Mathilde Wantenaar: “I really enjoyed doing it!”

Composer Mathilde Wantenaar is guest curator of the March edition of Festival Dag in de Branding. Music journalist Joep Stapel talked to her about the program and her own new Concerto for accordion and orchestra.

What was it like to be guest curator of Dag in de Branding?
“I really enjoyed doing it! You get a glimpse behind the scenes: how do you shape a festival, what proposals do ensembles send in? I worked together with the artistic coordinator, and I designed one program entirely myself, with music from friends – composers of my generation. It was also tough at times: there is a lot involved and programming takes a lot of time. I’m quite a perfectionist – a bit of a control freak, even.”

Does the program have a common thread?
“There is often discussion about what innovation in music exactly is. Why is one thing new and the other not? And who decides that? If we all innovate in the same way, how innovative is that? For me, these questions are a common thread in this edition of Dag in de Branding. And perhaps also: curiosity about what people make. Not in a dogmatic way, but in a playful way. As a composer you spend a lot of time alone and I like the idea that people all over the world are making beautiful things – and that I am part of that community.”

Your own new work is an accordion concerto – not an everyday solo instrument in classical music. How did you come to write for the accordion?
“My father is a jazz accordionist, so I know the instrument very well. He comes from a farming family from Soest, my grandfather also played the accordion and all seven children had to take accordion lessons. My father is the youngest of the seven and he studied at the conservatory in Hilversum, first classical, later jazz. In addition to accordion, he studied piano as a second major, and because he wanted to play tango he also learned bandoneon – a total nightmare, that instrument, the buttons seem to be randomly mixed up and you also get different tones when you push or pull . My father is a musical jack-of-all-trades, and so am I. You have to be careful not to become too fragmented, but I think it also provides a certain wealth. You take the different experiences you gain with you to your next project.”

How was the collaboration with the soloist, Vincent van Amsterdam?
“Very nice. Vincent can do anything and we talked a lot about the possibilities of the instrument, about the improvisational elements. Moreover, the piece also has a theatrical side. There is a moment when a tango is interrupted by an out of tune waltz – that can also be done on an accordion. It’s very extreme: ugly in a nice way, just really dirty. We laughed a lot about that. The earlier music is almost too cheerful, so that contrast was necessary. I like it when all those things can exist in the same world.”

How would you describe yourself as a composer?
“I think I am a flexible composer. I like to empathize and I’m quite good at assessing the context of a work and focusing on that. For example, I wrote a piece for the Iordens B Prize, the violin competition for children aged 13 to 14. This should be age appropriate, but I also take into account the rehearsal context: it will probably be rehearsed at home with family, so I have provided a fun but not too difficult piano part. I work very differently with such a piece than with my Accordion Concerto, for a professional orchestra and a great soloist, or the arrangements I made for the NBE of Bach and Sufi music. A frame is nice. If someone has a specific idea, my engine starts immediately.”

The festival will take place on March 15 & 16, 2024 in Amare, Nieuwe Kerk and Korzo. Read more.

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