Leading Dutch ensembles perform George Crumb's enchanting soundscapes

Black Angels

George Crumb, Claron McFadden, Ragazze Quartet, Slagwerk Den Haag, Ives Ensemble

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Three leading Dutch ensembles are playing a selection of George Crumb’s astounding work. He is this festival’s composer in focus. Black Angels, subtitled Thirteen Images from the Dark Land, is one of his most intense and best known works. It was written in 1970, during the Vietnam War, for an ‘electric string quartet’. The Dutch Ragazze Quartet is playing the piece accompanied by a new commissioned video installation from 33 1/3. The programme includes a selection from A Journey Beyond Time (American Songbook II), a series of arrangements of classic spirituals from the American Songbook, composed by Crumb in 2003, sung by soprano Claron McFadden. An Idyll for the Misbegotten (1985), played on French horn, has a lonely menacing calm, and Crumb ­creates an enchanting dream world in his 1976 composition Dream Sequence (Images II)



George Crumb (1929)

An Idyll for the Misbegotten (Images III) (1985)
French horn arrangement by Robert Patterson

Dream Sequence (Images II)

From: A Journey Beyond Time (American Songbook II) (2003)
1. Swing Low, Swing Chariot
2. Joshua Fit de Battle Ob Jerico
3. Steal Away
4. Oh, A-Rock-a My Soul
6. Sit Down, Sister
7. Nobody Knows de Trouble I See


Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land for Electric String Quartet (Images I) (1970)


Background information

George Crumb (1929) composes out of a post-modernist desire to bring together as much diversity as possible in his work. He says 'I think it's possible to connect with every moment in the past and with every culture…In one way or another, it's all modern and relevant.' 

His music ranges from diverse quotations and sophisticated sound exercises to an extremely theatrical approach to performance. The sound of the American composer is recognisable: sparse textures and subtle timbres, with a mystical, nostalgic undertone, in which suspicions of forgotten worlds and lost memories resonate. 

Crumb is the focus composer at this year's Holland Festival, with three concerts and a symposium to him. In Black Angels, three top Dutch ensembles will be providing a cross-section of his oeuvre. The Ragazze Quartet will be performing Black Angels (Images I), still one of Crumb's most gripping works to date. He wrote the work for electric string quartet in 1970, at the low point of the Vietnam War. This is dark music, as evidenced by the subtitle 13 Images from the Dark Land and the 'Threnodies' and 'Devil-music' which make up the score. Howling strings, haunting whispering sounds and distorted quotations (Schubert's Death and the Maiden) come together in a sinister sound ritual  Crumb has his musicians wear masks, whistle, sing, recite numbers and play a variety of percussion instruments. 33⅓, a video collective from Zwolle, is responsible for adding contemporary visuals. 

In 1976 and 1985, Crumb added two compositions to the Image series, which he'd started with Black Angels. In Dream Sequence (Images II), the threatening atmosphere of Black Angels finds a counterpart in a meditative gliding flight in the zone between sleeping and waking. In An Idyll for the Misbegotten (Images III), dream-like melodies float above gently ruffling percussion. ‘To be heard from afar, over a lake, on a moonlit evening in August’, Crumb noted in the score. Although originally written for flute and percussion, two instruments Crumb believes to be close to nature, the version for horn will be performed here. At first, Crumb was sceptical when his pupil Robert Patterson rearranged the work for horn. But after hearing it, he was convinced of the sensitivity of the horn's timbre and suitability for the piece. Crumb has once again confirmed that he approves of the horn version for this concert. It will be performed by Christine Chapman, horn player from the Ensemble Musikfabrik and ambassador of the Save the Horn campaign. 

Between 2000 and 2010, Crumb worked on an extensive vocal cycle. His American Songbook comprises seven parts, each of which can be divided into a collection of songs and amplified piano and percussion quartet pieces. Soprano Claron McFadden will be performing a selection from the second book in the series. In A Journey Beyond Time - Songs of Despair and Hope, Crumb focuses on American hymns, spirituals and folk songs, with well-known melodies such as Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho and Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.



Since its formation in 1977, Slagwerk Den Haag (SDH) has been playing (percussion) music in the most varied forms: from existing repertoire to new work in close collaboration with composers and partners from other disciplines. Over the past years, SDH has 

produced various projects and productions, whether or not in collaboration with other parties. For Huid (Skin), a visual and musical performance from 2016 about tactile senses and making contact, SDH worked together with composer Arnoud Noordergraaf and the Utrecht theatre company Schweigman&. In 2015, the group performed in Tulpmania, a musical theatre production from De Veenfabriek and composer Yannis Kyriakides. SDH is a leading performer of well and lesser-known percussion music, and has performed at the Bang on a Can Festival (New York), the Berliner Festspiele, the Holland Festival, November Music and the Gaudeamus Music Week. At the Holland Festival Slagwerk Den Haag played in the performances Slagwerk Den Haag Ex Machina (2010), But What About the Noise (2012), Beyond the Score (2015). SDH can also often be heard at the Concertgebouw and the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. In their present set-up, SDH consists of Fedor Teunisse, Frank Wienk, Joey Marijs, Niels Meliefste and Pepe Garcia.


