Rob Zuidam’s double bill– full of hope, sadness and devotion.

Troparion & Suster Bertken

Rob Zuidam

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The Dutch composer Rob Zuidam has always had an eye for headstrong women. In his first collaboration with festival director Pierre Audi he puts two of them on stage. Suster Bertken tells about the fascinating life of the medieval ascetic Berta Jacobs, who bricked herself in at the Buur Church in Utrecht, in order to devote her life to God. This work from 2010 will be staged for the first time, in combination with the brand new Troparion, which Zuidam wrote for alto Helena Rasker, the young violinist Liza Ferschtman and a small instrumental ensemble. The piece is about a woman who sheds her tears on a dead branch, hoping God will breathe new life into it. According to Zuidam the work is about ‘hope and melancholy and the inability to bridge the gap between past and future.’



Rob Zuidam
Pierre Audi
stage design
Christof Hetzer
Reinbert de Leeuw
Helena Rasker
Katrien Baerts
Hubert Claessens
Liza Ferschtman
baritone saxophone
Hubert Claessens
Holland Festival
Delft Chamber Music Festival (Troparion)
with support of
Fonds Podiumkunsten

background information

This double bill by composer Rob Zuidam (1964) consists of two original works for music theatre full of hope, melancholy and devotion. Suster Bertken (2010), which tells the story of the fascinating life of the medieval anchoress Berta Jacobs, will be staged for the first time. In addition, the programme will present the world premiere of Troparion, which Zuidam wrote for the alto Helena Rasker, violinist Liza Fertschman and a small instrumental ensemble. Zuidam’s music has featured a number of times at the Holland Festival, but this is the first time he will be working directly with Pierre Audi. Their mutual wish to collaborate will now finally become reality, as both works will be directed by Audi.

Judging from his operas, Rob Zuidam has a fascination for unorthodox women. Freeze (1994) was an opera about Patricia Hearst, the newspaper magnate’s heir who was kidnapped and then went on to rob a bank with her abductors; in Rage d’amours (2005) he brought Joanna the Mad to the stage, the queen who kept the body of her dead husband Philip the Handsome with her for years. This double bill is no different, portraying two extraordinary women.

Troparion tells the story of a woman who sheds her tears on a dead branch, hoping God will breathe new life into it and that new leaves, flowers and fruit will appear. She tells stories from the medieval Legenda aurea (Golden Legend) and from Byzantine hagiographies, in which dead branches come back to life and whole regions are provided with copious fruits in miraculous ways. According to Zuidam himself it is “a story full of hope and melancholy, about being trapped in the present with the inability to bridge the gap between the past and the future.” Zuidam wrote Troparion for the voice of alto Helena Rasker, and with violinist Liza Ferschtman in mind, who plays a prominent role in the instrumental ensemble. The score offers the possibility for the ensemble to be involved in the action.

Suster Bertken (2010) is a one act opera in seven parts, based on the historical narrative of the anchoress Berta Jacobs (ca. 1426-1514), who whas roughtly thirty years old when she bricked herself in at the Buur Church in Utrecht. Her cell, or anchorhold, had two paneless windows, one opening up to the inside to follow mass, and one to the outside, to receive food and to give good advice to passers-by. Enclosed in those few square feet Suster Bertken reached the blessed age of 87. From various reprints we know that her work was popular. Zuidam has drawn from her writings to create the libretto.

The opera only has two characters: Bertken herself and the prior Dirck van Malsen, who says the office of the death in the third part, as was costumary when the anchorite or anchoress entered the cell – as from that moment they are considered dead to the world. From the fifth part Zuidam makes use of Bertkens text Kersttractaet (Christmas treatise), which views the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Maria and in increasingly ecstatic wordings describes a process of identification with Maria. So much so, that in the sixth part, according to Zuidam, you start to sense that “it’s Suster Bertkens own breasts which the Saviour is suckling from.” The birth of Jesus coincides with the death of Suster Bertkens. In the guise of two boy sopranos He sings for His own mother in a prefiguration of His own crucifixion.

As at the concert premiere at the ZaterdagMatinee for Dutch radio, Suster Bertken will be performed by Asko|Schönberg led by Reinbert de Leeuw, with soprano Katrien Baerts and baritone Hubert Claessens.



