Feico is a pianist and arranger; our shared passion for the American composer Philip Glass was what got me wanting to know more...
I did not choose music, music chose me. As far as I can tell I am always listening to music, for real or inside my head, and this has been the way as long as I can remember. For good and for bad. Some restaurants I don’t like to go to, because of the background music they play.
Last week I saw the new Christopher Nolan movie TENET, and despite several warnings that the film is complicated and hard to follow, I got distracted very early on because I was paying more attention to the music score by Ludwig Göransson. It is quite beautiful, I must say.
I am a performer, not a composer, and I am normally fuelled by something I hear that I really like, which I then cannot get rid of inside of my head, until I decide I need to process it by mastering it - or exorcising it - and this usually means learning to play it.
Music structures my outlook, it wipes clean my window to the world, and it also allows me to get closer to my feelings: I am usually not a moody person, but listening to Max Richter’s or Olafur Arnalds’s music can make me feel very sad. And I can become totally happy just by listening to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians or John Adams’s Harmonielehre or Shaker Loops.Music widens your perspective. This is at least what I people tell me who listen to my recordings or who come to me after concerts.
This happens for instance during classical festivals where people come relatively unprepared for the Philip Glass or David Lang I play for them, in the midst of other, ‘real’ classical music performances. They tell me that they are hearing this kind of music for the first time and that they feel they have discovered something new, as if a door has opened to a new place (in themselves) that they did not knew existed before.
In the case of Glass or Lang, I know their music can influence the listener’s awareness of time, because of how their music is structured, where a lot of movement is happening but at the same time it seems to be at standstill. This makes the listener feel as if time is being suspended. It is that sense of discovery that I wish I still had regularly, but after having listened to an awful lot of music, it has become rarer for me. But it is wonderful when people tell you that this is what your playing does to them.
Piano solo version of Facades by Philip Glass, arranged & played by Feico Deutekom, from Feico's album Musical Offering, released in January 2020.
My father is a jazz musician. When I was a kid he played banjo in a band. His brother played the piano in the same band and I think that inspired me. The idea that with a keyboard you can make music by yourself, you actually do not need somebody else. I grew up on Top 40 music, disco, and funk new wave and later electronic music. I started playing the piano at 13, a bit late, but that was because our house was not large enough to fit in a piano. My parents bought one when our house was refurbished and we got a bit more space. My first piano teacher taught me a lot, not just about music but about mindfulness and meditation. He also introduced me to classical music, my favourites were Ravel, Debussy and Schubert. When I was 18 some friend told me I had to go and watch Koyaanisqatsi that was playing in the cinema. That was my introduction to Philip Glass music. In a way that was the marriage for me between my taste for classical and my pop sensibilities, it came all together.
Later I started to sing as well. First in choirs and then as a soloist, too. With this I developed my love for Bach (as you know in Holland there is a big tradition of performing the Passions around Easter) as well as Renaissance music. Singing is such a different approach to music than playing the piano. When you hit a ‘C’ on the keyboard, it will always sound like a ‘C’, assuming the piano is in tune. When you sing, especially in a choir, or ensemble, you learn to intonate, mostly by listening well to others. It is as if you approach music from within, more than from the outside the way it is with the piano. I think it also refined my ability to make phrases and sentences, to follow the breath in the music. This has also helped my technique as a pianist. The great thing about singing in a choir is that there are relatively many opportunities to perform, there are so many churches that host concerts.
When I finally had my own ensemble, I would switch between singing and playing the piano, but gradually found myself more and more behind the keys again, both piano and keyboards.
The ongoing struggle, which is the biggest I suppose but not one I would call unbearable, is building your market share and to raising your profile with audiences. This requires constant effort: getting programmed in bigger venues, reaching higher cd sales as well as getting more followers on your social media channels, selling your albums, raise publicity.
I consider myself very lucky because throughout the years I have met various people at the right moment who have helped me to find my way around as a musician. As I explained earlier, my drive as a musician always comes from loving a pieces of music and then wanting to play it.
Years ago this brought me, together with a few friends, to start the Attacca Ensemble. I wanted to bring choral pieces to audiences that were hardly performed but that I really loved and believed were worth it. We did concert versions of Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, a marathon version (without intermission) of Kanon Pokaajaanen by Arvo Part, and the Dutch premiere of David Lang’s little match girl passion.
15 years ago this was music you would not find on concert programs very often. Scores were hard to get by and for the singers it required a different technique, a different focus and concentration and, because of the duration of certain pieces, a lot of physical stamina. We called it the extreme sports of music. A lot has changed since then and now you hear this music everywhere, but at the time it felt we had the floor pretty much to ourselves and we had no problems getting regular bookings and sell out venues.
