The ten day November Music festival of international contemporary music takes place in various locations, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a little out of our area but last night they brought one of the concerts to the intimate Jurriaanse Zaal in the De Doelen concert hall complex in Rotterdam.
The traditional opening to the annual Festival is a concert called the Bosch Requiem which commemorates an artist who has passed away in the previous twelve months. This year the concert was called Last Words and was dedicated to composer, lyricist and singer Jan Rot who died last April at the age of sixty-four.
Now, being English, I have to confess to not being very familiar with the work of Mr Rot but my researches before and after the concert have revealed that I have been missing out. Rot was a complete entertainer and musician, not only did he perform and write his own songs, he also translated lyrics from other languages, applying his own spin. And it wasn’t only popular songs – he created inspired Dutch versions of Schubert and Mahler songs, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Ein Deutsches Requiem by Brahms.
But Jan Rot was much more than a musician, he was also a wordsmith and it is his final words that formed the libretto for this recital. Shortly before his death he sent the text, which he described as ‘someone’s voice as a message left behind’ to Rotterdam composer and guitarist Aart Strootman who set it to music. The result was a moving piece for two sopranos and an unusual and slightly eccentric combination of musical instruments.
Scored for eight cellos, four percussions, guitar and bass, the hour-long Last Words was a sublime piece of music that was both stimulating and sad all at the same time. The basis of the music was the Amsterdam Cello Octet. I have seen them several times before and love their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Cello Band. The rest of the music was provided on many and various percussion instruments, ranging from a large gong to tiny Indian Hari Krishna finger cymbals, by the aptly named Mallet Collective. The bass guitar, played by Fred Jacobson paid down the steady beat while composer Aart Strootman, while not conducting, filled in on electric guitar, what looked like a solid electric mandolin and a tubular bell [sic].
But the evening was all about the words, Jan Rot’s last ones in this case, and they were given voice by the two expressive sopranos Rianne Wilbers and Fanny Alofs. Their renditions were ideally suited to the piece and their performance was rich in light and shade.
Excellent though the performance was, it was marred by several people in the audience following the words like silly schoolchildren on their phones. The text they had downloaded obviously did not ask them to refrain from looking at it during the concert and no announcement to that effect was made beforehand. Using a mobile phone in a concert or theatre performance is, as most people will agree, a cardinal sin and it was a pity that these people were allowed to light up their little patch of darkness and spoil the concert for many of the others. Michael Hasted 10th November 2023
Photo by Jostijn Ligtvoet