Adventurous singer songwriter performs with young New York ensemble

Holland Festival Proms:
Ben Folds & yMusic

Ben Folds is an American singer-songwriter who for the first time in the Netherlands will work with yMusic, the New York chamber music ensemble whose brilliant arrangements mix pop with classical music to great effect. The sextet have worked with artists including Björk, Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond and Son Lux. Last year, Folds collaborated with them on his album So There, delivering eight exceptional pop songs with a touch of nostalgia. The former frontman of the successful Ben Folds Five trio is acclaimed as an adventurous pop star. His collaboration with yMusic is another step in his classical career.

Holland Festival Proms

Six concerts by world class artists in one day at the Concertgebouw, standing tickets for only 10 euros per concert, seating on the balconies and the stage. That is the Holland Festival Proms, the concerts held on the festival’s final weekend, hosted by Thomas van Luyn. Throughout the afternoon and evening, ensembles ranging from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra to American singer-songwriter Ben Folds with yMusic, and from the Kronos Quartet to a Moroccan Gnawa ensemble will perform on stage. Opening with a family concert from the Netherlands, the programme will journey through different genres round the world to conclude with a Malian version by Terry Riley’s minimal masterpiece In C. And if you still can’t get enough, you can join our festive afterparty.

Background information

Ben Folds & yMusic
Pop music with a classical ensemble – it can be an exciting combination, but it can also be pretentious. On their album So There, Ben Folds and yMusic prove that they fall in the first category, especially when they play live, as they do at this year's Holland Festival.


Ben Folds is one of the most versatile and successful American singer-songwriters around. Folds likes to bridge different musical genres which are not the most obvious combinations. The piano, his chief instrument, serves as the connecting element between rocky pop – or, as Folds sometimes describes it, 'punk rock for sissies' – and classical or jazzy sounds. Still, it was a real surprise when in 2014, after a string of pop albums, Folds released a concert for piano and orchestra. To many, an album in such a classic form on such traditional instruments felt like a radical change. According to Folds however, the piano concert he wrote is not all that dissimilar to his music on The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, a record he released in 1999 with his band Ben Folds Five. On his website, he states: 'If you knocked the vocals off that record and string together all the instrumental parts, you'll hear something that sounds a lot like the concerto.'

After successfully touring the world with his piano concert, Folds wanted to release the piece on CD. As twenty minutes of music doesn't cover an album, he decided to add extra material. He began working on new instrumentals with an idea to enlist different collaborators, such as percussion ensembles or small chamber ensembles, which could help him produce an album of exciting crossovers. When Folds was introduced to the New York sextet yMusic, he was immediately enthralled and decided to do the whole album with them.

From the get-go, the group's goal was to avoid the compulsory and gratuitous. Even more important was the commitment never to use yMusic as mere ornamentation, an approach they referred to as '…and strings.' yMusic's unique configuration and their experience with contemporary classical music makes for a sound that is never kitsch. Unless, of course, it's what Folds consciously wants to achieve. He enjoys using irony and likes to cultivate his somewhat nerdy image. Some of the songs on So There are a response to the superficiality of American popular culture. But Folds doesn't spare himself either, infusing his lyrics with a good deal of self-mockery. Although many of the songs on So There are about failed relationships, Folds and yMusic manage to steer away from sentimentality.

All in all, So There's mix of pop and classical comes across as an organic whole, a successful experiment with potential for more. Folds likes to think so, too: 'This record is just the tip of the iceberg,' he says. 'There's much more to come. Innovations in pop music come slower and slower each year. I think one awesome door to walk through is this, the world of classical music from whence all our ideas of composition grew. That world is hurting right now and it could use pop musicians. And pop musicians could use the classical world because it's so full of possibility and sounds. It's endless.'

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Biographies

Ben Folds (1966) is a versatile American singer-songwriter. Folds plays a variety of instruments, but is best known as a virtuoso pianist. In his most recent projects, he has explored the boundaries between pop and classical music. He's also an accomplished photographer as well as guesting on TV shows and in films. 

Folds owns and operates his own studio, the city's legendary Grand Victor Sound Studio, better known as RCA Studio A. He's also an ambassador for music therapy.

Ben Folds grew up in North Carolina. From 1988 to 1994 he played in several bands while studying percussion at music school. With only one credit to go, he dropped out to concentrate on teaching himself piano. Following the formation of his band Ben Folds Five his musial career took off. 

After three successful albums Folds decided to go solo in 2001, becoming one of the most popular singer-songwriters in the United States. In recent years, he has started to explore classical music as well. In 2014, he premiered his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, followed by a tour with the Nashville Symphony. Looking for a sound more akin to chamber music, he came into contact with the yMusic sextet, recording his album So There with them in 2015.

 

yMusic was formed in 2008 by six classical musicians from New York (Robert Moose, violin; Nadio Sirota, viola; Gabriel Cabezas, cello; Ales Sopp, flute; Hideaki Aomori, clarinet; CJ Camerieri, trumpet). yMusic strive to bring a classical chamber music aesthetic to venues outside the traditional concert hall, exploring the boundaries between pop and classical music – a niche often described as indie-classical. Their virtuoso execution and colourful arrangements have in a short space of time led to collaborations with a string of high profile names in pop music, such as Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, José Gonzalez, Paul Simon, Björk, The National, Meredith Monk, Antony & the Johnsons, David Byrne and Sufjan Stevens. yMusic has released two albums with instrumental scores mainly written by pop musicians: Beautiful Mechanical (2011) and Balance Problems (2014). The former was hailed as 'classical recording of the year' by Time Out magazine New York. Indie Week praised the group for their groove, 'something which classically trained musicians seldom have'. In 2015, yMusic collaborated with singer-songwriter Ben Folds on his album So There.

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Credits

music
Ben Folds, yMusic

This performance was made possible with support by