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Contemporary music

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Louis Andriessen (1939) was the key figure in the modernisation of the contemporary classical genre. In 1969 he not only stormed the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, but he worked together with a number of leading writers and composers on the ‘collective opera’ Reconstructie (Reconstruction). Andriessen founded several ensembles so he could play his compositions on his own terms. For example, in 1972 the De Volharding Orchestra was established to perform De volharding (Perseverance), playing music not just as entertainment but also as a means towards social action. Louis Andriessen’s magnum opus is De Staat (the State) in which two identically matched orchestras incessantly pelt each other with rock-hard chunks of musical granite.

The sharpest of the typically Dutch edges are gradually becoming dulled in the younger generation. They are internationally oriented and regularly give their pieces English titles. Take Michel van der Aa (1970) for example. This pupil of Andriessen studied film direction at the New York Film Academy as well as taking a course in drama direction at the Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab. Like Andriessen, Van der Aa has worked with film directors such as Hal Hartley and Peter Greenaway. His broad musical-theatrical approach has already tempted the Financial Times to make the following Wagnerian prophecy: ‘This is the Gesamtkunstwerk of the future.’ Micha Hamel (1970) studied in The Hague but did not encounter Louis Andriessen until much later, in the composition class at Tanglewood (USA). He has conducted many performances of contemporary music. Composer and theatre-maker Merlijn Twaalfhoven (1976) – who originally trained as a violist – is an equally versatile talent. Twaalfhoven has a receptive ear to non-Western music and the sounds of nature. With his foundation, La Vie sur Terre, he undertakes large-scale projects on location, for example in the dunes, on an old Soviet submarine, or in Paradiso, the Amsterdam temple of pop music. Jacob ter Veldhuis (1951) is considered a maverick, but is nonetheless one of the most frequently performed living Dutch composers. ‘Ultra-tonal and sweetly flowing’ is how he describes his music, which derives from his background as a pop music composer, and which he employs as a gesture of revolt against the ‘hackneyed avant-garde’. Ter Veldhuis explores the furthest boundaries of kitsch and is not afraid to cross them: ‘My music is liberally sprinkled with sugar.’ The high point of his success so far is the three-day festival devoted to his work at the Whitney Museum in New York in 2007.