Rohan Van Klooster fascinating Dutch composer

Posted on 12 December 2017   Artists, Interviews, News

ROHAN VAN KLOOSTER, for piano and borzois

“We are all one. People are interconnected by invisible forces. Although we have the freedom to think and act, we stick together, like stars on the heavenly arc, with unbreakable connections.” Nikola Tesla

This interview is closing one very important life path and at the same time is opening another, new one. It’s the celebration of the 15 years of work with artists, presenting their art to the world, first through traditional media and now using Social Media. That’s why this, 15th interview, that will appear in the first number of WebMetropolis Magazine, couldn’t be simple, and couldn’t be ordinary, but special, different and unique, as the artist I’m going to present you now. 

All started with Borzois

We had something in common even before we met! And as life usually opens the perspectives that are invisible, it is necessary to read “the signs” along the road, to understand how “coincidences” and “synchronicity” in Universe are working and to be able to see them acting in everyday life. All started with BORZOIS… Borzois are something that happens to the fortunate people… as I am, and the artist, composer, Rohan Van Klooster. Very happy to talk to you Rohan, and welcome!

Rohan Van Klooster

Rohan Van Klooster

Borzois made possible for me to know you and your music, so permit me to start this interview talking about them first, what I’m sure won’t be hard for you. And for a good reason. It’s called “Ballade nr.1. Feel free to start wherever you want to tell us the story about this composition and how it’s born. 

A very long time ago, I think I was about eleven years old, my sister had her own practice in dog-grooming and there was on the wall a poster with all dog breeds of the world on it.
Somewhere on the lower part was the photo of a Borzoi, and that intrigued me. He was red coated.
I know for sure, it never left my mind.
Many years later when I had my first job in the National Ballet Orchestra in Amsterdam I bought a house in Haarlem.
Now I had some money, a house with a small garden, I started thinking about my Borzoi dream in a more practical way. I went to the Winner in Amsterdam where I met Jo Heller. After a long day talking and listening she invited me to her House in Hillegom, but she told me that she would never sell me a Hound……. When I entered the House, out of the blue there where suddenly four big black Borzois which almost worked me out of the door into the street again. But I managed to stay inside. That was a glorious moment.

Vorenoff Oljushka, borzoi

After a very pleasant afternoon, Jo told me again that she wouldn’t sell me a Hound. In 1978 I was the proud companion of my first Borzoi, Vorenoff Oljushka, daughter of the famous Vorenoff Nicolaï ( who I met in Hillegom) and Vorenoff Marjushka. More Vorenoff’s followed including the great King’s Ransom.
After we moved to Roswinkel I started more serious composing. A few years later our great and dear friend Jo went ill and we inherited Arsia (Asha) Bistkupstwo daughter of Avanturin and Polly z Palatinu Moravia and Amant Aleksander Polot. Jo had phoned me a few times especially asking me to take care of him when she was not around anymore. They where both fantastic Borzois but Asha had something special. She seems to be the old breed, the real Wolfhunter. They inspired me to compose about Borzois. That resulted in the Vospominanyia o Borzyh, an instrumental cycle about the life and the living with Borzois. Because Asha was here we made contact with the Bistkupstwo breeders which, later on, resulted in us buying a puppy. That is Jaïdah, and Ludmila and Vojtech brought her all the way from CZ to our house. They stayed here for a few day’s and I learned that Vojtech was a remarkably good singer. That gave me the idea to write a song for him. Of course about Borzois.

Rohan Van Klooster - Rondo per Vita

Rohan Van Klooster – Rondo per Vita

So I started to work on the Borzoi – Ballade. In my mind the Perchino hunt and the Borzoihunt in War and Peace from Tolstoi. The main theme is a theme from the Vospominanya from which I found from the start that it should be sung.
While writing it I want it to be a kind of monument for Asha, the Store Grise I called her, the Great Grey and I wanted to honour her with music. Composing the first Ballad, Aleksander was all ears and after a while, he started singing while I was playing and writing. And when the piece was finished and I was starting to play it, he howled as long as he could. Even the very first note was enough to get him started. That was beautiful. I played it the last time for him a few hours before he died.
On account of my Arthrosis, I think that it was the last time ever.

