A Matter of Publishing

Putting on a work like De Materie is a COMPLICATED endeavor!  In order to perform this piece Great Noise Ensemble will have to expand its ranks from its core of 16 musicians to a whopping 59 instrumentalists.  This is not counting the eight part chorus, two solo singers and two narrators required to perform the work.  That’s a total of 71 people!  Then there are all of the myriad percussion instruments (among the rare—and expensive—to find items required: car bumpers, boo-bams and about 11 nipple gongs), two synthesizers and—rarity of rarities—a contrabass clarinet.  At 100 minutes of music—but only four movements long—the piece is also rather difficult to rehearse, requiring an expanded rehearsal schedule from that which we usually adopt.

All of that is, apparently, child’s play next to actually securing the performance materials.

I first placed an order with Boosey and Hawkes, publishers of Louis Andriessen’s music in the United States, in late May.  After answering a slew of questions about the nature of the ensemble, our annual budget, etc., all of which is pretty standard and easy enough to do on their web site, a contract was issued.  Just as that contract was on its way to me I received a phone call from Boosey and Hawkes informing me that their initial estimate and quote had been erroneous and that, since the work is technically an opera it requires a grand rights license and an entirely new agreement would have to be issued.

Now, Andriessen himself considers this a concert work.  “I believe it is much safer to see it as a very large instrumental, symphonic work,” he writes in his book (co-edited with Mirjam Zegers), The Art of Stealing Time (p.191).  “The only thing is, there is a lot of singing in it and that is not so often the case in a symphony. “  The idea of staging it wasn’t even Andriessen’s!  It was, rather, the director of the Netherlands Opera who suggested staging the work and hiring Robert Wilson to direct its first performance. 

So, because of that, the work is considered an opera and we must first secure a grand rights license to perform it.  So I spend the better part of the next week (during which I receive the original license agreement, now moot!) renegotiating the terms with Boosey and Hawkes to be able to secure performance materials in time for the chorus master to hire appropriate singers and for our principal percussionist to figure out where to find all of the necessary players and instruments to be handled and the soloists to receive their scores with plenty of time to learn this often challenging music. 

“Those Mahler symphonies in which there is singing,” Andriessen continues in the passage quoted above, “are a rare example.  That man should simply have written operas.  But, due to a confluence of circumstances, that didn’t work out (he probably didn’t have a good librettist).  He also hated the opera ‘business.’”

I can’t imagine why!


  (To be fair, Boosey and Hawkes was extremely gracious and helpful throughout the process, which was completed just a few hours before I wrote this on June 7.  So, really, while it was somewhat tedious to have to start the process over again, it was nowhere near as complicated or difficult as I thought it would be thanks to Boosey’s courteous and excellent staff. )

One Response to “A Matter of Matter (III)”
  1. If you ever want to venture into publisher limbo, try dealing with Sikorski.