Isidora Žebeljan

Isidora Žebeljan (Belgrade, 1967-2020) was the most outstanding and internationally acclaimed Serbian composer. She drew international attention with her opera Zora D. which was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation from London. It was premiered in Amsterdam in 2003, directed by Sir David Pountney and Nicola Raab. The same production opened the 50th season of the Vienna Chamber Opera in the same year.

Isidora Žebeljan got commissions from important institutions and festivals such as the Venice Biennale, Bregenz Festival, Berlin Philharmonic Foundation, Accademia Musicale Chigiana Sienna, City of London Festival, Genesis Foundation London, University of Kent, Muziektheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen, Dutch Chamber Choir, International Horn Society, The Eduard van Beinum Foundation The Netherlands etc. She composed works for excellent musical ensembles such as Wiener Symphoniker, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Brodsky Quartet, Berlin Philharmonic Octet, Dutch Chamber Choir and London Brass. Her compositions were regularly performed in whole Europe, Israel, USA, Canada, Australia and Asia, including the festivals Venice Biennale, Bregenz Festival, White Light Festival (Lincoln Centre New York), Festival RAI Nuova Musica, City of London Festival, WDR-Musikfest, Settembre musica Milano-Torino, Settimana Musicale Senese, Festival Old Music The Netherlands, Stift Festival The Netherlands, ISCM Festivals (Zagreb, Gothenburg, Wrocław, Vancouver), Festival Classique The Hague, Galway Arts Festival, Tallin Summer Music Festival, Musical Biennale Zagreb, Ulysses Theatre Brijuni (Croatia) etc. Among the ensembles and musicians who performed music of Isidora Žebeljan are BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra of RAI Torino, Real Filharmonía de Galicia, The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, I Solisti Veneti, New Philharmonia Westfalen, Brodsky Quartet, Berlin Philharmonic Octet, London Brass, Lutosławski Quartet, Dutch Chamber Choir, conductors Paul Daniel, Claudio Scimone, David Porcelijn, Michael Seal, Christoph Poppen, Alexander Rudin, Pierre-André Valade, Peter Dijkstra, and the soloists Stefan Dohr, Joan Enric Lluna, Alessandro Carbonare, Daniel Rowland, Nino Gvetadze, Oliver Triendl etc. Isidora Žebeljan also regularly appeared as a performer (conductor and pianist) of her own works and of the works by other composers.

She conducted concerts in London (with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields) and in Amsterdam, and performed as a pianist with Brodsky Quartet. CD-label CPO from Germany released two CD’s with her music (orchestral music and chamber music for strings, played by the Brodsky Quartet) and CD-label Oboe Classics from London released a CD ‘Balkan Bolero’ with her chamber music for winds.

Isidora Žebeljan studied composition at the Belgrade Music Academy with Vlastimir Trajković (a student of Messiaen). Since 2002 she has held there a position as a Professor of composition. In 2006 Isidora Žebeljan was elected as a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts. In 2012 she was elected as a member of the World Academy of Art and Sciences (WAAS).

Yves Ramette

At the age of 7, Yves Ramette begins studying musical theory with his father (who directed an « École Professionnelle Supérieure »). At 14, while he is in High School, he continues his training in Harmony. Then, in Beauvais, he learns playing the violin with Robert Duforestel as well as the piano.

In 1941 he enters the National Superior Conservatory of Music of Paris, where he studies Harmony with Jacques de la Presle, Counterpoint and Fugue with Simone Plé-Caussade, the piano with Lélia Gousseau and Lazare Lévy, the conducting with Eugène Bigot. Meanwhile, at the « École normale de musique de Paris », he got the First Prize of Composition in 1945 in the class of Arthur Honegger.

About these years, Yves Ramette writes in his memories:

“a huge amount of work, because I set myself to study the compositions of all the Great Masters from Bach to Stravinsky… and Honegger, whose I was the disciple”.

From 1945 onwards, Georges Jacob, chapel master at the Parisian church Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes, teaches him the organ. Yves Ramette writes: « At this time, I didn’t know that I would become the chapel master and organist of this church… and that it would last more than thirty years » (Yves Ramette becomes the chapel master of this church in 1952).

