by Ralph van Raat June 29th, 2009

Flying to Naxos: recurring themes

At times, I am stupified by certain elements in life, or experiences, which seem to keep coming back. It almost makes one think that coincidences do not exist….Such as aviation – my dream as a kid to become a pilot. Well, admittingly, how unpredictable life can be, by choosing a career of a pianist instead….However, while at times absent, somehow I kept getting confronted with this interest.

Another one of those things, for me, is that little disc with the typical white cover, sold for just under the price of a meal at a fast-food hamburger restaurant. I mean the classical recordings by Naxos, which caused a stir in the classical music world, with its unknown pricing compared to all the full-priced fellow record labels. I remember very well that at every festive opportunity, my father asked me – let’s say from the age of twelve or so – to buy some unknown CD for me which was to be found, in his words, “inside the dedicated place in the CD-shop”. In fact, one of the recordings I bought for my father was one by some (to me) unknown composer called John Tavener.

The obviously addictive CD’s must have had some magic, as I saw myself returning to that shop more and more frequently to buy music from many different composers, not only for my father, but soon also for other relatives. As with all mysterical and unknown things, my interest grew quickly in this recording label, and soon I discovered its magic: those recordings were in reach for me also, every time my grandmother or other less-seen family member visited me and left just a little monetary gift…And at any time I heard something anywhere that grabbed me – the piano concertos by Ravel, Mathis der Mahler by Hindemith, DeFalla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, and much more – I bought it.

Many years later, after finishing my conservatory training, at least two things in my life came back at a positively alarming rate, and both had to do with receiving the Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship. The first was aviation – quite a few flight trips to London resulted, with approach charts on my lap, as always – and the second, yes, concerned Naxos. The recording of my first CD for that label, with the complete piano works by John Adams, was made possible through the Borletti-Buitoni Trust. So now I was there in the shop, my name engraved in a white cover – would my father have bought it ten years earlier?

At this day, again some five more years later, it turned out that the Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship had been a start of many things, and, again, things which had quietly announced themselves much earlier in my life. Amongst others, it became the start of a fruitful relationship with Naxos, as they invited me as an exclusive recording artist, which resulted into piano recordings of works by Frederic Rzewski, Magnus Lindberg, and – how could it be different, in the perspective of how things return in life – Sir John Tavener.

Naxos box setTo my great honour and pride, Naxos of America even publishes a dedicated Artist Profile disc set this month, with my collected recordings so far. Unbelievably, for this occasion, my name has been engraved in black instead of ‘Naxos-white’ on the CD-cover – as if it was a deliberate effort to twist the phenomenon of recurrence into that of renewal of a reviving past. Furthermore, six more CD’s are planned to be recorded and published between now and 2011. One of those is a recording of Gavin Bryars’ Piano Concerto, which was commissioned with the help of…yes, one of the recurring elements again: the Borletti-Buitoni Trust. A second one consists of a recording of works for piano and orchestra by…again John Tavener, whose name I knew from my father’s CD-shelf.

Concerning the aviation element which I opened this text with: this has also returned, and in a more grand way than ever. Because of the many confrontations with air travel which the choice of a musician almost implies, and not in the least place because of the travelling which the Borlett-Buitoni Trust has enabled me to do, the old dream was refired every time again. Since a few weeks, I have succumbed: I decided to take control over coincidences myself, and decide myself on the frequency of my confrontations with aviation by way of a course (hopefully) leading to a Private Pilot License.

In earlier music, music was closely linked to life: basic tempos were usually derived from the human heartbeat, forming the origin of any other derived tempo. Rondo forms, much forgotten in twentieth-century music, were much used, perhaps because they reflected the natural flow of life in its essence. In this respect, I have not even mentioned other recurring elements, like the opportunities to actually play those great works from the earliest classical records of my youth – such as the earlier mentioned DeFalla and Ravel concertos. But to me it seems clear that, as a player of, a lover of and a believer in music, the rondo forms of the past had much truth in them; they already promised us that many elements will recur in life. I hope that my belief and trust in music is justified indeed, and that the Borletti-Buitoni Trust is one of those themes that just keep returning many, many times again.