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About this Piece

Composed: 2008
Length: c. 18 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (all = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion (brake drums, cymbals, glockenspiel, guiro, rototoms, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tom-toms, triangles, tubular bells, vibraphone, and xylophone), harp, synthesizer, cimbalom, electric guitar, bass guitar, strings, and 2 solo pianos
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)

There are few works for the traditional symphony orchestra in Andriessen’s catalog, and it has been 39 years since his last concerto-like piece. Works for “large ensemble,” however, abound. The distinction is real, the result of socio/political ideas expressed through instrumentation. “I could write beautiful symphonic music, but then I’m not doing what I want to do, which is develop a musical language which has other roots,” Andriessen wrote in liner notes for a 1990 recording of his De Staat.

The immediate roots of The Hague Hacking lie in a short piece of the same name for two pianos from 2003. This is a “finger dance,” as pianist Cassie Yukawa calls it, but think rave rather than cotillion. (Yukawa and Rosey Chan gave the U.K. premiere of the work.) The “hacking” (hakkûh) of the title is Dutch slang for the dance style of a techno-descended hardcore house music, high speed and heavy on the bass.

The Minimalist Jukebox festival presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in March 2006 included performances of De Staat and the U.S. premiere of Andriessen’s Racconto dall’Inferno. (A recording drawn from these performances has been released on iTunes by DG Concerts.) The success of these concerts encouraged Andriessen to accept a commission for a new work, which he has created from ideas he began exploring in the 2003 piece.

Multiple keyboards – and two pianos, particularly – have long been important to Andriessen’s sound. Hocket, a medieval technique for splitting notes of a single line between two parts, is also significant in Andriessen’s music, and here the pianos are sometimes so closely interlocked that their music is actually notated across all four staves of the two piano parts, as if it they were a single hyper-piano.

The pianos are matched with a conventional – albeit percussion-rich – orchestra, pumped up with important parts for cimbalom, electric guitar, and bass guitar. Unison writing is another Andriessen hallmark, and there is plenty of opportunity here for instruments to revel together in sharp-edged rhythmic acuity.

The sound of the piece, its virtuosity, and its chain form of sectional links suggest something of the north German toccata of Bach’s day. It begins on a unison A and ultimately reaches something very like A major (with added notes), but the interval of the second (and its octave displacements as sevenths and ninths) is the main motive force. The ride is a wild one, marked along the way with indications such as furioso and “noisy, non-romantic,” but it does come to a cathartic climax which Andriessen even marks “Triumphant” (and he asks for it to be repeated ad libitum), followed by an uncharacteristically gentle coda.

John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.

From Louis Andriessen:

The opening of The Hague Hacking refers to an existing piece, which was in my mind while composing, but could not be tracked down immediately. I called a composer friend and sang the melody to him. ‘Liszt!’ he said and, after some thinking, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No.2’. I did not know the Liszt piano piece but, when one evening I watched some early Tom and Jerry cartoons again, I saw and heard my true source: The Cat Concerto. In the cartoon Tom is the piano virtuoso accompanied by an invisible orchestra.

In The Hague Hacking the orchestra starts to play, in very slow note values, yet another melody: a once popular sing-along song about the city of The Hague. The whole work, which we could call a Toccata, has been composed with the material of these two melodies.

At the end of the piece, as a kind of triumphant denouement, the sing-along song is totally deconstructed by all the musicians. The material for this ‘de-composition’ had been first created in 2003 for my friends, the piano duo of Gerard Bouwhuis and Cees van Zeeland, as an encore for the concert on the occasion of their 25th anniversary.

The Hague Hacking was written for the matchless pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque. Like the group Hoketus, which I founded in the seventies, they manage to make the hocketing (interlocking) sound as if it is being played by one person.

Louis Andriessen (2008)