He also teaches Counterpoint, Fugue and Composition at the Schola Cantorum (Paris) from 1947 to 1953. He has to convince the director of the Schola Cantorum to let him create a class of Harmony, because Yves Ramette states that « learning Counterpoint without a strong knowledge of Harmony is illusory ».

In 1948, his Symphony No. 1 is premiered in Bruxelles by conductor Franz André. In 1950, both his Symphonies No. 2 and No. 3 are premiered by Daniel Sternefeld, in Bruxelles and in Luxembourg. In 1952, his Prelude, Fugue and Postlude wins a prize at the Composition Competition organized by Radio Luxembourg. With the composers Luc Ferrari (1929-2005), Bozidar Kantuser (1921-1999) and Pierre Migaux (1925-2006), Yves Ramette creates in 1953 the Groupe 84, which aims to make discover the great classical works of their time. The French premiere of Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion occured during one of the concerts organized by the Groupe 84.

His fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies are all premiered abroad, just like his first three ones: the 4th in 1951 and the 5th in 1957, both in Bruxelles by Daniel Sternefeld; the 6th in 1964, in Netherlands, by André Rieu (father of the famous violinist).

In spite of these successes, Yves Ramette never achieved to interest French musical associations. He states: “no French orchestra ever commissioned me a symphony or wished to perform one of my works… just as if I didn’t exist!”. Actually, since the 1950s, French cultural ministeries and official bodies support only serial, dodecaphonic, experimental music… but Yves Ramette keeps composing in his personal post-romantic style.

In 1996, he writes to French minister of Culture, Philippe Douste-Blazy: « During my numerous travels abroad, in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Italia and elsewhere, I have always encountered a warm welcome and a tasteful respect. That’s why I can’t stand the absolute silence of French musical official bodies. I consider this as a personal offense. There’s only one trendy word to describe this state of fact: exclusion. Concerning a French artist who works on his art in a selflessly way, who works hard knowing that once a work is finished, the target is still far, who seeks to keep a total independence from all schools, sects, clans, whose main purpose is to keep his liberty, I wonder if nowadays, all the “flaws” of this artist aren’t the exact cause of his exclusion ».

From 1960 onwards, Yves Ramette must resolve to compose exclusively for his two favorite instruments: the organ and the piano. Among his major instrumental works: Concerto for organ solo (1964), Ermia, poem for organ (1971), Pour une nuit de Noël, triptych for organ (1983), Three Etudes for piano (1987), Piano Sonatas No. 1 & No. 2 (1991 and 2001), Pour un bal imaginaire, for piano (1999).

He founded the mixed choir “Vox Ardens”, promoting sacred and profane choral music of the great classical, romantic and modern masters. Between 1968 and 1987, Yves Ramette and his choir gave numerous concerts in Paris and elsewhere in France. Yves Ramette composed several works especially for this choir : Salve Regina for soprano solo, mixed choir and organ (1982), Psalm 116 for soprano solo, mixed choir and organ (1982), Christus, cantata for mixed choir and organ (1983)…

In 1990, disagreeing with religious authorities on the suppression of great sacred music and the introduction of a vestigial liturgy, Yves Ramette resigns from his position as chapel master and organist of the church Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes. In 1997, he writes « Grandeur et Décadence d’une tribune », a book in which he evokes his career as a composer and organist. The last sentence is a quote of politician and writer Georges Clemenceau: « A people finds its joy and its serenity in music. The quality of its music proves its degree of civilization. »

In 1997, during a concert, Yves Ramette meets American pianist Eric Himy, who will play and record many of his compositions on the labels MMC and Navona Records. Between 2013 and 2016, Navona Records released eight CDs of Yves Ramette’s piano, organ, chamber and orchestral works. Yves Ramette passed away on June 2, 2012, aged 91.

English and French texts by Corentin Boissier

Joep Straesser

Joep Straesser was born in Amsterdam on March 11, 1934. He died on September 22, 2004 in Loenersloot.
Joep Straesser studied musicology from 1953 to 1955 at the University of Amsterdam. He studied organ with Anthon van der Horst (1956-1959) and theory with Jan Felderhof (1959-1961) at the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music and composition with Ton de Leeuw (1960-1965).