Rob Zuidam (1964) is a Dutch composer. From 1984 to 1989, he studied composition at the Rotterdam Conservatory under Philippe Boesmans and Klaas de Vries. He continued his studies with Lukas Foss and Oliver Knussen at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he received the Koussevitzky Composition Prize for Fishbone and a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship. A number of his works were performed at the Festival for Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, where he returned in 1999 as artist in residence. In 2010 he was a guest lecturer at Harvard University. Zuidam has received worldwide recognition for his treatment of the singing voice, and his instrumental music often has a vocal quality. He composed a number of operas, including Freeze (1993-1994), Rage d’amours (2002-2003), which had its European premiere at the Holland Festival in 2005, Adam in ballingschap (2009), which premiered at the Holland Festival, and Suster Bertken (2010). He also wrote the orchestral piece in four movements Trance Symphonies (1991-1998); and the song cycles McGonagall-Lieder (1997-2000), for coloratura soprano and ensemble, and Canciones del alma (2012). In 2008, on the occasion of Messiaen’s centenary, he composed Adam-Interludes, a commission by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Zuidam’s works have been performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Hague Philharmonic, the Ensemble Modern, London Sinfonietta, Asko|Schönberg, the Nederlands Kamerkoor and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by conductors such as Reinbert de Leeuw, Oliver Knussen, Ingo Metzmacher, Peter Ruzicka, Stefan Asbury, Brad Lubman, Markus Stenz and Richard Dufallo. Zuidam’s writings on music are published in NRC Handelsblad, as well as other publications. In 1994, in connection with Zuidam’s opera Freeze, Klaus Umbach, critic of the German publication Der Spiegel, called Zuidam “ein genialischer Hund”.


Helena Rasker is a Dutch alto. In 1994, she graduated cum laude (with first class honours) at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and continued her studies at the Tanglewood Music Center. Subsequently, she studied with Diane Forlano in London. Her current singing coach is Margreet Honig. Rasker has an extensive repertoire, which stretches from baroque to modern, and from chamber music to oratorio and opera. She has performed in major works such as the Hohe Messe by Bach, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, and oratorios by Vivaldi, Haydn and Dvořák. She has performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Europa Galante, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Bamberger Symphoniker, the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden Baden und Freiburg and ASKO|Schönberg, amongst others. The conductors she has worked with include Marc Minkowski, Fabio Biondi, Michel Corboz, Reinbert de Leeuw, Ingo Metzmacher, Oliver Knussen, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Marc Albrecht, Jaap van Zweden, Otto Tausk, Peter Neumann and Stefan Asbury. Rasker has sung parts in various opera productions, including Claude Vivier’s Rêves d’un Marco Polo at the Holland Festival in 2004, Lola in Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni with Opera Zuid, the Third Lady in Mozarts Zauberflöte with Opera Alden Biesen, and the 2. Solostimme aus dem brennenden Dornbusch in Schönbergs Moses und Aron under the direction of Pierre Boulez at De Nederlandse Opera. She has also sung the premieres of Michel van der Aa’s After Life (Bryna Pulmann) and Rob Zuidam’s Adam in ballingschap (Michaël), both at the Holland Festival. Rasker has also contributed to many CD recordings.


Katrien Baerts is a young Belgian soprano. She studied music theory, violin and singing at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, with, amongst others, Beatrijs de Cos and Dina Grossberger. In 2008 she graduated with great distinction and continued her studies at the Dutch National Opera Academy under Valérie Guillorit, graduating in 2010. During that time she played parts such as Annio in Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, Miss Wordsworth in Britten’s Albert Herring, Despina in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, and Amore and Valletto in L’incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi. In 2010 she made her debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw playing the lead role in Rob Zuidam’s Suster Bertken conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw. That year, she also sang the part of Joanna II in Zuidam’s Rage d’amours with the The Hague Philharmonic, opposite, amongst others, Claron McFadden. As a concert singer her repertoire includes both classical oratorios, such as Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, and contemporary music. In 2012 at the Festival de Saintes in France she sang Alban Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder with the Dutch chamber music ensemble Het Collectief under the direction of Reinbert de Leeuw. At the Amsterdam Concertgebouw she sang the world premiere of Zuidam’s Canciones del alma, and at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ she performed his McGonagall Lieder conducted by Oliver Knussen. Frequently, Baerts also gives recitals with pianist Bart Verheyen. In 2011 she made it to the semi-finals in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition.


