A FRAGMENTARY JOURNEY THROUGH GAUDEAMUS HISTORY BY HENK HEUVELMANS

scroll down
back to overview
‘We are here for tomorrow’s art.’ Henk Heuvelmans

History can be made at any moment. On a Sunday afternoon. In a glowing recommendation. After dozens of phone calls. By listening. In the decision never to give up. Premieres sound. Batons are passed on. In full confidence. Time goes by. Pioneers cultivate new resources.

‘A CONTRIBUTION TOWARDS THE CULTURAL RECONSTRUCTION OF THE NETHERLANDS’

It is Sunday afternoon, November 4, 1945. In Huize Gaudeamus 36-year-old Walter Maas addresses the audience which has flocked there for a violin and piano concert given by the brothers Julius and Johannes Röntgen. These two musicians have briefly returned to this striking house, built in 1924 for their father – the renowned composer Julius Röntgen Sr (1855-1932). At their own request they are playing some of his works that afternoon.

Maas himself returned to Bilthoven six months ago. Before the war this textile merchant, who had fled Germany, had devoted himself to renting out rooms in this beautiful, spacious house. Until he had to go into hiding for years to escape the persecution of the Jews here too. He and his brother Ernst survived, their parents didn’t. During these bleak wartime years Maas decided: one day I will give something back to this country that has saved me. His resolution is now taking shape. In his speech he promises to “…do my modest part towards the spiritual recovery of Bilthoven and the cultural reconstruction of the Netherlands.” From now on the original ‘music house’ will be open to the development of young musicians. This is greeted with warm reactions.

Nobody at the time realised just how sensational the musical developments would become. Not even Maas.

Concert programme on November 4, 1945

ICH HAB’ DAS MEINE GETAN…

Huize Gaudeamus – Maas immersed himself in Goethe’s works. Anyone who worked with him later could regularly count on entertaining quotes. The English-German-Dutch accent of this internationally oriented founder is not always easy to understand. Yet one motto always sounds crystal clear: “Ich hab’ das Meine getan, tut ihr nun das Eure.” “I’ve played my part, now play yours.” Many people find out at ungodly hours what this means. He doesn’t hesitate to phone employees and others out of bed. After all, you can also wake him up at any time. Maas is such an inescapable advocate for young composers. He drives ministries mad with the many phone calls they receive from him. He manages to extract a lot of money for programming. The significance of this for cultural life does not go unnoticed. All his efforts are rewarded in the shape of various prizes for the work of budding pioneering musicians.

Today, in 2020, new music by young composers is still Gaudeamus’ main priority. All the music pioneers involved are at the beginning of their career. Almost every work performed is a world premiere.

Tinkering with Tomorrow’s music

1972, with Misha Mengelberg, Theo Loevendie, Thijs van Leer (from pop group Focus)

Huize Gaudeamus, 1955

Composers Meeting, 1976

1987 (Michael Finnissy, Frances-Marie Uitti, Arne Mellnäs, Karen Tanaka)

Gaudeamus Composers, 1948

2003, on the doorstep of the Gaudeamus office, with among others Trevor Wishart en Richard Ayres

NOT EXACTLY EVERYONE’S CUP OF TEA

Initially, Gaudeamus’ profile is not yet clearly defined. This changes when Maas meets the striking pianist/composer Henk Stam. Under his influence, Maas resolutely chooses to bring young composers and their new music into the limelight. The first innovations in the music world come mainly from Germany, where Maas builds up an international network together with Stam, among others. Young composers like to experiment with other forms of music. But Dutch musicians – accustomed to traditional works for string ensembles, piano, wind instruments and orchestras – still often shy away from such experimentation. Are these strange notes and instructions playable? Will the instruments remain intact during the performance?

It is therefore difficult to find good musicians for these groundbreaking works. Primarily, members of the radio orchestras are willing to play this music, which is not yet very popular. This enables Gaudeamus to found a house ensemble of its own – the Gaudeamus Quartet. It performs widely and later, in 1968, also becomes the first quartet capable of tackling the very complex music of composer Brian Ferneyhough.

INTERNATIONAL GARDEN SHED

From the 1960s onwards, thanks to composers and publishers worldwide, Gaudeamus amasses a wide variety of study material. Scores, books, magazines and sound recordings from all over the world find their way to the increasingly distinctive music foundation in Bilthoven. There, in a shed in the garden, the music library cabinets fill up more every year. The collection is unique in the world. International music students and young professionals consider the library a rich source of inspiration for their studies and development. In the adjacent building, the CEM studio has now been set up, one of the first electronic music studios in the Netherlands.