When we did Einstein on the Beach, we chose to do it with a larger chorus than the piece is written for. The way Glass has notated the music, which is all about interlocking patterns, is quite shorthand: the basses for instance will sing a repeating riff consisting of 4 beats, whereas the tenors repeat a different riff only 3 beats long.
So the two groups sing in counterpoint, where the basses have to repeat their line 3 times and the tenors 4 times before they meet at starting point again. In the original score you will see the riffs notated once, with repeat marks and a number to mark how often that riff needs to be sang or played.
With a larger group, especially when you cannot hear each other perfectly, this may become messy. Our conductor Fokko Oldenhuis needed some way to beat in a coherent way that everybody could follow, in order to do that he wanted a notation where all notes were showing vertically.
I prepared a score where the repeats within each cell were written out, allowing everyone to ‘read’ all repeats within the cell, until the conductor could beat a clean return to square one. We felt we were able to do something that others could not.
At a certain point we got noticed by Philip Glass and he started to invite us to play in his Amsterdam concerts, and it became a totally different, much larger thing. Singing and playing the piano during those years gave me concert routine, and I familiarised myself further with arranging, which I did when we played orchestral works in smaller settings. These experiences then paved the way for new chamber and duo projects without the chorus, again with me arranging music for these settings.
And finally the last 3 years I have been working on as a solo artist. Performing as a solo musician is in many ways easier. It is cheaper and you do not have to book rehearsal space, prepare multiple scores, pay conductors and soloists and worry about al lot of peoples’ agendas. The other side is that you have to do everything yourself. Every mountain you take, you take entirely by yourself. I am not complaining, because the experiences with the Attacca Ensemble have been worth it every second and later on they have helped me getting bookings for my solo concerts and given me various contacts that have helped me building my solo profile.
I have released two cd albums, the first one, FEICO SOLO, on the Dutch label Zefir owned by Jakko van der Heijden, with pieces from Glass, Adams, Eisenga, Lang and Part, and the second one MUSICAL OFFERING on Orange Mountain Music, Philip Glass’s own music channel. The latter especially has given me a much larger exposure, especially on the Philip Glass social media channels as well as Spotify and Apple.
It took a lot of convincing before I felt I was ready to start recording. At various points, I have asked myself: ‘is this really worth it?’ The standard is high and there is enormous amount of competition there and you really have to find your own voice or uniqueness to stand out from the others. Creating piano arrangements of orchestral or chamber pieces, which I started to do on the first but have done especially on the second album, has helped me do that, has helped me to build a niche. There are many pianists recording Glass music every year, so by making arrangements, you are in a way contributing new repertoire and at the same time you create a certain exclusivity, because you are the only one allowed to play these pieces.
But the struggle is this: once you have taken this road, once you have started to record CDs and become a performing soloist, there is no slowing down. A new cd helps you get bookings for new concerts as well as publicity, and the concerts help you sell the cd, but after a short while the effect wears off and the silence sets in. It becomes more difficult to get bookings, especially when you don’t have management or representation. So you start thinking of a new album. My latest album is just half a year old and already the pressure builds and people are asking what the next one will be and what the right timing for it will be.
I like to think I am entrepreneurial in my approach, since I am sensitive both of what it is what people want and what I am able to sell, whether it is a cd album or a concert, I like to see where opportunities exist and how best to use them. In this day and age you cannot be an artist without being entrepreneurial to certain degree. Still, I see many musicians who are only concerned about artistic expression, whereas their communication skills or marketing sensibility remain largely underdeveloped.
The lesson I have learnt for myself is that the way the classical music scene is developing, even though music is a pure form of communication, to get the attention of the listener you have to develop a verbal story as well. The audience nowadays expects you to be able to explain what the music is about, to be its ambassador.
During my concerts I tend to talk a lot, I tell the audience for instance why minimal music has similarities to landscapes or Persian tapestries. But also I walk away from the piano from time to time, look the audience into the eyes and try to be as honest as possible and describe what this music means for me personally, why it grabbed me in the first place. I have found for myself that if you take this approach you are halfway in. People will recognise that your quality as a musician is complemented by a certain personal integrity.
Social media help creating awareness, but in classical music it is not always the best tool because numbers are low and it takes time to develop your profile. I use Facebook to promote concerts but my feeling is you mostly reach the same limited circle of loyal followers.
Which makes it hard to grow your [Facebook / Instagram] page or channel. To reach out and promote your concerts it sometimes pays off better so send out press releases to the right media. I have looked into the growth automation programmes that are heavily advertised on social media and that operate by using Facebook and Instagram ads to target Spotify spins. The problem with these the way I see it is that it requires you to release new music quite regularly on Spotify, whereas in classical music that is not an easy thing to do.
