articles | reviews | blogs
Composer in the Spotlight
by Michel Khalifa, february 2009
‘Mayke Nas poses questions, many, many questions. When she had to write a piece about the future of concert practice, she sent a list with dozens, or possibly hundreds of questions.' (...)

In love with sounds
by Joke Dame, september 2008
‘The moment you are in a hall and you are profoundly moved is often inexplicable. It has to do with high quality or an ingenious invention. On such a moment you feel: this is it, this is why we, all of us, are making music.' (...)

Perhaps I am an occasional composer
by Anthony Fiumara, november 2006
The other day I had to give a talk
about my work, about what I am
doing as a composer. I suddenly
realised:  maybe I am an occasio-
nal composer. I do not mean (...)

Keeping one's promise
by Makis Solomos, july 2004
In listening to your music and
talking with you, I have the im-
pression I understand the diffe-
rent facets of your mental and
musical world, yet their (...)

10 reasons to compose
by Thea Derks, july 2003
Only this june she graduated at
the Royal Conservatory of The
Hague. Even so, Mayke Nas al-
ready composed for the tele-
visonprogram 'Reiziger in (...)

Donemus Newsletter, november 2006
By Anthony Fiumara

"The other day I had to give a talk about my work, about what I am doing as a composer. I suddenly realised:  maybe I am an occasional composer. I do not mean that pejoratively. Maybe for every occasion I look how I can fill it in as best as possible."

An occasional composer. Few artists would dare to call themselves that  - or would want to be called that. But coming from Mayke Nas (1972) it sounds like an honorary title. For Nas being an occasional composer means not writing for eternity, but realising that as an artist you work in a culture of premieres: "Three quarters of your pieces are played once and then they are put away. On to the next piece!"

Nas speaks  - and for that matter also composes  - with a cheerful freshness that could mislead you at first. Take for example her website, on which she coolly sums up 'ten reasons for composing'. Besides 'wasting time' (number 1), 'looking for trouble' (2) and 'sex, drink & fried goose liver'(7) Nas also names 'promises' and 'being no good for anything else' (numbers 5 and 8 respectively). An occasional composer with a big mouth and a small hart.

From improvisation to rational techniques
According to Nas, she only discovered that she was no good for anything else when she finished school. She grew up as the youngest scion of a family of artists: her grandfather Louis Toebosch is not only a composer, but also a famous organist, her aunt Moniek Toebosch is a well-known visual artist and performer. Her family has always been important to Nas: "There was always music at home. I do not know whether making music professionally was encouraged explicitly, but at my grandfather's concerts I did feel that something special was going on. Louis was a great improviser. Maybe it impressed me most as a child, that he sat at the organ and just played effortlessly. I always wondered how on earth he managed that. How did he know where he was going, what his next note would be? I wanted to understand what was going on. In those days I often improvised on the piano myself. That is how I knocked up my first pieces."  Nas says that she no longer fully trusts her intuition when composing.

Searching for new experiences
As she developed as a composer, Nas says she gradually started to mistrust this intuition while composing. She does still use the feeling for timing that goes with improvising. But for the construction of a piece she uses more rational techniques and decisions. "In that sense I have more affinity with Moniek than with Louis", says Nas. "Louis sits at his desk and hasn't a clue what the piece will be like. When I listen to his compositions, I think that they go all over the place. Moniek and I have the conceptual aspect in common, daring to be radical, daring to do things of which you are not sure whether they will actually work, but that could result in something incredible."

With Nas this prospect of an incredible piece has everything to do with sound. Although her recent work has a strong rhythmical component, the composer says that, as a rule, she thinks rhythmically propelled music is too easy. And that at present she is uncertain whether she wants to continue in this direction. Reich, Glass and Adams are just not her favourite composers. Who are then? Without hesitating Nas replies: "Helmut Lachenmann. Until a year and a half ago his influence was clearer. For example in (W)here, a piece that I wrote for the Asko Ensemble, which I think is one of my best works so far. For that piece I delved into my deepest imagination. It was really scary to make, but I believe that in that work I have achieved in concept and in sound what I have not come across in any other composition. My fascination with new music has everything to do with the search for new experiences. You can go bungee jumping to experience what you have never felt before, you can go travelling. But I think that new music has this appeal too. You can suddenly hear something of which you never knew that it could exist."

According to Nas, she sometimes shrinks from the daring with which she plunged herself into uncertainty in (W)here: "I always find composing hard. It is difficult to judge whether what you write down, will work. And I want it to work. At times I seek something to hold on to and turn to a few certainties. Around them I can try out things of which I am not yet sure whether they will turn out as beautifully as I think they will. I reckon that, generally speaking, I should dare to do that more often. And that I have tried to fit the occasion too much in my latest pieces."

Music resembling a tailor-made suit
Here the occasional composer is speaking. Nas is a composer who always tries to imagine the musicians, the audience and even the programme in which the work is programmed, throughout the process. That results in music that resembles a tailor-made suit, but it also means that she consciously precludes certain experiments. "I can only judge this kind of piece afterwards: was it a piece that worked well on the occasion, or has it brought my own dream nearer?"

In her music Nas constantly moves on the edge of concept and sound. Her work always begins with an idea, that can also be extra musical. But as soon as she starts writing, she wants it to sound good. She does not want to make music that just produces sound based on the concept, without taking into account the beauty of the sound. "My enthusiasm for music mainly has to do with the sounds I hear and of which I think: Wow, what a sound! This makes orchestrating a piece a large part of the pleasure of composing."

More than the original concept, Nas wants to produce that wow-effect on the audience. The listener is free to have his own ideas about her work "Nas certainly likes a bit of ambiguity. At times she is misled herself by listeners and musicians that find things in her music that she did not hear herself. For example, after a radio broadcast of her No reason to panic -entr'acte music for the Concertgebouw Orchestra  - a presenter remarked that the audience obviously wanted to be entertained. The radio journalist called No reason to panic entertainment during the change between pieces. "At first I was shocked", says Nas. "Entertainment?! That is not what I want! But soon I thought: entertaining the audience? Of course I want that tóó."

Translation: Hilary Staples