On 5th March 2010, we missed the pre-concert talk due to an unexpected hiccup but fortunately arrived in time for a special programme of Friday at the Vredenburg. As I write this, I’m delighted to discover that the entire concert can be heard online. After the Dutch news, you’ll hear a string quartet and an interview before the concert begins.
What drew us to brave the rain and queue in the cold outdoors for our tickets on this busy, dark wintry (not quite spring) night was the new piano concerto of Jacob ter Veldhuis. I first saw his “Body of Your Dreams” performed at a music festival in Italy. This virtuoso piece was very exciting to watch and has become popular with pianists as a contemporary choice in their final exam recitals.
The evening concert began with a large male acapella choir singing Ton de Leeuw’s Cloudy Forms. de Leeuw (1926 – 1996) is famous in the Netherlands for his definitive book on 20th century music, required reading at Dutch conservatories. After this, the choir continued to more tonal works of another Dutch composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862 – 1921). By now, I was anxious to hear the sound of piano and orchestra.
When Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam walked on stage, it felt as though a maestro had arrived. His uncut, loose, and not quite straight or curly hair in vivid white was unmissable. Famous for his interpretation of the complete sonata cycles of Mozart and Beethoven on fortepiano and a sought-after soloist for many orchestras, Brautigam had the kind of stage presence to whom any composer would gladly dedicate a piano concerto. Despite this reassurance, I was still full of curiosity and anticipation.
Jacob ter Veldhuis, also known as Jacob TV for short and especially in the USA, called his second piano concerto “Sky Falling” or rather “The Sky isn’t Falling” as a response to the credit crunch around the time of its commission in autumn 2008.
[I’ve now reached that part of the radio programme where the stage is being refitted for a grand piano, conductor podium, and the Radio Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra. I am overjoyed that I can listen online as I write this.]
The piano began with a crisp motif quickly joined by the winds. The piano was, at times, like water trickling on stones in a stream. It was constant throughout the 17 minute one movement piece, except for a moment that I’ll never forget. The orchestra stopped (somewhere around bar 45 or 48 as I learned later from viewing the score). It felt like a comma — a breathing point. But the piano did not stop there. It continued in an obvious solo. A few bars later, when you can barely recognise it, the four contrabasses enter and support the now recognisable piano solo. Then the two marimbas and timpani join in. It was beautiful. I would fast forward just to hear that section again. Rewind and hear it again.
Jacob TV’s music is definitely tonal, if not ultra tonal. There are minimalistic elements and even neoromantic. But these characteristics are not what made the piano concerto no. 2 unique. Somewhere in my mind, as I sat bewitched by the music, I uttered what I would eventually write “…a feeling of hope and optimism that we need today.” That’s how I felt when I heard it live and how I feel as I listen online now.
How does one write music that gives you hope? It’s not the same as music that makes you jolly and happy. It’s not the same as an elegy that makes you nostalgic or sentimental. You don’t linger or dwell on the past but look forward to the future.
Jacob ter Veldhuis wrote his “Sky Falling” concerto while the financial crisis was unfolding around the world.
Not quite one and a half years later, hope and optimism are what we need more than anything.
When I learned that Jacob ter Veldhuis had written a new piano concerto for another Dutch maestro, Ronald Brautigam, to be premiered in Utrecht, I just had to see it. I had seen Brautigam interpret Beethoven’s piano sonatas on fortepiano in the Vredenburg (the biggest concert hall in Utrecht) before it shut down for renovation. The red box (as we call it) of the temporary concert hall of Vredenburg has nearly become permanent as we local residents wait for the new Music Palace whose end is not yet in sight.
Jacob ter Veldhuis had coached me on my Elegy when he was composer-in-residence at Utrecht Conservatory (2007-2008). On the first day, he introduced himself, beginning with “I am a full time composer.” Somehow those words inspired me so greatly that I wanted to hear his works and eventually play them.