Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career?
It grew as I made my way into the musical world. From early childhood composers inspired me – and still do. The ‘urge’ to create is not unlike feeling hungry or any other ‘needs’, part genetic (nature), part imparted (nurture). The rest is discipline and hard work as you keep learning (which is also an urge) and developing (which keeps the urge alive) – voilà, a virtuous circle. Out of all the things I have done in music, practical and theoretical, composing slowly began to take over.
Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?
‘Inspiration’ or ‘influence’ comes from many sources, from nature to books, from people to science and technology, from a musician’s special skills to the nature of a commission, from a problem to the search for a solution. In different stages of my career, different influences dominated. For example, when I was infatuated with Xenakis, his music and writings, his persona and reputation left noticeable traces in my music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To stay alive and make a living out of a profession which has become ever harder to pursue in a musical world that tends to cling on to the familiar rather than to taking risks – especially in times of hardship, such as now.
Apart from that, the greatest challenge was to discover my strengths and weaknesses, to acknowledge that I cannot be Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky or Varėse, and find Jan Vriend.
Which compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
Huantan (1968), Heterostase (1981), Jets d’Orgue (1985-91), Hallelujah II (1988), Hymn to Ra (2002), Anatomy of Passion (2004), Echo 13.7 (2006), Meden Agan (2006)…
Who are your favourite musicians?
Young people, who are still full of curiosity and passionate in their commitment to the cause of the music they play, as opposed to the pursuit of fame and fortune or as a chore to making a living.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
A concert in Amsterdam in the 1960s, when Yuji Takahashi performed Eonta by Xenakis with a brass ensemble from Paris conducted by Konstantin Simonovich. Details of that experience are in a book I am about to finish.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/composers?
The question encompasses too many issues (ideas and concepts) for an easy answer. But here is a thought: whatever sounds you choose to work on in whatever combinations, the point of their interactions is to make musical sense. To find out what that means is a lifelong preoccupation, something we put to the test again and again in each new composition (project) we undertake.
What are you working on at the moment?
A work for string orchestra – a challenge, an ambition I have been harbouring for many years but never had the chance to concentrate on. The difficulty is that I haven’t yet been able to find an ensemble to take it on, which makes it a somewhat fortuitous (gratuitous?) enterprise and has given me my first ‘writer’s block’ in many years.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
On holiday in a sunny resort by the sea.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being in love and in the closest possible proximity of the beloved.
What is your most treasured possession?
My piano – since I cannot claim my two daughters among my ‘possessions’.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Work… when it goes well.
What is your present state of mind?
It’s in survival mode. But, overall, I look on the bright side.
More details are on my website and the real ‘story’ is, of course, in my music.
Jan Vriend’s ‘Degrees of Freedom’, written specially for Ensemble Matisse, receives its premiere on 3 November 2014 in music and media event ‘Interference Patterns’ at London’s Kings Place . The work aims to explore the provocative idea that freedom cannot exist without boundaries. Further information and tickets here
Jan Vriend on SoundCloud:
Interview first published May 2012