dinsdag 30 juli 2019

My memories of Anner Bijlsma

Coming back from holidays I was struck by sad news: Anner Bijlsma - Unofficial Fanpage passed away. From about 2005 he was my mentor for the Netherlands Music Prize. He coached me on a regular base also after receiving the prize. His way of approaching music and life was and is an inspiration that I will always keep in my heart and mind. 
I remember that during one of my first lessons he told me that the big disadvantage of the saxophone is the risk of singing too much and showing off the sound. It’s part of the nature of the instrument. According to Anner one of the challenges of the saxophone was to make the instrument almost literally speak. Anner did not believe in music that needs a big line. The big line consists of small parts that need a clear pronunciation above everything, according to him. 
I asked him one time if he knew good music that did need a big line. He did: Wagner, but he added right after, that’s not really good music.
His favorite recordings were the ones where music was played with the expression of the composer, not the expression of the musician performing. Much like the evangelist telling the story of Jesus instead of expressing the pain of Jesus himself (because of pure vanity). 
The lessons with Anner came at exactly the right moment for me. It was a couple of years after I graduated with Arno Bornkamp at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam where I received the best education one could have as a saxophonist and musician. But still after a few years I was stuck. I did not find ways to improve my playing significantly anymore. The melody of Demersseman’s Thème (from Fantaisie sur un thème original) for example I played as legato and sustained as I could. I was almost playing it like an opera singer who ignored the consonants. Well, I am probably exaggerating. But my point is that Anner showed me that the line can also be approached from within. Using the intervals, rhythm and harmony to find an interpretation. 
But it wasn’t only this. Anner had such genius associations with music. He was always approaching music as if it was completely new to him. Even playing Bach’s Cello Suites (on baritone saxophone) and Bach’s Flute Partita (alto) he gave me the feeling that he and I were discovering this music for the first time. He realized that Bach’s music (and Mozart and Haydn) could work on saxophone if approached with the right attitude: open and new. He even once said that the future of classical music was in the hands of ensembles like the saxophone quartet who have the chance to give this music a new character by playing it on saxophone and using the consequences of the instrument on the music. 
Anner’s approach to music worked on every form of music. Also Berio’s Sequenza that I played on soprano saxophone. Anner was not a man of effects but always wanted music to have meaning. Every sound always needed a direction and a pronunciation. 
Anner hated the often used technique of circular breathing. Music needs to breath. A wind instrument does this automatically. If you take that away one kills part of the music.
How incredibly fortunate I was to have a session with Willem BreukerMartin Fondse and Anner together in his house. Willem wrote a piece for me and Hans Eijsackers called “Duty Calls” and Martin a piece called “Roots” (celebrating our common roots in Eiland Tholen). After we had a Calvados. His drink of preference. 
He helped me with personal decisions. Telling me that I should spend as much time as I can with my kids. We had long talks about life, music, about his books on Bach and lots of other stuff. 
He did not like conductors, in general. I once send him a cd of Gustavo Dudamel with his Venezuelan Youth Orchestra that I was particularly fond of. He didn’t spare me and the recording. The man could use the baton he said, but he used the orchestra as an organ. The expression of Mahler and Beethoven was not there he felt. 
A last anecdote, or wise lesson: at one of our first lessons Anner asked me if I could not develop a new mouthpiece. A mouthpiece that makes sound exhaling ánd inhaling. For him, in- and exhaling was like the up and down bow which never should sound the same (hence his obsession with the original bowings in Bach’s Cello Suite which are not as much inconsequent as they are extremely musical!). He was curious if this would work for wind players as well. I told him I couldn’t see this happening. But the idea was an excellent example of Anner’s open mind and an almost childlike creativity. 
Although I didn’t see him much anymore during the last years of my own illness I will miss him deeply. He was a special man, both as a musician and as a person. 
I will miss him.

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