Hubert Claessens studied solo singing with Mya Besselink at the Conservatory of Maastricht and also followed the programme for music drama and for saxophone. In 1986 he graduated in singing and the saxophone, both with distinction. In 1988 at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Belgium Claessens reached third place and was awarded a special prize for song interpretation. In 1984 he made his debut at De Nederlandse Opera in Verdi’s I vespri Siciliani under the direction of Edo de Waart. In the following seasons he sang in Wagner’s Parsifal and Die Meistersinger, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, La bohème by Puccini and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, amongst others. In 1986 at the Salzburger Festspiele, Claessens played in the world premiere of Penderecki’s Die schwarze Maske. He also sang the lead role in Leonard Bernstein’s last opera A quiet place and Erminio in Il trionfo dell’onore by Scarlatti. At the Nationale Reisopera Claessens played in productions including Orfeo by Monteverdi, Un ballo in maschera by Verdi, Rob Zuidam’s Adam in ballingschap and Legende by Peter-Jan Wagemans. As well as opera, Claessens also performs in concerts and oratorios, and frequently sings in song recitals. On the saxophone he has joined pianist Hans Eijsackers in accompanying mezzo-soprano Xenia Meijer on her European tour. Claessens also works as a conductor, at the Noordhollands Philarmonisch Orkest, the Beethoven Academie and the Grande Ecurie et Chambre du Roy. He frequently works with La Petite Bande under Sigiswald Kuijken, recording various CDs and touring through Europe and Japan.


Liza Ferschtman (1979) is a Dutch violinist. She is the daughter of cellist Dmitri Ferschtman and pianist Mila Baslawskaja. Ferschtman started playing the violin with Philip Hirschhorn at the ageof five. She followed master classes with Yvry Gitlis, Igor Oistrach and Aaron Rosand and studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague with Qui van Woerdekom and in Amsterdam with Herman Krebbers. She concluded her studies with Ida Kavafian at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and with David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music in London. During the last few seasons she performed at home and abroad with many orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre d’Auvergne, La Orquesta Sinfonia del Pricipado de Asturias, the Slovenia Radio Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra. She worked with conductors including Gianandrea Noseda, Tatsuya Shimono, Leonard Slatkin, Lev Markiz, Jaap van Zweden, Christoph von Dohnányi, Frans Brüggen and Shlomo Mintz. Ferschtman also performs as a chamber musician at various top class venues in Europe and the United States. Last year she made a recital tour with the pianist Enrico Pace, and in May 2013 Ferschtman will perform Bach’s complete works for solo violin at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. She is also artistic leader of the Delft Chamber Music Festival. Ferschtman has released several CDs. Her 2004 double album with pianist Bas Verheijden was rewarded with a 10 out of 10 by the readers of the music magazine Luister. With her father, the cellist Dmitri Ferschtman, she produced a cd with works by Kodaly, Schulhoff and Ravel. In November 2006, Liza Ferschtman received the Nederlandse Muziekprijs (Dutch Music Award), the highest distinction in music awarded by the Netherlands Department of OCW (Education, Culture and Science).


Since 2008, the Asko Ensemble and Schönberg Ensemble have been united in Asko|Schönberg: not an ensemble, not an orchestra, but a flexible group of musicians who can appear in formations of any needed size to perform twentieth- and twenty-first-century music. The music of great, established composers such as György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Louis Andriessen who have secured their place in music history. But also the music of a younger generation, composers such as Michel van der Aa, Martijn Padding and Julian Anderson, and even the youngest generation, whose compositions are still wet from the ink. Asko|Schönberg has presented all of this in its own Contemporaries series in Amsterdam in the Concertgebouw and Donderdagavonderie -PROMS - at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ – as a guest of the renowned ZaterdagMatinee concert series, in the Holland Festival and with De Nederlandse Opera. Neither are the youngest audiences neglected: Asko|Schönberg is involved in educational projects for 7-year-olds, composition projects for secondary school students in the graduating class, and collaboration with composition departments of conservatories. All of this is being done by this dedicated group of versatile musicians, conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, permanent guest conductor Etienne Siebens and many guest conductors and soloists from the Netherlands and abroad.

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