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Jussen piano brothers step out of their comfort zone at Holland Festival #hf17

Among classical music-loving audiences, the two young pianists Lucas (1993) and Arthur (1996) need not be Jussen little introduction. For many years, the talented piano brothers have been filling halls like the Concertgebouw with four-handed or otherwise, interpretations of classics such as Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. With the avant-garde piece Mantra by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), to be performed as part of the Holland Festival, they step out of their comfort zone.

These are busy times for Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Apart from concerts and the promotion of their fifth CD album, released at the end of March, they have been studying busily for six months on Mantra.

For months you have been working on Mantra worked, but what about studies? Have you completed a conservatoire degree?

Arthur: 'Neither of us have a degree. We chose a different path. Lucas studied for two years in America and two years in Madrid, and I spent a few years at the Amsterdam conservatory. We were already playing everywhere and nowhere, so it was difficult to follow and catch up on all the subjects.'

Lucas: 'At the conservatoire where I studied in Spain, I was given very few days off to perform independently. You quickly lost a week to rehearsals and concerts. We were already playing fifty concerts a year and at some point you have to choose: study or work. One is not better than the other, but you have to find a good mix. After all, continuing to study is very important. Still, I think many students would like to swap places with us, because the ultimate goal is to play.'

Ton Hartsuiker was golden

For pianist and music educator Ton Hartsuiker (1933- 2015), it started with modern music. How did you come across him?

Lucas: 'Ton was one of the most inspiring people you could meet when it came to modern visual art, literature and music. He was really golden for us. I was nine when I first met Ton. I was in the finals for the Piano Driedaagse in Rotterdam and went to play with him. Just Mozart. After that, I was also taught contemporary music by him. Arthur soon joined him. Hartsuiker could talk enthusiastically about Willem Pijper, Messiaen, Cage or Stockhausen. Everywhere he told amusing anecdotes and facts'.

Arthur: 'He never thought: what a difficult piece. Modern music was very natural for him. Without Ton, we would never have been exposed to modern classical music so intensively."

One story Hartsuiker has told a hundred times. Lucas: 'There is a piece for two pianos by Stravinsky that starts on the same note. It is very difficult to strike that note at exactly the same time. When Hartsuiker had to play this himself, he would press the key 'mute'; without sound. If the other pianist hit that note very hard, it looked as if they played it at the same time. He always laughed terribly at this story himself.'

Gamelan and manipulations

At the Dutch Festival, the Jussen brothers will play Mantra (1970) by Karlheinz Stockhausen; a composition for two electronically manipulated pianos. They also each play a set of small cymbals (crotales) and a woodblock. Special ring modulators provide electronic manipulations of the piano sound. Gamelan-like sounds and other distortions are the result.


Lucas: 'The title says it all: a mantra is something that keeps repeating itself. It can be a word or a phrase. In this case, it's notes. In total, the piece lasts sixty-five to seventy minutes. That is exceptionally long. An average sonata lasts half an hour at most and then consists of three movements too. Mantra has thirteen notes that are each extended or compressed to be very short. A note can last five minutes or ten seconds. Melodic figures are added to those notes. And the piece ends with a toccata that lasts five to six minutes. You then hear constantly successive notes working towards a climax. At the beginning of the piece, all those 13 notes are presented, each with its own characteristic feature.'

For seven months, Lucas and Arthur worked with Sepp Grotenhuis and Ellen Corver, both of whom were taught by Stockhausen. They know first-hand what Stockhausen wanted with Mantra.

Lucas: 'We play the piece in its original version with percussion and ring modulators. Normally we're just working on the keyboard, but so now there's a lot more involved.'

Can you speak of meditative music?

Arthur: 'No, it feels different anyway. It's an experiential piece. Complex music that won't immediately touch your soul. You have to be open to it and dare to let it come in.'
Lucas: 'If you have nothing with modern classical music then you shouldn't go here, you're not going to like it. It's not music for everyone. Anyway, Rammstein is also not for everyone. Some people find that terrible too.'

There are music critics who think it's just a shame that subsidy money is used to perform a less popular musical work like Mantra by Stockhausen. What do you guys think about that?

Arthur: 'There is always criticism of what you do. A pop band like The State got a million subsidy; there was a lot of criticism on that too. If it had been any other band it would have been. What Mantra concerns: this kind of work has to be played, otherwise you hold back the development of music. Because what would that mean for the future? Doing one and not the other? Art is not like that. When Le Sacre Du Printemps (Stravinsky) premiered, audiences thought it was terrible, and now they say this work is the pinnacle of 20th-century music.'

Lucas: We quite understand that the halls are fuller when we play a Beethoven cycle. But we have to work to ensure that less 'easy' pieces are also performed!'

Mantra by Karlheinz Stockhausen by Lucas and Arthur Jussen (piano) on Saturday 24 June 2017, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Holland Festival

Rudolf Hunnik

Rudolf Hunnik is a cultural journalist, trainer and film programmer. For more information visit www.diversityathome.nlView Author posts

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