Concertgebouw Brugge - 26/02, 27/02 and 01/03
deSingel Antwerp - 26/03 and 27/03

The children whisper softly into each other’s ears, then listen as hard as they can. Some of them carefully imitate movements. One child shows which instrument the sound reminds her of. Their faces betray awe and absorption. Some of them are almost in a trance, sitting on the floor as if the music has transported them to another world. This is a group of about 50 six-year-olds, listening intently to Sequenza XIV (2002) for cello solo by Luciano Berio. Their teachers are enjoying the music with them. The context is Eersteklasconcerten 2018 with Het Collectief in the Chamber Music Hall at the Concertgebouw Brugge.

Berio wrote this piece as the last in a series of compositions for solo instruments or voice in which the composer explores all the sound and colour possibilities of the instrument. Likewise, this Sequenza is an exploratory sequence of expressive techniques and possibilities for the cello. The result is a virtuosity which makes the immediate relationship between movement and sound come to the surface in a highly visible form. 

Just before the concert, the children explored the relationship between movement and sound at a mini-workshop. Just as the workshop was coming to a close, the cellist sat down behind them. The tapping sound he makes with both hands (on the fingerboard with his left hand and the body of the instrument with his right) attracts the children’s attention. The Sequenza is beginning. Curiously, the children look over their shoulders: wasn’t this what we were doing just now? They creep quietly towards the cellist. After the intense activity of the mini-workshop, this small anchoring point is all it takes to keep them hooked until the end of the performance.

We follow the children to their next ‘stop’ in Studio 1. A dimly lit piano is waiting in the darkness. A group of children take their places on stage around the instrument. So close that they can peer inside and see the strings vibrating, they listen to John Cage’s Mysterious Adventure (1945). The mechanisms inside the piano reveal their secrets. Metal screws and pieces of tape subtly come to life on and between the strings. You can see each child processing things in their own way. One stares in fascination. Another gazes dreamily into space. A little boy jiggles up and down to the mechanical but infectious rhythm of a piano that doesn’t sound the way he expected it to.

Three specially prepared keyboard mechanisms light up. Now it is the children’s turn to make sounds with objects by pressing the piano keys. Other children manipulate the sound by touching or adding other materials. Musica coaches help the children explore this playground of sounds, sensitively and without words. The tempo is more random, the combinations of notes more coincidental, and Cage would love it! There are so many things for the children to discover and enjoy. The session ends with a final fragment from Cage’s Mysterious Adventure. It’s time to head elsewhere.

Now we find ourselves in a large room that is almost completely dark. In smaller groups, the children are given places under a spotlight. Each group finds themselves next to a varied collection of glass vases, flowerpots and an instrument with one string. The first notes resound here and there, made by children and teachers stroking the edges of the objects. The atmosphere is serene. The sounds are heard coming from four speakers in the corners, slightly manipulated. The violinist walks to the centre of the room. To begin with, his sounds are lost among all the others. Once Ni fleurs, ni couronnes - in memoriam Jonathan Harvey (2013) by Luc Brewaeys is underway, the children move to the middle of the room for more attentive listening. The end of the composition is announced with a sound like a bell. Once again, a few children are invited to play the biggest vases, with drumsticks this time. The others form a solemn parade and step towards the stage in the Concert Hall. The music fades into the distance.

Three groups of 50 children sit down, each on their own rostrum. Together, they form a triangle around a silent grand piano and the empty chairs for Het Collectief. Three music boxes are passed from hand to hand in each group. More and more melodies from traditional American songs can be heard, criss-crossing each other. In the midst of this gentle chaos, Het Collectief begins playing the TSIAJ movement from Charles Ives’ Piano Trio (1910).

Here, too, fragments of the same melody tumble over each other, fighting for attention. During a sudden, soft passage, the sound of the children’s music boxes floats to the surface once more. Of course: This Scherzo is A Joke. For violin, cello, piano and 150 children in their first year at school.

Eersteklasconcerten 2018 with Het Collectief
Performers: Wibert Aerts - violin, Martijn Vink - cello, Thomas Dieltjens - piano, Yannick Willox - sound.
Musica coaches Grietkin Deroo, Benjamin Müller, Lievenka Van de Meirssche, Sieglinde Heymans, Sara Fontàn Ferreira, Pak Yan Lau, Efi Bakoura and Alexis Sarakenidis.