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Conductor Jurjen Hempel: 'The students of Score Collective have an unprecedented technical ability.'

Music students are generally conservative. When I studied musicology in the 1990s, we could go to the concerts in new-music temple the IJsbreker for only five guilders. I eagerly used this opportunity to hear the very latest notes by living composers like Pauline Oliveros and Sofia Gubaidoelina for a trifle. I never saw a single fellow student there. I am still amazed when young musicians proudly send me their first CD - with yet another recording of Beethoven or Brahms.

The Conservatorium van Amsterdam took that conservative cow by the horns and in 2014 launched the Master's specialisation in New Music. - And immediately called into being their own ensemble, Score Collective. On Wednesday 25 November, they will dedicate a concert in TivoliVredenburg a concert to well-known pieces by Heiner Goebbels and Martijn Padding. In addition, they are presenting a work by Icelandic composition student Gísli Magnússon (1988). I spoke about this with Arnold Marinissen, study leader of the Master's New Music specialisation, and conductor Jurjen Hempel.

Why was Score Collective founded and who is it for?

Arnold Marinissen: 'The initiative came from the management of the conservatory, in conjunction with the start of the Master's specialisation in New Music. The artistic coordination is in the hands of Joël Bons and me. The core of the ensemble consists of Master's students following the specialisation, but other students with a heart for new music are also involved. Thus, the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (CvA) has a permanent platform for working on and performing new music. This is emphatically also done in collaboration with the composition department.'

Is participation mandatory?

'No, but once someone is assigned to a project, participating is no longer optional; after all, the students get credits for it. When putting together the ensemble, we look closely at their wishes and preferences and their expertise in new music. We do three to four projects a year. About five days of rehearsals are held for each of these, along with an occasional group rehearsal for the individual sections. Then, of course, there is individual preparation. A programme is usually performed twice, once inside the CvA, once in a large hall outside. Many students indicate afterwards that they would like to participate again next time. That gives a good feeling!'

How long have students been in Score Collective?

'A student from the Masters specialisation in New Music will collaborate on almost all projects during their two-year study. They form the core, other students play regularly. If someone plays an unusual instrument, participation will also occur sporadically, but we aim to play regularly. That gives the best chances to grow in the repertoire. If someone has already taken part as a Bachelor student, it can happen that he or she has been playing for four or five years. In fact, some are already regular guests of, for instance, Asko|Schoenberg, Nieuw Ensemble and Nederlands Blazers Ensemble. They have been fishing in this pond before.'

Is it difficult to motivate students?

'By carefully assembling the ensemble, there has been great motivation for each project from the start. An occasional student starts a first time with cold feet, but almost always this turns into enthusiasm. The rehearsals for the Goebbels/Padding project were another good example of this. Some who did not have much experience with new music did not immediately understand the musical language behind the notation. This led to uncertainty: I don't get it, do I want this?

As the language became understandable during rehearsals, the music came alive for them and they naturally started to enjoy it. That is nice to see, and gives confidence for the continuation of the plans. Meanwhile, by the way, there are quite a few professional groups in which contemporary music is in their blood: Brahms and Beethoven have often married well with Berio and Boulez.

Who composes the programmes and do students have input into them?

'Joël Bons and I primarily compile the programmes, in consultation with the conductors and with Sven Tepl, head of classical music at the conservatoire. But it happens more and more often that students knock on my door with suggestions, or ask to participate in a project. The composition students also have an important role in and influence on the programmes through the pieces they write for the ensemble.'

What are the criteria and considerations in choosing the works?

'The pieces must be important within the repertoire from recent decades, from, say, 1950 onwards. The students must also have something to sink their teeth into, while at the same time it must be feasible within a reasonable preparation and rehearsal time. The compositions should be musically special, and together they should produce a good programme. In this sense, it is also simply about programming: putting together beautiful concerts that are worthwhile for students and audiences.'

flyer score collective

Why the name 'Score Collective'?

'That one was chosen because a group of musicians collectively engaged with scores - with that which composers always dreamed of, in other words!'

But Beethoven and Brahms are also played according to a score.

'Certainly, but the fresher the music, the greater the need to pore over the score. Students study scores because there is something to discover in them, especially in contemporary music. It is about learning to understand what is involved in a performance. In modern music, we know much less than in the classical repertoire; you have to make a new piece your own even completely without any example. But absolutely, even in Brahms and Beethoven you can still immerse yourself again, it never stops. Looked at this way, the difference between old and new repertoire is smaller than you think. All music was once new, and all music becomes old one day. - A reassuring thought.'