The Ives Ensemble plays modern chamber music in its purest form. Named after the idiosyncratic American composer Charles Ives, the ensemble is always on the lookout for surprising music. Composers such as John Cage, Aldo Clementi and Louis Andriessen have written music for the ensemble. They still work together with leading contemporary composers and artists such as Gerald Barry, Richard Rijnvos and Jan van de Putte. The ensemble performed the première of the three-hour musical theatre play De Optocht  (The Procession), composed by Piet-Jan van Rossum. Other highlights include the Charles Ives Marathon (2014) in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, a John Cage project in 2012, the Morton Feldman Vierdaagse in 2008 and the first integral Dutch performance of Cornelius Cardew’s seven-hour The Great Learning in 2006. The Ives Ensemble has released dozens of CDs over the past years with Composer's Voice and the Swiss label hatHut Records, ranging from works by John Cage and Morton Feldman to Clarence Barlow and Karlheinz Stockhausen.


Rosa Arnold, Jeanita Vriens, Annemijn Bergkotte and Rebecca Wise together form the Ragazze Quartet. The quartet plays classical and modern string quartet music in innovative programmes, featuring collaborations with original voices in theatre and dance. In 2012, the quartet signed a contract with the label Channel Classics. Their first CD, Vivere (2013), received rave reviews in national and international press. Their third CD FourFourThree was released in May 2016 and received the 'Editor's Choice' Award in Gramophone. In October 2013, the Ragazze Quartet won the Kersjes Prize, awarded annually for exceptional talent in Dutch chamber music. They also frequently collaborate with young musicians and theatre producers, as well as leading organisations such as NDT and the Kronos Quartet, with whom they appeared at the 2016 Holland festival


Soprano Claron McFadden comes from America, where she studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. She made her operatic debut at the Holland Festival in 1985 in a production of Hasse’s L’Eroe Cinese, which was first performed in 1990 at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in a sensational production of Rameau’s Les Indes galantes conducted by William Christie. She has since built up an impressive career. McFadden sings a wide repertoire, from baroque and contemporary music to jazz and cross-over projects. She's worked with leading conductors such as Kurt Masur, John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, Neeme Järvi, Ton Koopman and Frans Brüggen, and with large orchestras and ensembles such as the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, The King’s Consort, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Arditti Quartet and the Nash Ensemble. McFadden is a popular opera singer and has participated in productions of the Théâtre du Chatelet, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Salzburger Festspiele, the Bayerische Staatsoper and the Dutch National Opera. She performed in Claude Vivier's Rèves d’un Marco Polo, directed by Pierre Audi. During the Holland Festival in 2013, she performed in the 3D opera Sunken Garden by Michel van der Aa. Last year at the Holland Festival, she sang with Son Lux in the Concertgebouw. McFadden has made various recordings, including for EMI and has appeared in numerous radio and television productions. In 2006, she received the Amsterdam Award for the Arts.


Christine Chapman studied at the University of Michigan and at Indiana University. She has been working as a professional horn player since the age of seventeen. In 1990 she settled in Germany. Since then, she has been working as a solo horn player with various European orchestras. She gained her first experience of an ensemble for new music in 2001, during a concert with Ensemble Musikfabrik. Since 2004, Chapman has been a permanent member of the Cologne-based ensemble. Two aspects about interpreting contemporary repertoire interest her in particular: the close collaboration with composers and the ongoing development of playing techniques and instruments. Together with instrument maker Gottfried Büchel, she developed a 'double horn', an instrument with two bells that can be played individually. As a member of Ensemble Musikfabrik, Chapman has worked together with various renowned composers, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Wolfgang Rihm, Peter Eötvös, Rebecca Saunders and Georg Friedrich Haas. She's also performed works by Harry Partch, Sun Ra, Mouse on Mars and La Monte Young. In both 2014 and 2016, Chapman performed with the Brass Academy, conducted by Marco Blaauw, during the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music. Christine Chapman is an ambassador of the Save the Horn campaign, launched by the Holland Festival.



Focus: George Crumb

The American composer George Crumb (1929) is considered to be one of the most important musical innovators of our time. He creates distinctive soundscapes through novel playing techniques,

and the integration of non-Western elements while his exquisite calligraphic scores introduce unusual musical notations. 

His music is atmospheric, mysterious and sometimes gripping, but the descriptive imagery surrounding the works provides accessibility. While embodying the American experimental tradition, Crumb nevertheless cites Bartók, Debussy and Mahler as major influences.

George Crumb is composer in focus at this year’s festival. A series of concerts cover different facets of his work: from his most famous composition, the spectacular ‘electric string quartet’ Black Angels (1970) with its evocative themes, to the recent and masterly American Songbook arrangements, which put familiar melodies in alienating soundscapes. From his kaleidoscopic orchestral work A Haunted Landscape (1984) to his brand new piano cycle Metamorphoses (2017). 

Crumb shows he is still one of the most distinctive voices in the contemporary musical landscape.



George Crumb
Claron McFadden
French horn
Christine Chapman
platform 33 1/3: Douwe Dijkstra, Coen Huisman (Black Angels)
music performed by
Ragazze Quartet, Slagwerk Den Haag, Ives Ensemble
Rosa Arnold
Emi Ohi Resnick
Annemijn Bergkotte
Rebecca Wise

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