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Sound explorer Aart Strootman wins Gaudeamus Award 2017

On Sunday 10 September, the Gaudeamus Award for composers under 30 was presented in TivoliVredenburg. Winner was Dutch guitarist, composer and instrument designer Aart Strootman (1987). He was chosen from five nominees and received the prize from jury member Christopher Trapani. The jury also included Joe Cutler and Mayke Nas. Like last year, Gaudeamus invited her as Composer of the Year, then it concerned her predecessor Willem Jeths.

This year, the jury had to choose from 288 scores submitted from 36 different countries. The Gaudeamus Award consists of a €5,000 commission for a new piece. In principle, this will have its premiere in the next Gaudeamus Music Week, but sometimes it will be an edition later. Besides Strootman, the Americans were Chaz Underriner, Ethan Braun and Sky Macklay, and Serbian Ivan Vukosavljevic nominated.

Unique voice

The jury report writes of Strootman: 'An artist who sees no boundaries between performing, composing, improvising and designing instruments. He is a unique voice, whose sound explorations are an inspiration. He approaches composition with a remarkable freshness, redefining in minute detail the sound of each instrument within an ensemble. A performer, an improviser, an inventor and a unique composer.'

Joe Cutler; Henk Heuvelmans; Aart Strootman; Christopher Trapani; Mayke Nas, TivoliVredenburg 10-9-2017 (c) Herre Vermeer

Strootman shows himself pleasantly surprised: 'I did not expect to win the prize, and am very honoured.' Asked what he has in mind for his composition essay, he replies: 'I don't know yet. I'm currently working on a piece for Bang on a Can All Stars, for the upcoming November Music Festival. I'm going to concentrate on this and work very hard. - But first I'm going to have a stiff drink.'

Sound research central

As in 2016 year, the jury selection betrays a fondness for composers who focus on sound and texture. From the jury report, we learn that Underriner has "extreme attention to detail"; Braun writes "beautifully crafted music"; Vukosavljevic "understands the physical side of sound", while Macklay strikes a balance between "process and intuition".

However well-made and appealing their pieces are, of the five composers, Macklay seems to be the only one who dares to colour outside the lines. Although she too is engaged in sound research, she also ventures into recognisable melodies and rhythms. She incorporates humour and also takes musical tradition to task. As for instance in her catchy Many Many Cadences for string quartet.

Bad Boy of Music

With her daring, Macklay comes closest to the spirit of 'Bad Boy of Music' George Antheil, whose Ballet Mécanique kicked off the award ceremony. The bold, dog-eared piece was performed fabulously by the Utrecht-based ensemble Insomnio, conducted by Ulrich Pöhl. If only we could hear this kind of energy more often in the concert hall.

This driving piece for percussion, siren, electric bells, pianos and aircraft propellers is a modern classic. Antheil wrote it in 1924, combining the machine-like noise of the Futurists with Stravinskian ostinati and repetitive motifs that anticipate the Minimalists. Despite its respectable age, Ballet Mécanique still fresh and overpowering. Pöhl and his musicians blew the roof off TivoliVredenburg and received thunderous applause.

You wish young music pioneers would venture a little further into unexplored territory. Exploring and accumulating sounds may lead to hypnotic textures, but the final result becomes somewhat uniform. As a result, you can hardly distinguish one composer from another.

Hopefully next year's jury will be more attentive to truly original voices and choose a wider variety of styles so that a new Antheil is not overlooked.

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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