On Sunday 4th September I attended the world premiere of a new collaborative venture to promote the life and music of Jakob van Eyck. Known to millions of recorder players around the world due to the many sets of variations he wrote for the instrument based on popular tunes of his day, he is less familiar to the citizens of Utrecht (where he worked for most of his adult life) and of the Netherlands in general. This project, which also opened the 2016 season of Cultural Sundays (Culturele Zondagen), aimed to correct that wrong by making van Eyck’s music relevant in the 21st century, and to give music history a new “local hero”.
The Grote Zaal in the Vredenburg had been transformed into something resembling a jazz club by purple lighting and synthetic smoke. On the central stage there was a large DJ’s mixing table with a variety of turntables and other devices, and a second table with an Apple device. These were the domains of Arjen de Vreede (DJ DNA) and Jorrit Tamminga respectively. I learned that recorder sound samples had been cut onto vinyl discs to allow the background use of chords. Another machine, which had been acquired at great expense from Kraftwerk in the 1990s, transformed sounds into growls. While the DJ accompanied using a variety of techniques, Tamminga sampled and mixed and looped the live performance of star recorder player, Erik Bosgraaf. In a dramatic white suit, he made his entry playing one of the later variations of a van Eyck piece, and worked backward until he ended up at the relatively long notes of the original tune. He then progressed up some stairs and transferred to a metallic instrument upon which he produced flashes of white noises. Up another flight of stairs saw him encounter and play what he later called his great bass ikea flute (similar to those shown below). From here he descended once again to the stage, played some more van Eyck on a different, higher pitched recorder and then walked off, leaving DNA and Tamminga to wind down the accompanying sounds and the impressive light show to a subdued ending.
I must be honest and say that I found the concert a challenge. I understand that van Eyck and his music deserve to be more widely known. I also appreciate that new approaches have to be taken to give it modern currency. The concert hall was packed and the audience highly appreciative of the performance. I found it a powerfully thought-provoking experience – if slightly shocking in the context of the early music which filled the rest of my time in Utrecht – but having one’s preconceptions challenged and boundaries pushed is never a bad thing. Samples from the show are available HERE, so you can listen for yourselves.
My thanks to:
- Residenties in Utrecht
- Festival Oude Muziek
- Gaudeamus Muziekweek
- Culturele Zondagen