Louis Andriessen obituary

End of an era

End of an era.

Louis Andriessen was one of my very favorite composers. His style and political background has inspired me immensely over the years. Indeed, "De Staat" was one of my "gateway drugs" into contemporary music. Long before I came to Frankfurt, I was enthusiastically bothering my friends with recordings of his work because it represented an entirely new (to me) attitude about what music could be and what it could mean.

Seven years ago, the Ensemble Modern Orchestra presented a fully staged production of "De Materie", a composition which is surely among Andriessen's finest achievements. As I later learned was typical for him, he attended none of the rehearsals. On the evening of the premiere, two minutes before downbeat, a voice came from the lip of the stage: "Psst! I’m the composer! I will pray for you!"

The performance was, for me, a career highlight. In the enormous Duisburg Kraftzentrale, director Heiner Goebbels conjured forth gorgeous, fantastical, almost unbelievable sights of flying blimps, massive color-changing pendulums, and a flock of sheep meandering about the 170 meter-long hall. But these enormous images seemed almost small in relation to Andriessen’s "hyper-opera" score. De Materie is an ambitious, heavyweight masterpiece which struck me like a lightning bolt. The orchestration’s reflection of the text, and the text’s relation to itself, offered a uniquely direct and deeply profound artistic perspective which to me seemed to almost entirely explain the nature of the physical world (and the metaphysical world beyond it) that could only be enhanced by Heiner's grandiose staging.

There was a wonderful party after the show, and I have such a memory of Louis Andriessen sitting on a chair amidst a dance floor in the small hours of the morning, surrounded by friends and fans, looking like a king on his throne. There was an admiration and love in that room which is so often missing in this physical world. Although I did not know him well, I was glad to shake his hand and thank him for the music.

Rest in Peace, Louis.

Paul Cannon (on behalf of the whole Ensemble Modern)