Music for Empty Spaces – live ­stream from the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ

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The concert halls are closed, yet these twelve corona compositions will soon premiere! All concerts taken off the agenda and still playing: during the live stream concert: Music for Empty Spaces’ twelve world premieres by twelve composers, played by twelve musicians, will be heard…   

A razor-sharp sound wave clears the silence in the main concert hall of the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam as if a grindstone is placed in a pound of steel. Hammering follows. Radio 1 in the background. Maintenance can take place undisturbed now that the concert halls are closed.

“The acoustics are fantastic, even for such building sounds,” says composer Heather Pinkham. She is standing next to the stage on which one musician and one composer will take place during the live stream concert ‘Music for Empty Spaces’. Pinkham invited eleven Dutch colleagues whose styles are far apart. She linked them to as many instruments; accordion, cello, harp, electric guitar, and so on. The invitation was: would you like to write a four-minute piece in which you reflect on the present time?

“In order to keep working, I must have a purpose,” says Pinkham. “From one day to the next an empty agenda and no income, that’s disastrous, not least psychologically. If you make music, you want to play it.” With Music for Empty Spaces Pinkham initiates the performance of twelve world premieres in the middle of the toughest weather imaginable for the performing arts, in the eye of the hurricane.

Energy in the room

Mood states encased in nuts alternate in Pinkham’s own miniature ‘Days blur’: fear, anger, resignation. The work was written for Maya Fridman. The cellist not only plays, but also sings lyrics like ‘I am one of the lucky ones’ and ‘Tired of this new routine’.

When the halls are closed, streaming is the solution to reach an audience – if it weren’t for the fact that as a musician you make the performance together with your audience. The person on stage is fed by the energy in the hall. How do you take the listener who is following what you are doing from behind the laptop?

Maya Fridman: “Of course I miss the interaction enormously, the warmth, the facial expressions, but I try to imagine the audience as well as possible, I have imaginary listeners in my head. It’s much harder work when I’m streaming music, at a live concert you’re lifted up because you’re together”.

Emptiness and loneliness

Violinist Pieter van Loenen agrees with the latter. When the stage world came to a creaking standstill, questions came to him like: who am I, what does my profession mean if I can’t tell my musical story? “In recent years I have become even more aware of the physical aspect of having a violin in my hands, the resonance of those sounds, and how attached I am to them. The way I make music is coloured by the situation I am in. When you play in front of a camera, the emptiness speaks back. In the short piece Celia Swart composed for me, I experience that emptiness and loneliness in the thin melodies.

Van Loenen is in a good mood, the strength of Pinkham’s initiative inspires him. He wants to perform and share, even if he can’t do it live. For the first time in weeks he has studied with others again, a Beethoven Quartet. “Four musicians at a distance of one and a half meters from each other, but the music, there’s nothing better,” says Van Loenen. “The ears had become rusty and eager at the same time. You shouldn’t have spoken to me two months ago, then I saw it completely gloomy, everything cancelled, closed concert halls.

I can and I want to express myself in music, that certainty is becoming more and more important to me in these times and it gives me energy and self-confidence, even now that I can’t feel and see the listener for a moment”.

For Fridman, this time is a period of research. She tries to get to the core of what she is as a cellist, as a musician. Every day, behind her instrument, she wonders what she does, what sounds, what emotions she wants to convey. “I am more aware of my breathing, for example. I look for the flow I come into when I perform, a state that is naturally there when I give a concert. If I can understand what’s happening, I can evoke that situation whenever I want, even without a live audience.”


“That image, a musician on that large stage in an empty hall, is nothing less than poignant”, Jacob ter Veldhuis thinks. He initially put aside Pinkham’s invitation to write a piece, felt paralysed by the situation, although as a composer he is used to a monastic existence. It was only later that his fantasy came to fruition. Ter Veldhuis saw for himself how he could perform an earlier plan to incorporate the call of dying birds into a composition: Ilonka Kolthof’s piccolo would merge beautifully with the richness of colour of the songbirds.

“That miraculous bird song moves and inspires. The piece wrote itself directly and reflects the current era. It is not only characterised by this pandemic, but also by a global environmental crisis. Farewell Feathered Friends’ is a statement in which I express my concern about global warming. That’s how I usually compose, involved in the world I live in.”

In difficult times, twelve musicians and twelve composers are exploring the road to a better future. Heather Pinkham: “The fact that all these people have pledged their cooperation is fantastic. By creating something together, we can make our voice heard and draw attention to the beauty and urgency of contemporary music. You can’t get us under it.”

Works by:

Anthony Fiumara – Zone Blanche for accordion and soundtrack
Celia Swart – oneness for violin
Joey Roukens – Roaming Empty Streets for piano
Bianca Bongers – Come wide close for saxophone
Jacob ter Veldhuis – Farewell Feathered Friends for piccolo with soundtrack
Monique Krüs – No one is an island for baritone with soundtrack
Chiel Meijering – Happy Hours for bass clarinet with soundtrack
Karmit Fadaël – Double for kalimba with soundtrack
Matthias Kadar – Chatouille! for flute
Aspasia Nasopoulou – Τύρβη (Tyrvi) for electric guitar
Piet-Jan van Rossum – apple on the sideboard for harp
Heather Pinkham – Days Blur for cello/vocals with soundtrack

(Text by Frederike Bernsten)

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