Jan Van der Roost is a profilic adjudicator, clinician and composer from Belgium. He currently teaches at the Lemmensinstituut in Leuven (Belgium) and is guest professor to the “Shobi Institute of Music” in Tokyo and the “Nagoya University of Art”. His works include Spartacus, Olympica, Domus and Arsenal.
(This interview was conducted in August 2010)
Tell us briefly about yourself, and your life as a trombonist before you started writing.
I was born in Duffel, Belgium, in 1956 and I studied trombone, history of music and musical education at the Lemmensinstituut in Leuven (Louvain). I then continued my studies at the Royal Conservatoires of Ghent and Antwerp, where I qualified as a conductor and a composer. My very first “official” work ever published was a piece for brass quintet, called “Provençaalse Volksliederen” (= Folksongs from the Provence). This piece has been re-scored and extended afterwards and has become my SUITE PROVENCALE (= for wind orchestra).
When composing a new piece of work, what would be the first aspect you start with?
With the fact that I compose in different styles and genres, it’s hard to generalize. However, most of the time I start with melodic or thematic materials in combination with a harmonic background. There are exceptions of course, but often I start like this – especially for the more “tonal” works (like most of my band pieces).
Which of the pieces for Concert Band do you consider the biggest work you have written so far, and why?
My SINFONIA HUNGARICA (lasting ± 38′ and consisting of 3 movements) is certainly my biggest piece so far. Then comes SINFONIETTA (± 24′), followed by some major symphonic tone poems like Poème Montagnard, From Ancient Times etc.
Most of your works are for wind bands and brass bands. Is there any difference when composing for orchestra and choir instead?
There is actually a ± “fifty – fifty” relation between my band pieces and my other works. Writing for such particular instruments like guitar, piano, organ, harp etc. requires a different approach than a piece for band, of course. But also: writing for professional performers is quite different from composing for beginners, school kids or amateurs in general.
Besides being a composer, you are also high in demand as an adjudicator, clinician, and a guest conductor all around the world. Do your frequent travels inspire your music in any way?
I don’t think so, actually … I am mostly fully booked 2 to 3 years in advance so when I visit a particular country, I may be working on a piece for an instance from a completely different geographical origin so there is not so much direct inspiration. On the other hand, many impressions from exotic places and other cultures keep my mind open and receptive which may influence my way of thinking and writing indeed.
Compared to other composers, your works cover a whole variety of genres and styles. Is it easier to stick to one genre and style, or experiment with different possibilities?
I don’t know whether it is “easier” to stick with one genre or style: I just like to explore various ways and horizons. There is so much diversity in music and I prefer to go different ways rather than being faithful to one or another direction or style. I always did so and I hope to continue like this for many more years, thus keeping my mind fresh, rather than getting stuck in one or another style or dogmatic system.
Having been to Singapore before, what do you think about the standard of local bands here?
Singapore has many “faces”, I think: its multi-cultural character combines influences from various cultures. This makes it to a particular place with Asian, European, American and Australian inspirations and input.
There are some very good ensembles around, that’s for sure, and I think the overall quality of most bands is quite good. However – like almost everywhere else in the world – many talents and skills get lost or are “under-developed”: I think there could be done more with all this quality.
A great initiative like the National Youth Winds (gathering for the 1st time last year in June) might be a step in the right direction but also other initiatives could / should be taken: there is a lot of potential which cries for further development!
What are your future plans; are you writing any work right now?
As always, I have a lot of commissions for new compositions, coming from various countries. I also have lots of travels on my agenda next year (e.g. to Japan, Columbia, Canada, Brazil, the USA, and of course to several European countries): no time to get bored!