From 1953 to 1961 Joep Straesser was a church organist. From 1962 to 1980 he taught theoretical subjects at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music. In 1967 he was appointed senior lecturer. From 1975 until 1989 he taught composition.

His oeuvre comprises works for various instruments and settings, with a specific preference for the human voice. ’22 Pages’ for three male voices and orchestra on text by John Cage was performed during the ISCM Festival in Stockholm (1966). Some other compositions which were performed during ISCM Festivals are: ‘Intervals I’ for mixed choir, flute, violoncello and harp in 1979, ‘Roundabouts’ for 4 marimbas in 1981, and ‘Signals and Echoes’ for bass clarinet and ensemble in 1985.

Straesser was awarded the Prix de Composition in 1965. In 1958 ‘Psalm 148′ won the first prize in the composition contest, organized on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Dutch men’s chorus ‘Maastreechter Staar’. In 1965 ’22 Pages’ won the prize for the best Dutch composition at the International Gaudeamus Music Week. In 1988 Joep Straesser received the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize from the Amsterdam Arts Fund for the opera ‘Über Erich M.’.

Bernard Benoliel

Bernard Benoliel was born in Detroit Michigan in 1943 and grew up with his grandfather Bernardo Coppola, an Italian émigré, who after serving in the Canadian Army during the first World War, set up a restaurant in Detroit. Benoliel’s mother was a professional dancer, for a while on the New York stage. His father, a French citizen, immigrated to New York from Marseilles in 1910. Benoliel studied at the Detroit Institute of Music Art, piano with Margaret Mannebach and trumpet with Elmer Janes, both members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His desire to be a composer was formed early – from a love of Beethoven’s music and life. He read composition at the University of Michigan under Ross Lee Finney, a pupil of Berg, and later attended extramural studies at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. A more salient influence on his own music was the two years he spent as a private pupil of Stefan Wolpe from 1968 to 1970. He used to say he went to Wolpe not to learn serialism but because he had been a pupil of Busoni and it is Busoni who informs the dark matter in Benoliel’s style. In 1969 Benoliel won a Bennington Composer’s Conference Award and in 1970 a Tanglewood Fellowship where an early String Quartet was premiered. A year later he gave up his librarian position at G. Schirmer and moved to England. Why? “To write a symphony before I am thirty”. He also wanted to study more British music; he achieved both aims and apart from a brief sojourn in New York in 1977, Benoliel lived in Europe. In 1986 he purchased a canal flat in Amsterdam which he used as a composing studio for the next thirty years. From 2001 he was a Dutch resident and died in Amsterdam on 2nd March 2017.

Benoliel was best known in England as the Administrator of the R.V.W. Trust (founder Ralph Vaughan Williams), 1978-2000 and the Artistic Director of R.V.W. Limited, the company set up to look after RVW’s own music, 1983-2001. He proved a staunch supporter of young composers, electronic music, and neglected music by Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. In all, usually with the estate’s financial support, he was responsible for recording more than 40 CDs of British music, the majority with the Four London Orchestras. Major projects included the complete symphonies of Hubert Parry and Roberto Gerhard. Perhaps the project though, of which he was most proud was the premier recordings of Herbert Howells’ great choral works, the “Missa Sabrinensis” and “Stabat Mater” with the LSO and Rozhdestvensky.

Benoliel composed slowly and revised extensively. From 1968 to 1998 his first nine opus works were all performed and all broadcast either by the BBC or Dutch Radio. In 1982 Sir Edward Downes and the BBC Philharmonic gave the premier of his Symphony ‘Sinfonia Cosmologica’, which Bayan Northcott called “awesomely transcendental”. In the 90s Gaudeamus and NCRV promoted a series of performances in the Netherlands of his Piano Sonata No. 2 after Gericault’s Fragments Anatomiques, with Kees Wieringa, and his String Quartet, with the Mondriaan Quartet. The Sonata and the Nonet ‘Boanerges’, were subsequently featured at Huddersfield Festivals. Listeners however, rarely had the opportunity to hear his works as a group or in context. He retired from England in 2001 and devoted much of his energy to a small property company he set up in 1996. His abiding interest in interior design and an acute sense of timing ensured he survived the 2008 economic crash relatively unaffected. He died leaving properties in Spain, France and the Netherlands.