1962 – 1970

HUNTING FOR TALENT

In 1962 the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition is launched, where young musicians can interpret modern music. They are free to choose their instrument and the contemporary music to be performed. This is the place where new talent is discovered, which is able to perform later during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek and during tours at home and abroad. Up until its final edition in 2011, the competition is the only one in the world with this unique design. Winning an award is a great stepping stone to an international career, as is the composers’ competition during Gaudeamus Muziekweek.

International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition

First Prize winners:

2011 Brian Archinal (US) – percussion
2009 Malgorzata Walentynowicz (PL) – piano
2007 Mathias Reumert (DK) – percussion
2005 Ashley Hribar (AU) – piano
2003 Philip Howard (UK) – piano
2001 Tony Arniold (US) – soprano
1999 Ralph van Raat (NL) – piano
1997 Alan Thomas (US) – guitar
1996 Helen Bledsoe (US) – flute
1995 Guido Arbonelli (IT) – clarinet
1994 Margit Kern (DE) – accordion
1993 Aleksandra Krzanowska (PL) – piano
1991 Tomoko Mukaiyama (JP) – piano
1989 Louise Bessette (CA) – piano
1987 Stefan Hussong (DE) – accordion
1985 Amadinda Percussion Group (HU) – percussion
1984 Eva Marie Muller (DE) – flute

1983 John Kenny (UK) – trombone
1982 Anthony de Mare (US) – piano
1981 David Arden (US) – piano
1980 Florian Popa (RO) – clarinet
1979 Mircea Ardeleanu (RO) – percussion
1978 Edward Johnson (US) – clarinet
1977 Toyoji Peter Tomita (US) – trombone
1976 Max Lifchitz (MX) – piano
1975 Fernando Grillo (IT) – double bass
1974 Herbert Henck (DE) – piano
1973 Michiko Takahashi (JP) – marimba
1972 Harry Sparnaay (NL) – bass clarinet
1971 Doris Hays (US) – piano
1970 Bart Berman (NL) – piano
1969 Frank van Koten (NL) – oboe
1968 Ronald Lumsden (UK) – piano
1967 Joan Ryall / June Clark (UK) – piano duo
1966 Harald Boke (DE) – piano
1965 Charles de Wolff (NL) – organ
1964 Petr Messiereur / Jarmilla Kozderk (CZ) – violin + piano
1963 1st prize not awarded

JUST PLAY THIS

Organisations, meanwhile, are becoming wary of concerts programmed by Gaudeamus “for music of these times.” Concert halls are usually quick to move their expensive pianos to the basement, replacing them with their worst specimens.

During one of the annual interpreters’ competitions, Gaudeamus has no choice but to drive headlong through the night to Germany in order to find some adequate percussion equipment there. Just in time for the final of the competition, professional- quality equipment is set up on the podium.

 

THE DISCOVERY OF THE BASS CLARINET

In 1972 the Dutchman Harry Sparnaay wins the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition. He plays bass clarinet, an instrument for which hardly any relevant pieces of music exist. Thanks to the performances of this virtuoso prize winner, composers start to show growing interest in writing new music for Sparnaay and his instrument. Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman, Ton de Leeuw, Iannis Xenakis – one by one they are ‘convinced’.

IF THE MINISTER SAYS SO

During the foundation’s silver anniversary, Dr Marga Klompé – then Minister of Culture, Recreation and Social Work – opens the international Gaudeamus Muziekweek.

She gives her glowing view of Gaudeamus’ invisible, in some sense thankless, task behind the scenes, while also emphatically commending its founder. A sincere genuinely welcome gift. Maas knows what to do.

He knows exactly how to use the Minister’s words as leverage while promoting the Gaudeamus good cause with potential sponsors.

NEW COMPLEXITY 

In 1968 British composer Brian Ferneyhough makes his breakthrough at the annual Gaudeamus Award for composers. He can’t get a foothold in his own country, but here he wins third prize, although certainly not everyone shares the opinion of the jury.

While enthusiasts and critics at least agree on the almost unplayable complexity of his works, Ferneyhough repeats his achievement. In 1969 he again wins prizes during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek. After that, an international breakthrough takes him to great heights. Meanwhile, the term ‘new complexity’ has been coined.

 

JUST LET IT SOUND

1995: Cees van Zeeland, Luca Francesconi, Gerhard Stäbler

In the early years of Gaudeamus it is the jury members who lead the composers’ meetings. They also determine the artistic choices. Incomprehensible choices, as the press regularly and reproachfully describes them.

