Peter-Jan Wagemans: “Composing is nothing like filling your basket in the supermarket.”

Peter-Jan Wagemans wrote the piece Cycles, which will be performed on October 15th, for drummer Friso van Wijck and pianist Matthijs van Wijhe. The piece is an extensive work between jazz and modern and consists of twenty short pieces. We talked to Peter-Jan about his inspirations, his choice of instruments and asked him for advice for the new generation of composers.

A source of inspiration for your piece Cycles are the small jazz ensembles at the Rotterdam conservatory. Can you explain why?
They are often very special talents, who study in the jazz department. And they are encouraged to broaden their horizons as much as possible, to research and experiment. Some also follow the jazz composition course with Paul van Brugge. This often leads to very special products, very subtle explorations of the building blocks that make up jazz. Later, when these musicians have to maintain themselves in practice, the pressure to go more ‘middle of the road’ is huge, they also have to earn a living.
What I’ve done is hold these elements of jazz up to my own light, like someone who knows nothing about jazz and thinks: how would I do such a thing.

The albums Silent Tongues by jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and Mysterious Traveler from the group Weather Report also influenced this work. How do we hear that in Cycles?
A bit of Taylor perhaps, in the meandering piano lines, and the whimsical shapes. And the more hammering style of piano playing.

You have chosen for a line-up with piano and drums, for Cycles. Why this combination specifically?
Originally it was keyboard, electric guitar and drums, to get closer to a jazz/pop sound. Later, however, I decided to take the much richer expression of a large grand piano, especially due to the length of the work. And so that I can play a game of interference: sometimes the piano is set against a recording of itself, but slightly detuned.

You teach many young composers yourself at the Rotterdam Conservatory. What is your most important message to this new generation?
Choose a hero: thoroughly immerse yourself in that hero’s handiwork, develop your taste by looking for quality as much as possible, what is it, can I capture it in notes, sound, etc., and stay away from the rest of your CD collection and from Youtube. Composing is nothing like filling your basket in the supermarket.

Cycles by Peter-Jan Wagemans will be performed, on 15 October at 3:00 pm in Theater Aan het Spui, by Matthijs van Wijhe, piano and Friso van Wijck, drums. Buy tickets here.

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