Louis Andriessen is my favourite Dutch composer, but even here in the Netherlands his works are underperformed. So it was all the more exciting that the Clazz Ensemble presented a program solely with works by Andriessen. The Clazz Ensemble are just as comfortable playing jazz as they are playing classical music, which was perfect for this evening, as we were treated to many Andriessen pieces inspired by jazz.

Louis Andriessen, © Francesca Patella
Louis Andriessen,
© Francesca Patella

Opening with A Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata, an exciting short piece for trumpet, the Clazz Ensemble swiftly moved onto Dat Gebeurt in Vietnam (“That happens in Vietman”). The typical rhythmical drive that so many Andriessen works have came to the forefront in this piece. In some ways it is similar to, for example, John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, both because of this rhythmical drive and the repetition. Of course repetition need not mean that the work is predictable, and Dat Gebeurt in Vietnam was thoroughly engaging and exciting, and caused many heads to bop along.

This concert was my first experience of an ensemble consisting of mainly brass - the Clazz Ensemble has three trumpets, a French horn, two trombones, three saxophones (one sometimes changed to a flute), drums, bass (both electric bass and double bass) and piano. I understand why the ushers told us not to sit in the first five rows – the volume was rather overwhelming at times – but overall the music did not suffer in any way. Despite not having a large number of different instruments, the Clazz Ensemble still made the music sound fresh and exhilarating, at no moment did I miss any other instruments.

Two of the works played tonight were directly inspired by other musicians, 1973’s On Jimmy Yancey and 2011’s Monument for Graettinger. Jimmy Yancey was a famous jazz pianist and some of his trademark melodies were directly incorporated into Andriessen's music, with incredible effect. Of course Andriessen’s more classical background shone through and made the work not entirely jazz, but really a modern classical piece with jazz rhythms and inspiration. I really loved Monument for Graettinger, it was introduced by trumpeter Gerard Kleijn who explained that the composer Robert Graettinger arranged music in a way that mixed the big band sound with Schoenberg - and this could be a description of Monument for Graettinger as well. The ever-present rhythms were as catchy as ever, but there is something off-beat and exhilarating about Andriessen’s own style that took the music to the next level. The melodies remain with you while never being predictable, and above all the energy was almost tangible, making the listening an increasingly visceral experience.

The Clazz Ensemble were joined by mezzo-soprano Cristina Zavalloni and violinist Monica Germino for Passeggiata in tram in America e ritorno, a song set to a poem by the Italian Dino Campana. The Passeggiata starts off calmly, with only piano and violin. Soon the brass comes in, playing notes that verge on the dissonant but have an almost unsettling clarity about them. When the vocals join in, this unsettling element is only enlarged – there is no comfort here. But at the same time the music aroused a great curiosity in me and this is exactly what often appeals to me in Andriessen’s music.

Monica Germino performed the beautiful solo piece Xenia, in which she not only played but also sang. It was interesting to have this piece in a program with so much more violent music – but it worked well. The passion and (perhaps) quirkiness of the music is still felt in this solo piece, and Germino played it impressively, with both skill and character.

Cristina Zavalloni has an incredible voice (despite having had a cold), perfectly suited to Andriessen’s style of writing, which requires the singer to merge jazz and classical styles. This became all the more obvious in M is For Man, Music, Mozart, a 1991 work that was accompanied by a Peter Greenaway film. The lyrics are witty and so is the music – it’s jumpy, excited, yet at times almost sad – but most of all exhilarating. M is For Man, Music, Mozart consists of four different songs: ‘The Alphabet Song’, ‘The Vesalius Song’, ‘The Schultz Song’ and ‘The Eisenstein Song’, and three instrumental movements in between these songs. ‘The Alphabet Song’ is particularly punchy, but the highlight for me was ‘The Vesalius Song’, in which Zavalloni and the Clazz Ensemble really went all out. The accompanying film by Greenaway deserves a review all on its own, so I won’t go into it that much but I will say that it certainly added something extra to the performance – it lifted the music and made it more tangible, while also emphasizing its humour.