Rotterdam Conservatory Interview

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Subject: A request from Rotterdam Conservatory Percussion Dept. Students

Dear Ozgu Bulut & Martijn Krijnen,

In October 2000, I had the pleasure of visiting your beautiful Conservatory in Rotterdam with my friend, Peter Prommel. I was a jurist in Eindhoven for the Tromp Muziek Biënnale Percussion Competition. I also enjoyed meeting and working with Willem Vos (from Rotterdam). So, I feel some sense of connection with you and your colleagues at the Conservatory. I will do my best to answer your questions.


We, students of the Rotterdam Conservatory Percussion Department in Holland, are preparing a presentation about ‘The Percussion Ensembles Worldwide’ on request of our teachers, Mr.Richard Jansen(Amsterdam Percussion Ensemble); Mr.Hans Leenders (Rotterdam Philharmony Orchestra) and Mr.Chris Leenders (Residential Orchestra – The Hague), as a thesis so as to improve our knowledge. We have already collected some information about your ensemble, however we also need your personal opinion(s) on some questions listed below. This mail will be sent also to some other percussion ensembles.

Q: What are the aspects that make you ‘an ensemble’?

A: Our sense of ensemble is derived from: 1) our friendship in the beginning (and now too), and our shared experiences over 30-years of NEXUS concerts around the world; 2) our common love of classical music (especially orchestral music), world music and percussion music;

Q: The common belief(s) that keep you together?

A: 1) Three of us shared the same teachers from the Philadelphia Orchestra in the1960s – Fred (Dan) Hinger and Alan Abel.

2) Three of us shared the same teacher at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY – William G. Street, (who was also the teacher of Hinger and Abel).

3) All of us performed in various orchestras together BEFORE NEXUS was formed.

4) We shared similar ideas about what was ‘beautiful’ in music.

5) We shared similar ideas about what sounds we like to hear from percussion instruments.

Q: The main aspects that make you different from others?

A: 1) Our repertoire – We have a balanced repertoire:

* improvised music,

* composed pieces in a ‘contemporary’ classical style,

* composed pieces by NEXUS members,

* novelty ragtime xylophone music from the 1920s and 1930s,

* West African music which we have learned from our African teacher(s),

* Orchestral music featuring percussion, including our own compositions.

Q: How do you make decisions concerning your ensemble?

A: Decisions are made by voting after we have discussed the issue; the majority usually decides.

Q: To play at at concert or not?

A: Majority vote, but only if there are no personal schedule conflicts.

Q: To play a piece or not?

A: Majority vote, but we have come to realize that if only one person is not completely committed to a piece, the quality will ultimately suffer.

Q: Who will be the extra player (if needed) for the coming project,etc.?

A: We have a small group of very close friends and students in the percussion world. Usually, it will be from this group.

Q: What kind of pieces do you usually choose for your repertoire and why?

A: Our repertoire is made up of music that we like. Generally, we don’t play pieces we don’t like. We do not feel an obligation to play music that doesn’t touch us in some way, because if the music doesn’t touch us, it becomes almost impossible for us to touch audiences. Also, NEXUS does not survive solely because of government support; we must make positive connections with paying audiences, who make it possible for us to do what we love. Many, if not most, of the people at NEXUS concerts have never heard a percussion ensemble before in their lives. While not every piece in our repertoire is easy for unsophisticated audiences to appreciate, we have tried to make our programs balanced, so that audiences can find something in almost every NEXUS concert to appreciate.

Q: Do you also make transcriptions for playing at a concert?

A: Generally, NEXUS does not perform transcriptions of pieces for other kinds of instruments and ensembles. One exception would be the arrangements of novelty ragtime xylophone music, much of which was originally composed for xylophone and piano.

Q: How often do you prepare new pieces?

A: NEXUS prepares one or two new pieces each year. The concert repertoire gradually evolves over time, with new pieces gradually replacing old ones in the repertoire. Because of the difficulty of finding rehearsal time, and because of the problems associated with making percussion set-ups (especially big set-ups), and because our instruments are frequently not available due to touring, or other use by individual members of NEXUS, it is very hard to prepare new pieces. NEXUS is different from many other ensembles in that we usually want to know a composer personally, before we commit to learning a piece by that composer. Also, because of the uniqueness of our instrument collection, we want the composer to know our instruments as much as possible. I do not remember even one instance where NEXUS has prepared a piece that was sent to us unsolicited by a composer.

Q: What were your greatest highlights – the peakpoints you have reached until now?

A: Some of the high points were:

1) performance of the Takemitsu piece, ‘From me flows what you call Time’ with the Boston Symphony and Seiji Ozawa in 1990 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The piece was composed for NEXUS by Takemitsu, who was a good friend of NEXUS over many years.

2) the world tour in 1984 – China, Korea, Japan, United States, Canada, England, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany.

3) performances with some of the world’s greatest orchestras: New York Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Hannover Radio Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.).

Q: What is your opinion about today’s percussion world and ensembles?

A: In general, the technical abilities of percussion performers have greatly increased worldwide. My observation is that there is much more attention being given to technical thinking about music than is being given to individual expression. I think that many musicians are in danger of thinking about music as some kind of competition – the goal being to be faster or more complex than everyone else. For me, music performance is about being whoever you uniquely are. I agree with Bela Bartok, the great Hungarian composer, who said, ‘Competition is for horses, not artists.’

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I hope NEXUS will be able to help young percussionists by becoming more involved in residencies, workshops, and masterclasses at music schools and colleges. NEXUS is also planning to commission more pieces for percussion ensemble and orchestra.

Q: Your advise(s) to young percussionists?

A: 1) find a good teacher – one who motivates you and with whom you enjoy being;

2) find the time to go to concerts, especially by performers who play the kind of music to which you aspire;

3) as soon as possible, go where the kind of music you aspire to is being performed regularly, and insert yourself into that network so that you know the network and the network knows you;

4) every time you perform, consider it to be the most important thing in your life. Do your best to make it as good as you can make it for the listeners;

5) try to keep music-making fun – always remember what it was about music that you liked when you first started to play;

6) listen to your colleagues, to audiences, to managers, to students, to everyone until you clearly understand what they are saying; then decide what is best for you to do.

Bill Cahn / NEXUS