1972: Sven-Eric Bäck, Enrique Raxach, Roland Kayn, David Bedford, Reinbert de Leeuw

How is it even possible to judge how all those composers’ weird new finds will sound based on scores alone? Ah well, someone has to be blamed for ‘inconvenient ‘ listening among the audience. Then there are the judges.

1995: Christopher Butterfield, Annie Gosfield, Martijn Padding

Yet it is precisely through their choices that they prepare the way for innovation in music: let it sound! Then we can say what we think of it and can talk about it.

1993: Klaas de Vries, Edison Denisov, Steve Martland.

1974: Jos Kunst, Jan W.Morthensson, Helmut Lachenmann, Jean-Claude Eloy, Ton de Leeuw

1992: Joep Straesser, Arne Nordheim, Zygmunt Krauze, Sukhi Kang

1982 – 1989

GAUDEAMUS LEAVES THE NEST

About every five years Gaudeamus goes through a tense period. Do the politicians still support the objective of innovation? Is there sufficient financial backing? After the necessary debate, the answer remains ‘yes’. Gaudeamus is seen from above as a national institute to support new, experimental music developments in its broadest sense. However, this multifaceted task has many times proved to work against Gaudeamus’ clear identity.

In the early 1980s the foundation therefore took a big step towards being more present in the ‘centre of attention’, in Amsterdam. Walter Maas’ child spreads its wings. Gaudeamus moves to the street behind De IJsbreker, taking the entire household contents with them, including the library and home printing equipment. Many musicians and composers already have the city as their home base.

EVERYONE GETS THEIR OWN STAGE

De IJsbreker in Amsterdam is the first venue in the Netherlands to programme contemporary musicians in an unpretentious café setting. It helps that Gaudeamus is their new neighbour. Its music festivals broaden what’s on offer and are good for expanding the audience. The two idiosyncratic organizations go through life as partners.

Other cities are catching on to the IJsbreker concept and saying : “we want that too”. Gaudeamus supports a wide variety of podia and museums for this purpose, and also takes countless up-and-coming soloists and ensembles under its wing. The organization travels all over the country with appropriate programming.

WHAT COMES FROM AFAR

From its foundation onwards Gaudeamus is internationally oriented. Soon composers from all over the world attend the Muziekweek. In addition, Gaudeamus organises various workshops and festivals, including the International Composers Workshop. From the very first decades an interaction of global music cultures is created and a broad diversity within audiences develops.

In 2020 Gaudeamus is still an important facilitator for meetings between musicians from all over the world. For example, seminars organised by Gaudeamus in 2019 and 2020 are about good and bad practices in bringing together audiences and performers from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Read Luigi Irlandini’s essay about non-western instruments in contemporary music.

Read the 20 years International Composers’ Workshop report

WIDELY BRANCHING NETWORKS

Being on the board of various bodies, Gaudeamus plays an important role in the development of international networks such as the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), the International Music Council (IMC), the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC) and the European Conference of Promoters of New Music (ECPNM). Interwoven with the international network, Gaudeamus creates extensive opportunities for Dutch musicians and composers to make a breakthrough. In 1974, 1985 and 1989 Gaudeamus organises its own Muziekweek simultaneously with the ISCM’s World (New) Music Days. In 1989 this also results in the breakthrough of the Chinese composer Tan Dun in Europe (see A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF FUN (MUSICAL) FACTS OF GAUDEAMUS HISTORY)

‘My overall life in music would probably have taken a very different turn without being awarded this precious prize. The open-mindedness and vision connected to the Gaudeamus Award was an inspiring factor in gaining more self-esteem and in daring to take more risks.’
– Unsuk Chin (winner Gaudeamus Award 1985), sept 2019

HANDSHAKE LANGUAGE

1985: Chris Walraven presents the Gaudeamus Award to Unsuk Chin
Gaudeamus is celebrating its 75th anniversary in the ‘corona era’. Shaking hands has suddenly become ‘not done’. Where do we go from here? After all, several special moments in our history have been captured with a handshake…

1999: Henk Heuvelmans presents the Gaudeamus Award to Michel van der Aa

1970: Walter Maas welcomes minister Marga Klompé

2005: Henk Heuvelmans and Ivo Josipovic sign the contract for the ISCM World (New) Music Days 2005 in Zagreb. Josipovic became the President of Croatia a few years later.

