun: without an audience, because in a live stream that wasn’t even really live. ‘Luckily my parents and boyfriend were allowed to join us, we were tucked away under the balcony.

‘The feedback from the orchestra said that I had made it difficult for them by working with a clean tuning, but that they thought it was cool. They would make every effort to do it with an audience again, but I really didn’t count on a whole tour. I didn’t read it until the brochure came out.’

Björk and Aphex Twin

Van Veldhuizen, who until February was also a music critic for de Volkskrant – his increasingly busy composing practice turned out to be incompatible with the newspaper – describes himself as a composer who works associatively and is just as interested in contemporary classical music as in Björk and Aphex Twin. “I want all those influences to coalesce into something that can become almost uncomfortably emotional.”

Nevertheless, his nine-minute piece (eleven minutes on the recording that was released in a CD box in May) seems to be firmly anchored in the orchestral tradition at first hearing. What shows that it was composed in 2019 after all? ‘There is some disco in the middle part, there is a constant pulse that is passed through the double basses and harp. Surrounded by those Gloria Gaynor-esque strings. I like disco very much. And the beeps and creaks, I’ve also incorporated a drum and bass rhythm into it.’

He found inspiration in an epic poem by Jean Genet from 1942, The death row inmate. “I love how he could write about filthy, amoral sexuality in such flowery, beautiful sentences. The passage I have used is addressed to a death row inmate: let us dream that we meet a shaggy lover, with thighs of gold and a smoking belly, such language.

‘It’s about someone you’re with only half seeing, a figure too dark to recognize. That’s an image I know well from my own life. From darkrooms. Yes, you can write that down. I also want to explore that frayed shadow side of life in my pieces. With the piece we first slide into the shadows, then we shoot up, into the ecstasy. And then… there’s post-coital bliss.”

Tuesday is the first rehearsal. As a composer, Van Veldhuizen wants to hear his pieces live as often as possible. But will he also listen in Abu Dhabi? ‘Not really. Not a hair on my head that thinks about it.’

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