Halo for piccolo and piano by Bart Spaan, which received its world premiere by Ilonka Kolthof and Ralph van Raat this evening, was exceptionally beautiful. Here the piccolo is blown with wind in mysteriously ascending and descending glissandi, very softly, hazily, as a spectre. The piano plays accompanying harmonious structures consisting of predominantly descending scales. Especially the end, with the sighs of the piccolo almost fading away into nothing, was an unforgettable experience.
Christo Lelie (Trouw 9-2-2015)
This composition, which was commissioned by concert hall de Doelen, received its world premiere this evening in a captivating performance by Van Raat and flautist Ilonka Kolthof. Spaan created very atmospheric music in which silence and playing around with harmonics were the ingredients for timeless music.
Christo Lelie (Trouw 13-1-2012)
A Dutch composer who likes to get his hands dirty with sound
Early-1980s Dutch experimental rock remains curiously underdocumented compared to the fanzines-worth of mythology surrounding arch-krautrock outfits such as Can, Faust and Kraftwerk. So when Bart Spaan says he played in Dutch new-wave band Bazooka, it’s difficult to know for sure how that formative experience rubbed off on the three pieces recorded here. Certainly their touchy-feely timbres and directness (for which please don’t read “obviousness”) of expression tell of a musician who relishes dirtying his hands with sound; this is not notation-needy, “paper-bound” new music. But if you listened to Zone (for bass clarinet, bass flute, bass trombone and electronics) and Clockwork (for electronics) and tried to guess how a Spaan piano piece would likely sound, I suspect you wouldn’t end up at Kringen.
Clockwork (2006-08) has roots in an earlier Spaan composition- for solo piano, although he doesn’t reveal its title – plundered for what he describes as a “long tone” which is electronically stretched and atomised, and mulched inside the sounds of another objet trouvé: the ticking of a mechanical clock. Spaan explains his unfolding construct as a fugue, and the counterpoint between structural formality and feral plunderphonics provokes a heady brew indeed. Zone (2009) makes for an apt companion piece as woodwind overblowing, clashing harmonic partials and percussive spits are threaded around a complex grid of mathematically pure ratios.
Which leaves the disappointing Kringen (2004), inspired, Spaan says, by ripples in water. But untreated arpeggios and a clear tonal pathway lack that conceptual tautness between the apparent and the unknowable that makes Zone and Clockwork so special.
Philip Clark (Gramophone, September 2010)
Dutch composer Bart Spaan (born 1963) was trained as a musicologist and historian, but the works here demonstrate a fine sense of musicality and an intuitive grasp of unconventional but compelling structure and development. The five piano pieces from the ongoing series Kringen (Circles) are transparent and evocative, and use a friendly tonal vocabulary. The composer writes that his intent was to suggest the impression of radiating circles made by throwing a stone into water. Sometimes it sounds like a rain of stones creating infinitely overlapping circles and sometimes like a single, ever-expanding circle, but once the image is lodged in the listener’s consciousness, it’s easy to hear the repetitive structures of each of the pieces as evocative of that idea. Ralph van Raat plays with sensitivity to work’s delicacy and organic sense of development. Zone, for bass clarinet, bass trombone, and a bass flute player who also controls the live electronics is dominated by the ruminative mood that characterizes much of Kringen. The players, members of the Barton Workshop, are called on to produce a variety of atmospheric sounds using extended instrumental techniques, and the use of electronics is actually somewhat understated. The sound is mostly clean and present, but there is some page-turning noise in the piano solo.
Stephen Eddins (All Music Guide, May 2010)
Bart Spaan (1963) is the last of the uncompromising composers. His CD Ellips contains three works. First you hear pianist Ralph van Raat in five Kringen – derived from the opening notes of Bach’s organ chorale Ich ruf zu dir. This material remains indelibly familiar, however waywardly it is rearranged. When The Barton Workshop follows with Zone, musical recognisability is soon replaced by extra-musical suggestion – unthought-of sounds are produced by wind instruments (reminiscent of a cat’s purr). In Clockwork, which from beginning to end is electronic, Spaan crystallises both suggestion (you hear real geese) and recognition (steady rhythms). He lets the piece follow the outline of a ‘fugue’: pure humour.
Jan van Laar (Elsevier no. 45, November 2009)
A feeling for sound is an important aspect in the music by Bart Spaan (1963). Pianist Ralph van Raat is the ideal musician to highlight this characteristic. He does this with great modesty in Kringen which is ambient-like, albeit disrupted in places. Besides the eccentric instrumental-electronic mix of Zone, the purely electronic Clockwork stands out with layered pulses that result in auditory moiré effects.
Frits van der Waa (Volkskrant, 17-12-2009)
Intriguing eruptions of sounds that hammer like hail stones or are flexible like elastic. That is the sound world that the native innovator, composer Bart Spaan, presents to his audience. Assisted by pianist Ralph van Raat and the formation The Barton Workshop, Spaan mixes the sound of ‘ordinary’ instruments with electronic contributions, like in Zone (2009). In this work Spaan creates what he describes as organically buzzing layers of sound, by means of a bass trombone and sound effect equipment. The listener who in Kringen (202-2004) can visualise small stones being thrown into the water at the same pitch, will have little difficulty hearing the water circles and their reflections in Spaan’s soundscape. And the imagination is stirred even more when in Clockwork (2006-2008) the reverberation of a wall clock that does not fade away, blends with an outdoor scene. The melting clocks by Dali captured in sound. Surrealistic.