1989: In the Ijsbreker Otto Ketting presents the Jan van Gilse Prize to Walter Maas

1991 – 1999

A RARE PHENOMENON

A change of director does not occur often within Gaudeamus, and is done without much fanfare. In 1963 Chris Walraven takes over the day-to-day running of Gaudeamus. In 1991 Henk Heuvelmans is appointed. According to him there is an explanation for the infrequent changes: “As director of Gaudeamus you never get bored!”

As of January 1, 2021 Martijn Buser will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. Like them, he will already have gained considerable experience within the foundation by the time of his appointment. This provides an important basis for the continuation of Maas’ principles: advancing musical development by encouraging authentic talent.

HONOURED BY UNESCO

The UNESCO IMC * Prize is a major distinction. It is awarded annually to composers, musicians and occasionally to an organisation “whose activity has contributed to the enrichment and development of music, thus serving peace, understanding between peoples, and international cooperation.” Gaudeamus receives this honour in 1991.

* The International Music Council is a sub-division of UNESCO within the United Nations, and was highly regarded worldwide, particularly at that time. The award was last awarded in 2005.

SOUNDING HISTORIOGRAPHY

Gaudeamus also celebrates its 50th anniversary. Peter Peters delves into history and writes the honest book Eeuwige jeugd (Eternal youth) about the foundation. Dutch composers indebted to Gaudeamus contribute to a double CD. In the anniversary concert the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and the Residentie Orkest play work by Peter Schat and Elliot Carter, and the anniversary commission composition Scharf Abreissen ‘Tear off sharply’ by Martijn Padding.

This tribute is in sharp contrast with the fact that the Dutch general public still knows so little about Gaudeamus. But State Secretary Aad Nuis has examined the issue and unconditionally acknowledges “the exceptionally great significance” of the foundation that “does a lot of good silently.” De Groene Amsterdammer endorses his statement: “The strength of Gaudeamus lies in creating conditions and supporting good ideas.” And Het Parool refers several times to the words of Ton de Leeuw, decades earlier: “Gaudeamus’ task is an ungrateful one, because there is little credit to be gained from still budding talent.”

REINFORCING DIMENSIONS

So does nothing ever change in the implementation of these artistic principles? Yes, it does. With the arrival of Heuvelmans, for example, more scope is offered to sound artists with a multidisciplinary approach. In this way a versatile composer like Michel van der Aa, in the early days of his career – the late 1990s – discovers the fertile ground necessary for his working method: the integration of music and images. Another sound artist is Hans van Koolwijk. Via Heuvelmans he develops a close relationship with Gaudeamus. In 2010 a retrospective of his work is exhibited in the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ. He will once again be a guest on the opening night of the 75th anniversary in 2020.

MUCH LOVED CHAMPION

In 1999, after a gap of 25 years, there is finally another Dutch winner of the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition. Only 21 years old, Ralph van Raat storms through the preliminary rounds to the final, and wins first prize. This genuine champion of new music doesn’t shy away from any challenge. In a short time he masters a gigantic repertoire, with many compositions written especially for him. Van Raat wins many hearts with his accessible explanation at the concerts. During the 75th anniversary he will perform, among other things, a remarkable commissioned work by Karen Tanaka (winner of the Gaudeamus Award 1987).

ONE

From the first Gaudeamus Muziekweek onwards, prizes are made available to encourage the composers. A somewhat austere form applies from 1978 to 1984: the prize is that the composer’s work is performed. Then the prize money’ returns. Every year there is now one Gaudeamus Award to be won. The composer is also commissioned to write a subsequent work. After a series of foreign composers, Michel van der Aa became the first Dutch composer in 1999 to receive this ‘new style’ award. Under the auspices of Gaudeamus, he creates the groundbreaking chamber opera One, in which Van der Aa combines live performance and video. The production is a model for the successes he has achieved all over the world since then.

‘The Gaudeamus Award has opened many doors. It kick-started my international career and came at exactly the right moment. It was an honour and it gave me wings.’
– Michel van der Aa
Dropper by Arno Fabre, 2008

RARE SOUNDS

Gaudeamus has a long history in the presentation of sound installations. In 1966, for example, the organisation uses an ‘emotion meter’ to try out the Artaudophone, a huge electro-acoustic percussion instrument developed by Peter Schat. Various inventors and builders of new instruments can rely on Gaudeamus’ encouragement. The dedicated commitment to the development of electronic music is also part of this tradition (read more about this in part 4 of this anniversary edition). The museological form that much ‘sound art’ also takes has been a permanent fixture during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek since the 1990s. Constructions are then presented that usually produce sound independently and have a strong visual element. In 2010 an entire festival was devoted to this form of sound art: Sounds on the IJ.

