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Ivo Janssen & Mallet Collective Amsterdam | Canto Ostinato Live at the Concertgebouw

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Classical: Minimalism New Age: Contemporary Instrumental Moods: Type: Live Recordings
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Canto Ostinato Live at the Concertgebouw

by Ivo Janssen & Mallet Collective Amsterdam

The best Dutch minimal music around
Genre: Classical: Minimalism
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Canto Ostinato, Sections 1-7 (Live)
5:40 $0.99
2. Canto Ostinato, Sections 8-16 (Live)
9:23 $0.99
3. Canto Ostinato, Sections 17-22 (Live)
5:30 $0.99
4. Canto Ostinato, Sections 23-30 (Live)
4:41 $0.99
5. Canto Ostinato, Sections 31-40 (Live)
6:44 $0.99
6. Canto Ostinato, Sections 41-55 (Live)
5:52 $0.99
7. Canto Ostinato, Sections 56-73 (Live)
6:20 $0.99
8. Canto Ostinato, Sections 74-82 (Live)
7:30 $0.99
9. Canto Ostinato, Sections 83-87 (Live)
4:22 $0.99
10. Canto Ostinato, Sections 88-90 (Live)
9:47 $0.99
11. Canto Ostinato, Sections 91-94 (Live)
5:18 $0.99
12. Canto Ostinato, Sections 95-106 (Live)
8:49 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The first time I spoke to Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt must have been some time in 1997. I had called him to ask if he would consider writing a toccata for me, for my project combining Bach’s toccatas with similar pieces written by contemporary composers. “I have composed several toccata-like pieces, why don’t you just play one of those?” was his less than enthusiastic response. I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation, but it certainly did not have a positive outcome. No new piece from Mr. ten Holt.
One would think that this first impression was not necessarily a favourable one, but somehow I immediately took a liking to him, despite his somewhat surly mood. He was completely unimpressed by the cocky young pianist with his request, stubborn, and not in the least eager to please anyone: I liked it.
Shortly after that I was asked to play a program with new ‘tonal’ music, and a Ten Holt piece was suggested to me: Soloduiveldans nr. 4. I enjoyed learning this recently completed composition, and have often performed it since. Ten Holt heard the recording of the concert, told me he was positively surprised, and after his initial reserve it turned out that he could be very amiable. He had decided that I was a worthy advocate of his piano music.

From that moment on I became a regular guest of Simeon and his wife Colette in their tiny cottage in Bergen, and started performing and recording a great deal of his piano works. At those dinner parties we rarely talked about music, to be honest. Although he would occasionally suggest I play this or that piece he had written in the Fifties or Sixties in a very different style, or one of his more recent “minimal” compositions (like most composers he was not a great fan of the term “minimal music”), he never once mentioned the possibility of a solo version of Canto ostinato. But one day he showed me a recording by a harp player, who was scheduled to give a solo performance of Canto in the Ruïnekerk in Bergen. Colette and I - Simeon had stopped leaving the house altogether because of his frail health - went to the concert, and agreed that, if this was possible on a single harp, the piece could surely be played by one pianist.

Ten Holt had completed Canto ostinato for keyboard instruments in 1979, and it marked a drastic turning-point for him as a composer. After having explored the boundaries of tonality in his early works, he had become more or less dedicated to serialism and electronic music in the Seventies. At the same time the beginnings of a new tonal style inevitably presented themselves. The composer became almost a witness, an observer, not able to intervene. It led to an, in his own words “shamelessly romantic” piece, a term that holds not only self-mockery but shows his doubt about this sudden change, this explicit display of tonality. Later he would call it “the restoration of tonality after tonality’s death.”
The premiere took place in Bergen with Ten Holt and three pianist colleagues, one of whom played a small organ. The piece was immediately successful, and it has been a regular hit in the Netherlands and, to a degree, abroad as well over the last decades. Because it was and is usually played on more than one piano (mostly two or four) it never occurred to me to play it solo. So imagine my surprise when Simeon told me after this harpist’s concert, that he himself had sometimes played it solo shortly after its creation. The other reason why I had not considered playing it before, was the trace of new age, the pseudo-religious way in which some people had come to adopt this music. Performances would last up to several hours and, it seemed to me, turn into spiritual gatherings of a kind that I was not keen to participate in. But finally having listened to a live performance for the first time I concluded this was all just on the outside, and that the work itself was genuinely fascinating and could be very impressive if played in a subtle but at the same time feisty, ballsy way.

Canto ostinato consists of 106 sections, varying in length from one to nine bars, each of which mostly comprising two groups of five semiquavers. Most of the sections are to be repeated, the number of repetitions being up to the performer(s). Also the use of dynamics, timbre, articulation, and choice of main or alternative part is left to the players and to the moment, thus making every performance a unique one by definition. In the original introduction to the score Ten Holt notes: “Other combinations are possible using keyboard instruments. But the performance with four pianos is preferred.”
During Ten Holt’s lifetime a wide variety of instrumentations existed. He was not excited about all of them, and as the number of versions increased, his reaction became more and more a resigned “Ah, just let them”. He would have preferred more of his compositions being played once in a while, instead of yet another exotic Canto arrangement.

Which brings me to this particular performance, and the business of defending our choice of instruments in this live recording at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Coming from a pianist you may not expect to hear that I do not particularly like the sound of more than one piano at the same time. Two is all right, I guess, but four, hm. Having taken part in several four and even six piano performances I can certainly understand the attraction that comes with the kind of huge piano machinery that is formed by all those hammers and strings. But I find the combination with certain other instruments more appealing. Call me stubborn.

In 2014 I was asked to participate in a new version, combining the piano with two marimbas and two vibraphones, to be premiered in the World Minimal Music Festival in the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. We have since performed in this formation, culminating in this concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, recorded live on July 23, 2016.
Needless to say that I am very excited about this ensemble, with the percussionists of Mallet Collective Amsterdam playing extremely rhythmically, yet freely, and with lots of imagination, yet quite unsentimentally. Exactly as Canto should, in my opinion, be played. Adding these percussion instruments instead of more pianos enriches the overall sound of the ensemble, sometimes contrasting with the sound of the piano, other times blending with it. As a matter of interest, the vibraphones were especially built for this occasion, extending the usual range by one octave. The parallel with some of Steve Reich’s pieces is easily made, and I heard the qualification ‘Reich meets Chopin’ more than once.

But of course it isn’t. Canto ostinato is one of Simeon ten Holt’s masterpieces, that more than deserves its growing fame. I truly hope that this performance of ours will contribute to spreading ten Holt’s reputation around the world, and can only regret that he did not live to hear the result of our efforts. But I’m quite positive that this live registration at the Concertgebouw would have provoked a bit more than his usual “Ah, just let them”.



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