A visit to Panorama Mesdag in The Hague is an overwhelming experience. For Festival Dag in de Branding on the 9th of June, the young Basque composer Mikel Urquiza made a musical impression of the panorama. The piece Ships Vanishing in the Horizon takes the experience to a whole new level and sheds a fresh new light on one of the city’s most beloved attractions. We asked Emlyn Stam, artistic director of the New European Ensemble, which will perform the piece on June 9, about the choice of this composer, the experience of an online performance, and the theme of this edition ‘a new look at familiar musical aspects‘.
Composer Mikel Urquiza has made a musical impression of Panorama Mesdag. Why this composer and this work of art?
Mikel Urquiza is a composer we have been working with for some time. His work immediately appealed to NEuE for its rich instrumentation and humor. In his work he often uses unusual instrumental techniques and sounds and extra (toy) instruments with great effect. He masters musical color combinations like a master painter. The ensemble not only plays the noted effects and rhythms, but is also challenged by the composer to create an atmosphere, capture an energy and make it audible. There are many modern composers who write music that is, for example, so simple or so complex that the input of the performers hardly seems to matter anymore. This is really different with Urquiza.
The ensemble has already played and recorded a number of works by Urquiza and a few years ago we commissioned him with a composition. He himself came up with the idea to make a new piece inspired by the Panorama Mesdag, that he had seen when he was in The Hague a few years ago to work with NEuE. As an ensemble from The Hague, we were immediately enthusiastic about this. Sometimes we as makers from The Hague are not even aware of the jewels in our own city until someone from outside like Urquiza points this out again. The panorama continues to inspire artists and visitors after 140 years.
Has the composition changed your view of Panorama Mesdag?
Yes totally. I hadn’t been there for years myself and always had in mind that it was a fairly serious work of art. Through Mikel Urquiza’s piece and filming together at the panorama, I have come to see the playfulness of this work of art again. Its versatility has also become more striking to me. The versatile sound idiom of the piece also reflects the different painting styles that can be seen in the panorama: the clouds, dunes and water that feel impressionistic and the Dutch houses that are depicted much more in a Golden Age way.
The piece can only be seen online, how is this for you? Do you miss interacting with the audience? Does it also offer opportunities / benefits?
The film adaptation of this piece offers enormous advantages. Namely, that we can have self-shot footage from Panorama Mesdag coincide with the musical description of it in the piece. This makes the experience and interaction between music and painting very concrete for the viewer. At the same time, it is of course true that every musician of the NEuE misses playing live concerts. What you miss is sharing a moment together with others and experiencing music together in space and time. That is a completely different experience than making recordings where a lot of emphasis is placed on the detailed perfection that modern microphones make us expect and less on a collective atmosphere experience.