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Cornelis de Bondt The Tragic Act live and on CD
LOOS Ensemble, Purcell Room 15 October 2002

We are not a 'catalogue group', explained Peter van Bergen, artistic leader of LOOS Ensemble, introducing a programme in the 2002 Louis Andriessen Festival of music by 'The Hague School'. He explained that everything the group plays has been composed for them in close collaboration. All the musicians come from the world of free improvisation and their performance style can be characterised as 'flinty, granite and confrontationally precise'. So not everything LOOS Ensemble presents can be expected to please everybody and the first half of their concert brought nothing to stay long in the memory.

During the interval of the Hague School programme, Louis Andriessen told me that the work by one of his pupils, Cornelis de Bondt (b.1953), standing alone in the second half, was a masterpiece. De Bondt introduced his The Tragic Act by telling us that the work came to him as a whole in a flash whilst experiencing the dying of his father. For five musicians and sound engineer, it has a Brucknerian expansiveness, taking most of an hour, seemingly depicting interminable waiting in attendance at a death bed, with evocations of a failing heart beat and, with a continually screeching saxophone, the prolonged pain for those present. It was a tough listening experience, at once both fascinating and repugnant - one stayed to the end expecting a calming resolution which never came. References to Bach's funeral cantata 'God's own time is the best time' and sampled boys' voices played a smaller part in the scheme than anticipated. De Bondt is a major figure in the Netherlands new music scene, and The Tragic Act brought to an end a concert which will resonate in the memory.

Prompted by this unsettling musical experience I listened again to The Tragic Act on CD, and found it uncomfortable and disturbing, yet compelling attention. More rewarding was the double-CD of The Broken Ear. De Bondt is a composer who, like Stravinsky, pillages models from the past and, in his case, manipulates them rigorously with computerised serial processes. In The Broken Ear de Bondt 'cadges from Beethoven repeatedly; Beethoven is omnipresent even when he is not directly quoted'. For a broader perspective on a unique composer I recommend first the cycle of five works comprising The Broken Ear.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Link to biography of Cornelis de Bondt

CDs of music by Cornelis de Bondt: The Tragic Act Donemus Composers' Voice CV 58; The Broken Ear cycle CV 70/71 (UK distributor One for You ofy@ofy-uk.co.uk )

(This concert was also reported in Classical Source)

© Peter Grahame Woolf