He continued to compose; in all, he produced fifteen opus works. These include the Symphony, the String Quartet and three Piano Sonatas. In addition, he completed a cycle of four experimental works featuring an amplified solo stringed instrument and amplified antiphonal instrumental forces. These include his magnum opus the fifty-minute Infinity-Edge, A Transcendental Requiem, which reached its final form in 2014. The work is scored for amplified violin, organ concertante, chorus, amplified semi-chorus and orchestra. Invoking Sonic Stone features a setting of the Veni Creator Spiritus and observations on architecture by Osip Mandalstam, scored for two voices, amplified viola and an ensemble, including organ, piano and percussion. His last six works remained unperformed and un-promoted at the time of his death, largely by his own choice. However, over a period of several years, he worked with the technical staff of Donemus Publishing to produce a performing edition of all fifteen works. His final composition was a half-hour Organ Sonata completed in 2012. He never allowed any of his works to be released on commercial recordings.

He once wrote that he had a “Weltanschauung” and encouraged listeners to view his music in a philosophical context: especially with regard to the 19th century German philosophers – Schopenhauer and Nietzsche – and in America the transcendental poets – Emily Dickinson and Whitman, and the New England philosophers Thoreau and Emerson. He read and annotated the complete works of the 20th century philosophical psychologists C.G.Jung and D.H.Lawrence. He said that he viewed all these writers within the framework of Christ and the New Testament. He was baptised in the First Presbyterian Church of Detroit though in later life he was not a follower of any specific Christian sect.

Benoliel’s musical aesthetic was informed by Beethoven, whose life and works formed a bridge to his philosophical considerations. Most of the later composers, whom he loved and identified with, were influenced by Beethoven’s achievement: the German-French tradition, Berlioz, Bruckner, Brahms and Richard Strauss. The direct influences on his own idiom however, were Schoenberg, via Wolpe, Busoni, Varèse and Schriabin.

He worked extensively as a musicologist. In 1996 he was invited by ISIDA (University of Palermo) in celebration of their 40th anniversary to lecture on Szymanowski’s “King Roger” in the International Symposium “Time and Culture”. An extended version of the paper was published by ISIDA in 1997. In the same year his book Parry Before Jerusalem was published by Ashgate. His final project for the Vaughan Williams estate was the editing and publication of RVW’s early unpublished chamber music, completed in 2001. He considered these works superior to RVW’s early choral and orchestral music.

Benoliel was a chronic asthmatic from birth, and after 2009 his health began seriously to decline. He continued however, to remain in harness, insisting on walking the kilometre each way to the OLVG Hospital for treatment only days before he died of a lung infection. Appropriately his last meal was smoked salmon and a final bottle of champagne.
©Bruce Walter Roberts 2017
Executor of the Benoliel Estate.

Ton Bruynèl

Ton Bruynèl was born in Utrecht January 26th 1934. He died on May 5th 1998 in Mailly, France .

From 1952 to 1956 he studied piano with Wolfgang Wijdeveld at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music. His choice of teacher was motivated both by the fact that Wijdeveld had been a pupil of Béla Bartók and that he was active as a composer at a time when composition was not offered as a course of study in Utrecht.

In defiance of the cold shoulder given to composition, Bruynèl banded together with fellow students Peter Schat and Jan van Vlijmen, rallying round the composer Kees van Baaren. Van Baaren introduced his young disciples to dodecaphony, with which Bruynèl felt little affinity. His attention, rather, was focused enthusiastically on the French musique concrète. He chose his instrumentation with the reproduction of concrete sounds in mind, and oriented himself with the Electronic Music Studio at the universities of Utrecht and Delft , later renamed the Institute for Sonology.

In 1957 he established his own studio in Utrecht – the first private studio in The Netherlands – specializing in writing music which combines electronic and acoustic sounds. In the 1970s and 1980s he taught electronic-composition at the Utrecht Conservatory.

