De Stad means: The City. It is the title of my chamber symphony written in 2003. The work was jointly commissioned by Prof. Dr. Paul van de Laar and the Museum Rotterdam1(at the time called Historical Museum of Rotterdam) and the Performing Arts Fund (by the special fund for music composition formerly called: Fund for the creation of music, since 2009 merged and practically liquidated by the Dutch government in their ongoing campaign against the arts).
“Oscar created an urban landscape featuring Rotterdam’s development since the 1870s. It was an integrated part of our exhibition City of Rotterdammers. With hindsight a revolutionary concept, with the composer as curator.” – Prof. Dr. Paul van de Laar (2020)
Though composed for a Rotterdam occasion, the chamber symphony was created with the concept of the city in a broad and historically global context; impressions of and thoughts on its essence, its history, its present and its future all have been given careful musical consideration and expression.
“One can [with De Stad] excellently imagine streets, complexes of buildings, traffic intersections, but water and boats as well. This music has an almost visual quality, and van Dillen can, as many Dutch can, draw upon a rich experience through a variety of studies: he studied historical styles from the Gothic and Renaissance periods, as well as North-Indian music, next to classical and Jazz music.” – Ulrich Dibelius (2008)2
With the discovery/invention of agriculture some 12,000 years ago the basis of human life as it had evolved since millions of years changed completely3. This new method of providing food brought about a complete revolution in how humans survived and lived together, and it created a schism in the race: those who created and shared freely, and those who protected and appropriated wealth. Next to farmers and artists/artisans a new and hierarchical caste of soldiers came into being, possibly at first to protect the farming area and the people populating it, but the latter caste eventually started to take power and rule. We humans became a divided and sedentary species, and are still frantically grappling with the consequences today4.
We proudly refer to this period as the beginning of what we call civilization, today usually looking down on what we call mere cultures (in an anthropological sense) that existed before, and which still exist alongside the so-called civilized world in what are seen as “backward” areas. Civilization created a new type of society, based on the phenomenon of the city. Civilization is measured by its cities: where there is civilization, cities exist, where there are no cities, the people may have a culture but are basically regarded as uncivilized. The bigger its cities, the higher a civilization is considered to be.
“What is a city? A city is people. A city is alive. It is a community which lives on a base of agriculture, so much richer than in a village, that it can afford to sustain every kind of craftsman and make him a specialist for a lifetime.”5
In our 21st century however it is becoming ever clearer that the bigger the cities, the more insurmountable their problems, and the less of these are actually resolved, often not even short-term any longer6. Recent research shows that although cities have serious problems, they also offer the greatest opportunities, and surprisingly, the percentage of serious problems is often actually smaller the bigger the cities are: there are in general significant differences in our perception of the cities’ problems as compared to the actual problems7. I therefore regard the city in both its aspects, being both rich in opportunities, in mosaics of subcultures, containing a large variety of people, and being rich in risks and dangers at the same time. I have of course used this Janus Bifrons8 aspect in the music.
More recently I have also started to publish my visual art work on the very same theme: a part of the series Urbistic Compositions was first exhibited in Kunstliefde, Utrecht in 2013.
In further installments, more background to the creation and specifically on the parts of the chamber symphony De Stad will be treated separately in detail on the following pages to be published later:
- City vs State
Realization of new music
De Stad was premiered and performed thrice in 2003 by Ensemble Gelber Klang from Stuttgart, Germany, conducted by myself. During this international collaboration we also recorded the work; it was then released with the help of Museum Rotterdam and Philips Nederland by Cybele Records on a dual layer CD, which can playback in Super Audio (in both 6 channel surround and stereo formats) as well as in normal CD-quality.
The instrumentation is intended to be a special chamber symphony orchestra emphasizing the lower register: bass-clarinet doubling contrabass-clarinet, bass-trombone, violin, viola, cello, contrabass, accordion, piano, percussion.
The lineup of musicians involved in 2003:
- Thomas Reil (bass and contrabass clarinets)
- Michael Peuser (bass trombone)
- Michael Kiedaisch (percussion)
- Merima Kljuco (accordion)
- Jürgen Kruse (piano)
- Ulrike Stortz (violin)
- Marlene Svoboda (viola)
- Scott Roller (violoncello)
- Holger Philipsen (double bass)
- Oscar van Dillen (conductor)
On this album, the pre-envisioned remix with soundscape, called Stadsgeschiedenis (History of the city) was also released. This track was used in the Museum Rotterdam as a musical audio-guide from 2003-2005 in their theatrical exhibition Stad van Rotterdammers, conceived by Paul van de Laar, the visionary motor behind this project, supported by director Hans Walgenbach.
Part of this chamber symphony was adopted by the Dutch dance company Connie Janssen Danst in 2008, and again for her 2009 choreography SO HERE WE ARE, where the music of De Stad parts 5 and 6 were performed live by ensemble Original Winds, conducted by Carlo Balemans, on a tour through the Netherlands.
The lineup of musicians involved in 2009:
- Carlo Balemans (conductor)
- (to be completed at a later date)
Finally, I adapted part 4 of De Stad in 2011 for the Olduvai Ensemble as Alexandria, a pivot work linking traditions, and the first of an alphabetical series of original world music compositions.
The lineup of musicians involved since 2011:
- Oscar van Dillen (flauto d’amore)
- Michalis Cholevas (2011) (tarhu)
- Ruth Anne Godfrey (bass clarinet)
- Alvaro Rovira Ruiz (guitarra a 8 cuerdas)
- Fred Jacobsson (fretless e-bass)
- Jacobus Thiele (since 2012) and Žiga Šercer (until 2011) (percussion)
Oscar van Dillen ©2013
De Stad – remastered
- De Stad in the City Archive of Rotterdam ↩
- Ulrich Dibelius, Komponisten im Sog des Globalen, MusikTexte 117, Breitkopf May 2008 (pdf) ↩
- This period of transition probably took several millennia and it is know as the Agricultural, or Neolithic Revolution (according to Wikipedia) ↩
- The Neolithic Revolution – BBC Forum ↩
- Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, 1973; Chapter 3 ↩
- China struggles with growing urbanization, on www.aljazeera.com ↩
- Are Spread Out Cities Really Safer? on works.bepress.com ↩
- Janus Bifrons on Wikipedia ↩