It’s Gaudeamus Muziekweek, and as part of the festival I’m conducting on-stage ‘meet the composer’ interviews with the five nominees for the Gaudeamus award for young composers. Every day this week (and in alphabetical order) I’m also posting my own short introduction to each composer here. Once they’re published, you’ll be able to find them all under this blog’s Gaudeamus 2017 tag.
Today is the turn of Aart Strootman.
Several of this year’s Gaudeamus nominees are also performers – see also Sky Macklay (oboe) and Chaz Underriner (plucked strings) – but in Aart Strootman’s case the line between his work as a composer and his work as a guitarist is harder to draw. In fact his musicking in general stretches far beyond composition’s traditional realm.
Born in 1987, Strootman studied at the Fontys School of Fine Arts, Tilburg, and the University of Utrecht, gaining degrees in music, music theory and musicology. He currently teaches in Tilburg on subjects from music analysis to performance studies. He performs in a guitar duo with Bram Stadhouders, playing self-composed works that blend improvisation and minimalism, and in the band s t a r g a z e – familiar in the UK as the band for last year’s David Bowie tribute prom – as well as several other groups. Not least among these is TEMKO, the ‘minimal-chamber-metal band’ Strootman founded in 2012 as a platform for his own compositions. On top of all of this, he is also an active new music advocate, commissioning works by student composers through the ensemble F.C. Jongbloed that he leads with percussionist Arnold Marinissen; and as a member of the composer collective behind the De Link chamber music series in Tilburg.
Minimalism, and its intersections with rock, is an important part of Strootman’s work: his online presence is threaded through with connections to Steve Reich and Radiohead/Johnny Greenwood, for example. (In one short portrait video on his site he is shown building a custom eight-string guitar signed by Reich and designed to play his music. Another video shows the guitar in action in an outdoor rendition of Electric Counterpoint.) He has also performed alongside Bryce Dessner. An especially intriguing work, although I’ve only been able to find snippets of it, is Tannhäuser, a piece for TEMKO that stretches 90 seconds of the overture to Wagner’s opera into ’34 minutes of minimal grooves’.
Yet Strootman’s work is more than just riffing on riffs. As Tannhäuser suggests, there is a conceptual side to his output too. And not everything is written for his own groups – he has also composed plenty of music for others to play, although full-length examples are frustratingly hard to come by online. Letter Sparks Debate, composed in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting of 2015, is a stripped-down piece of music theatre for clarinet, speaker and cigarette lighters, setting a series of online reactions, comments and hot takes posted in the wake of the attack. Punchy and bare-bones in style, this is a long way from Strootman’s lusher, guitar-based work. In a weird way this feels like quite a ‘British’ piece– it wouldn’t be out of place in a gig at the One Hundred Years Gallery, for example, programmed alongside pieces by Claudia Molitor or Christopher Fox. Perhaps there’s a peculiar Dutch spiral here that comes out of Louis Andriessen, visits Richard Ayres and comes back again.
More than that of the other composers at Gaudeamus this week, Strootman’s work encompasses solo composition, performance and group work. As a result, it’s not easy to pin him down to a single track. However, here’s a helpful Spotify playlist that collects together a substantial chunk of that output.