Saturday, 3 November 2012

Presenting Jacob ter Veldhuis's “Believer”

I have always been reluctant about performing a work for live instrument (saxophone) and tape/CD. There's something “static” about such a configuration. Besides, is it not far more enjoyable to rehearse and perform music with friends and colleagues? However, there are things that need to be tried, and I was waiting for the right opportunity to do so. When Open Space Victoria asked me to present a solo piece for their upcoming Score Reading Club event, I suggested Jacob ter Veldhuis's “Believer” for baritone sax and boombox,

A while back I had ordered a copy of this piece, straight from Jacob TV's website. I had tried to program this work for a local chamber music series, but the organizer had told me that “Believer” was perhaps “not a good choice” for their “particular” audience. Fortunately, Open Space gave me another chance to present this piece, in fact, their new New Music Coordinator Chris Reiche chose this work out of a total of three solo works I had submitted.

In order to learn more about Jacob's music as well as his motivation for composing, I listened to some more of his music and to some interviews (see footnote). Jacob's style of composing is often defined as avant-pop, and it has sometimes unfairly been dismissed as nearing kitsch. What I find attractive about his music is how Jacob has found a way to mix low-brow 'pop' music with high-brow playing techniques (extended saxophone techniques) for the live performer. By doing so Jacob has been able to elevate his music from kitsch, making his compositions accessible to a wider (“multi-brow” if you will) audience.

In the beginning of “Believer”, an interview between Bill O'Reilley and George W. Bush is juxtaposed with a melodious part for the baritone saxophone. The pitch materials for the saxophone part seem to be derived from the conversation itself. In part of the piece a technique called speech-melody is used to superimpose the saxophone and speech parts. In a sense, the saxophone part works as a pivot between the (tonal) harmonies and the eerie sounding slowed down conversation on the accompanying soundtrack.

Although Jacob tends to shy away from being explicit on his point of view on the often societal or political topics he chooses for his music, I predict that most listeners will (at least at an unconscious level) be able to connect the dots on how he views the “believer” of this piece, George W. Bush. Does George W. Bush's uttering “I believe peace is coming” being answered by a saxophonist's “cry like a dying animals” give insight in Jacob's political views? I like to think so.

In all, this is a highly effective piece, and I would suggest to follow the instructions (in the introduction) closely and use the PA system to fill the house with this awesome blend of sound, one in which the saxophone player will be able to morph in and out of when needed, covering up any synchronicity issues one might have in playing in sync with the CD.

Footnote: Here are a few references I used for preparing the presentation at Open Space:

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