Nota bene: In spite of his arthrosis, Rohan Van Klooster try to play every day, and this short video is
an improvisation on the Grand piano which is a Kutchera-Wien 1874, very out of tune at the moment.

… so, borzois and music… what a perfect match. Let’s talk about the music. When did you discover the music? Was it immediately a strong impact? What it was, or who inspired you to become a musician?

I grew up in a musical environment. There was a lot of classical music coming from the old TricTrac pickup. Mostly Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. The dearest records where Porgy and Bess and the West Side Story. My mother played the piano, but for some reason only with St. Nicolas and Christmas to accompany us with our singing.
My brother was a lot better as a pianist and he played Liszt and Chopin. I wanted to play too and around my sixth year, I started with piano lessons. When I was fifteen my father found a youth orchestra where they needed a pianist to fill in the missing parts. But when we came to a rehearsal they already had found one but they needed a double bass player. A teacher was available as well as an instrument. That was the moment I started my double bass career. Looking back on that career I must say that Gerrit Hartveld, my first teacher was the best one I ever had. His playing was very poor but his teaching was unforgettable. Of course, I visited many concerts and the idea grew that my place was there on that stage.

Artistic Journey

Tell us about your artistic journey. What was the artistic climate at that time? Who was important and popular?

After two years of hard labour under the supervising of Gerrit Hartveld I was good enough to play in the Zeister Philharmonic Orchestra, the senior amateur orchestra which was also led by Nico Hermans, in that time a famous conductor of amateur orchestras. Nico Hermans was also the musical director and the conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and he introduced me there.
The National Youth Orchestra was an ensemble that was formed by picking out the best young amateur and conservatoire students of the Netherlands. Therefore it was a mixed group of enthusiastic and talented people.
In the bass group, for instance, I met a boy who was playing the bass guitar by Children for Children, the other one became the bass player of the Wild Romance, the band of Herman Brood. The other one was studying medicines but stopped his studies after one season in this orchestra and developed into one of the well known double bass players of the Netherlands. As another became widely known as a conductor. the two last mentioned bass players I understand best. When you are a part of a group of over hundred people, all working together to create that almost orgastic power that a great romantic composition asks from you, you are lifted from the earth and you never want to lose that feeling again.
So you learn you want to be a part of this forever, playing or conducting, this becomes your life.
With this orchestra, I also played with Exeption in that time a famous band that popularized classical music.

Rohan Van Klooster

Rohan Van Klooster

As I said before, these years made clear to me who I wanted to be: a classical musician.
Amongst my favourite composers are Rimsky Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Mahler, Verdi and for chamber music Liszt, Chopin and Schubert.
But there was more than classical music; I also like for instance Emmerson Lake and Palmer, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Santana, the Beatles and the Stones, Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens and the rock opera Tommy from the Who, and of course the good Old Jazz.

Studies at Conservatoire of Utrecht

You have studied at Conservatoire of Utrecht. What instrument/s? What was your main interest in music?

In the meantime, I studied at the Utrechts Conservatorium. My most important double bass teacher was Paul Godwaldt and I learned a lot from him, but about music, I learned much more from my piano teacher Ludwig Schonk. He was a pupil of a pupil of Liszt, and he brought to me the possibility of a creating different “touchés”  I almost never studied a whole piece with him, we were always looking for different approaches of parts, the ideas that can be searched, and sometimes found, beyond the music.
For instance: how did Chopin start to play his Prelude no.4? In these years I really started to play the piano. It is a shame that now because of my Arthrosis it is only my head that knows how to play while my fingers are not listening anymore.
However, I still can compose and I am glad about that.

