The 20th edition of the Young Composers Meeting (YCM) in Apeldoorn was opened yesterday by the ‘Orchestra of the 21st century’ to a full Town Hall. Its spacious, modern architecture perfectly merged with the contemporary notes of such diverse composers as Morgan Krauss (winner of last year’s YCM commission), Igor Stravinsky and Louis Andriessen. In the latter’s Monument for Graettinger musicians of orkest de ereprijs and Het Gelders Orkest joined forces to form a regular big band. The audience was thrilled by their enthusiasm for this rowdy piece, and by the swinging way Ed Spanjaard conducted them. Saxophonist Michiel van Dijk was loudly cheered for his stunning solos.

Apeldoorn Town Hall © orkest de ereprijs
Apeldoorn Town Hall
© orkest de ereprijs

The YCM was initiated twenty years ago by orkest de ereprijs to offer students an opportunity to work with professional musicians and renowned composers. Louis Andriessen was among these from the start, and will be teaching again this year, to a selection of sixteen composers under thirty. Other coaches are Martijn Padding, Richard Ayres and the Scottish-Canadian Anna Meredith, who won the YCM commission in 2002. Nowadays de ereprijs works together with Het Gelders Orkest.

Wim Boerman, artistic leader and mastermind behind the YCM, conducted orkest de ereprijs in Meredith’s energetic In Bloom, named after a song by Nirvana. In an interview for the Dutch new music site muziekvan.nu, she avowed this piece had meant a breakthrough in her way of composing. Under the tuition of Richard Ayres, she’d realized that instead of worrying about how to incorporate rock music, she should just go ahead and do it, with intriguing results.

In Bloom opens with sparse, dissonant blurts of brass, electric guitar and piano, two soprano saxophones interjecting long held trills. The texture gradually becomes denser, with exciting hiccup-like figures urging the music on, and chords evoking a jazzy feel. With its relentless drive, In Bloom breathes the atmosphere of the famed “Hague School” around Andriessen. Yet the thundering drum fills explicitly link it to rock music. After a big build-up, the piece quietens down, returning to the sporadic outbursts of the beginning. It is a fascinating work, lasting only five minutes. It was just a shame that delayed flights meant Meredith couldn’t be present.

Her In Bloom outclassed I could be a ghost, an animal or a dead body with which her younger colleague Morgan Krauss filed in last year’s YCM commission. The American Krauss certainly knows how to handle an ensemble and has a good feeling for colour. Her piece opens with subtle, distorted sounds from the electric guitar, fanning out over mildly dissonant chords from the winds and jittery melodies in the piano. Yet the shifting, impressionist sound clouds lack direction and made the audience’s attention waver. The composition ends as abruptly as it began, leaving them in the dark as to what Krauss had wished to tell them.

Der einsame im Herbst by the Dutch composer Robin de Raaff, composer in residence with Het Gelders Orkest this season, suffers a bit from the same lack of urgency. It’s named after Mahler’s song from Das Lied von der Erde, and is based on the notes in the names of Alban Berg, Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern. In his pointillist approach, De Raaff is clearly indebted to Webern, yet the piece lacks the refinement and focus of his illustrious predecessors. The concert concluded with a mesmerizing interpretation of Stravinsky’s Scherzo à la russe, in which Ed Spanjaard successfully transformed the ensemble into a jaunty circus band.