Air of another planet  
30 years Schoenberg Quartet  
A quarter century of musical conviction
The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

A moondrunk beginning
Hans Woudenberg, Henk Guittart, Janneke van der Meer, Wim de Jong, 1978The impressive archive occupying a good deal of Henk Guittart's attic studio provides little information about the early history of the Schoenberg Quartet. The quartet members themselves are quick to point out why the Royal Conservatory of The Hague was the ideal nesting ground. "The first thing that struck me was that it was small," reminisces Janneke van der Meer. "It was also cosy and cheerful and soon enough we were in the grip of the sixties, making it even more so. A department for Baroque Performance Practice was added but there was also a studio for electronic music. It was all extremely lively." The vitality is what Wim de Jong most remembers. "Everything was in motion and the possibilities were endless.. It was the time when Harnoncourt made his entrance in the Netherlands. Frans Brüggen and Gustav Leonhardt came to teach in The Hague. And there was a lot going on in the field of modern music."
It was in this stimulating environment that a group of students around Huub Kerstens took the initiative of studying Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire op. 21. That was in the early seventies, and Henk Guittart remembers how he joined the ensemble. "My sister Janneke was already part of it and she thought it might be an idea for her little brother. So as a greenhorn of just seventeen I started playing with the band. I was completely drawn in. I had never heard a single note of Schoenberg. Huub found it a great piece and he wanted to learn it with the singer Lucia Meeuwsen. We hadn't planned any concerts, we simply rehearsed it on Saturday afternoons in people's homes with scores strewn over the floor." After some time the undertaking lost steam and as a result a number of players came and went.

Guittart remembers how, having heard a performance of Pierrot under the baton of Reinbert de Leeuw, he plucked up enough courage to persuade Jan van Vlijmen, director of the conservatory, to assign the Pierrot group to De Leeuw for chamber music coaching. A consequence of the move to the conservatory was that space was created for students such as the cellist Hans Woudenberg, who had similar interests. "During those years we ached to play contemporary music. Music uninfected by a long-standing tradition and which also required a good dose of courage and perseverance. A number of us felt drawn to Schoenberg because his music met our demands. During the first few years the importance of what we were doing dawned on us more and more. And thus grew our personal involvement with the repertoire."

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