Willem Breuker

Willem Breuker (Amsterdam 1944-2010) is a Dutch musician who has been a pioneer in international and Dutch music for more than 45 years. He is a versatile and striking maker of “people’s” music, as he prefers to be called it. He was a pioneer in jazz and improvised musical music and the creator of a new form Dutch musical theatre. He broke with established traditions to create new forms of music for himself, for others who played with him, and for younger musicians of the next generation. He was a composer and arranger who created musical events that were unlike any other. These events gave professional as well as younger musicians the chance to take part. Breuker’s ingenuity and preference for the unexpected and unpredictable are hallmarks of his music, and they don’t seem to hinder the public’s appreciation. The Willem Breuker Collective, a 10-piece orchestra, has been performing all over the world for 36 years, on stages from Amsterdam and Peking, to ever-growing audiences. His work is authentic because he was open to experimentation in his own compositions. He incorporated elements from theatre and vaudeville into his music. He had a vast amount of experience and was also nourished by the endless curiosity and passions he had as a child. As an internationally recognized composer, musician, and organizer, he has won numerous awards. His uniqueness was described by the 1993 VPRO-Boy Edgar Prize Jury: “His versatility, which from the beginning was due his insatiable curiosity about all forms of music expression – not characterized simply by eclecticism and post-modern weariness. His insatiable curiosity for new musical expressions often leads to an inflexibility. The jury appreciated that Breuker let his love for ‘beautiful music’ spill over into everyday social interactions. Breuker is a great organizer and motivator. He has been able also to capture the creative impulse and put it in a social context. Breuker started his own label/CD label, BVHaast in 1974. This has released many of Breuker’s productions as well as recordings by Dutch jazz groups and contemporary music by mostly Dutch composers. From 1977 to 2005, Breuker organized the Klap op de Vuurpijl [Top It All] annual festival in Amsterdam. This five-day event showcased the best contemporary improvised or composed music he thought important. VPRO-Boy Edgar Prize jury noted that Breuker’s popularity over the last few years could partly be attributed to his social commitments. Breuker, more than any other Dutch musician has shown that he can also be an organizer, motivator and integrator. Breuker’s support of others has had a lasting effect through the establishment of BVHaast’s activities. This record/CD label was established by Breuker as a response to the decreasing quality of major labels. It has since grown into a model for artistic integrity, social feelings and musical daring. The jury commented on Klap op de Vuurpijl’s [Top It All] festival: “Breuker has always accommodated young – sometimes completely unknown – musicians. He has also broken all the traditional boundaries here by giving plenty of attention to various forms of modern art music and bringing them to a larger public than all of the Concertgebouw-C-series combined.” Breuker is also known for his innovative work in music education. Breuker is also the founder of improvised musical workshops, where he has been involved in the field since the 1960s. He gives instruction to professional and amateur musicians. He believes it is important to take the experiences and perspectives of participants into consideration when creating a new musical style. He doesn’t insist on having a musical uniform. His goal is to inspire people to be who they are and let them make music. He was able to organize numerous school concerts, performances by local music societies, as well as large-scale musical events. The musical scores published by Willem Breuker’s music publishing company Haast Music Publishers contain some of his workshop results over the past 40-years. These scores were used regularly as practice material for his various projects. Willem Breuker, and members of the Willem Breuker Collective offered coaching to these different initiatives upon request. Often this was in collaboration with local musicians or students of music. There have been countless workshops as well as groups with whom they have worked in their workshops not to mention projects they have organized – just a few examples: NOJO – Montreal, Canada, Japan Yokohama Brass Association, Ecole Musicale de Valance – France, Improvisation Orchestra Gyor – Hungary, Nord Rheinland/Westphalische Gebundenen – Germany, Dalian Youth Recreation Center – China, Eastman Rochester Conservatory – US, Trumpet Biennale in Eindhoven, work for 250 trumpets and the WBK, Dario Fo College Poeldijk. Breuker’s oeuvre includes more than 500 works, including music for soloists, ensembles and chamber music, brass bands, syphony orchestras, fanfare orchestras, film, theatre and music for carillon, barrel or choirs. The opera Jona and new film music Breuker wrote for F.W. are two of the most important works from recent years. Murnau’s silent film, Faust (1926), was a Murnau production. Breuker’s professional career began in 1966 when he started performing his own music, in an unorthodox and unique style that has shocked audiences more than once. His performances and concerts often featured his interpretations of current political or cultural events. Because he used improvisation and theatrical elements in his music, he was considered to be innovative. He founded the Instant Composers Pool in 1967 with pianist Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, with whom he performed regularly until 1973. ICP, the first European independent record label, was also established during this period. Breuker was a member of numerous ensembles that have been able to combine improvised and composed music, as well as theatre music, since the 1960s. He was also part of the German multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel’s group, the first group to feature both European and American improvisers. He founded the Willem Breuker Kollektief in 1974. He performed with the orchestra as well as in a duo with pianist Leo Cuypers. He also improvised with smaller ensembles made up of members of Kollektief and collaborated with Nedly Elstak (pianist and trumpeter), Alex von Schlippenbach (pianist), and Hannes Zerbe, band leader. Breuker has been performing all over the globe with the Willem Breuker Collective for the past 36 years. He has toured 20 times the United States and Canada, in addition to his concert tours throughout Western Europe, Australia, India and China. Breuker’s first evening theatre production, which featured his own music and texts, was produced in 1970. His continued collaborations with Lodewijk de Boer (the Theaterunie being the producer) helped Breuker develop Dutch music theatre. These collaborations led to productions such as Kain en Abel and Anthologie. De Vuyle Wasch and Wolkbreuk were also produced by members of the Willem Breuker Kollektief. Breuker composed music for Baal’s plays (Baal and Drums in the Night), and La Plagiata in which members of the Willem Breuker Kollektief performed the music and also performed the music. De Achterlijke Klakkenmaker and Oltre Tomba were also produced by the Kollektief. Stroman en Trawanten, by Freek de Jonge and Dank U Majesteit, by Dimitri Frenkel Frank, as well as Deze Kant op Dames, by Ischa Mesjer, are some of the more recent productions. Willem Breuker composed the oratorio Psalm 122 to his orchestra, which included the Mondriaan Strings and Nieuw Muziek Choir. He also wrote the chazan, barrel organ, and chazan. Breuker composed many film music, including De Illusionist by Freek De Jonge and Twee Vrouwen from George Sluizer. Johan van der Keuken also had him compose the music for several of his films, including De Nieuwe IIJstijd and Platte Jungle. Breuker composed a piece for cello and the Willem Breuker Kollef at the request of Yo-Yo Ma (a classical cellist). The premiere of the work was broadcast live by VPRO TV in the Netherlands. His work was also featured on more than 100 CDs, as well as numerous television and radio recordings in the Netherlands and abroad. He is also a well-known authority on Kurt Weill’s works. He has amassed one of the most fascinating collections of music and documents of this composer over the last 25 years. He produced the radio documentary Componist Kurt Weill with Carrie de Swaan in 1997. It was a 12-part, 48-hour series about the life and times of Kurt Weill. Breuker served as director in several situations throughout the Dutch music industry. He was the chairman of Stichting Jazz.

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