Getting released on Philip Glass’s label [Orange Mountain Music] has helped me reach a much bigger audience. On Spotify, because your artist profile gets linked to his, you reach millions of his followers and you end up more easily on the editorial playlists.
Once of my home recording videos was posted during this Summer on Philip’s Facebook page and got 20,000 views in a day. That makes you think: anything I do after this that does not have Philip Glass’s name on it, will have to be really good. Because it will not sell in the same numbers.
Lately people have been asking me what recording device I use for my home sessions because they say the sound is so great. But all I use it my iPhone, nothing more fancy than that. For my arrangements, I use a really clunky and basic notation programme, far inferior to Sibelius even.
I don’t use any tech apart from my Steinway grand piano at home, if you consider that tech. Ages ago I had a synthesizer workstation with a 32 channel recording sequencer. I used it mainly to record electronic versions of orchestral or operatic works from composers I loved and of which no audio recording was available. I wish I had more time to learn about electronics now. I have always loved the combination of acoustic instruments with electronics: John Adams for instance, Brian Eno and of course Glass. Hopefully one day…
17 Feb 2020 "New video from Orange Mountain Music - Musical Offering performed by Feico Deutekom"
17 Jan 2020 - "To celebrate Philip Glass’ 83rd birthday, a new release from Orange Mountain Music - Philip Glass: Musical Offering by Feico Deutekom, Featuring solo piano versions of Facades, Company, and Les Enfants Terribles" + links ...
The Corona lockdown happened 6 weeks after the release of my latest album PHILIP GLASS – MUSICAL OFFERING. Around 10 concerts that had been planned for this year had to be cancelled or rescheduled for next year. The album had taken two years to prepare and produce, some of the arrangements I made for it even longer, and I had been looking forward to the tour tremendously, to share the music and my excitement about it with live audiences.
Playing in front of live audiences is what I what I really like doing most, and after a great amount of work to get these concerts booked, seeing these concerts evaporate into thin air, has been quite frustrating. Playing in front of attentive listeners in a shared physical space is a privilege. In some circumstances, if the setting is right, the audience will enhance the quality of your playing.
As a performer, you are attentive to how the audience is experiencing the music, to what extent they are being captured by your playing. This then fuels your performance, as I have experienced many times. It is an amazing circuitry where you are listening to your own performance through the ears of the audience and then ride on that wavelength while you are playing.
During lockdown, like many musicians who felt reduced to inactivity, I have recorded home sessions to post on my social media channels. This has been good practice to keep in form, but also to keep your name floating at the surface, of the social media world, that is. However this is far from the real thing - playing in front of a camera does feel like playing behind a soundproof glass wall.
In The Netherlands after the lockdown concerts were permitted for small audiences of 30 people, this was on 1st of June. De Meervaart, one of the leading venues in Amsterdam, invited me to do their first concert on that same day. Because of the small capacity, I did the concert twice that day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. It was an amazing experience, for myself to be playing live again, and for the audience, who had felt sort of culturally dehydrated for months and were now for the first time experiencing live music again.
Afterwards they did not want to leave, because they felt so special and thankful to be part of this. It was as if an immense thirst had been quenched. The other reason that made this concert so special was the atmosphere in the theatre and the mood of the staff. It was very courageous of them to open their doors to the public again, especially in the light of the countless guidelines they had to follow and all precautions they had to take to ensure social distancing.
And that just for 30 people per performance, money-wise it was a total bomb. Still, they were so excited to see the lights go on again, to hear someone play their Steinway grand piano, to see people entering the building, they were so happy that after months of darkness and silence the building came alive again. I will never forget it.
There have been various people who have been influential for my career in music and it is impossible to name just one.
My first piano teacher, Ron de Smit, taught me to play as well as to meditate. He taught me how to enter stillness before touching the first key.
The artist Rob Malasch introduced me to Philip Glass years ago – they co-wrote The Photographer together – and as producer of the concerts Philip gave in Amsterdam helped me get on his stage.
Through these concerts I met with Lavinia Meijer, one of the greatest harpists in the world, with whom since then I have given many concerts together as a harp/piano duo.
Jakko van der Heijden recorded both my cd’s: he encouraged me in the first place to and taught me all I know about studio recording and also about listening.
Philip Glass has been enormously generous by accepting the way I look at his music and I am thankful to him and to Richard Guerin of Orange Mountain Music to offer me the opportunity to record and release my personal arrangements.
I owe all these people and many others a lot and I always try to remind myself of this.