Do I also detect a play on words - (S)core, in reference to the post-1950 core repertoire?

'Ha, we hadn't thought of that, but it's a nice link.'

Do students decide which conductor they want to work with?

'No. The January project is always led by Ed Spanjaard, lecturer in conducting at the CvA. The November project is always led by a changing conductor with expertise in specific repertoire. This time it concerns Jurjen Hempel, who was keen to throw himself once more into the work of Heiner Goebbels. The students' feedback, by the way, is taken seriously into consideration when thinking about future conductors'.

By Heiner Goebbels, two movements from 'Surrogate Cities' will be played. How would you describe his work?

'Heiner Goebbels is a composer with an incredible sense of sound, instrumentation, atmosphere and suspense. His music is often somewhat dark and brooding and demonstrates a vast knowledge of and broad love for existing music. He is an eclectic composer in the very best sense of the word. His reputation among connoisseurs is great, but hardly any of the students knew him; they simply cannot know everything yet.

Both pieces invite the players to immerse themselves in the special world that Goebbels evokes with his music. Dedication in preparation and during rehearsals is enough: the music is so inviting that, together with a good conductor and, in our case, also the presence of the composer, it grows naturally towards a satisfactory result. Goebbels attended the rehearsals for one day and in that short time gave the students a compact but immensely valuable injection.'

A new work by the composition student will also be heard Gísli Magnússon, how does that fit in with Goebbels' plays?

'Gísli wrote his piece especially for this programme, at Score Collective's request. It is called Ódáoahraun, named after the largest lava field in Iceland. This composition can be seen as a view over Ódáôahraun and two nearby landscape elements: lake Askja and mountain Heroubreio. Whereas Goebbels zooms in on every conceivable aspect of the city in his pieces, Gísli focuses strongly - almost as a counterpoint - on the nature of his motherland, Iceland.

His music sometimes reminds me of that of Iannis Xenakis. He creates soundscapes and has a keen interest in the specific colours of different instruments. There are also great contrasts between barrenness and musical bustle. I experience his piece as a journey through a landscape. Incidentally, his music is also somewhat dark and brooding. So there are both parallels and differences with Goebbels.'

What is the difference in approach between Ed Spanjaard and Jurjen Hempel?

NSO 2014
Jurjen Hempel (photo credit Dutch Student Orchestra)

'Ed Spanjaard, while working with the students, really turns on lights in terms of the nature of the music. Extraordinarily inspiring and enthusiastic, just like Jurjen Hempel. During a rehearsal process, he knows very well how to get the logic of the parts into the students' fingers and has great fun doing so. He organises the ensemble playing in such a way that a performance has to succeed. This was clearly audible during the lunch concert here at the CvA on 6 November, so we are really looking forward to the concert in TivoliVredenburg!

Jurjen Hempel, what draws you to Goebbels' music?

 'His music is wonderfully theatrical and unprecedentedly strong in concept. A single idea is quietly and consistently developed by him. From the first moment I saw the cycle Surrogate Cities heard, I was fascinated by it. Because of the richness of the orchestration and a particular originality in connecting concrete sounds, jazz and pop music with contemporary orchestral sounds. At the time, when I heard of the existence of an ensemble version of Sampler Suite I immediately seized the opportunity to perform it in Geneva with Ensemble Contrechamps. That was in 2005.'

What was Goebbels' input?

'It was very special that he had taken the trouble to come from Frankfurt to the Amsterdam Conservatory especially for one rehearsal. It was wonderful to have him there. He is open, good-humoured and has sharp ears. He is extremely positive towards both the musicians and me, the conductor. He is also strongly committed to the sound quality of the amplification, for instance he absolutely wanted subwoofers to be added. In addition, he has a healthy fascination with percussion and related instruments.'

You work with master students from the conservatoire, what's that like?

'What first stands out about these master students is their unprecedented technical ability. As a conductor, you can rehearse at a professional level with these young people without any problems.

That is a difference with the Netherlands Youth Orchestra of which I am permanent conductor. Then you are talking about secondary school pupils, which is actually incomparable. In that orchestra with young talents, I spend most of my time as an orchestra coach. With Score Collective, I can really immerse myself in the nuances of a score'.


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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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