Interview with Rohan van Klooster

Posted on 02 December 2019   News

Rohan van Klooster, Dutch composer

Discovering the composer Rohan van Klooster

It’s been 28 years now since you have composed “Verzameling”, your officially first composition, if I’m informed well. It is absolutely incredible how many beautiful music you have composed by now and Netherlands didn’t discover you yet. I hope this will change now, the way you deserve and taking place you deserve. Let’s see together your work.

Verzameling” is, as the word says in English, a collection of compositions. In this case for piano. And although these compositions are rather primitive, I sometimes used them or parts from them for later work. A striking example is “Rondo per Vita” which is based on “Rondootje” from “Verzameling“. And for the instrumental Borzoi-cycle “Vospominanya o Borzyh” I used the “Sorvan theme” also from “Verzameling“. So as I think it always is: old things can be useful, don’t throw your past away. But this pieces where not important enough to bring to a large audience.

I will need your guidance now in discovering together what kind of music you were composing in this long period of time.

My best friend and co-double bass player, Hans van Meegen, asked me to write a piece for double-bass and piano, and that was the start of composing more seriously. First, “Duo“, and because Hans wanted to work on a long, more romantic composition, I wrote “Reminiscences“. Musicians who we asked to listen to this music liked it, but times were against us: This had no new sound. And perhaps that is for a part, the story of my life. But in case of the double-bass compositions I especially tried to make more romantic music because there is not so much written in that style. So the bassists are obliged to play all kind of transcriptions. Of course my talent can’t compete with the great classical composers, but I tried to gave some music joy with these really for double-bass intended compositions. After moving to Drenthe I wrote again some pieces for piano-solo. And then I met Rian de Waal, who stimulated me to write for more instruments. The first result was the Dies Irae for soprano, tenor, flute, harpsichord, piano and double-bass. Rian liked the piece and was planning to perform it but then he got this illness. When I was working on the Dies Irae I lost some good friends, and my brother and a favourite Borzoi. After my brother’s death I wrote “de Reiziger“, “the Traveller“, for narrator, four singers, bassoon, piano and double-bass. “A small monument for my deceased brother”, “Because we are presumably, possible, hopefully travellers”. A few years later I started the “Vospominaniya o Borzyh“. A cycle of instrumental compositions picturing some episodes from the lives of Borzois. And after this walk on Memory Lane, Ballade no.1, The Borzoi Ballade emerged, following by a composition for double-bass and piano: Ballade no.2. In 2017 I created Rondo per Vita, for Leven also known as Ank my love and companion. It’s not so much a love-song, but love reminded me to write this for her.

Composing as destiny

The fact that it lasted so long confirms your dedication, “the call”, composing as destiny. What was inspiring you then? What made you stay “on track”? How did you resist? In the world of modern music where in entire industry there are two men writing for the biggest stars, where there is not place for composers like you are, or similar. Tell me, what made you survive as artist and resist?

It is difficult for me, to answer this question but I try. First: when you have the drive to transform your feelings into music, you keep doing so because you can’t stop. And second: when there are some close ones who support you, it helps to go on. And then, when it seems that nobody is interested in bringing your “childs” into the world I think of a motto, I red in a book written by Robert A. Heinlein. It is called Stranger in a Strange Land; the leading character, Michael, Mike Smith has a lot of problems living on this planet, but when it seems to much he says: “There is waiting“, and that is what I did and do. 

Borzois as a life theme

What are your favourite themes? Borzois. They are incredible. We met thanks to borzois, and what is particularly interesting is that there is one person who connected us actually. Yes, through the stars and your own star, I may say. In your life and artistic story, what the place borzois have?

It is of course audacious to say but my own dreams, loves or other experiences are the base from where I try to shape a musical shadow. And living with Borzois gave me strengths and on that unforgettable evening, the encounter with Ank. Borzois brought us together and although she had heard my music before, floating on the wind towards her rooms, it was that moment with the Borzois that created our presence now. She didn’t know who the music played, she came across the street for the Borzois, not for me. But indeed the stars were there: A beautiful conjunction. All followed is history, and history is important we should learn from the past. All the lives of the Borzois we loved together and all the ups and downs every live has, they form for me the power to go on. Living, loving and writing, all with the support of the love of my life. 

About Borzoi Ballade

Borzoi Ballade. What kind of composition is it? I know that the music speaks the best for the artist, and the public will have this great opportunity to hear it, but I’m stubborn in idea that we need to help people understand and love what they were not introduced to, the modern composition like yours.

You are absolutely right that music should speak for itself and that all at the same time a lot of people want or need an explanation. But in this case it is much easier to follow the development because there is a singer who tells the story. And I think that people who live with Borzois know the stories about wolf-hunting as there were, for instance, at Perchino’s, so there should not be a problem at all. Finally one can read the lyrics. But most important is the way it is performed. I think people stay listening, will be taken along in this dramatic adventure thanks to the fantastic way Marco and Milivoje bring this composition to life. 

How Borzoi Ballade is born?

When I was working on the final part of the Vospominaniya o Borzyh there occurred a new theme and while I was writing it I had the feeling that it should be sung. Sometime later I met a singer, tenor, and although he was a amateur and couldn’t read music he had a fine voice and sang several songs for us. That gave me the idea to start writing the Ballade no 1, the Borzoi Ballade. I had a theme and heard a voice. The lyrics I mostly created on my walks with the Borzois, out in the fields, fantasizing about the endless fields. The music came to life at the piano with the “help” of the great black Amant Aleksander Polot. But that is another story. 

Borzoi Ballade

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Finding the artists

It was written for one specific person if I understood correctly? Now, when we know it took me one year to find the right voice and pianist, how it looks to you as author the result that our team created: Marko Kalajanović, opera singer, baritone, Milivoje Veljić pianist, and why not to mention Ana Marija and her studio?

