Rick van Veldhuizen (1994) wrote unde imber et ignes at the behest of Manoj Kamps, the conductor of the 2020 tour of the Nederlands Studenten Orkest. The brief was to write a piece for soprano and orchestra to be featured among the behemoths that are Richard Wagner’s ‘Vorspiel und Liebestod’ and Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’, with the theme of this intense evening – fittingly – being ‘ecstasy’…
In close collaboration with conductor Manoj Kamps and soloist Katharine Dain, unde imber et ignes came into existence. The piece, on an original text by the composer, describes the mutual sexual yearning of the orchestra and the soloist, who engage in a courtship over the span of the piece. The soloist does not sing from a female perspective, but rather embodies a dark, universal undercurrent within human sexuality that is neither male nor female.
Some orchestra members start out in the hall, playing unusual percussion instruments such as rubber gloves, chains and duct tape or instrumental musique concrète, and the first song does not start until the orchestra is complete on stage. At that point, a titillating game starts between the vocal lines and the orchestra, who first assert themselves and in the end merge, ecstatically, into one mutant being.
During the ten days of rehearsal, a theatrical concept came together with input from the conductor, the soloist, the composer, and the orchestra itself. It involved a gradual change of appearance and costume for the orchestra and soloist to ‘merge’ not only musically but visually and viscerally.
As usual, Van Veldhuizen employs microtonal just intonation within an almost uncomfortably tonal framework, which renders the music both gutsy and elusive, and uses colourful and experimental instrumentation techniques.
‘I am beyond thankful to have worked so intensively with Manoj and Katharine – who apart from astounding musicians are wonderful human beings – as well as getting to know all the individual, talented members of the Nederlands Studenten Orkest. Together, and truly collaboratively, we put together more than a concert: it was an experience. It is an honour to have this visceral fantasy sung, acted and embodied so well.’
‘The evening’s stunner was Van Veldhuizen’s unde imber et ignes, who had indulged in the huge orchestra at his disposal. The ambitious and overflowing piece explored a myriad of effects: spatial placement in the hall, unorthodox percussion, massive tutti, beautifully elaborate soundscapes. In boisterous and somewhat bombastic lyrics the piece sang of sexuality beyond the norm, in a kind of theatrical courtship between orchestra and soprano Dain. Van Veldhuizen’s sonic imagination was fantastic, with a trio for metal tub, chain and water as a highlight.’
‘In the new, daring and successful piece by Rick van Veldhuizen [soprano Katharine Dain and conductor Manoj Kamps] were also in excellent form.’