NEW EUROPEAN ENSEMBLE plays HOSOKAWA at Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague

The New European Ensemble is certainly keeping busy. This is the second time we have seen them in as many weeks, not to mention the fact that they are the pit orchestra for Opera2Day’s current tour of The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.

What’s good about the NEuE is that you always get something different, something new and exciting, whether it be new performance-based works like their version of George Orwell’s 1984 or Metamorfosen, the recent piece inspired by the works of MC Escher, or straightforward concert performances.  

This evening’s event in The Hague’s Nieuwe Kerk was the latter. The world premiere of three works, in the presence of the two composers, ensured that it would be a unique and thrilling evening. The Nieuwe Kerk presents an ideal location for small concerts. Its grandiose structure, intimate atmosphere and good acoustics make every concert there a special event.

The concert in the series Composer in Focus was basically celebrating the work of Toshio Hosokawa, arguably Japan’s most important living composer. Born in Hiroshima in 1955, he studied in Germany before returning to Japan since when he has been nothing if not prolific, writing orchestral works, concertos, choral works, chamber music and no less than five operas.

The first piece, Hosokawa’s Drawing, scored for eight instruments, started and finished very quietly with the violin, viola and cello bowing the wood of their instruments, inducing an almost Zen feel to the piece and creating a theme for the evening in which east met west and formed a happy and cohesive bond.

The concert’s soloist, guitarist Jacob Kellerman, made two appearances. His selection of Hosokawa’s Japanese Folk Songs for Guitar perfectly demonstrated the east-west fusion. The beginning of the opening song, Sakura, was very Japanese with Kellerman plucking the strings very near the bridge and making his instrument sound more like a koto than a guitar. As the piece developed it became more western, more melodic, romantic even.

The music of Toshio Hosokawa was punctuated by another premiere, Sweet Septet by Finnish composer Pasi Lyytikäinen. Willem Stam’s cello feature in this rather contemplative piece but the addition of a French horn to the line-up gave the opportunity for a lot of power demonstrated by the playful, seeming incongruous, inclusion of occasional short, boisterous phrases towards the end which were almost like circus music.

The evening finished with Hosokawa’s splendid 2003 piece Singing Garden for oboe, flute, violin, cello, piano and Astrid Haring playing a harp so gold and shiny that it looked as though it had been hewn from bits of the high altar in a baroque cathedral. And the harp sounded as good as it looked, adding, as harps always do, a slightly ethereal feel to the piece.

All in all this was a splendid evening of music by The New European Ensemble performing music by two outstanding composers, both of whom considered the event important enough to put in an appearance.  Michael Hasted  12th March 2023