Remembering Louis Andriessen in Ireland
The renowned composer Louis Andriessen, who died this month (1 July) aged 82, could never have known it at the time but he was to play a role in a key moment in contemporary Irish music.
In 1997, Donnacha Dennehy had recently taken up the role of lecturer in Trinity College Dublin and had returned from the United States via The Hague in the Netherlands, where he briefly attended Andriessen’s classes and concerts. He admired the work De Staat (1976) in particular and came to know the composer.
Back in Dublin, with the idea of founding Crash Ensemble in mind, Dennehy invited Andriessen to come for a week of workshops and classes, culminating in a performance by the new group at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity on 23 October 1997.
The night featured On Jimmy Yancey (1973), Workers Union (1975) and Dubbelspoor (1986) by Andriessen, Mercedes Spring (1999) by Roger Doyle (who also attended) and the premiere of Dennehy’s Junk Box Fraud.
‘The ensemble culture in the Netherlands – and especially what Louis himself had done in founding those groups, Orkest de Volharding and Hoketus, was really inspiring for me, and that was a kind of model when I was setting up Crash Ensemble,’ Dennehy said, speaking to the Journal of Music.
You must remember that in the late 90s, the Netherlands was… viewed as this amazing place in music. There were so many new music ensembles. It had really reinvented how you go about it. It was a real beacon to the world… He was at the forefront of that.
In rehearsals in 1997, Andriessen was ‘really interested in the energy of the performance,’ Dennehy recalls. ‘That was a big thing for him. At that stage, Crash Ensemble hadn’t built up a whole lot of “muscle” for doing new music. He didn’t want things to be cautious… even if it was hard, to just go for it…. In Workers Union in particular, I remember he was quite strong about what tempo it would be and this feeling of collective action in it.’
Dennehy also remembers the excitement of the night:
It was very exciting… it was sold out… a real surprise. I do remember there being a great buzz about it, and Louis was an instrumental part of that. He was a man of incredible enthusiasm and very kind, wanting things to happen.
He also recalls Andriessen’s response to Dennehy’s own premiere: ‘I think he thought it was crazy! I think he might have said that.’ Andriessen and he became friends and they stayed in contact over more than two decades. Most recently, Andriessen attended a performance of Dennehy’s The Second Violinist in Amsterdam in 2019.
Visit to Waterford
Another composer who attended the Crash concert that evening was the late Eric Sweeney, who was then head of music at Waterford IT. Also an admirer of Andriessen, he attended with a number of his students. Four years later, in January 2001, he and the Waterford music department organised the Dutch composer’s second visit to Ireland for the recently established Waterford New Music Week.
Andriessen attended with his ensemble Elektra and they gave the premiere of What Shall I buy you, Son? (2000), Le Voile du Bonheur (1971) and music for a short film by Hal Hartley, The New Math(s). Also performed was a version of Workers Union for solo percussion and tape, and Sweet (1964) for solo recorder.
Hazel Farrell, who was on the organising committee then and now leads the music degree, recalls the visit.
The impact for us was that it really stimulated an interest in his music and his processes. It gave us and the composition students a real boost to see one of the greats in action, to be able to get some little insight into his world… But also for the profile of the region and the festival, it was really significant.
She recalls that it was an important moment for Sweeney too, who was inspired by Andriessen not only musically but also practically in that he had established his own keyboard ensemble. The festival went on to invite Michael Nyman too and ran for nineteen years.
In more recent times, Andriessen’s music featured in New Music Dublin in 2013, when the RTÉ Concert Orchestra performed De Staat, and his Vermeer Pictures (2015) received its Irish premiere at New Music Dublin in 2019.
Following a fall at the beginning of 2020, Andriessen was diagnosed with dementia and died at the Hogeweyk care home near Amsterdam.
Dennehy regards works such as De Staat, De Tijd (1979–81) and De Materie (1984–88) as particularly significant. ‘I think he’s written pieces that will remain forever.’