Friday, 28 April 2017

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Composer Bart Picqueur hopes that his composition ‘Insomnia’ brings the listener into 'a state of mind the sleepless may recognise as "a million ideas crossing one's mind at the same time" … Is he suffering from sleeplessness himself or experiencing a complete restlessness?

Composer, conductor and clarinetist Bart Picqueur (born 1972) studied at the Royal Conservatory in Ghent. Since 2010 he has been principal conductor of the Royal Band St. Cecilia Zele and has worked with various professional ensembles such as the Municipal Band of La Coruña, the Slovenian armed forces and the Belgian Guides. His compositions for wind band are performed worldwide.

The test piece for the Challenge section has been especially commissioned by Vlamo for this year’s EBBC. The piece consists of an eclectic mix of elements from minimal music to serial music, baroque fugue to fusion jazz, which could create a restless feel.

How are your nights – suffering yourself from sleeplessness?

Not at all! I sleep carefree. I work very hard during the day, so by the end of it I am tired enough to sleep. And I don’t have any little children anymore – the youngest is 12 already – so I sleep like a baby.

Okay, no sleepless nights. What about restlessness?

I myself have a lot of thoughts in my head. And before you ask, the composition is non-autobiographic ;)

I am working on a simultaneously way – in my head and in my work. It comes with my creative job I suppose. It is intense and sometimes tiring but I would not have it any different. At the end of a working season I take 3 days off from thinking and then the process automatically starts again.

I am calm of intestine but constantly doing things. My mind never stops. I realize that it sounds like a paradox but I am a relaxed person, with a lot in his mind … not on.

Have you already heard any brass band fragments of your composition?

The only auditory experience I have is from my digital computer programme. I am therefore  very curious how it will sound as ‘Insomnia’ is played by a brass band. This is the fate of a composer – not being able to hear your composition before the first official performance (when it is a test piece). For brass band this is my first test piece. I have written some solo works for/with brass band before but this is my first test piece for brass band. So, yes I am very excited and I can’t wait to listen to all seven World Premieres!

Where did the fusion jazz influence come from?

I am a child of my time. When I was young the music scene had lots of musical influences. These were mixed with my own more classical culture and structure. I made a lot of arrangements for proms concerts – classical musical meets pop. I always try to make pop sound symphonic. And I like to create a rhythmical basic where I leave out the drums.




For ‘Insomnia’ I for instance used a Moroccan instrument called a darbuka. A little hand drum (see picture) that I used for the quick passages.



Insomnia - poem


I composed ‘Insomnia’ behind my piano - starting playing and writing. Improvising, creating a free motive in my left hand which brought me towards the theme of the hypnoses. And than the poem of the English poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was added. This poem is recited by the musicians – whispered in a mysterious style. You cannot understand verbally what is said. For me the sound of the human voice integrated into the composition is probably more important than the message of the poem.   

About the composition

I didn’t produce a complex score. In the beginning I even thought that the Music Committee might think it was too simple. I only have one or two virtuous moments. I am however asking for different skills … You may say that my composition is considered as ‘a survival of the fittest’. Endurance, not much finger skills or strange leaps in intonation. The challenge is to play gracefully after minutes and minutes of hard work.

As you are more into the world of wind orchestra’s – would you consider to arrange this piece for wind band?

I haven’t thought of it really. First I have to digest what I am going to experience at the contest. I am not sure if it would work for wind band since I really composed ‘Insomnia’ for a compact ensemble. To me a brass band is somewhere in between a full orchestra and a chamber music formation. Only when it is artistic accountable I would consider to arrange it for another form of orchestra. And when I would do it I would go back to the original piano reduction and start from scratch.

Which band would be your winner?

My favorite band will be the one that plays my piece with the longest possible musical lines. The band that still has a good intonation after all the physical hard work.

A jury is giving points to your composition. What do you think about music and points?

Although playing music for points seems a very subjective matter (Horowitz said: “competitions are for horses, not artists”) there are some objective criteria to judge on. The problem is, when you ONLY judge the objective criteria you don’t automatically value the most interesting musical performance. But if you participate in a contest, you know where you getting yourself into. I do not envy the jury members that have to judge my composition. I am glad to sit in the hall and listen.

Another thing is that you cannot influence the effort of any competing band. I hope the musicians see it as a mutual effort. All seven bands have taken the same obstacles. They meet up in Oostende at the Challenge Contest and are hopefully emphatic to each other and enjoy each others performance.
I most certainly are going to enjoy myself!  


Bart Picqueur

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