After the studies, I suppose, arrived the time to play in various orchestras. Tell us more about it. What kind of orchestras, where and the repertoire? For how long? What did it give to you? What from that experience do you consider important and why?

After my studies, my first orchestra was the Dutch Ballet Orchestra. We were playing in the orchestra pit. This was not the stage where I was looking for but it appeared to be a marvellous schooling. One must really follow the conductor any second even when it is totally different from the normal performance of a composition because you are just accompanying the dancers and they don’t follow the music when they do their acrobatic jumps. One goes higher than another, so every evening when there appear other soloists all is different, and only the only head above the pit is the conductor, who himself can even be surprised, but you learn to react immediately.

Rohan Van Klooster, concert

Rohan Van Klooster, concert

Talking about Borzois with Rudolf Nureyev

I worked there, in Amsterdam, for a few years and had some special encounters. For instance, with Rudolf Nureyev, I talked about Borzois. Another moment I was in the pub with Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar.
And there was the day we had to travel to Eindhoven,  I am not sure, but somewhere a great distance from Haarlem where I was living then. My first wife drove me that evening and because it was a long distance we decided to take the Borzois with us. It was a performance with the Dutch Dance Theatre.
After we parked the car we tried to take the Borzois with us into the theatre. We only wanted to show them to some dancers backstage but the only way to get in was through the front doors. So we walked in with our Borzois and of course, there was the man yelling: “No dogs allowed”. and I answered with a phrase I learned from Jo Heller: “These are not dogs, these are Borzois“. The man was silent and we walked on.
The dancers loved our Borzois and we had great fun, but after a while, we were found by the yelling man and we had to bring them back to the car. But we had our fun.
After the Ballet Orchestra, I played in the Haarlem Symphonic Orchestra, where I became the second solo bass player. In practice that meant that every certain number of weeks, I was leading the double bass group.
You ask me for experiences, there are so many I’ll take a pick.
The moments to learn from are undoubtedly the guest conductors. It is always refreshing to play known parts in another way. And it is memorable to work with Youri Egorov playing the first Liszt concerto.
Also a lot of fun, but in an entirely other way was a “Vienna Nights” concert with a Polish conductor who really knew to play a waltz. The soloist was the famous Rudolf Schock. He was very old for a singer and some songs had to be transposed, but the evening was a great success. After the concert came the fans or “groupies” to his dressing room. And there they were, crowding together, to see or even feel and speak to the great Old Man. I saw them, gathering at his door, all blue haired women from an age we can only guess. A flock of puberal behaving lovers. I will never forget.
At the same time, I had a lot of “schnabbels” in the Netherlands and in several orchestras in Germany and Belgium. Sometimes one cannot see the music before the concert, then it is necessary to play “a vu” and I was good at doing that.
That delivered me a lot of “schnabbels” and a lot of experiences.
The last experience I should mention is a series of concerts, with the Haarlem Orchestra, with Flairck, a rather famous group of classically trained musicians playing their very own music but always in a not so difficult way to listen to.
Still, it was a kind of confrontation for the classical diehards. For me, it was great fun to be part of it.
And considering your question about experiences, I met their double bass player, Dirk van Gorp. I learned from him and he learned from me when he was later on playing for a week in the N.Ph.O.
But more importantly, we became friends. That is also an important experience.

New life as a Composer

In the previous question, we concluded with your various artistic experiences. Now when we all know you a little bit better, let’s talk about your composing, because it’s where the real existence of one composer is. We started with borzois, of course. They signed your life, as well as mine. We owe them so much. You wrote ballads for them. But was it the first composition you’ve made that is dedicated to the borzois? Or there were others before? If yes, what it was about?

