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

    Nieuwe Noten, mei 2020

Als je het stuk beluistert en ik kan het u beslist aanraden, vallen een aantal zaken op. Ten eerste hoe goed dit stuk eigenlijk past bij saxofoons. Het is wellicht vloeken in de kerk, maar misschien nog wel beter dan voor piano(‘s). Door de klanken van de saxofoons die zo prachtig in elkaar vervloeien, geholpen door de prachtige akoestiek van de kerk in Rhenen, heb je continu het gevoel één grote supersaxofoon te horen, in plaats van David Cristóbal Litago en Lisa Wyss op sopraansax; Dineke Nauta en Tom Sanderman op altsax; Nina van Helvert en Jenita Veurink op tenorsax en Marijke Schröer en Juan Manuel Dominguez op baritonsax. Ten tweede valt op, en dat ligt in het verlengde, hoe enthousiast en bevlogen hier wordt gemusiceerd, je zou er zelf zin in krijgen. Voeg daarbij de eerder genoemde akoestiek en de prachtige opname en je hebt een prachtig schijf om deze barre tijden door te komen.

Ben Taffijn[read full review]

    MusicWeb International, febr 2020

With a dancing tempo which keeps its momentum and with plenty of little details that emerge and I certainly hadn’t noticed as much in the piano versions I’ve heard, this is far more than just a recording for the Canto Ostinato completist. I particularly like the way the closer intervals interact and quasi-resolve. Certain sections call up new associations, and you might catch yourself thinking of Michael Nyman when the lower instruments come to the fore, or Wim Mertens with the soprano saxophone sonorities. The recording is nicely balanced and there is reasonable distance between the listener and the instruments, but this to my ears is a more ‘wide awake’ version of this work than some of the piano recordings I’ve heard, where the temptation is to turn the volume down a bit and have some dreamtime. I imagine that you will be less likely to find yourself entering a meditative state with eight saxophones, and this is by no means a bad thing.

Dominy Clements[read full review]

    Luister, jan 2020 -

Gelukkig zorgt de jongste bewerking van Canto Ostinato ervoor dat we teruggebracht worden naar de componist en zijn zeer nauwkeurige werk en berekenende opbouw. Of het nu komt door de noodzaak om adem te halen of het ritmisch geklepper van de kleppen, de versie die saxofonist Stefan de Wijs maakte voor acht saxofoons en die meeslepend gespeeld wordt door het Nederlands Saxofoon Octet (NS8) doet de trance die velen beleven, uitblijven, terwijl de fascinatie voor de structuur en wijze waarop Ten Holt toewerkte naar de statements van de volledige melodie alleen maar toeneemt. En zo'n soort uitvoering van Canto Ostinato was er nog niet.

    RP Online

Geschrieben wurde „Canto ostinato“ für ein oder mehrere Klaviere, doch schon kurz nach der Uraufführung zirkulierte das Werk auch in anderen Besetzungen. Nun gibt es beim Label Cobra Records eine herrliche Neuaufnahme mit dem Nederlands Saxofoon Octet, die dem Werk auf faszinierende Weise Atem und Leben einhaucht. Es wirkt keine Sekunde maschinenhaft, sondern humanistisch inspiriert. /"Canto ostinato" was written for one or more pianos, but shortly after the premiere the work began to be played by other instrumentations. Now the Cobra Records label has a wonderful new recording by the Dutch Saxophone Octet; the players breathe life into the piece in a fascinating way. It doesn't sound machine-like for a second, but inspired by humanism.

Wolfram Goertz[read full review]

    Opus Klassiek

Deze uitvoering door het Nederlands Saxofoon Octet verdient een waardig plekje in het nog steeds groeiend aantal opnamen (en bewerkingen) van het stuk. Wie ‘Canto Ostinato' een warm hart toedraagt moet dit nieuwe album zeker kopen. Het is het meer dan waard. /This performance by the Dutch Saxophone Octet deserves a worthy place in the still growing number of recordings (and adaptations) of the piece. Those who have a warm heart for ‘Canto Ostinato’ should definitely buy this new album. It is more than worth it.

Aart van der Wal[read full review]

    Pizzicato -

In the eighties Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt landed a real hit with his Canto ostinato. The work thrives on an ancient musical principle of constant repetition, which the minimalists had chosen as one of their principles. Canto ostinato also has the wonderful characteristic that, at the composer’s express request, it can be performed in a wide variety of formations, leaving the performer plenty of freedom within the given structure. The Nederlands Saxofoon Octet uses these freedom pleasurably and very musically. The music is constantly in motion, the tension never diminishes, the repetitive sequences are hardly noticeable as such, since the music is constantly in flux and new melodic passages can be discovered again and again. The present instrumentation also offers the wonderful opportunity to experience the saxophone in its most beautiful timbres.

Guy Engels [read full review]

Canto Ostinato (2019)

Simeon Ten Holt

Nederlands Saxofoon Octet

Cables: Acoustic Revive
Digital Converters: HAPI, Merging Technologies
Editing Software: Pyramix
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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Canto Ostinato, Section 1 - 16
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Canto Ostinato, Section 74 - Theme I - 87
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