If you’re a young composer and the Concertgebouw Orchestra knocks on your doorfor a piece, that’s a reason to jump for joy. If it is also recorded: evenmore fun. But when your work is resumed a year later and is even played seventimes 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 Amsterdamunder the direction of Daniel Harding. Later it can be heard in Heerlen,Alicante, London and Abu Dhabi. A salient detail, given that last concertlocation: the piece is based on a homoerotic poem. Homosexuality is a crime inAbu Dhabi.
Should we see a statement from the orchestra in it? ‘That would be nice, but Idoubt it’, says Van Veldhuizen. The piece dates from 2019 and was intended forthe 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 studentat the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, my teacher Joël Bons passed on lists ofyoung composers to the orchestra to keep an eye on. I stood there. In 2015 Imade a piece for the Spiegelzaal, for three instruments and a narrator. Thatwas really small beer, but that’s how they knew me. In 2018 I was called byJoel Fried, the then artistic director, if I wanted to make a piece for stringorchestra.
‘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 therhythmic points.’ He worked on it full-time for six months, ‘because I wantedeverything about this assignment to be right’. Due to corona, the premiere didnot follow until 2021. Nice: led by Fabio Luisi, a big name. Not fun: withoutan audience, because in a live stream that wasn’t even really live. ‘Luckilymy parents and boyfriend were allowed to join us, we were tucked away underthe balcony.
‘The feedback from the orchestra said that I had made it difficult for them byworking with a clean tuning, but that they thought it was cool. They wouldmake every effort to do it with an audience again, but I really didn’t counton 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 withthe newspaper – describes himself as a composer who works associatively and isjust as interested in contemporary classical music as in Björk and Aphex Twin.”I want all those influences to coalesce into something that can become almostuncomfortably emotional.”
Nevertheless, his nine-minute piece (eleven minutes on the recording that wasreleased in a CD box in May) seems to be firmly anchored in the orchestraltradition 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 ispassed 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 alsoincorporated a drum and bass rhythm into it.’
He found inspiration in an epic poem by Jean Genet from 1942, The death rowinmate. “I love how he could write about filthy, amoral sexuality in suchflowery, beautiful sentences. The passage I have used is addressed to a deathrow inmate: let us dream that we meet a shaggy lover, with thighs of gold anda smoking belly, such language.
‘It’s about someone you’re with only half seeing, a figure too dark torecognize. 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 oflife in my pieces. With the piece we first slide into the shadows, then weshoot up, into the ecstasy. And then… there’s post-coital bliss.”
Tuesday is the first rehearsal. As a composer, Van Veldhuizen wants to hearhis 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.’