It was a surprising afternoon of world premières at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw this weekend. With promises of young talent, such as the rising Dutch recorder player Erik Bosgraaf, and daring new compositions by Peter Adriaansz and Louis Andriessen, the event shed some light on the state of modern music today.

Erik Bosgraaf © Marco Borggreve
Erik Bosgraaf
© Marco Borggreve

An idea of mine which recurred throughout the afternoon was that somehow musical creations reflect where society stands at any given moment in history. When listening to a piece, one is reminded of the world in existence at the time when it was composed. When it comes to contemporary works of art, we are then faced with our society as it currently stands: an interesting, but not always enjoyed, experience.

Peter Adriaansz’s Rising and Falling, written in 2012–13, opened the afternoon’s exploration of sound. Noticing the subtlety with which the last two players in each string section dropped out and rejoined the texture made me wonder at such meticulous compositional detail. The role of the instrumentalists in this sense was predominantly submissive to the overall benefit of the mass sound being produced. It’s an interesting slant on the orchestral sound as we have known it for centuries: instead of virtuosic intention, we see the group working as a whole, based on the ensemble’s initiative rather than that of individuals.

The most promising part of the afternoon’s concert then took to the stage solo. Erik Bosgraaf’s tour de force arrangement of Pierre Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double, a clarinet composition originally dating from 1984, saw its first treatment played on the recorder in grand fashion. Beginning with a pre-recorded series of motifs, Bosgraaaf joined the electronic texture of himself playing, with one leg up on a chair, braced for battle. Sure, the stance was necessary to reach certain high notes, but come on, it also looked incredibly... cool.

Still thinking about the future of contemporary composition, I could not help but feel relieved at the sight and sound of Mr Bosgraaf. With such a model as this, and such a thoughtful arrangement of modern music by this burgeoning talent, how can any young person not be intrigued? Indeed, I believe that the future of music in general lies in the youth of each generation, and yet sadly I see fewer and fewer young faces in nearly every venue I enter. I’m confident that the future plans and aspirations of Mr Bosgraaf and other young musicians will attract a wider and more varied audience, sparking a light inside curious minds.

To round out the program, Louis Andriessen’s 2010 composition Rosa’s Horses proved a triumph for the Radio Chamber Philharmonic. I was thrilled to watch the musicians shine in their contributions; I believe strongly that when you see musicians enjoying themselves, whether that be with an inflamed madness or a delicate nonchalance, then it says something profound about the music itself.

Of course, the reedy instrumentation from the saxophone section offered quite a lot in terms of sound dynamic as well as the rhythmic persistence of the electric guitars in conjunction with the two symmetrically opposed pianos. There was much to see and hear as the work progressed; I found myself needing to play the game of searching for the voice with the main melody, since the orchestra blended with such ease.

Overall the afternoon proved worthwhile, with its fair share of surprises and curiosities. Of course, opinions concerning such encounters with new music inevitably reveal the perspective from which one views them. Pessimism or optimism in the end cannot be subscribed to by everyone, but are instead the choices of each and every individual listener. Faced with so much against us in the Netherlands at the moment in terms of artistic funding, there is still cause for optimism and a curious smile from those so disposed to listen.

***11