Bruynèl won the prize for ‘Best Dutch entry’ during the 1966 International Gaudeamus Music Week for his composition Mobile for two recorded soundtracks. In 1971 his audio-visual ‘Kubus-project’ (created together with architect Aldo van Eijck and sculptor Carel Visser) was exhibited in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam . His compositions Chicharras (a joint project with the poet Bert Schierbeek) and Adieu Petit Prince (based on texts by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) earned Bruynèl an award at the 1986 International Festival for Electronic Music in Bourges, France. One of Ton Bruynèl last works is the video opera Non sono un Ucello. This production on the history of flight was commissioned by VPRO-television and directed by Fred van Dijk.

Jan Urban

The Czech born composer and conductor Jan Urban, after graduating from the Prague Conservatory in 1897, accepted an invitation by the Serbian Government and settled in the Kingdom of Serbia, in March 1899. He was part of around 250 Czech musicians, who in the last decades of the 19th century emigrated to the Southern Slav countries in order to improve local musical culture. Serbia was particularly interesting to them as the free country in Europe not dominated by the Ottoman or Habsburg empires.

Bohemia has been described as the “Music Conservatoire of Europe.” Jan Urban was part of that illustrious lineage of Czech’s – from the time of Jan Zelenka in the 17th to that of Bohuslav Martinu in the 20th century – who departed from their homeland to become musical crusaders bearing the Lyre in place of the Cross. Countless musicians before him, like Stamiz, Benda, Dussik, Vořišek, Reicha and many others were part of what the French musicologist Guy Erismann calls ”la grande émigration.” They took up important positions at the great European courts and theatres, in mostly German-speaking countries. Some went further afield, like the great Antonin Reicha, who journeyed on to Paris and taught composers such as Liszt and Cesar Franck.

After settling in Serbia, Ján Urban married Milka, a woman of remarkable beauty from the renowned Perić family of Valjevo and changed his first name to Jovan, after conversion to the Eastern Orthodox church. Milka bore Jan-Jovan six children.

For the rest of his life he fervently strove to improve the musical education and culture of what was first the Kingdom of Serbia, later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and after the liberation in 1945, non aligned SFR Yugoslavia. There he was pivotal in establishing the first national orchestras, music academies and cultural societies, all the while conducting and composing music of all genres.

The great contribution of Urban to Serbian classical music is his contribution to orchestral music. His orchestral output – around 20 overtures, innumerable dances and suites of remarkable orchestration – was the first of its kind to be written for full symphony orchestra. His highly imaginative orchestration of the folkloristic ”Poskocica”, as well as his ”Serbian Dances“, contribute to Urban being termed “the Serbian Dvořak.” From the early 1920s up until the 1990s, most of these works have been performed and recorded by the Belgrade Radio Symphony Orchestra. In Skopje, Macedonia, he founded the first orchestra and became its Opera’s first conductor.

Urban served as Kapellmeister in the Serbian Army during the First World War. Several of his works commemorate this period: “In Memory of Corfu“, “Crossing Albania“, ”La Serbie de l’Orient” (In the East), “The Peonies of Kosovo“, ”Sounds of Medvednik mountain.”

”La Serbie de l’Orient” was performed in Bizerta, Tunisia during the war. In Paris and other French cities this remarkable work was performed under the name of superior officer, Captain Dragutin Pokorny, so depriving Urban of his well deserved accolade.

The celebrated composition ”March on Drina”, written in Valjevo in 1915 and signed by Stanislav Binički, is also believed by his family and the citizens of Valjevo to be Urban’s work. It was later conducted by Herbert von Karajan in the Vienna Philharmonic’s famous New Year’s Concert of 1987.

Witnessing the unprecedented magnitude of the horrors of war, Ján Urban wrote poignant letters to his wife from the front. 

Despite his deep rejection of such violence, he was obliged to keep writing heroic marches based on national tunes, in order to strengthen and boost the troops’ moral. After The Great War Urban would never again write another ”heroic march”. Quite likely he was aware of the romantic cult of heroism these propagated and knew of Karl Kraus’ satirical essay ”Das Technoromantische Abenteuer” (Technoromantic Adventure).

In the first decade of the 20th century Serbia had only one large orchestra, the ”King’s Guard”. Urban, together with another Czech born musician, the above mentioned Dragutin Pokorny, established 20 further wind orchestras post WWI. He also established and ran the first Music Military Academy in Vršac, in 1927.