When Ank and I heard the piano intro we where flabbergasted. Milivoje played exactly the same way I did and meant it to be. It was almost scary, but in a fine way. And I think the timbre of a baritone fills the “Eastlands -spheres“, better then a tenor, especially the way Marko sings it. Together they create a beautiful “tension curve”, through which they lifted the story to a higher level. It became the Duet like it was meant to be. Undoubtedly the work from Ana Maria in her studio has a important impact in the final result. So we are grateful for all her efforts! 

I would like you to take us on this journey, before we present your composition to the public, of the story that the Ballade narrates.

It is a rather simple story. The introduction gives us an idea about scenery, vast plains, “where the earth melts into clouds”  and wind “always wind”. There is a kind of village and a mansion and we can hear bells ringing, perhaps from a church or a chapel or is it a call from the mansion? Then the real adventure starts. Excitement in and around the stables for the upcoming hunt, and mental preparation with the Borzois because this is their hunt, they must go for the wolf. After a thrilling pursuit the wolf is killed by Arsia, “The Store Grise”, ” the great grey warrior”. After a kind of introspection in connection with the chase and kill of a animal in this case a wolf, all the people, horses and Borzois go back to the village, leaving the open grounds behind. Sun is going down and we can hear the bells again. I should add that the sound of these bells reminds Ank of the “Damaiaatjes” in Haarlem. 

Ballade starts with the narration. The emotion that you have transferred to us immediately with it is absolutely amazing. How did you arrive to narration?

I didn’t want to write a song the way the great composers did, because I can’t compete with them. So I thought about a other kind of structure. And while the landscape lends itself for a sort of narration I wanted to start with a kind of recitative. While composing this changed into the intro we have. The lyrics give us the feeling of the open country where nature rules and people are small. I experienced this vulnerability and loneliness myself, on my hiking tours in the north of Norway. Just a backpack with food for fourteen days and a tent, a map and a compass, in the middle of immense nature. I have never been in “the Eastlands” but I red about the landscapes in Tolstoi’s work and I think my feelings fit in the scenery I wanted  to describe in the introduction. The structure of the following part is rather rhapsodic. The main theme returns several times but not as in a rondo. In between the music supports the story. So when the lyrics tell us about the excitement before the hunt there is a lot to do in the piano part. An other example is the hunt itself. It starts about horses and then we follow the Borzois and in all that excitement one can hear, changes in the rhythm played in the left hand from the piano part. But let’s not talk about music, let’s listening to it. Then you can learn more then I can tell you.

Borzois running to eternity through the notes of their music

How much time you needed to compose it? Did you pass the particular emotions happening then or it was your entire experience and love transferred into composing? Narashnikov and Arsia, Jaidah… tell us more please. What the role they got in the Ballade? 

After I had decide to use that theme printed form Vospominaniya o Borzyh I had to find a topic to sing about.
Since Borzois and hunting are inextricably bound up, a hunting party seemed a fine subject. A advantage is that one can place the story in the past: That gives more freedom to create a romantic atmosphere. Then the real process begins. But that whirls in your head, every day again, while walking with the Borzois or doing the dishes, mowing the lawns and in your dreams. I don’t know how long it took me before I put the first note on paper. But at that time the libretto was as good a ready and I had a rough idea about  the “musical building”, including atmosphere and climaxes. Two Borzoi names had to be mentioned  in this composition: Narashinikov and Arsia, the little big man, and the great grey Dame. Ank named him after Baryshnicov, the famous ballet dancer, so that is why he is the “Deadly Dancer”. Arsia we got from Jo Heller, Jo asked me, just before her untimely death, if I would take charge of Amant Aleksander Polot. My answer was that we wanted to take care of both, Alex and Arsia. And that is what happened. I had a great weakness for this grand Old Lady, also in real life “the Leader of the Pack”. I named her “Store Grise”, it is a fantasized Norwegian name: the great grey one (It should sound roughly as Stura Greesa). And there is a third name at the end: Jaïdah. She is Arsia’s nice and at first she was not mentioned in the lyrics. At the end of the Ballad everyone goes home and when the party is leaving we can hear them humming: da-dada-dada. I could not resist to change that in Jaï-dada-dada. And now she is our only living Borzoi who’s name can be heard. In the first classical composed music about Borzois!

People, horses, borzois and the wolves you are painting one entire time with words and notes. We were there, we “saw” all what was happening… our hearts were beating during the registration in the rhythm of the Borzoi Ballade. An incredible story, unique journey we have now occasion to take thanks to you Rohan Van Klooster. What was your feeling when you heard it for the first time? 

It was overwhelming, Ank had to cry and I was very close to it. I already told you that Marko and Milivoje created a beautiful tension. Before this we listened to parts of the rehearsals, (and we will never forget that you all sung for my birthday, a so lovely surprise. But despite Marko kept a low profile, there was that beautiful voice again). However what we heard now; the final result exceeded all our expectations. Thank you Milivoje, Marko, and of course you, Anna Maria for your fine studio work. And because this is the last question, (it’s a fine touch to ask me eleven questions), I thank you Valerija for making this happen and also for giving me the possibility to talk about this composition and explain some things, but Music is better not to talk about… Let us listen to it!!!!!!!

The story continues…

Borzoi Ballade is the beginning. We are already working on another magnificent Rohan’s composition. This time it’s about love. Rohan Van Klooster is the greatest surprise I had in modern music in last twenty years. It was honour to be the part of this project and to bring it to the large public.

Interview made by Valerija Brkljač, producer and founder of WebMetropolis Records.

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