Rudolf Nammensma (Leeuwarder Courant, 20-11-2009)
Bart Spaan studied history and musicology, but at the end of the 1980s he also started to compose. Now he has completed around forty works, mainly for electronics or piano; this CD contains work from the period 2002 – 2009. Spaan’s music belongs more to the tradition of ‘minimal music’ than to that of ‘hardcore’ modernism – and is therefore relatively accessible. On this CD strong, slow atmospheres dominate, but in the piano pieces there are also some more lively and fiery passages. The piano music is of course beautifully performed by Ralph van Raat. Spaan is lucky to have this fantastic musician as an ambassador of his music. And his music deserves it too. For me, this especially applies to the main work on this CD, the large-scale Kringen for piano solo. In this piece we hear a depiction of the circles and ripples when a stone is thrown into the water. Interestingly, a chorale by Bach also plays an important role in the work. These two aspects create a fascinating piece that is also worthwhile for listeners who are not yet familiar with 20th-century music.
Thomas Op de Coul (Centrale Discotheek Rotterdam)
Bart Spaan (1963) focuses on sound. A sound may preoccupy him right until in a composition of sounds he has turned it into the ultimate sound. These three works give a varied impression of his compositions. Kringen was written for Ralph van Raat. The point of departure is a small stone that is thrown into the water. The rippling movements create beautiful circles of sound. Zone for three electronically amplified bass wind instruments, has an intriguing character. The listener is challenged to listen to the waves of sound in an abstract way. Clockwork is a fascinating audio drama that took the composer two years to make. A ticking clock is gradually dissected into the essence of the sound structures. Interesting music that takes you out of your familiar musical environment.
Wil Zenhorst (Platomania 262, October 2009)
about CD Silencios:
It is always delightful when great musical talents meet. Ralph van Raat is still young and has already often proved himself as an excellent pianist with much affinity with contemporary music. In 1999 he rightly won the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition, to mention only one accomplishment. Bart Spaan evolved rapidly into a composer with a broad imagination and a distinguishable language. Especially since his collaboration with the Spanish painter Alberto Reguera, he has written a number of works that deserves more attention. Recently these works – with the help of Ralph van Raat – appeared on a beautiful cd. It contains three works for piano and two compositions for tape. Three of them – Los infinitos caminos, Silencios and Castilla – were written as reflection on similary titled paintings by Reguera, while the other two – Valavond and Siguan – inspired Reguera for his canvases. The mutual inspiration is evident. In stead of an extensive explanation the direct appealing canvases of Reguera are reproduced in the cd-booklet. The abstract paintings excel in colour and emotion and perfectly suit the calm and thin soundscapes of Spaan. Like the paintings seem to look for an image in the surfaces of colour, Spaan similarly searches for a world behind an interval or a row of tones. Silent, meditative as in the quietest works of John Cage, he explores his music. In the meanwhile Spaan understands the art of holding the listener’s attention with a minimum of means. In the pianoworks Ralph van Raat probably deserves the credit, but in the tapecompositions Spaan has to operate alone. And in these works, Castilla and Silencios, he perhaps draws even nearer to his ideal sound, compared to when the piano keys intervene. Silencios is at least the best this cd has to offer. Listen to the thirteen minute lasting track, look at the reproduction of Reguera’s painting in the meanwhile, and be surprised.
Paul Janssen (Mens en Melodie nr. 3, 2002)
Bart Spaan’s music, published by the Erasmuslabel under the title “Silencios”, can also be described as intersection of silence. Spaan (1963), who studied with Daan Manneke, refers to works of the Spanish painter Alberto Reguera with his piano- and tapecompositions. The shrouded geometrical construction of these paintings reminds of the work of Mark Rothko.
Although the melodic fragments of the mostly monodic pianocompositions (Valavond, Siguan) at some points draw close the borders of banality, Spaan’s aimes at the exploration of pure sound, especially in the tapecompositions Silencios and Castilla. Ongoing crescendo’s beginning from nothing are no exception here.
Ralph van Raat, in 1999 the youngest winner ever of the Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition, attracted attention in the concerthalls with striking performances of Cage, Ives and Takemitsu and here proves himself as an ideal Spaan-interpreter.
Jaco Mijnheer (Volkskrant 14-2-2002)
Since pianist Ralph van Raat won the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition in 1999, all eyes are fixed upon him. Van Raat combines a great insight in the often complex structures of contemporary music with a superior technique. The fact that many composers already wrote pieces for this young interpreter shows active participation in the musicworld and (quite rightly) a great confidence from the composers side. Thus everybody was waiting for Van Raats first solo cd.
It typifies the young pianist that he does not choose for the known ways of the famous composers, but for Bart Spaan’s relatively unknown music. Unknown does not necessarily mean unloved, that is evident oncemore from this clear beautifully played cd on which Van Raat recorded the cyclus Silencios for piano-solo and two electronic compositions. Bart Spaan’s music reminds strongely of John Cage’s, Rusicka or the German composer Hans Otte, especially his cycle Das Buch der Klänge: consisting of a few intervals every piece carefully grope’s it’s own way, incessantly focussed on a thin northern lights. The result is an idiom consisting of loose gestures, fragments of forgotten words. These are gestures placed beautifully in time by Van Raat.
The collaboration with the painter Alberto Reguera with whom this small cycle originated out of mutual inspiration, I find sympathetic. Erasmus took up the paintings to which Spaans titles refer, as plates in the booklet: static surfaces of colour that seem to express the same splendid slowness. Art refering to another art, that is more efficient than any explanation.
Anthony Fiumara (Luister April 2002)