From 1920 to 1941 we encounter Jan Urban as an opera composer and conductor at the National Theatre of Osijek (in today’s Croatia). At that time the city of Osijek, or ”little Prague”, boasted an astonishing cultural life, deeply marked by the Vienna Secession in architecture, literature and music. Around the year 1924 Urban founded the ”Osijek Philharmonic Orchestra”, together with his close friend the conductor Lav Mirsky. The members of that orchestra were mostly Czech musicians drawn from Urban’s promenade orchestra.

Urban’s children opera Enchanted princess (1926), created in collaboration with the city’s leading writer, reflected the aesthetic of the ‘Art Nouveau’. For his operetta Sin of Iguman he chose a libretto characteristic of the hilarity of Hašek’s humor. Leaving the heroic music narrative behind, Urban’s artistic expression of that period leaned toward modernity. This was mostly in the sense of Victor Žmegač’s finely stated ”Modernism is the pluralism of styles”, since Urban’s harmonic language remained fairly conventional.

The declaration of the fascist-run Independent State of Croatia found Urban fleeing the country and returning to Serbia at the onset of the Second World War. His best friend, the Jewish conductor Lav Mirsky, together with whom he paved the way for modern Opera and symphonic musical life in Osijek, was deported.

Among Jan Urban’s compositions dating from the Second World War we find 40 studies for violin solo and a fantasy for violin and piano, the Wanderer (Putnik) after a poem by Petar Preradović: ”Merciful beloved God, lost am I in the roadless land….

After the war compositions continued to flow, including a number of works celebrating the Partisan Resistance to the Nazis, such as Sutjeska and The Death of the Hero.

Jan Urban passed away on February 9th, 1952 in Valjevo, in what was then still Yugoslavia. He was celebrated and widely performed there after his death, in appreciation for his tireless contribution to having elevated the country to the high standard in music, arts and education.

During his life, the composer covered vast musical ground mastering opera, orchestral works, chamber music and piano miniatures. Among Ján Urban’s most significant works are two operas, Mother and Djul Beaza, two operettas Sin of Iguman and Terpsichoretwo children’s operettas and more than 90 piano pieces, the latter published between 1905 and 1910 in Belgrade. His oeuvre further included Nine Serbian Dances and Thirteen Saltarelli (Poskočica) for large orchestra, five suits, countless overtures, potpourris, marches, waltzes, works for solo violin and other chamber music. A recently discovered musical play Šokica suggests his opera output to have been even larger. Although about two-thirds of his works were either lost or destroyed, as the consequence of five wars, his remaining output left to posterity is considerable.

The richness of the folkloristic rhythms and tunes of his adopted South Slav (Yugoslavian) countries suffuse Urban’s music. Behind these elements, his Bohemian homeland always shines through with particular clarity. Yet Urban is not an epigone of his Czech predecessors. The poetical images of his piano works, his operettas and Strauss-like orchestral waltzes reveal more strongly the hallmarks of ‘Art Nouveau’Furthermore, elements of so-called oriental modes are woven into visceral ingredients of Jan Urban’s harmonic language. The alchemy of these styles marks a consummate multinational composer whose music is the apotheosis of dance where the Orient and Occident dance embraced.

(Biljana Urban)

Olivier Greif

Olivier Greif was born in Paris on January 3rd, 1950. His father had studied piano in Poland before moving to France and becoming a doctor. A precocious child, Olivier discovered music at age three in a progressive kindergarten. Admitted to the Paris National Conservatory at age ten, he studied piano with Lucette Descaves and composition with Tony Aubin. He received his composition prize in 1967.

In 1970, he went to New York City to study with Luciano Berio in Juilliard School. He followed his master to Santa Fe as an assistant for the creation of Berio’s work Opera.

From 1961 to 1981, he composed a first series of works. His style was quite personal, unaffected by current trends.

Unhinged by the illness and death of his mother (in 1978), he found solace in meditation and the teachings of a New York-based Indian guru. After composing a Requiem sonata for cello and piano celebrating the memory of his mother (in 1979) and a small opera, Nô (in 1981), he stopped writing classical music altogether during ten years. He became his guru’s Kapellmeister. He founded choirs of disciples in France and other European countries, composed pieces for the choirs based on his guru’s words and tunes, went on tour with the French choir around the world.

