Primo Ish-Hurwitz: “the more extreme the better.”

Primo Ish-Hurwitz invited twenty young composers to write a three-minute piece for the piece Toonzetters. The piece will be performed on October 15 in Amare. We asked Primo how Toonzetters came about and what assignment the composers were set to work on.

How did you come up with the idea for Toonzetters?
I got the idea in the shower! haha. I was studying composition at the time in my second year, and my experience was that the composition students at the conservatories in Amsterdam (where I am) and The Hague hardly came into contact with each other. That is why I thought it would be fun to put together an album with composers from different schools. Also I wanted to show the enormous diversity of this generation of composers to the outside world. New music is no longer all experimental, modernistic and inaccessible as its 20th-century image dictates, but is finding more and more ways to appeal to a wide audience. That is what I wanted to draw attention to with this project. I think a tasting of all kinds of flavors of new music, especially in combination with film, can be a nice ‘entry-level concert’ for people who have little experience with contemporary composers. Of course, the audience doesn’t have to like all of Toonzetters music, but with twenty three-minute pieces you are never stuck with anything for long, and I think there’s something for everyone! And for people who are already real new music lovers, it will hopefully be nice to see which composers are now at the start of their career, and will shape the future of the Dutch new music scene.

Toonzetters consists of twenty mini-compositions – did the composers receive an assignment or were they able to compose freely within three minutes?
The assignment was very free: write three minutes of music for (sometimes a selection of) the four musicians and possibly electronics. I was in charge of which composers would write for which line-ups, to guarantee that it would also be a varied programme in terms of line-up. I think piano and percussion complement each other nicely: piano has almost infinite harmonic and melodic options, and percussion is extremely versatile in timbre, which the piano lacks a bit. I hoped that any composer would be able to get along well with this instrumentation, regardless of style or background. There was also a small extra assignment for the composers: make sure that your composition connects musically to the previous and subsequent piece, so that the musical line always continues. It was very nice to see that composers who sometimes did not know each other started working together in this way to write beautiful transitions between each other’s pieces.

How do you bring all these compositions together into one work?
With the transitions I just mentioned, so that the music never stops, in combination with the common thread of Bowie Verschuuren’s film portraits made of each composer, and of course the continuity in instrumentation. Under the direction of directorial advisor Jos van Kan, the musicians have rehearsed a rather complex choreography in order to smoothly glue the entire programme together.

The overarching theme during this Festival Dag in de Branding is bridging differences. Is this an important theme in your work?
Absolutely! Toonzetters is about the great diversity among young composers at the moment, and that they can reinforce each other enormously in a programme like this. I think the contrasts keep the performance fascinating, the more extreme the better.

Toonzetters by Primo Ish-Hurwitz will be performed on 15 October at 5:00 pm in Amare. Buy tickets here.

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