Canto Ostinato (2019)

Simeon Ten Holt

Nederlands Saxofoon Octet

Whilst in the early 1970s many composers – most of them operating from the Randstad, the most densely populated region of the Netherlands – occupied themselves with serial, atonal or electronic music, Simeon ten Holt from Bergen, North Holland, returned to tonality. He wasn’t conservative nor aiming for easy success, Ten Holt felt he had to do this. He was suffering from what he called ‘artistic and creative anemia’.

It wasn’t that Ten Holt had not mastered modern, for listeners sometimes hard to comprehend, complex musical techniques. Indeed, between 1950 and 1970, he had composed several compelling, well-written pieces in a post-serial style. These included: Bagatellen (1954); Cyclus aan de waanzin (Cycle To Insanity) (1962); and the impressive A/.ta-lon (1967) for mezzosoprano and 36 speaking and playing musicians. But modern was never truly his idiom and composing language. 

‘Until then, intellect played an important role in my life and atonal music seemed to be the only way to innovate’, Ten Holt once declared. In the late 60s, early 70s, however, he began to doubt the music he was composing. ‘I realized I was passing myself, allowing a process of impoverishment of my music.’ He fell into a sort of crisis, realizing that his approach had to change. One evening between 1973 and 1976, he sat behind the piano and rediscovered the physical aspect of composing. ‘The ecstasy, the flesh and blood of my own hands’, as he described that moment, ‘It was stronger than me and this gave me so much fulfillment that I continued.’ There and then, in his little house in Bergen, the first notes appeared of what would become Canto Ostinato, an evening-long composition for keyboard instruments – a musical landscape without a horizon; a composition without beginning or end.

The musical piece itself was a beginning. It was the start to a series of musical pieces based on the same principle, and it initiated the beginning of unprecedented popularity. Canto Ostinato came in like a wrecking ball. From the early 80s, almost every performance turned into a musical marathon attracting hordes of people. Simeon ten Holt had finally found the idiom that suited him. It gave him wings and thus he created one composition after another for two or more pianos, including the dramatic Lemniscaat (1983), the apocalyptic Horizon (1985), and Méandres (1999), featuring a more chromatic and a more explicit allocation of roles for the performers.

 

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Nederlands Saxofoon Octet

The Nederlands Saxofoon Octet (Dutch Saxophone Octet, in short NS8) was founded in 2014 in Amsterdam by a group of recently graduated saxophonists. They wanted to go beyond the standard saxophone quartet and decided to form a saxophone octet. With a sopranino and a bass-saxophone, and all sorts of saxophones in between, the ensemble has a wide range that allows interesting adaptations to a range of music, varying from chamber music to symphonies. NS8 received permission from the Schönberg Foundation to adapt and perform Schönbergs Verklärte Nacht. 

The NS8 also collaborates with composers of contemporary music. They premiered Via Dolorosa from Bernard van Beurden and collaborated in a grand project celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. In the Netherlands, NS8 has performed in TivoliVredenburg, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Muziekgebouw Eindhoven. They have appeared as guests at various festivals including the Grachtenfestival, Wonder-feel, Mañana Mañana, Uitgast, Cityproms, the Oranjewoud Festival, and Festival Classique.

One of the first pieces that the octet played was of Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato. Saxophonist Stefan de Wijs created the arrangement and received the approval of the descendants of Ten Holt.

‘Playing Canto Ostinato can’t be compared with playing any other piece of music’, says NS8-member Dineke Nauta. ‘It requires special concentration and openness. That doesn’t come easy, especially in the beginning, but the more quintuplets you play, the faster they come to you. When you get it, the piece will fly by and you have the feeling you can play for hours.’ Colleague Nina van Helvert: ‘Compared to the original Canto Ostinato, our Canto has far more opinions than when you play it with four pianos. Furthermore, each player brings his or her own personality and color. Together, we form an organic machine with components that communicate closely with each other. At one time everybody follows an initiative in articulation or dynamics, at another time, one player goes solo against the rest. But each time it goes forward, and then it retreats; it builds tension, and then it releases. In eternity.’

‘It was a big effort’, says arranger Stefan de Wijs about adapting Canto Ostinato for eight saxophones. ‘It’s not a ‘normal’ score you can arrange across the page from left to right. The beauty of playing Canto is that not all is set in stone when you perform, but when you arrange the piece you just have to define it. The trick is to arrange it in such a way that many options remain open. In the end, the arrangement was finalized during the rehearsals. And when I hear it played now, I think, even though it says: ‘Arranged by Stefan de Wijs’, it is just as much arranged by the octet. I wrote the notes, but NS8 made the choices.’ Canto Ostinato with eight saxophones sounds completely different from Canto with four pianos, says the arranger. ‘The timbre of a saxophone differs radically from that of a piano, changing the perception of the sound’. That’s why he needed to make many adaptations to the original score, but, he says, ‘I maintained the tonalities.’

photo: booklet COBRA0074

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Canto Ostinato (2019)

Simeon Ten Holt

Nederlands Saxofoon Octet

Cables: Acoustic Revive
Digital Converters: HAPI, Merging Technologies
Mastering Engineer: Tom Peeters
Microphones: Bruel & Kjaer 4003, Neumann modified by Rens Heijnis
Producer: Tom Peeters
Recording Engineer: Tom Peeters
Recording Location: Cunerakerk, Rhenen, Nederland in April 2019
Recording Software: Pyramix, Merging Technologies
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DSD 256

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COBRA0074: Canto Ostinato
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Tracks.
1.
Canto Ostinato, Section 1 - 16
Simeon Ten Holt
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2.
Canto Ostinato, Section 17 - 49
Simeon Ten Holt
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3.
Canto Ostinato, Section 41 - 73
Simeon Ten Holt
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4.
Canto Ostinato, Section 74 - Theme I - 87
Simeon Ten Holt
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5.
Canto Ostinato, Section 88 - 90
Simeon Ten Holt
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6.
Canto Ostinato, Section 91 - 94
Simeon Ten Holt
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7.
Canto Ostinato, Section 95 - Theme II - 106
Simeon Ten Holt
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