Rohan Van Klooster - Rondo per Vita

Rohan Van Klooster – Rondo per Vita

Rohan Van Klooster - Compositions

Rohan Van Klooster

First steps in composing music as a child

It all started with improvisations. I have always tried to make my own music even as I was a child. Sometimes I wrote something as I did for instance for my sister when she had her first baby, but these sketches must be seen as a sin of the youth. After leaving my parent’s house I lived for a time in Heemstede with my first wife. We found a loft above a pub. There, in a dark corner of this pub, I found a piano. It was totally out of tune, but I was happy as a baby.
I asked the owner for permission to play there and when he had listened for about half an hour he was very enthusiastic. He called for a piano tuner and gave me the possibility to play there in the hours the pub was cleaned.
After a while, he asked me to play in the evenings. So when I came back from a concert mostly after midnight I went downstairs to play a few hours. These where mostly all improvisations and sometimes I could pay my rent with playing there. It was fun to do and I learned a lot.
When we moved to Amsterdam, I lost my piano, but after three years we found a house in Haarlem and there I became the proud owner of a grand piano. Then, in my first own house, playing my own very old Kutchera, things became more serious and I started to make some notes. The first piece I really put on paper was written for a girl I liked very much, at that time. Don’t forget I was married so it was an impossible dream, a kind of Für Elise in a different way.
When in 1980 my beloved Rasboi died, I improvised the Rasboi-theme that was written down for the first time in Rondootje, 1991. In the previous years, I wrote several pieces for piano including a composition for my first wife who had left me at that time, and Pan. Then a simple melody for Ruswaga which occurs in Duo for piano and double bass in 1990, and in 1991 I wrote my third composition for a Vorenoff Borzoi, Sorvan. It’s titled “for Sorvan”  and later one used in the “Vospominanya o Borzyh” where it’s called the ” young dogs theme”.

Rohan Van Klooster - Composing

Rohan Van Klooster – Composing

In 1990, I mentioned it already I started to write for piano in combination with the other instrument.
That lead to Pan for flute and piano and “Schetsen” and “Stemmingen” (Sketches and Moods) for flute and piano as well (1992), “Reminiscences” for double bass and piano and “Elegie” for two double basses and piano. The double bass pieces where written under the inspiring influence of my colleague and best friend Hans van Meegen.
After moving to Drenthe I first composed for piano-solo, but after I met Rian de Waal who had is own “concertboerderij” where he performed one of my works, I started to write for more instruments, and I picked up my dream again to write more romantic music for the double bass.
One composition I want to mention is “de Reiziger” (the Traveller) written as a small monument for my deceased brother. It is based on a short piece he once wrote for four voices, a capella.
I created an entirely new setting with recitatives with text from a poem by Pablo Neruda, instrumental interacts and finally as a coda his own coral. This cast exists of a “declamator” four voices, bassoon, piano and double bass.
In 2010 I started working on the “Vospominanya o Borzyh” a kind of “Paintings at an exhibition” of Moussorsky, but in this case about the several moments of life of Borzois. From this composition, I got the idea to write the Ballade no.1 for tenor and piano, about a Borzoi hunt, “The Borzoi-song”.

The instruments and the lyrics

Tell us about the instruments and the lyrics for your compositions?

As I told you before it all started on the piano, studying on the Conservatoire I was “forced” to write for the double bass, my main instrument. Later when I was teaching double bass I wrote small pieces for some students and for one, Chris Vogelzang, I wrote my first real double bass composition. I asked Hans, to play it while I accompanied him on the piano. After we did so he asked me to write something for him, (also for double bass and piano) in a real romantic style. I wrote Duo but that was not romantic enough for his taste, he wanted more melody and even spoke about “Bel Canto”. Three years later I composed “Reminiscences” a much longer piece that handed the double bass more opportunities to “sing”.
In the meantime, I met a flautist who also liked to have a piece written for her. She was a not so bad amateur and she wanted to make music together with a piano, instead of always playing her obligate etudes on her own.
That is how I began to write for transverse flute. But I still had the idea to enlarge the romantic repertoire for double bass.
In 1993 I wrote my first work for two double basses. After I met Rian de Waal about whom I told you before, Dies Irae was composed; my first use of voices. It was followed by de Reizeiger and in 2013 my first and now only composition where
I used my own lyrics, the Borzoi Ballade.