De Krachtgever (Power Giver) by Peter Bosch and Simone Simons, 2006

The construction of De Klankkaatser by Hans van Koolwijk in the Atrium of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, 2010

Panauditum by Zeno van den Broek, 2008

Les souliers by Arno Fabre, 2010

Vloei / Flow by Bram Vreven, 2007 in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ

2000 – 2018

CRITICISM IS A STEPPING STONE

Many composers who later make a career take their first steps thanks to Gaudeamus. Some of them also remain loyal to the organisation later on. Yannis Kyriakides is one of them. Soon after coming to the Netherlands in 1994, he is introduced to the Dutch press. “Creative poverty” is their judgment of his work during the Muziekweek. But the young composer develops quickly and wins the Gaudeamus Award 2000. Since then the Cypriot has often been programmed by Gaudeamus and worldwide. He is also regularly involved as a jury member and coach in various activities. Kyriakides will also play a role during the 75th anniversary of Gaudeamus in 2020.

UNDER OTHER WINGS

In 2005 Gaudeamus moves with De IJsbreker and many other music organisations to the new Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. A bright future may be dawning: in this fantastic building Gaudeamus has a wonderful documentation centre and organises various festivals and sound art presentations in the large atrium.

The Gaudeamus team in 2005, from left to right Henk Heuvelmans, Fons Willemsen, Ikaros van Duppen, Gerard Broers, Annemiek van Dijk, Arthur van der Drift, Ineke Beemsterboer, Astrid de Jager, Anne-Marie Eij, Jurgen van den Hout

…JUST FOR A WHILE THEN

Very much against its will and under political pressure, Gaudeamus is forced in 2008 to merge with other Dutch music institutions. The new name is ‘Muziek Centrum Nederland’ (MCN). But this merger did not last long. In 2012 the politicians decide that there will be no more room for MCN: “The music sector is a professional sector that can organise most of the supporting tasks itself.”

NEW HOME CITY

In 2011, just in time, Gaudeamus manages to withdraw the organisation of the Gaudeamus Muziekweek from MCN’s ‘estate’, and decides to leave Amsterdam. The city of Utrecht welcomes Gaudeamus with open arms and is prepared to invest in the festival as a partner. The newspaper headlines read: ‘Amsterdam loses new music institute’ and ‘Utrecht hijacks festival new music’.
It is a fact. In September 2011 the Gaudeamus Muziekweek takes place for the first time in its new home city.

And the Gaudeamus Award goes to…

If it’s criticism you want, Gaudeamus Muziekweek is the ideal place for almost any budding composer to be. Like the Cypriot Yannis Kyriakides, Englishman Richard Ayres does not receive much flattery in 1994. His opening concert is described as a “disastrous beginning.” After the first note one can only wait for the end. Meanwhile it is scorching hot all week in the cramped IJsbreker. At times the audience can hardly stand it. To provide some coolness, fans are handed out.

But Richard Ayres has another idea. Even before the award ceremony he sneaks out unseen and disappears towards the terrace. Little does he know that precisely at that moment director Henk Heuvelmans, on behalf of the jury, is announcing Ayres’ name as winner of the 1994 Award.

24 years later, Richard Ayres’ name is established worldwide. He is in great demand as a composer and teacher. In 2018, after another premiere during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek, the press writes: “Gaudeamus Muziekweek lets us hear the future – which is great fun.” And Ayres also receives a commission for the 75th anniversary in 2020: a work for string quartet, euphonium and keyboard for the Canadian Bozzini Quartet, Koen Kaptijn and Nora Mulder.

Gaudeamus Award for original low point; Anarchistic collage or LSD trip? No, Gaudeamus Muziekweek lets us hear the future – which is great fun. Music lovers from all over Utrecht gather to hear pieces that no one has ever heard before.

2020

ANNIVERSARY 3.0

A look back at 75 years reveals a leitmotif: there has always been criticism of the programming. Gaudeamus is not there to receive applause itself, but to give space to young composers and sound artists who are exploring terra incognita. Who against the current continue to create new forms of music. Encourage unprecedented listening. And as long as there are people ‘crazy enough’ to keep investing boundless energy in the professional encouragement of these music pioneers, Gaudeamus will exist.

For 75 years Gaudeamus has drawn attention to the music of tomorrow. Music without borders or earmuffs. A rare source of inspiration for representing identity in a unique language of its own.

 

You may also like