The 17th event of the SOUND UP festival will be dedicated to the best known academic music brand of the second half of the 20th century — minimalism — and its most prominent European ambassador Simeon ten Holt.
This January marked the 95th anniversary of the Dutch composer’s birthday. To celebrate this occasion, on May 23, the Museum of Moscow will host the performance of his principal work Canto Ostinato for four grand pianos, which is both angelically easy to enjoy and devilishly difficult to perform. It will be performed by the piano players who know and love Simeon ten Holt’s music — Europe’s chief ten Holt expert Jeroen Van Veen, Russia’s most prominent scholar of new music and founder of a pianistic school Alexey Lyubimov, and his colleagues Alexey Zuev and Vyacheslav Poprugin, with whom he performs in Europe.
Simeon ten Holt was born in 1923 in Bergen, a coastal town in the northern part of Netherlands. He studied music with the legend of Dutch modernism Jacob van Domselaer, who was friends with Piet Mondrian, and joined the artistic movement De Stijl, known for its ideals of aesthetic sterility, rationality, and vigour. Many of De Stijl’s postulates resonate with Simeon ten Holt’s own style. Travelling a different road that the one taken by the majority of his contemporaries, the Dutch composer rejected the radical avant garde sound, altough for a while he di experiment with group improvisation and electronic sounds. Ten Holt’s element was minimalism in its most purist and “academic” form: his was a repetitive music based on the iterations of sound units, where asceticly simple sound patterns alternate and overlap with each other following a principle reminiscent of genetic blueprints.
The composer’s magnum opus is the Canto Ostinato, written in 1976. The composition’s name can be translated as an “obstinate song.” Ostinato, which in Italian means “obstinate” or “persistent” — is the minimalism’ key technique, which consists of repeating a musical element over and over without any variations or elaboration. While nominally belonging to the so called classical music, Canto Ostinato is just as removed from the symphonies of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven, as Mondrian’s or van Doesburg’s abstract matrices from the paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky. It does not exist as a completed musical text: the number of performers may vary, resulting in the Song, which can last anywhere from an hour and a half to the whole day. Canto Ostinato is a set of more than one hundred short musical modules, which have to be performed in accordance with specific algorithm. The algorithm’s breadth and difficulty can be transformed depending on the number of performers, and four pianos are considered an optimal combination for the performance of Canto Ostinato. The piano players’ collaboration, which simulatenously resembles a game of genetic construction and a four-line racing with constant reconfigurations, give birth to a pulsing and transparent substance of sound, which puts the audience in a trance.
Canto Ostinato is one of the fundamental works of the 20th century academic music that will be presented in Moscow in a master performance. It will be proceded by the performance of four Simeon ten Holt miniatures selected by the piano players themselves.
The Museum of Moscow
Moscow, Moscow, Zubovskiy b-r, 2-2