A groovy cut in time

There is a perceived rivalry between the jazz and classical spheres whereby some members of the former domain deride their classical counterparts for being incapable of letting their hair down.

Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens (photo credit: YACHATZ)
Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens
(photo credit: YACHATZ)
Rosanne Philippens may be a classical violinist, but she is clearly not averse to venturing into nonclassical climes.
The 29-year-old Dutch musician will be over here for the next week, to perform in four concerts around the country, in the company of conductor and internationally renowned percussionist Chen Zimbalista, as well as the Israel Sinfonietta Beersheba and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
In fact, Philippens’s Israeli odyssey had already started when I caught up with her in Amsterdam, by phone.
“I just came from a rehearsal for a concert for an Israeli charity called Save a Child’s Heart,” she says with a laugh. SACH is a humanitarian organization, based at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, which provides cardiac care for children from developing countries with heart diseases. “It is a big event, and a very important one.
It’s a big coincidence that I’m flying to Israel tomorrow.”
So, kudos to Philippens for giving of her time to such a worthy cause, and she will, no doubt, proffer some heartwarming and spiritual uplifting moments during her working visit here between February 4 and 11.
While she is here, presumably also doing her best to find some time to soak up some Mediterranean winter rays between her professional duties, she will perform at Heichal Hatarbut in Kiryat Gat (February 4), at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center (February 6 and 8), and the Jerusalem Theater (February 11).
Philippens had an early start to her musical pursuits, and had plenty of familial support along the way.
“I started playing the violin when I was three,” she recalls. “My older sister played the violin, so that inspired me, and my mother is a pianist and she wanted her children to play music.”
The budding fiddler also took piano lessons, but that eventually fizzled out.
“I stopped with the piano at the age of 11 or 12 because I wanted to focus on the violin,” she explains.
Naturally, she got a little distracted as she progressed through adolescence, but her teacher helped to keep her on the musical straight and narrow.
“She was very strict, so I always had to prepare well for the lessons, but now I love to practice. I love to get into a room and to dive into the notes and to get the piece as I had it in my head.”
While she is here, Philippens will lend her polished expertise to works by Ravel and Saint-Saens – “Tzigane” and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, respectively – and an intriguing piece by young Dutch composer Thomas Beijer. The rest of the wide-ranging concert repertoire takes in Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances” and Paganini’s “Perpetuum Mobile.”
While Philippens harbors interests in various musical domains, she admits to a particularly fondness to works by Bach and Mozart.
“I can completely dive into Bach,” says the violinist.
And it is not just a matter of wrapping her bow around the score. She does her best to get into the composer’s head and to get some sense of how the master lived and, more important, worked.
“I can look at his handwriting and try to imagine how he played his pieces himself, and it can be like an obsession.
It is the same with Mozart, and his operas.”
The zeitgeist of a more contemporary period also appeals strongly to the Dutch musician.
“When I think about recording a CD, I always think in the direction of the beginning of the 20th century,” she continues. “It was a time when there were all these influences, from all over the world. I love Ravel and [early 20th-century Polish composer Karol] Szymanowski and Bartok. That is very attractive to me. I think it is because there was this atmosphere that everything is possible.”
Philippens’s older, violin-playing sibling eventually made the transition from classical music to jazz and, interestingly, Bach is considered by some to be the world’s first jazz artist. Philippens gets the left-field view of Bach’s oeuvre.
“If you look at his handwriting, and he used a goose feather to write, and if you really look closely at what is written, you can see there is a sort of jazz technique, because his bowing goes in all kinds of directions.”
Philippens also feels that the classical music field lost sight of Bach’s free-flowing mind-set. “In the last decades there has been this thing that Bach is played with a down bow on the first beat, but I think that in Bach’s time it was much more virtuoso, and you could say more jazzy. I think that, when you look at Bach’s handwriting, you can see that he wanted to use the bow in every possible way.”
There is a perceived rivalry between the jazz and classical spheres whereby some members of the former domain deride their classical counterparts for being incapable of letting their hair down. In fact, however, prior to the mid-19th century, bending the rules was very much part and parcel of the way classical composers and players went about their business.
“Now, improvising is more in the background. I don’t know why,” Philippens muses.
There will certainly be some virtuosic musicianship on display when Philippens gets to grips with 27-year-old Beijer’s “Cut!” which will receive its world premiere here. The work was written specifically for the Dutch violinist.
“I love to play his works,” she says.
“Thomas is a friend of mine and he already composed something for me and a pianist. Thomas is a child of this century and the [new] work is very groovy. It has a [68-year-old American composer] John Adams kind of repetitive thing in it. With Thomas there is always a fast element, which is lovely to play and lovely to listen to, and there is this slow part when everything is completely still, like water in the morning.”
The violinist says she is also looking forward to mixing it, again, with Zimbalista.
Their paths first crossed when Philippens performed at the Voice of Music Festival at Kibbutz Kfar Blum, and she says she may be drawn toward a more percussive style of play under marimba player Zimbalista’s direction.
“We’ll see how things work out when we start rehearsing, but I think things will meld together, with the same vibe. I think I will probably go a little bit towards his way of playing. And I hope he comes in my direction, too. But, with the Beijer work, I think we will go more in the percussion area. It will be a lot of fun, and very groovy.”
For tickets: (08) 662-0862-3 (Kiryat Gat), (08) 626-6422 (Beersheba) and 1-700-70-4000 (Jerusalem).