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S & H Obituary

Rudi van Dijk in memoriam, a personal reflection by Bernard Jacobson


 

Rudi Martinus van Dijk, who was born in Culemborg, the Netherlands, on 27 March 1932, and died in East Sussex, England, on 29 November 2003, was a composer whose career spanned more than just those two countries. He spent many years in Canada and the United States between the 1950s and the 1980s, first as a composer and pianist working for Canadian Broadcasting, and later teaching both disciplines at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Indiana University in Bloomington, and Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1985, having meanwhile spent an interim period in the mid-1960s working for the BBC in London, he returned to Europe, first spending a year in Spain, and then becoming composer in residence at Dartington Hall in Devon, England. Later, with his wife Jeanne, he moved back to his native country. Frustrated, however, both by the experience of living in the soulless small town of Lelystad, and by certain aspects of Dutch musical politics, he returned to England towards the end of the 90s. His last years were spent in a charming cottage in the East Sussex village of Peasmarsh, and it is in the country churchyard there that he is now buried.

My first professional involvement with Rudi van Dijk’s music, which I had admired for some years, came in 1993, when, as artistic director of the Residentie Orkest in the Hague, I took the opportunity to programme the Netherlands premiere of his dynamic and often thrilling Four Epigrams for orchestra. This was followed up three years later, when I was serving as artistic adviser to the North Netherlands Orchestra, with the world premiere of his Piano Concerto, with Geoffrey Madge as soloist. Among Van Dijk’s other major works is a Violin Concerto (1984) and an Irish Symphony (1990), and his chamber music has been strongly championed by the English violinist Anthony Marwood, who has performed his Violin Sonata and (as a former member of the Raphael Ensemble) his Sextet, and who premiered Van Dijk’s Piano Trio at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 2001 with his colleagues of the Florestan Trio.

In all these works, which deserve to be far more widely known, the stamp of a creative mind at once sensitive, rigorous, and highly individual is to be found. Van Dijk’s music presents an unusual blend of Austro-German expressionistic elements, set forth with an intensity and a chromatic complexity close at times to Berg, with a much more Gallic-sounding clarity and delicacy of timbre and texture. It is perhaps in his vocal works that these qualities coalesce most powerfully. Important among these is The Shadowmaker (1977), commissioned and premiered with the Toronto Symphony by the late-lamented Canadian baritone Victor Braun, with whom Van Dijk–an excellent pianist–collaborated several times in recital. The last work that Rudi, suffering over the past year from cancer and finally laid low by a stroke, was able to complete was Kreiten’s Passion, a large-scale setting for baritone, chorus, and orchestra of a text documenting the 1943 imprisonment and execution by the Nazis of the gifted German pianist Karl Robert Kreiten. As a young Dutchman during World War II, Van Dijk had grim memories of the Nazi occupation. In Kreiten’s Passion, he leavened the grimness with passages of radiant orchestral writing, predominantly for the strings, that offer a kind of solace.

Kreiten’s Passion was premiered in Düsseldorf on 16 September 2003 by the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; John Fiore conducted and Andreas Schmidt was the baritone soloist. I have been fortunate to hear a recording made on that occasion: the work exerts a mighty emotional impact, in a superb performance followed on the disc by more than five minutes of sustained and sober applause. For Rudi van Dijk’s surviving family and friends, it is some consolation that he was strong enough in September to travel to Germany for the premiere and to enjoy the greatest triumph of his career.

Bernard Jacobson

 

 


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