Rohan Van Klooster - Composing

Rohan Van Klooster – Composing

The meaning and favourite subject of compositions

Let’s talk now about the meaning of your compositions and their form. What are they talking about? One by one, please. Do you have your favourite subject?

My favourite time in musical history is Romanticism. On the Conservatoire I learned, of course, to write in many different ways, from polyphonic to dodecaphony, but when I was asked to compose in a romantic way as I told you before I felt good, and I think this is my best way of expressing my feelings.
Sometimes my instrumental work is narrative as “the Slave” is. Mostly I try to create a certain atmosphere, sometimes using elements of folklore, gipsy music, Irish folk songs and even once Flamenco.
Pan” that was recreated in Pan for flute and piano and Ballade no.2 for double bass and piano gives an atmospheric drawing of the well known Pan and his stalking of the nymph Syrinx.
Gaya tried to help her by changing her into a reed stalk, but Pan found here even disguised and cut a flute out of her.
At the end of the second ballade, you can even hear the main theme played by the double bass as it was a flute.

Is there any of your compositions that you like more than the others. If yes, which one and why?

I think it is always difficult to point out a favourite amongst your own creations but when I must I think that these are the ones whereby I was most emotionally involved, the ones which occupy you for twenty-four hours a day, where time disappears before one can start writing. Or, and that is about “Reminiscences” where the main theme occurred in a dream, written as tiny notes on the shields of a ladybird. I agree it is very strange but it is the truth.
In the middle of the night, I stepped out of my cosy bed in search of some music paper, or just paper, to write it down.
Or “the Vospominanya” which complicated as it was composed in a kind of flow and finished within a year.
The Borzoi Ballade I was humming when we walked our Borzois and at the same time, I was searching for the lyrics.
Composing “de Reiziger” was also very intense because it was a kind of ‘mournina’. I don’t know if you can say that these pieces are the best ones, but their creation came from deep emotional layers and delivered at the same time an enormous energy. If things are drawn so deep out of your self, even sometimes hurting you and then fulfil your mind with a glorious satisfaction I suspect these compositions are your favourites.
They are not written but it appears to be you. To be proud of these feelings is perhaps a kind of arrogance, but I really don’t know how I otherwise would dare to make art.

Rondo per Vita, for Ank, love of Rohan’s life

This question I’m always asking the artists at the end of the interview. Where do you see yourself five years from now? What is your dream you’d like to have realized by then?

Concerning your first question, the answer is simple: I don’t know. You see, I have never thought in years, I live in a kind of accolade of time. And my dream is, I suspect, not so very different from my fellow artists: recognition, applause and some fame. But I also like to notice that the musicians playing my works enjoy doing so. Something I can hear in the way they play. Because passing along my joy of making music to others is always been a very important drive for me. It is great to create, it must be fun to play and it should be marvellous for the audience to listen to.
I understand that this is your last question so I take the opportunity to thank you for giving me the stage to talk about my music and motives.
You are right when you say that life is a learning way with unexpected possibilities and that you never must stop following your own star. The last decades I worked hard with very little hope to find a stage but I continued composing and I am still doing so. So my life is also underlining your statement.
Surprisingly you asked me eleven questions. Eleven was always, not always but some fifty years, a very important number for me and for the last thirty and a half years for Ank and me.
My last finished composition also was written in a flow was for Ank, my Life, it is called Rondo per Vita.
Without her, I am sure, I had never been able to compose the way I do.

Home of Rohan and Ank Van Klooster

Home of Rohan and Ank Van Klooster

Interview made by Valerija Brkljac, founder and owner of and WebMetropolis Records

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