In 1991, he resumed his career as a classical composer. He wrote a new series of dark and intense pieces, marked by themes he had always been familiar with: the war, his father’s stay in Auschwitz, the loss of most of his family in the death camps. Lettres de Westerbork for voice and two violins (1993) is based on Hetty Hillesum’s letters from the Westerbok camp. Olivier Greif put Paul Celan’s poems to music in his Symphony with voice (1997) and in a great chamber music work, L’office des naufragés (1998). Most of his important works can be heard on YouTube and Spotify.

Having been badly ill twice, he died suddenly at home on May 13, 2000, aged fifty. The autopsy didn’t reveal the cause of his death.

His two brothers, with the help of Olivier’s closest friends, founded an Olivier Greif society to help his music be better known. The society finances concerts, recordings, the engraving and publishing of scores, etc. The society’s website:, includes a list of current concerts, a complete list of concerts since 1957, a biography, a detailed catalog of the music, a list of records, several photographs of Olivier and a form for joining the society

Jean Jacques Greif © 2017

Alexander Basilov

Alexander Basilov was a Russian composer and pianist who lived and worked in Moscow (1946-2007). He completed both composition and piano studies at the Moscow State Conservatory and later became a piano professor at the renowned Gnesin Music Institute. He finished his piano studies with distinction under the guidance of Stanislav Neuhaus and Lev Naumov and later finished his composition studies with Evgeni Golubev and Alfred Schnittke.

From 1970 he worked at the Gnesin Music Institute as a piano and composition teacher, later becoming a member of the USSR Union of composers where he was vice-president at the Children’s Academy of Music from 1990-1999.

Inspired by composers like Alfred Schnittke, Frederik Chopin, Sergei Rachmaninov, Stanislav Neuhaus and Rodion Shedrin, Alexander Basilov wrote over one hundred works, focusing on piano literature and vocal repertoire. Additionally, he composed a large number of choir works, music-theatre plays and orchestral pieces.

Alexander Basilov was a leading figure in the contemporary music scene of Moscow at the turn of the century, performing frequently in concerts and giving masterclasses within Russia and abroad. He was a very dedicated piano and composition teacher and regularly organised concerts at his beloved Peredelkino. This special village, just outside Moscow, hosts the ‘Pasternak House’ – summer house of the famous writer Boris Pasternak -. In organising concerts and soirées of newly written music, Alexander Basilov was honouring the tradition of the late Heinrich Neuhaus, who had organised similar evenings at the Pasternak Dacha.

Devoted to teaching composition to children and curious to discover what music they created, Alexander Basilov organised concerts and workshops for young students. He wrote articles on the importance of teaching composition from early on, highlighting its value for music education and beyond.

Rudi Martinus van Dijk

The composer Rudi Martinus van Dijk was born in Culemborg, the Netherlands, on 27th of March 1932.

He studied with Hendrik Andriessen and Leon Orthel at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague and first came to the fore as a composer at the age of 19 when his Sonatine for piano was performed at the International Gaudeamus Music Week. Van Dijk emigrated to Canada in 1953 and became a pupil of the American composer Roy Harris two years later. The Canada Council of Arts enabled Van Dijk to further his studies in Paris with Max Deutsch, a pupil of Schoenberg, while concluding his piano studies with Kendall Taylor in London.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Van Dijk on a regular basis wrote music for and performed as pianist for radio and television for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Between 1964 and 1966, Van Dijk was active at the BBC in London involved particularly in educational television programs broadcast in many corners of the world including Australia. In 1966, Rudi van Dijk was appointed teacher of composition and piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. From that moment onward teaching became a part of his music life. In 1972, he was appointed teacher of composition and orchestration at Indiana University (USA), and in that same year took a similar post at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was not until 1985 that Van Dijk returned to Europe and after spending a year in Spain writing music he became composer in residence at Dartington Hall in Devon (UK).

Van Dijk has created an impressive oeuvre. His music has become increasingly popular throughout England and Europe. One of the highlights of Van Dijk’s vocal music is ‘The Shadowmaker‘ (1977) commissioned and sung by the famous baritone Victor Braun in a performance with The Toronto Symphony under the baton of Mario Bernardi. September 1991 saw the Dutch premiere of the ‘Violin Concerto‘ (1984) at the Zeeuws Vlaanderen Festival with Polish-Dutch solo violinist Robert Szreder and the Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jan Stulen.

