Recording Reports

Interview with young composer Maarten ter Horst

Today marks the release date of “Introspect” String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 by the composer Maarten ter Horst (b. 1987), performed by the Helikon Quartet and recorded by Tom Peeters for Cobra Records. Floor van der Holst (NativeDSD’s Label, Product & Marketing Manager) interviewed the young composer. After speaking with Musicians and Producers about many recordings on this blog, this is the first time we speak with a composer. Very interesting stuff – and, he writes beautiful music.

What is your music-making background and how/when did it develop into writing music yourself?

Maarten ter Horst: I have played the violin since the age of four. There was always music at home because my mother gave piano lessons at home and practiced the violin with me daily. When I was fifteen, I started to write down new musical ideas that came to my mind. I mainly wrote pieces for violin and piano. I was (and I still am) fascinated by the music of Beethoven and Brahms, with their thoroughly thought-out but also very personal and honest works. After a short stay at the conservatory I chose a completely different direction: computer science. However, after a few years I came to a point in my life where I felt that I had to express certain emotions musically, so I started composing again. This grew into this project of writing two string quartets.

How did this collaboration with Cobra Records & Helikon Quartet come about? 

Maarten ter Horst: In the spring of 2020, during the lockdown, I finished my two string quartets. I wanted an ensemble to have a look at it. I wrote an email to the Helikon Quartet and they wanted to see the music and immediately became very enthusiastic about it; they thought about programming it for their performances. My dream had been to organize a concert for the quartets for three years already. However, because the world was in lockdown, that was not possible at that time. I asked Tom Peeters of Cobra Records, because of the beautiful recordings on his label, if he could record it. To my surprise, he offered to release the music as an album on his label.

What was it like to hear your music being played and recorded to now exist forever in this particular interpretation?

Maarten ter Horst: From the moment I sent my music to the Helikon Quartet, I worked closely together with them on this project. We found each other in a wish to do everything with total dedication and get the most out of it; I don’t think they can do it any other way, just like me. I was present at the recordings and it was a fascinating experience to hear this recording emerge.

What was it like to hear your own compositions in DSD 256?

Maarten ter Horst: I am used to CD quality recordings and I also often enjoy music even in the worst possible listening conditions and sound quality if I’m in the mood for a particular musical work. However, I recently heard the recording in Stereo DSD 256 and it had such a remarkable warmth and it really triggered a feeling that the Helikon Quartet was playing it right in front of me. Throughout my entire Quartet No.2 I was listening with a new fascination, even though of course I know it inside out.

Why did you choose a string quartet instrumentation for your debut?

Maarten ter Horst: The string quartet is the ultimate ensemble for me. It has withstood every style period in exactly this form over the past 250 years and every composer has managed to do something unique with it ever since. Because of the essence of what it is, four completely equal melody instruments with so much expressive power, a composer is challenged to the maximum to write something interesting for each instrument continuously. That has already resulted in a lot of music in which you always hear something new if you listen to it more often. I wanted to take on that challenge.

The recordings show vulnerability in several places. Is that an interpretation of the quartet or is it also your intention as a composer?

Maarten ter Horst: When I started writing these works in 2017, it was a way of writing off sensitive things for which I could find melodies but not words; doubt and unrest, anger and sadness. The quartet felt that very well. Actually, they brought up most of those things right away and in places where they didn’t, I usually only had to say one word and then it clicked in place. They saw it as their mission to understand everything and feel it themselves to let the audience experience it as well.

Is this music a translation of your personal experiences? Is it autobiographical?

Maarten ter Horst: I think I ran into something that many people in their 30s are dealing with these days: high expectations, many possibilities but a gnawing feeling that the way you are now expected to be successful is not what fulfills you as a human being. Writing this music was a way to introspect on my own life. In these works I found a new direction for myself. Quartet No. 1 begins with personal turmoil and Quartet No. 2 ends in relative inner peace. Now, I cannot imagine my life anymore without composing music.

Do you consciously choose a classical, high-romantic approach in your music?

Maarten ter Horst: I think that when I first started composing as a teenager, Brahms was my main point of reference. The romantic direction of the music on this album came about automatically, though. I didn’t think about it but worked with the material that came to mind. When I started composing these two works, I didn’t have the ambition to break through as a composer, only to express myself, and I didn’t feel the need to be innovative. Melodies in the classic sense of the word have so much eloquence to me. But my intuition was always leading; I didn’t feel limited by the rules. I did take a close look at quartet works by Beethoven for example, trying to find ways to get a convincing whole. A whole in which emotion gradually develops, and dreams eventually reconcile themselves with reality.

Photographer (album cover & blog header): Simon van Boxtel

Written by

Floor Van der Holst

Floor is Marketing & Label Manager at NativeDSD Music

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