In the spring of 1996 I was asked to play a concert with the musikFabrik in Essen. This was the beginning of a collection of innumerable musical, social, culinary and other educational experiences. On the program: Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Secret Theater’, under the direction of Johannes Kalitzke, and not much later I was invited as a member of the ensemble and in the years to follow I would experience many highlights — as well as some trouble that come with running a group with growing pains. At the same time, I lived a musical double life, since I am also a member of the Amsterdam ‘reed quintet’ Calefax since 1985. The number of concerts of both ensembles has increased enormously, and thus it became less and less doable to combine both memberships. As I started teaching Bassoon at the ‘Royal Conservatoire’ in The Hague in September 2018, it became inevitable to say goodbye to my Cologne friends. In gratitude I write here a short blog.
Saying goodbye to the music factory after 22 years – that’s obviously a reason to look back. Seriously looking back is not in my nature, but I’ve already noticed: the older you get, the more fun it is! Although I simply love playing the bassoon, as well as the really fine interplay that is required in an ensemble – it’s the ‘exceptional projects’ that have shaped me the most. ‘Exceptional’ in instrumentation, theatricality or in the development process.
John Cage (1998)
The first project in the category ‘exceptional’ was already in 1998. At that time ‘Ensemble Musikfabrik’ was still written as ‘musikFabrik’, and we were at home in Dusseldorf, in the orangery of Schloss Benrath. There we worked for weeks on many pieces of John Cage, together with the choreographer Reinhild Hoffmann, and developed a project that was finally called ‘asK Little autO where it wantS to Take You’. Getting to learn about the philosophy and approach of John Cage was already great. But the sheer length of the project made it possible to let Cage’s ideas even settle in my way of thinking — an enrichment of my life that I still cherish, in music making as well as in everyday life. For me that means: to face all situations with openness, to try to consider all possible sounds as music, but also to love chance. Why ‘asK Little autO where it wantS to Take You’ is written so weird? Because it’s an ‘acrostic’, a kind of pun on the name KLOSTY, James, a photographer and friend of Cage. (And oh yes, I love word or language games! About once a year I hear a sentence that ‘probably has never been said’. This always gives me a subtle pleasure and reminds me of the moment in the Düsseldorfer Tonhalle, where we 2005 witnessed a great ‘world premiere’ of a German language sentence. We were involved in a musical school project, and the teacher gave all the kids a certain cat role, and just before the final rehearsal he said the wonderful and probably never before pronounced sentence “Unfortunately the clown cat is still in the Koran school.” Somehow I believe that John Cage would have loved such a sentence too.)
In retrospect, I am very aware of the extraordinary trust that was given to me in 2002, when the ensemble made me project manager of a sound installation at an interactive exhibition of the Rotterdam architect group MVRDV, in the NRW Forum in Dusseldorf. In the wonderful ZKM Karlsruhe we recorded for two days with eleven musicians, music as well as text fragments. The recordings went smoothly, the further development of the project… not quite. At the opening of the exhibition there was not more than a paltry, non-interactive sound track, representing roughly 1% of my intended ideas. Why I feel like mentioning this here anyway is because this project taught me what it means to be responsible, and also because my colleagues have never really (publicly) resented my failure. And not least because, as Johan Cruyff always said, ‘every disadvantage has its own advantage’: about one year after the recordings in Karlsruhe, I made a collage of the material, which now has a great value for me, also because in it the voices can be heard of many colleagues, ex- Colleagues and some esteemed guest musicians. You can hear it here.
Delusion of the Fury (2013)
The last ‘special project’ I would like to mention here was the production of Heiner Goebbels in 2013 of Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury. Rarely have I felt so privileged – which bassoonist in the world is allowed to perform sword fencing, sing (as a pilgrim) and make music on instruments like Spoils of War and Chromelodeon? This list may be enough for now, although the list of ‘exceptional projects’ could be much longer. Maybe that’s why I’ve felt so comfortable in the MUFA for so long: exceptions are more of a rule here.
While writing these reflections (I like it better and better!) there is one word that constantly pops up in my mind, namely ‘connection’. Connection with colleagues, conductors, composers, soloists, directors, music and ideas. Over the years, so many have become dear to my heart!
Bauckholt, Eötvös, Haas, Harvey, Kagel, Lachenmann, Lim, Rykova, Saunders, Stockhausen. There are only ten names of more than a hundred composers with whom I was allowed to work with at the Ensemble Musikfabrik. With many of them I spent a lot of time showing the possibilities and weak spots of my instrument, which was always interesting and almost always funny. And hopefully helpful for many compositions that will be created in the future. And, well, if we’re at it… a bassoon solo piece by Rebecca Saunders or Helmut Lachenmann is still high on my wish list!
Of course, the most important part of the mentioned connection is towards direct colleagues – musicians and staff! I’ve been bassooning around with you for 22 years. And all over the place: in many countries of Europe, and in Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, the United States. I am grateful to be able to curate a farewell concert on 3.12.2018, in which many come together again. I am happy to end this concert with John White’s good old ‘Drinking and Hooting Machine’, because if one thing connects people even more than drinking together, it is making music together.
Amsterdam, October 2018