The national premiere of the ‘Four Epigrams‘ (1961) occurred in September of 1993 with The Hague Philarmonic conducted by Jac van Steen. The ‘Piano Concerto‘ (1994) was premiered in May of 1996 to acclaim with Geoffrey Douglas Madge as soloist and the North Netherlands Philarmonic with conductor Viktor Liberman. Hyperion recording artists The Raphael Ensemble, commissioned and performed the ‘Sextet‘ in England in 1998 and his ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano‘ was performed in recital at the Wigmore Hall and broadcast on BBC3 with Anthony Marwood and pianist Aleksander Madzar. As part of the International Chamber Series 2001 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Hyperion recording artists the Florestan Trio performed the premiere of Van Dijk’s ‘Piano Trio‘. 2003 saw the premiere in Germany of Rudi van Dijk’s final work ‘Kreiten’s Passion‘, a monumental piece of music for baritone, orchestra and full choir.

In 1953, Van Dijk won the First Prize in the Gaudeamus composition competition with his ‘Sonatina‘ for piano. In 1962 and 1963, he received the Ohio Award for Background Music.

Dick Kattenburg

Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg barely got started before the curtain came down. In hiding from Nazi authorities in Utrecht, Kattenburg was probably arrested in a movie theater and shipped out to Auschwitz in May 1944. By late September, Kattenburg was dead at age 24.

This story of discovery is extraordinary to be sure, but not nearly as extraordinary as Kattenburg’s music. Although Kattenburg had some rudimentary musical training, including some contact — mostly by way of correspondence — with Leo Smit, he was a self-taught composer bursting with talent, ingenuity, and originality.

His music manuscripts — constituting about 2 dozen pieces written between 1936 and 1944 — wound up in the care of Kattenburg’s sister Daisy, who managed to survive World War II. The one piece that Kattenburg circulated outside of his own collection, his ‘Flute Sonata‘ (1937) was given to its dedicatee, flautist Ima Spanjaard-van Esso. Although Esso never played the piece, she presented its manuscript to Eleanore Pameijer, founder of the Leo Smit Foundation in Amsterdam, who began to play it — a lot — in the early 2000s. Word of these performances reached the daughter of Daisy Kattenburg, who discovered the rest of Dick Kattenburg’s compositions in the family attic where her mother had left them.

Kattenburg loved jazz and his works are suffused with its influence by way of both rhythm and harmony. There is even a composition for piano, 4-hands and tap dancer, and a lively “Rumba” found among his three Escapades for two violins. These, and much more, may be found among the 13 works included on FutureClassics’ disc Dick Kattenburg: Chamber Music as performed by Pameijer’s group, the Leo Smit Ensemble.

Kattenburg’s music is very clear in its scoring and should delight performers whose instruments he wrote for. And it’s a pretty extensive range. In addition to the flute works and those for piano, he composed ‘pieces for violin, and an intriguing ‘Quartet‘ for the combination of flute, violin, cello, and piano, not commonly used since the late Baroque period. Stylistically, Kattenburg is difficult to nail down. Earlier pieces have an impressionist tinge, somewhat later ones adopt a Stravinskan edge, and his last work, the ‘Allegro Moderato’ for viola and piano, shows Kattenburg moving into an entirely original and boldly serious direction that, in the end, he wasn’t allowed to follow out to its realization.

As Dick Kattenburg: Chamber Music appears, much is being made of the discovery of a few frames of home movie film of Anne Frank, leaning out a window and waving, a tiny artifact raised, like Anne Frank’s diary, from the rubble of the hiding places that ultimately failed to preserve for us the lives of talented Jews that lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi period. Kattenburg was only a decade older than Anne Frank, and while his music does not speak directly of his horrendous experience like Frank’s work does, it remains a testament to what we lost when the hiding places were emptied out and these people were betrayed. It also pays tribute to the value of the creative impulse, as it is only through the bright, witty, and effervescent work like that heard on the FutureClassics’ disc, that lost ones — like Dick Kattenburg — can speak to us.

Source: Uncle Dave Lewis, 2009