A new solo CD should be featuring new compositions. And as a Dutchmen from origine I think it should feature both upcoming and settled Dutch composers as well. I’m very happy I met composer Geert Jan Kroon some time ago and we agreed on working together to make the first recording of his euphonium piece Spinning Gears for euphonium and brass band!
Please tell us about your background. Where did your compositional talent came from?
I spent my youth in Steenwijk, where I played with the local band, because my father, uncle and grandfather did. I played the tenor horn and later on the euphonium. I never thought about becoming a composer, although I did spend a lot of time trying stuff with notation software. Although I did have ambitions to do more with music, I went on to study information technology. Money first, dreams later, was the given advice. It was around this time I started to play more in bands and started to compose. At that time, I realised if I ever wanted to achieve my dreams and do something in music I should go for it. So I went to University to study Musicology because I was interested in learning about music, but also eager to do an academic study. That’s when I came into contact with people who where interested in my music and started writing for real. That was around six years ago. In that sense I’m still young as a composer.
What have you done so far as a composer and what are the pieces you’re the most proud of?
It’s not a large oeuvre yet, however I keep on writing and it is growing quickly. One on the first things I ever did, was a Euphonium Concerto that never got finished. I played the first two sections at Survento Brass (a Dutch brass festival). Then I wrote my first piece Fanfare de Angelis, based on the first notes on the Kyrië from the Missa de Angelis. Last year Soli Brass Leeuwarden recorded it and I am still proud of the result.
One of the highlights of my career was my first commission. It was for a fanfare band I conduct. It became a 4th section test piece (Saint Lambert) that was based on the legend of Saint Lambert and ‘Lambertusdag’, a well know feast in the village. Both players and audience enjoyed it and since then more fanfare bands have played it.
The biggest highlight was being on stage with the Cory Band when they played Those Gazing Eyes, a piece for my son. That piece means a lot to me personally and being on stage with the Cory Band is a dream for a brass geek like me!
What’s your ambition as a composer and what are your dreams for the future?
My ambition is to establish myself as a brass band composer. I would also like to write more for concert band and other ensembles. Dreams for the future are: spending more time composing and getting some of my plans for concerto’s and larger scale works for fanfare and concert band realised. I would love to see my first championship-section test piece Dante’s Descent performed by a brass band.
How did you experience the CD recording?
The recording was amazing, since this was the first time I heard the piece live and by a band like Schoonhoven nonetheless. It was great to see the level of professionalism in the preparation as well as the session itself. It was a dream come true. We also changed some stuff in the piece, making it more appealing. And of course extending the cadenza for you was great fun. I still remember the mail after I sent you a rather difficult cadenza: ‘it can be a bit more extreme!’. I’m convinced it will turn out to be a wonderful CD that everybody wants and needs to listen to.
How did you come up with the idea of writing a euphonium concertino and especially Spinning Gears?
The idea to write a piece for euphonium came from a friendship I have with another euphonium player. I wanted to write something he could play with his band, or at least I could dedicate to him. The form is a classical one, that gives you a framework to work with. The length (i.e. a concertino instead of a concerto) was purely a practical matter. An 8-10 minute piece is much more programmable than a longer concerto.
Can you tell me something about the piece and the composing style of it?
The first movement was something I already wrote before even having the idea of doing a solo piece. I like to try out different ways of approaching music. This was a system adopted by a certain Polish composer I learned about during my studies. Although, that system was somewhat limited. I changed the system and found out it worked really well with a funky style of music. Since that was already there, it was a no-brainer to use it. It’s an a-tonal system based on the use of only certain intervals. I say a-tonal, although there is always a certain tone the music returns to, to build and release tension. With that in mind I started working on a slow opening within this system.
The second section is a slow one and as a contrast a tonal one. The idea of a cycling theme was clear, since it is a hobby my friend and I share. For me cycling is a stark contrast between the mechanical (i.e. the bike) and the natural (a human on a mountain or in a forest). The first system is very mechanical one based on the use of specific intervals. Tonality, for me, resembles sort of a natural thing based on rules. That’s why the second section being tonal felt like a good idea. The third section is fast and incorporates elements of both systems. So the mechanical and the natural. That’s why elements from both sections return and are juxtaposed. The funky lines in the euphonium are based on the main melody of the second section.
What would you like to a add to the euphonium repertoire with this piece?
I hope some of the composition technique of the first section will appeal to the players and the audience, since it’s not really a common method of working in the brass band scene. Furthermore, I hope it’s a piece that will enable a lot of ambitious euphonium players to perform a solo with a good second section band or better. There have to be pieces that challenge soloist at various levels, so this one is rather difficult, however playable for a lot of good players.
Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview?
One thing that is good to mention is that two exciting premieres are coming up. SHARDS! is a commission by Brass Band Pro Rege Heerenveen for their program at the World Brass Band Championships on July 8 2017. And a new cornet solo, As Night Falls, is to be premiered at the Gouden Spiker Festival on April 22 2017. And there are rumours about a premiere of Spinning Gears by some euphonium player and a well known Dutch brass band at the World Brass Band Championships as well…. who knows!
More information about Geert Jan Kroon and his compositions can be found on his personal website or on the website of his publisher: gjkmusic.nl & Tower Editions