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Mezzo soprano Christianne Stotijn and her brother, bassist Rick Stotijn, enjoy performing together. They share the same narrative force, understand each other perfectly, and love to explore the intimacy of chamber music. They formed Trio Stotijn with one of their faithful accompanists, pianist Joseph Breinl. For this especially innovative recital, they will present not only arrangements of existing lieder, but also two premieres: American composer Ned Rorem and Dutch composer Michel van der Aa have dedicated new works to them.
You will present a very original programme, which brings together many contemporary works while presenting an uncommon combination. What was your approach?
My brother Rick, Joseph and I tried to create a programme which integrates all of the elements likely to surprise, provoke and embrace the audience: tradition, romanticism, humour, spirituality, virtuosity and above all innovation. This means that the common theme of the programme begins with the traditional romantic repertoire, with lieder by Mikhael Glinka and Maurice Ravel, as well as by Giovanni Bottesini. This much less known 19th century composer wrote magnificently lyrical chamber music, similar to opera. As a bassist himself, he was the first to give the instrument its own voice. This required more, and we therefore ordered arrangements of lieder by Mikhail Glinka and cabaret works by William Bolcom, among others.
How did you discover this American composer?
I discovered William Bolcom quite by accident at the Ojai Music Festival in California last year. Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, artistic director of this festival, asked me to perform Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, a Bolcom expert. I did not know these lieder at all, so it was a true discovery. They were written in an original and fantastic way for voice, and are also very pianistic and virtuoso. We thought it would be a good idea to order a transcription of a few Cabaret Songs for voice, piano and bass. Marijn van Prooijen, bassist and composer, and Wijnand van Klaveren, organist and composer as well, worked on this with originality and humour.
Two composers preferred writing new lieder for you. How are these lieder in keeping with their work?
The combination bass/piano/voice is relatively uncommon and there are very few original compositions for this type of ensemble. This is why we commissioned new works. It is a great opportunity and a true attempt at the impossible to have elderly American opera composer Ned Rorem, who is rather conventional, and the versatile Michel van der Aa write a work for us. A few years ago I heard Susan Graham sing works by Ned Rorem. I was immediately moved by his lyrical style based on harmony and tradition; furthermore, Ned had already written a lot for chamber music ensembles and voice. His composition How Like a Winter based on sonnets by William Shakespeare is very lyrical and almost meditative. I have already worked with my compatriot Michel van der Aa. He composed Spaces of Blank for the Concertgebouw Orchestra and me, mixing electronic elements while preserving a link with the striking poetry of Emily Dickinson, Anne Carson and Rozalie Hirs. Michel always starts from the text and narration; for this recital he created new means of expression by basing himself on the work of Ned Rorem. For the trio composition he therefore chose texts by Carol Ann Duffy. Her poetry is much more raw and sometimes tinged with bitter irony; but this aspect is what allows a strong association with the sombre tone typical of the bass. It is amusing to hear how much his very rhythmic and jazzy composition influenced by pop music contrasts with Rorem’s work.
Bassist Rick Stotijn is your brother. You have already performed together, in particular in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in London and New York. Do you also have an artistic connection with him?
For years now, my brother and I have thought of working together much more often, in particular because, apart from musical language, we also share humour and ‘breathing’. I am aware that it is difficult to explain how ‘breathing’ could be shared, but after all, we come from the same womb, and it is almost as though we are musical twins who speak the same language and who understand each other implicitly. This often makes Joseph laugh. But this frankness and trust allows us to give free rein to our imagination during concerts, which therefore maintain their originality.
Interview by CB