Joey Roukens: Symphony 1: well received by media

(photo by Eduardus Lee)

On October 14 and 15, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra performed Symphony No. 1 of Joey Roukens. This work with four movements was well received by the main Dutch News Papers.

Joep Stapel in NRC:

In his First Symphony, Joey Roukens reaches new milestonef

Roukens has been excelling in idiosyncratic orchestral music for years and at 40, he thought it was time for a real 'symphony' in four movements, which he himself nicknamed 'Kaleidoscopic'. Roukens' music has always been eclectic and multicoloured, but here he reaches a new milestone in terms of technical ingenuity and sense of form. This piece deserves to be played very often so that music lovers can go and hear for themselves how compelling it is - even without the butt of a disappointing supporting act.

With Roukens, of course, no traditional allegro as the first movement. Celesta and harp repeated an orphaned note, cinematic strings swelled: the music unfolded patiently, far from heaven-defying. Only after a smooth dance and a menacing near-climax with pulsing brass did the carefully built tension come to a thunderous release. This had John Adams-like allure, as all of music history coalesced into sparking, barely controllable force field. The haunting coda after that was picture-perfect.

An endless melody formed the core of the slow second movement, 'Ayre', with an ethereal twist that didn't quite pan out. But Roukens' mood management proved faultless: movement three, 'Scherzo', rubbed Bates' nose in how to write exciting notes in a driving seventh bar. The Scherzo emerged as full-blooded final music with a fantastic ending, a fat and virtuoso nod to bombastic nineteenth-century climaxes. It created space for a return to the stillness of the beginning, but grimmer and wiser, for the final movement, an imposing blossoming, purging Adagio.

Peter van Lint in TROUW:

It was perhaps not very smart of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (RPhO) to include two brand new compositions in one programme. Unknown simply makes unloved, and so the large hall of the Doelen was shockingly empty. Even though none other than master pianist and crowd-pleaser Daniil Trifonov had been invited for Mason Bates' Piano Concerto. But the Rotterdammers did not rally for the Russian.

After the break, a hefty three-quarters of an hour was set aside for Joey Roukens' First Symphony. It takes guts to come up with such a hefty score. But Roukens (1982) is not afraid of the devil, and cleverly titled his first: The Kaleidoscopic. After all, many great symphonies have an evocative nickname and therefore settle better in the memory.

But Roukens' racy notes themselves also stuck finely in that memory. The first movement was already brimming with inspirations. The passage in which the horns took the rhythmic lead sounded rousing, and after a relentless crescendo, the orchestral machine jammed grandly there. In the second movement Ayre, a brilliant melody sounded for the oboe, captured beautifully in canon by the alto oboe. That phrase was later beautifully repeated by horns and violas, and so the score constantly shifted kaleidoscopically in form and colour.

The third movement Night Flight was virtuosically composed and orchestrated, again with a giga delay and a comic final note by a lone bassoon. The string sound fields in the fourth movement Landscape were inventively shot through with trumpet sounds, as with Ives and Adams, and in the end everything dissolved into nothingness. Roukens proves he can handle the large, four-movement form with ease. He gives the time-honoured symphony a racy boost.

Together, Bates and Roukens really composed music that could win young people over to the classical cause. They just weren't there unfortunately.

Merlijn Kerkhof in De Volkskrant:

We slip from one tension into another in Joey Roukens' virtuoso First Symphony
The fourth movement in particular must rank among the finest Dutch music of the 21st century.

The big question in the audience at the performance of Joey Roukens' First Symphony was: is he there? On Friday, the composer (40) told the Volkskrant about the severe tinnitus that hinders him so much that he can barely tolerate sound. But he was there, also at the second performance, Saturday in TivoliVredenburg, so he could hear not only his own piece, but also the long, heartfelt applause.

For Roukens has created something very good in four contrasting movements and forty minutes flying by. Although he employs very different means, Roukens appears to have a kind of Wagnerian in him: the symphony is full of narrative harmonic restlessness, in which we slip from one tension into another. The packaging is just very different - sometimes 'American' brass, but mostly there is no label to put on it.

A bongo gives the whole thing something extravagant. Most unusual is how Roukens pairs harp with melodic percussion and piano in the fourth movement, a piccolo giving small impulses above a gently rumbling bass drum that you feel but barely hear. This movement, while we are at it, shows Richard Straussian compositional virtuosity and must rank among the finest Dutch music of the 21st century. The orchestra performed the kaleidoscopic beauty of timbres with great precision and flair, conducted by André de Ridder.

That final movement was so strong that you completely forgot we had been listening to a world star before the break. The programme began with Barber's Adagio for Strings, in which the orchestra played cleverly with acoustic suggestion and for a moment you imagined yourself in a church. Next came pianist Daniil Trifonov with a concerto created for him by Mason Bates. Trifonov is a pianist who can play anything he wants, you wondered why he chose such a drab, naive piece. You wished him something better. From Joey Roukens, for instance.

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Published 2 months ago

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