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María Alejandra Solana discusses the premiere recording of 'Fantasia for 'Cello Alone' by Richard Gwilt with violoncellist Detmar Leertouwer.
María Alejandra Solana, 31st December 2016.
María Alejandra Solana (MAS) speaks with Dutch 'cellist Detmar Leertouwer (DL) upon the launch of the first ever video recording of Richard Gwilts Fantasia for 'Cello Alone.
MAS: Before we get to the first recording, actually video recording of the 'Fantasia', please tell us about the start of this wonderful project. How did you get in touch with the music?
DL: Well, it all started with a Matthäus Passion performance with 'Ensemble la Fontaine' in November (!) of 2004 in Basel in which I participated as well as Irmgard Schaller, the wife of Richard Gwilt. I incidentally had met Richard Gwilt, one of the two violinists of the baroque music ensemble London Baroque, years before in Amsterdam when his group performed in a church on one of the Amsterdam canals. I knew the name and photograph of his wife Irmgard from concert announcements of her then Dutch chamber music ensemble since my study time in Utrecht. This time in Basel was actually the first time I met her. And so we came to speak about her spouse, also because of a partly mutual background of the International 'Cello Centre in Scotland. This Cello Centre is a very compelling subject on its own. She told me that Richard had recently completed a new composition for 'cello. That is how I could lay my hands on the score.
MAS: Did you immediately like the piece?
DL: I do not recall my initial impression or actually remember when I sat down to have a first glance at the score. I do know that at some point I decided to have a more serious look at the music. I then was taken by its beauty and overall colour and started to really study it.
MAS: Did you have contact with Richard Gwilt about how to perform it?
DL: In those days I had a cello class at the Juan N. Corpas University in Bogotá. After 4 years of teaching and traveling to and fro I had decided to return to Europe. This was around June 2011. But there was one student who still had to do his final examination. It was not favorable for him to change to a new teacher in his final months so it was decided that he would come to Holland for an intensive 3 months of study after which he would play his final recital. After those 3 months I decided to accompany him to Colombia to support him in completing his examination. I then thought that it would be a good idea to play a solo concert in the same period and I decided to give Richard’s 'Fantasia' its premiere. Markus Meier, a German musician who also serves in the Deutsche Gemeinde - the German congregation - in Bogotá gave me the opportunity to perform in his church. So at the beginning of December 2011 the 'Fantasia' received its first world performance in Colombia. Until then - to return to your question - I did not have contact with Richard. He only knew that I had premiered his piece.
MAS: So you did have contact in the end?
DL: Yes, back in Europe I took up the piece again and played it one time to Richard in Groningen in the Netherlands and we discussed several issues. I went on practicing and played it once more to him in Gouda.
MAS: How does that go, such discussion? He tells you what is good or wrong? Or is there room for your ideas?
DL: Yes, all of it. For example, I remember his advice about the way he envisaged the chords to be played. He told me for instance that chords are actually to be played like he wrote in two particular places. Those places seem to be more 'written out' chords and that was the way he imagined all the chords. Also the ones which were not 'written out'. We did change some notes, which made it more difficult in one particular place. But he also gave me the freedom to make suggestions. He clarified some tempo changes for me and spoke about his general feeling of the piece.
MAS: Mr Gwilt is not only a composer but actually a violinist, a baroque violinist very much rooted in the so-called early music repertoire. Was this of influence to the piece?
DL: In his own words, Richard spends his professional life performing, teaching and researching music written between 200 to 300 years ago. When he writes 'modern' music it owes a lot to baroque principles: the Fantasia is very rhetorical, gestural. It contains a Prelude, a Sarabande and in the last movement, the Epilogue, in its last section there is even a recitative. So again in his words: "How baroque can you get?". Of course his tonal language is not at all baroque, but it still retains the idea of tonal centres.
Richard had his early musical upbringing at the *International 'Cello Centre with Jane Cowan. Everyone played on gut strings which resulted in a different sound concept and technical approach from the usual teaching in those days. Musically he learned the importance of 'telling' the music, never ever just 'going through the motions'. With Jane Cowan the seeds of historical performance practice was sown early. I for myself was fortunate enough to have met this inspiring teacher, although for too short a time. With her I also started to play on gut strings - I am still speaking of the regular modern 'cello - and she was pivotal in my musical development. Naturally I use gut strings on my modern 'cello for this recording.
MAS: About this upcoming recording: this is not only an audio recording but it actually is a video production. Please tell me some more about it!
DL: That is an interesting story. I was lucky to find a partner in Dominus Maris Music Productions to join this project. It started the following way. In 2008 I was invited to perform in the Museum de Buitenplaats in Eelde with my dance/music programme 'Dialogue between a Dancer and a 'Cellist'. De Buitenplaats is a museum for contemporary ornamental art in Eelde in the North of the Netherlands. Jos van Groeningen, the former director of the museum, lives in the adjacent mansion named Nijsinghhuis. Actually he and his wife are the initiators of the restoration of this beautiful house as well as the building of the museum. After our performance we were invited to his house. He had bought the house about 45 years ago for the symbolic amount of 1 Guilder, of course with the task to restore it. What a wonderful job he and his wife did! They found old hidden panels or walls and studied many specific details of inner decoration of those days (18th century). They had their house beautifully restored in a kind of 'neo' way: modern idyllic paintings based on antique motives, amazing trompe d'œil painting, the art of marble painting on wood.
For this he appointed the painter who did the same work in the famous Dutch Royal Palace ’t Loo. His wife, Janneke van Groeningen-Hazenberg, designed the garden which then became an English garden. There is a 'Blue Room', a dining room. There is the library. There is an 'Erotic Cabinet'. Beautifully decorated sleeping quarters. In one word 'unique'! He also owns a 19th century Erard grand piano. Jos van Groeningen was the first person who was enthusiastic about my 'Bach in Castles' project and invited me to film in his house.
I later thought that his house is not a castle, more a mansion and I envisaged that it would be the exquisite background for Gwilt’s 'Fantasia for 'Cello Alone'. In his own words, his piece is a contemporary composition with a baroque gesture. Hence the Nijsinghhuis with its 'neo' style was the perfect setting for this video recording.
MAS: I saw the film, it is beautiful! So your idea was to also depict the house?
DL: Yes, from the beginning - as for the still running 'Bach in Castles' project - my intention was not only to show a solitary musician in an impressive hall but to intermingle that picture with footage of the surroundings, the paintings, the garden, close-ups of artifacts and statues. And all this hopefully in a way which also makes musical sense. I think that our producer/editor Don del Mar did an excellent job!
MAS: How are you going to distribute your music video?
DL: We of course hope that our audience is primarily interested in the whole package; the video. It will be available for download through the Dominus Maris’ website. As for those people who are less interested in the visual aspect, there will also be an 'audio-only' version of the recording. That name is self explanatory. The 'audio-only' will be available through the website in case you care for the best audio quality settings and in MP3 or AAC form in the usual download portals such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play etc..
MAS: Thank you very much for your insight into your music and art. I wish you all the best for this release!
DL: Thank you indeed for giving me the opportunity to speak about this wonderful project. One more thing….. maybe you allow me to add one comment which is important for me? After I learnt about the death of Ton Hartsuiker, my former director at the Utrecht Conservatory, in May 2015 I decided to dedicate this recording in memory of him. Ton Hartsuiker supported me during some difficult years and I am still very grateful for this. He, of course, was also a strong advocate of contemporary music.
*Read more about the International Cello Centre and Jane Cowan.
Download 'Fantasia for 'Cello Alone' by Richard Gwilt.