Pandemic Relief: a Dutch Perspective
Next on this playlist is choral music of the Czech composer Janacek, conducted by Anner and Vera’s dear friend, Reinbert De Leeuw. Janacek was a highly individual Czech composer, educated in choral singing and organ playing, and drawn to Moravian folk music and folklore, with its irregular rhythms and modal harmonies. These choral works start off in a fable, nursery tale vein—The Wild Duck, The Dove, Our Birch Tree; then (at 7:45) comes a haunting Elegy for his daughter Olga, whose death at 20 devastated Janacek. This intimate, loving depiction of his daughter resonates for me with our current sense of tragic loss.
I first met Reinbert De Leeuw when he directed the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 1996; he brought a trove of new music to the attention of the students and audience there—from Vivier to Kagel, Ligeti, and Gubaidulina. His delight at every bird song in Messaien’s Chronochromie infected all of us.
He had the look of a prophet—tall, gaunt, swirling gray hair, and his musical conviction was irresistible. A recent live performance of Satie’s Gnossiennes from 2018 comes next on this playlist.
Reinbert died this past February at 81. Anthony Tomassini recalled in his obituary that, “in 1969, as part of what was called the Nutcracker’s Action Group, he and fellow agitators, including Louis Andriessen, disrupted a concert in the (Concertgebouw) orchestra’s fabled hall by making noise with nutcrackers, rattles, bicycle horns and such. They passed out leaflets denouncing the orchestra as a status symbol of the elite. The protesters were ejected, but their campaign, and values, began to take hold.” The conductor of that concert in 1969, Bernard Haitink, still was not on speaking terms with Reinbert thirty years later at Tanglewood. This documentary (turn on the subtitles!) examines the impact of this demonstration, and the growth of the new music scene in Holland in the 1970s and ‘80s.
We can hear echos of the protests that Reinbert and Louis Andriesen took part in in the #blacklivesmatter protests over the summer, and the protests against government corruption in Israel that continue these days. That Amsterdam became a leading center for new music gives hope for our future.
Reinbert De Leeuw, Anner Bylsma, and Vera Beths were close friends, and, along with clarinetist George Pieterson, they championed The Quartet for the End of Time, an epic work by Olivier Messiaen written in a prison camp in Görlitz, Germany, in 1941. Reinbert coached Iris in an unforgettable performance of this piece at Tanglewood in 1997. Next up on this playlist is Anner and Reinbert playing the “Louange à l’éternitie de Jesus” or “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus” from this piece. Time can seem to stand still during this pandemic; I find the attitude of “Praise” is a welcome relief from the fear and isolation the pandemic has imposed upon us.
We look forward to returning to Roosevelt Island and sharing wonderful music with you when it is safe to do so. In the mean time, I hope you can enjoy some of the music I’ve been listening to.