Time for an interview with Dutch composer Hendrik de Boer. For my new CD he composed the highly atmospheric piece ‘The Hell of 63’ about the dangerous ice skating event in the Netherlands in 1963.
Hendrik, can you tell me about your background and how you got to composing?
In everyday life I am a military musician committed to the Royal Army (FKNR). Additionally, I have my other musical activities, such as conducting, composing and arranging, brought together in my own company ‘Hendrik de Boer Music’. Out of all these activities composing has become increasingly important in recent years.
I have always been interested in composing. When I was a teenager I had a summer job at ‘De Haske Publications’, and during break time I often studied the scores of new compositions made by e.g. Jan van der Roost, Philip Sparke and Thomas Doss. During my studies at the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen I therefore enjoyed courses such as ‘instrumentation’, ‘creative writing’, and ‘development of musical imagination’ a lot. My teachers have always stimulated me to do something with regard to composing. This has resulted in a dozen compositions which are already available at my publisher ‘Lake Music’. Since then I have gotten the hang of it and I try to make one or more compositions each year.
Tell me a about your compositions so far and what are some highlights of your composing career?
My compositions up to now, I think, are best described as a search for my own identity as a composer. When I allowed my first composition ‘A Jubilee Overture’ to be judged by Jan de Haan (Dutch composer), he gave me two pieces of advice: first keep developing your skills of the craft, such as harmony learning, counterpoint and instrumental knowledge, and additionally search for your own ‘identity’ as a composer: try to create your own unique style of composing.
I followed both pieces of advice and started working on them. I soon realized that I am fascinated by three facets: chord progressions, modulations and soundscapes. If one listens to my compositions in chronological order, one would be able to hear a clear development on those subjects. Whereas my first big piece for brass band ‘La Divina Commedia’ is mainly aimed at mastering the ‘craft’, is one of my recent pieces ‘Nocturne’ much more a reflection of the style of composing I eventually would like to arrive.
Every composition I have made so far, has provided a lot of satisfaction from the writing process, the involvement with the rehearsals, and the feedback I received after performances. This way every composition has its own story and its associated highlights.
A story which affected me personally, is the story behind ‘Crossroads’, a horn solo which I wrote for Wendy Postma. This solo has been recorded in 2014 by brass band ‘De Waldsang’ Buitenpost with horn soloist Folkert Veenstra. Afterwards, this turned out to be one of the last projects where Folkert was able to participate. As a twelve-year-old boy I heard in 1998 for the first time a champion division brass band playing: ‘De Waldsang’ (with Folkert on horn) playing ‘Between the Moon and Mexico’. Deeply impressed, I committed to one day reaching that level as musician myself. Folkert has been one of the examples of that generation of musicians. A generation where I looked up to then and which fueled my passion for music. Every now and then, if I listen to the recording again, I realize that and feel grateful.
What’s your ambition as a composer and what are your dreams for the future?
My biggest ambition in composing is the search for my own identity as a composer. It is therefore my dream to eventually develop my own ‘style’ of composing, which should be innovative while honoring the craftsmanship.
At this moment I’m working on a new composition, called ‘Mystic Echo’s’. This work is going to be based on the ‘Prometheus-chord’. This chord, also known as the ‘Mystic-chord’ is developed by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. To develop once a chord or a chord-progression like that should be really great.
How did you experience the CD recording?
The recording of the cd and the upcoming release of the cd are a crown to the good relation I developed with Robbert throughout the years. We have known each other since 2007 (NBK, Music for Battle Creek) and always had a lot of respect for each other as a musician and person. It is therefore impossible for me to acknowledge the cd recording as a separate event. The preparatory conversations, the involvement during the composition process, the development of the premier together with fanfare ‘Eendracht Maakt Macht Oudega’, the improvement of the composition, the buildup to the recordings and the final recording have made me very grateful that I was able to contribute to the creation of this cd, where Robbert, in my opinion, has proven to be an ambassador of the instrument. Naturally, I am also very grateful to Tijmen Botma (my old head course teacher conducting), Psalm 150 Dinxperlo, Renato Meli and Anteun Hoesen. It is a privilege as a composer to hear your own composition being played by such a fantastic orchestra and being recorded in a very professional manner.
How did you come up with the idea of writing ‘The Hell of ’63’.
During the composition process of ‘the Hell of 63’ I also cooperated with Sytze Pruiksma, who is a biologist and percussionist, on two projects: ‘Birds ‘n Brass’ and ‘Klanklanskippen’ (Soundscapes). I talked a lot about composing with Sytze during those two projects, mainly about developing my own identity as a composer. He advised me to study elements of my own cultural background and to use them during composing. I was born and raised in Grou, a small village near the water in Frisia. Because I like to ice skate during the winter and people associate the ‘Elfstedentocht’ with Frisia, I got the idea to do something with that topic. I realized that in the past when I visited my grandma, I used to scroll through a book about the ‘Elfstedentocht’ of 1963. I searched for that book again and reread it. Then I knew for sure: the ‘Elfstedentocht’ of 1963 was going to form the basis of a new composition.
Can you tell me something about the piece and the composing style of it?
The composition consists of five joint parts: ‘Frozen Snow-landscapes’, ‘Eos, cutting wind from the East’, ‘Snow-blind’, ‘Light in the Darkness’ and ‘It has been completed’. By making use of various tone series, church scales and fast consecutive modulations I have tried to create ambiances where the soloist, orchestra and audience constantly get a feeling of movement: the ice skating of the tour with the soloist in the role of ice skater.
In addition to the ‘common’ scores for the soloist and orchestra I have made use of some ‘unusual’ colors to further emphasize the different ambiances. First off, a synthesizer, subsequently a tape with wind effects and finally a delay system for the soloist to get an echo effect.
What would you like to add to the euphonium repertoire with this piece?
Sadly, there have not been many new and original compositions for the solo instrument euphonium and fanfare orchestra in recent years. An important goal of composing ‘De Hel van ’63’ therefore was to make a composition that would be an addition to the existing repertoire for euphonium and fanfare. It is now up to euphonium players, fanfares and of course the listening audience to judge if that’s actually the case.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
Last year I had the honor to cooperate with a few coaches from ‘Topsport Noord’ and to be the musical leader of the performance ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’: an evening performance where music, gymnastics and trampoline were united and together formed a splendid whole. The synergy that resulted from this combination was extraordinary large. It was this large that the coaches and I decided to continue this cooperation in a foundation ‘GyMusic Productions’ in order to organize a yearly production about music and gymnastic sports. I enjoy the cooperation with these professionals very much and look forward to again compose and arrange a new spectacular production, where you will soon hear more about.
You can find more information about Hendrik de Boer on his personal website or on the website of his publisher, Lake Music.