THE MUSIC OF JACOB TER VELDHUIS
Audiences, musicians, programmers and theatre directors have in recent years shown an increasing interest in Jacob ter Veldhuisí music. Critics and other 'connoisseurs' in particular once seemed to have trouble 'placing' this composer, but now that the lines between genres - for example, between light and serious music - have become blurred, one has a clearer insight into the realm of his work, in which various of styles and methods of expression enjoy equal status.
In his compositions Ter Veldhuis targets the listenerís emotions rather than his intellect. His rock-band past (a tree that continues to bear fruit) taught him that music must not be 'thought up', but simply 'made'. Because, he says, 'Once you start contriving music, youíll get a product that sounds contrived.'This attitude has won over not only the 'composed-music' faction, but a jazz and rock-oriented audience as well.
The three string quartets, the Goldrush Concerto, the recent oratorio Paradiso and the various works in which musicians are accompanied by a ghetto blaster all have a distinctive double-edged aspect in common. Ter Veldhuis can express himself in a ëseriousí genre with an accessibility and listener-friendliness that leans toward light music, but at the same time his more rock-oriented compositions possess a refinement and solidity that elevates them far above garden-variety pop entertainment. It is left up to the listener to decide to which side of the balance any given piece sways; Ter Veldhuis is noncommittal as to whether a work is serious or lighthearted, apollonistic or dionysic, a poem or a comic strip.
He does, though, feel that two pronounced themes have emerged in his oeuvre. Some works (including those with ghetto blaster) have a worldly, at times even cynical component: they illuminate day-to-day reality, with the accent on transience, loss, the sordid fringe of society. On the other side of the coin, some of Ter Veldhuisí works present an elaborate version of Heaven, with all its appropriate associations and implications.
The most literal example from this latter category is Paradiso: a multimedia oratorio for soloists, sampler, womenís choir and large orchestra, accompanied by video projections by Jaap Drupsteen. Ter Veldhuisí Paradise is a world of sensuality and pure harmony. It is not a backwards somersault into the past, but rather a flight into the future, far from dissonance, conflict, suffering: turning away, as the composer puts it, from 'the 20th-century craving for dissonance'.
'From Euripides onward,' says Ter Veldhuis, 'conflict has been seen as a precondition for a work of art. Romanticism confirmed this viewpoint, and in the 20th century - certainly after the second world war - art became progressively more conceptual and harder to swallow. Artists sometimes behave like preachers, shouting hell and damnation from the pulpit. Of course Iím moved by the tragedy of human failings and the suffering that results from it, but I want to sublimate this by striving for absolutely pure, unearthly and perfect mellifluousness: beauty as a drug.'
Dissonance - one of modernismís calling cards - has become, according to Ter Veldhuis, a devalued mode of expression. He prefers to pepper his music with sugar. The exterior sheen of works such as Goldrush, Jungle Heart and the Goldrush Concerto yields a pronounced ëdesigní character which a hard-line modernist would most certainly shun. In the visual arts, artists such as Rob Scholte and Jeff Koons have long since shed that embarrassment. Ter Veldhuis shares this aesthetic and chooses his material uninhibitedly, 'as though Iím wandering around a carnival or flea market, on the lookout for something that can be beautiful or meaningful in another context.' That says much about the craftsmanship that characterizes his work: the warm, polished sounds could become kitsch in less skilled hands, but Ter Veldhuis enhances the musicís value by approaching the material in an unpredictable way. And in opting for the fine brush over the paint roller, he accentuates simplicity and beauty.
The combination of cosmetic exterior gloss and fine inner nuances has allowed his music to progress under its own steam. Ter Veldhuis is the last one to deny the usability of his music, and in the 1990s that resulted in a number of provocative theatre productions, including ballets choreographed by Hans van Manen.
Likewise, there is no objection to a piece being entertaining - a clear feature of the works influenced by rock music. In De Zuchten van Rameau (Rameauís Sighs, 1995) Ter Veldhuis combines harpsichord with rock samples. The result is a journey in time, an explosive mix of archaic and contemporary sounds.
This procedure has been developed further in the series of works for live musicians and ghetto blaster: Heartbreakers, GRAB IT! and Lipstick; enervating music, often with frisky, cavorting beats and a down-to-earth character that contrasts with the ecstatic visionary beauty of, for example, Paradiso. Samples of human voices emitted from the ghetto blaster uncompromisingly reflect the shadowy side of society.
Ter Veldhuis weaves them together into what he calls ëmodern-day ariasí, 'in which the emotion is vulgar but authentic'. At times they have a comical effect, such as snippets of the Jerry Springer Show in Heartbreakers. And at other times they reveal genuine tragedy: in GRAB IT!, testimony of American prisoners becomes the rhythmic base for a virtuoso, ëmulticulturalí saxophone part. Here Ter Veldhuis shows not only his comforting side but also a more sceptical and anxious one.
The attentive observer is constantly reminded that Ter Veldhuisí oeuvre is varied and inspiring, one that is directed at a broad audience, not only at the musical elite. The dramatic stratification of the individual works corresponds to this diversity of target audiences.
A critic from Records International recently summed up Ter Veldhuisí qualities in a review of the three string quartets.
ìHighly expressive and emotional, almost anti-intellectual music, clear of texture and architectural in form, highly organised and basically tonal, though betraying no inclination towards any neo-classical procedures. A kind of non-repetitive minimalism, brooding and powerful.î
Flutist Eleonore Pameijer on Lipstick:
'I knew Jacob to be the composer of exquisite, moving music, and in commissioning this work I came into just the kind of piece every soloist dreams of. Lipstick is one of the most successful works in my repertoire. It is exciting and spectacular without resorting to trickery - every note is important and functional.'
Saxophonist Arno Bornkamp on GRAB IT!:
'The notes themselves are already great, but in combination with the voice samples from the ghetto blaster they take on a very special meaning, a literary, theatrical message. Jacob has succeeded in turning a musician into a storyteller, in a very free and provocative way.'
Pianist Kees Wieringa:
'Jacob is enormously inventive with sound. The assumption that a composer is attuned to sound seems logical enough. But in practice that is often not the case. In his works Jacob is always composer and listener simultaneously: the most important consideration is that it sounds good, and that means he is open for suggestions from musicians, and appreciates their own interpretations.'
(translation: Jonathan Reeder)