Music is usually at its best when it manages to transport the listener to a place where they cannot usually go; a place that lies beyond our usual routines and obligations. The Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin, the iconic Festspielhaus at Bayreuth and the Berlin Philharmonie are definitely on the list of iconic venues that have reached that level of transporting music. The explicit goal at the Tenclub in Amsterdam is to create than kind of musical atmosphere. Music turns into something almost spiritual here and you are left with an experience that you will find in few other places.
Jochem Janssen, founder of the Tenclub, explains that the club is mainly concerned with human fascinations and aims to amplify the stories and sensualities that our everyday obligations keep from our view. Through a variety of programmes, that its exclusive circle of members put together, these stories are to be carried toward an audience at one of the club’s locations, or “Theatres of Life,” as they are internally referred to. The most prominent “Theatre of life” is the stunning Mayer Manor in Amsterdam, which Janssen completely refurbished and turned into a space that sports the exclusivity and quirky furnishings of an unusual British Gentlemen’s club and, indeed, the democratic and encompassing mission of the Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin. A unique, spiritual touch arises out of the existential questions that the club poses.
So yesterday it was time once again for one of those spiritual evenings, where music was chosen as the conduit to bring reflection and realization to those present. For the actual music, two great interpreters of completely opposite fields of music were invited to perform: Renowned Jazz pianist Mike del Ferro and canto pianist Jeroen van Veen. The evening was titled Canto, Jazz and Champagne, and according refreshments and amuse bouches (oysters) were up for sale pre-concert and during the interval. With only 40-50 guests, an unprecedented level developed of intimacy and a true bond between both public and artists. Listening to music was not a task or a duty, it was a joy because one was doing it with friends. Even though I knew none of the other audience members personally, they smiled when I smiled and communication happened silently during the performance. Regardless of what is being played, hearing music at a TenClub location is bound to take you right out of your comfort zone and into a (musical) drug induced state that I have witnessed few times, maybe only during performances of Wagner’s Tristan or Parsifal.
Now to the actual root cause of brilliance – the music. All quirky interiors, personal conversations with the artists and interviews about with the founders cannot alone stir up the remarkable atmosphere that developed throughout the night. As the two pianists took their seats at their grand pianos (instruments of the time, both from the 1890s), Jeroen van Veen began with the Dutch baroque treasure that is the Canto Ostinato. In these first few minutes, all present learned a great musical lesson: What appears simple is often truly beautiful. The Canto was repeated various times, in different keys, different dynamic shades, different accents in phrasing. Van Veen showcased the beauty in simple variation, a remarkable musical experience.
And then Mike del Ferro comes in and starts improvising. Simple (and yet beautiful) jazz improvisation on the ostinato theme, in similar keys, with different rhythms. Both piano’s (perfectly tuned) sounds come together and build a harmonic world that is almost unheard of. The most potent thing one could like it to is the music of John Adams, with incredible colours, every chord being a miracle. His seminal work Harmonielehre, distilled in a version for two pianos, probably comes close to what we heard before the interval. And most incredibly, it went on and on. Both musicians were improvising, one starting to play in another key or with a different emphasis on the phrasing, and the other immediately following. Both pianists were in constant communication through looks, and observing their communication throughout 50 minutes (!) uninterrupted improvisation was a spectacle in itself.
In such an intimate setting, music is distilled to its basic elements: passion, communication and wit. The second half, after the interval, ditches the canto ostinato, but keeps the character of its music as both pianists show their jazz versatility in a few short jazz improvisations (short here meaning 10-15 minutes). These performances almost become interactive, as the audience applauds and cheers for a special musical moment, a great chord, an enchanting transition. As these last jazz improvisation ends and the audience demands an encore, founder Jochem Janssen shouts “Für Elise!” and laughs jokingly. And incredibly, Jeroen van Veen takes him at his word and begins playing Beethoven’s world famous Etude. What ensues in the next 10 minutes is a compilation of music brilliance not unlike what Yuja Wang does in one of her most popular encores of Mozart’s Turkish March, as both pianists constantly try to trump the other with even more brilliant and harmonically stunning interpretations and variation’s of Beethoven’s famous motif. Standing ovations.
Musically, it was an incredible evening, no doubt. But just as amazing was the sense of community in this small, enclosed space and the energy that developed from a crowd of avid listeners and brilliant musicians coming together to self-reflect, socialize and enjoy life and music. Yannik Eisenaecher 10th June 2018
Yannik Eisenaecher is the publisher of the blog FreshEarsClassics