dinsdag 29 november 2016

I am leaving the Amstel Quartet

Dear Amstel Quartet fans,
I have some sad news to share with you:

I am leaving the Amstel Quartet.

As most of you will know, I have gone through a very difficult period. I was seriously ill and I am still recovering from a very heavy chemotherapy. 

During the past year I have doubted pretty much everything. I am a searcher and a doubter, always trying to change things for the better in my life. Last year I wasn’t even sure if I could continue playing the saxophone. 

In the last couple of months I slowly entered working life again, which hasn't always been easy. Despite the fact that this period was very tough on me, my family and my colleagues, it has had some good effects as well. I have come to realise that my focus should be on the things that are most important to me. In the first place, these are my family, my girlfriend and my kids.
But this shift also applies to the artistic field. The Amstel Quartet has been a pillar in my life for twenty years. Whatever I did, there was always the quartet to put my feet back on the ground. Our group has always tried to attain the highest level of musical quality, constantly discussing interpretation and repertoire. At the same time, we have shared many personal things. In that sense, you could say it was like being in a marriage. 

Now I am forty years old. Not old, but not young either. I foresee that I will have the energy to go on whatever road I need and want to take. In order to be able to think about my life and music, however, I need more space, in my head and in my agenda. 

I am currently discovering new music, playing with other cats and I am trying not to wear myself out in the process.

There is still a lot of repertoire to be discovered, so many stages to conquer, but I have chosen not to do this with the Amstel Quartet. I need to take it easier and focus on my own music. Whatever it will turn out to be. 

Harry Cherrin will be taking my place as of January 2017. On December 2nd, The Amsterdam Concertgebouw will host my last concert with the Amstel Quartet, the group of friends that I co-founded twenty years ago. We toured the world and shared everything. 
Now, time has come for me to move on to unknown territories. Thanks a lot for supporting us, coming to our concerts and listening to our CDs.

I am confident that the Amstel Quartet will remain successful and that they will reach a new level of musicianship with Harry.

I had a blast.


zaterdag 19 november 2016

Bach and Coltrane: a clash of conditions

Since my chemo I have been listening to a lot of music again. I hadn't listened to music intensively for a couple of years. During the chemo I (re-)discovered the music of Coltrane, also as a player, Jürg Frey, Charlie Haden/Hank Jones, Philip Glass, Paul Simon, John Dowland and as always Johann Sebastian Bach. 

I am going through a strange time. Still. My body is slowly recuperating. And my mind seems to be tired quicker, but also more focused. Things seem to be more clear. 

The last two months I have read about and listened to a lot of Coltrane. I tend to get obsessed sometimes. This obsession can be anything, 'Breaking Bad', current events or an artist. In this case It was John Coltrane. 

Coltrane has had several periods. And I seem to be most interested in the period after 'Giant Steps', first to modal-like music, then more free, even going to the most avant-garde free-jazz. I even play ‘Trane’’s ‘Transition’ with my buddy Rembrandt Frerichs. This is also the period that I am most attracted to as a listener. I listened to his music for a couple of weeks straight. I couldn’t listen to other music. Every other jazz player seemed to be self-indulging compared to Coltrane.

I haven’t written a blog in some time now. No inspiration. But today I turned on Spotify and decided to go for Bach’s Sonatas for Viola da Gamba by Patxi Montero and Daniele Boccaccio. I didn’t know these artists. Montero’s styles is without compromise. No vibrato whatsoever. But the music hit me. The music of Coltrane is genius. But it made me unrestful lately. I kept listening to Coltrane, but it didn’t reach me as much as before. Bach did. After a couple of notes I noticed that I calmed down and that I could listen to the music without pushing myself to do so.

I have always had a relation with Bach. Even after my chemo I keep coming back to his music periodically. His music seems to be a sort of bench mark. All other music comes from his music. Like Coltrane, Bach seemed to in direct contact with some kind of higher force that put the music in his fingers. I am an atheist, but this notion is a really nice metaphor.

Although I am a classically trained musician, labels seem to have less and less meaning to me. I have always listened to a lot of jazz music. But in an early stage I decided to specialize in the classical idiom. In the final stage of my studies I decided to study with cellist Anner Bylsma. He set me free as a player. He showed my that music could also speak, instead of only sing. He wanted me to play with a broken reed to focus less on sound and more on pronunciation. As a saxophonist there is a danger that we focus so much on sound and playing ‘lines’, in stead of delivering the message.

To play Bach on saxophone is one of the most dangerous things you can do. There’s so much critique to be given. A couple of years ago the organizers of a saxophone festival at my school in Tilburg even decided to not put my rendition of the first Cello Suite by Bach on a collection album of the festival. The recording did not meet their expectations. Listening back to it I do understand what they mean. Some things go wrong, and the acoustics do not help at all. But it was how I played it. Focussing on agogic and pronunciation. Listening back to the whole CD, I realized that the reason for putting the other performances (which also have a definite live feeling to them as well) on it, is that the music is so much less personal. In Bach we can all recognize something. It is music that goes ‘Straight to the Heart’. If things are not like we expect them, it hits us personally. Besides, the general consensus about playing Bach a wind instruments is to play ‘beautiful’, my performance was definitely not an esthetic one.

That is the same reason Branford Marsalis got so much critique when he played and recorded  ‘A Love Supreme’. Probably Coltrane’s most important album. A tribute to God and Love. Coltrane hit so many people with this album, and he still does. When Marsalis played this album it initially felt like blasphemy.

In my most recent project with Rembrandt Frerichs I decided to combine those two artists in one program and go beyond all (self-imposed?) taboos.