Bert Appermont is a Belgian music teacher, conductor, composer and arranger. Some of his works include, Colors for trombone for trombone and orchestra, Saga Candida, Jericho, Noah’s Ark, Ivanhoe and Saga Maligna.

(This interview was conducted in July 2011)

How did you get into music?

I started playing the clarinet in the local wind band, because the whole family was playing in it. I really enjoyed doing that, so pretty early on I decided to make profession out of music, although I had no idea in what direction at that point.
Your teachers were Edmond Saveniers and Jan van der Roost. Have they made an impact to what you are today? Any other influences?
Jan van der Roost has meant a lot for me, when I wrote Noah’s Ark, he took the recording and gave it to people all over the world. That’s how the Tokio Kosei Wind Orchestra discovered my music and recorded the piece. I am very grateful to him for doing that.
Another important teacher is the Dutch composer Daan Manneke, who taught me how to write contemporary music. While I was taking classes with him, I studied the music of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Debussy, The Second Viennese school and many other 20th century composers. Stravinsky has become a tremendous inspiration for me, as well as the music of Gustav Mahler, which I love very much.

Furthermore, there are a number of master pieces in history that have been fascinating and inspiring me very much: the St.Matthew-passion of J.S.Bach, the Mozart Requiem and the Mass in c minor, the Brahms requiem, the Mahler symphonies 2, 3 and 9, Le Sacre du Printemps by Stravinsky and Shostakovitch 5th Symphony.

What drives your work, what are you passions?

Composing is something that I feel I have to do, it is always a mission or higher course for me to do.

The challenge in wind band music has always been to write good high quality music and this is for every level. Writing a really good piece for grade 3 is very difficult for example, and I still find it a challenge to do. “Song for Sakiko” is a new short piece that will come out in August for example and that is very easy to play, but still interesting. I know there is a need for this kind of music, and I enjoy writing it.

Beside this, I want to write music that is expressively powerful and that is profound. I want to make people think, dream, live, and experience emotions. For me the essence of music is behind the notes, the things you cannot speak about, that is what really matters to me.

Despite being one of the younger composers out there in the scene, you have written some 40 pieces for choir, chamber ensemble, wind orchestra and symphony or, chestra. What can you say about your achievements from then till now?

I have come a long way, starting of writing wind band pieces, now I have written 2 musicals, an oratorium and an opera. I developed a lot I think, and am very grateful that so many people in the work play and appreciate my music. Without this, it is all meaningless.

What is your writing style? What kind of techniques do you use to create the magnificent themes in some of your works, eg. Absalon, Noah’s Ark, Jericho?

I don’t really have a specific kind of style, I choose my musical language for the piece that I want to write, although I have certain harmonies that I use more than others of course. I place high value on a strong melody, maybe this is one of the reasons why people like my music, because the melodies are carrying the music a lot. But rhythm and harmony are also very important to me when I compose. I find modal harmony very beautiful and use it a lot. I think one should use a technique in function of what he wants to express and not for the sake of showing off.

Some of my music is very dissonant, but this always is functional and has a purpose. To express pain or anger for example. I also place high value on an organic structure, my music now has become a lot stronger on a compositional level a lot stronger, because I work with less material but develop it more.

What is your musical philosophy?

I think music is a very powerful medium that can move people in a very subtle but direct way. How this works, nobody really knows, because it is something you just can’t explain. That mystery and wonder is an ongoing fascinating to me.

When I compose, conduct or play music, I always search for that special thing music can do. It can makes us experience all kind of emotions, it can connect us with other people or create unbelievable atmospheres. To be in that special place for even a few seconds is everything for me.

It is like love, you cannot force it to happen, you can only create circumstances in which maybe it will happen. When you make music of when I compose, it is the same, you can only work hard so hopefully you get inspired or moved. When that happens, you know why you are alive…

Tell us about your composition “Fantasia per la Vita e la Morte”  which won the first prize in the prestigious composition contest of Torrevieja, Spain.

The composition is written in the period that I was studying contemporary music and the piece is  full of modern compositional techniques. It has an unusual approach of orchestral color and rhythm and in that way is quite innovating for this type of ensemble.

I think it is one of the best pieces that I ever wrote, although it is very difficult to play, because you have to get everything right, in order to make it work. The piece is about the moment of death and birth and the connection between these 2 moments. But the music is no evocation of this, it is more a metaphysical kind of experience which the music creates when you listen to it. It wants you to think about these special moments and what they mean for us.

To create this kind of atmospheres the piece needs  is not easy, but if you succeed, it is very special.

You wrote Colors for Trombone in 1998 especially for Belgian Trombonist Ben Haemhouts. Did you already have a concept of the desired trombone sound before you started writing?

Not really, I have a brother who was a good amateur trombone player, but furthermore, I was kind of lucky to hit the character and sound of the trombone so well, because apparently it is well written for trombone. When I compose, I do want to know how everything there is to know about the instrument and almost get inside of it. Maybe this is why the concerto works so well, who knows.

Which work are you most proud of and why?

My oratorium “Mater Aeterna” and my opera “Katharina von Bora” are my best works (together 3 hours of music), ironically the pieces that have not been recorded yet and almost no one knows them. It is high level music, but has an immense profoundness and is very emotional. I hope they will get recorded soon, so other people get to know them as well. The music of my musical Zaad van Satan (Saga Candida) has also been a great success and I am really proud of that too of course.

Furthermore the second symphony “The golden Age” that I am writing right now will be sensational, I think that will become of the best I have ever written.

What are some of the works in the wind band scene that fascinates you?

Bells for Stokowski by Daughtry was interesting to hear, as well as the Maslanka symphonies. Van der Roost Poeme Montagnard and Dance Movements by Philip Sparke are older pieces that really blew me away.

In conclusion, what does the future hold for you in your composing and conducting careers? What are some of the current and future projects you have?

I have been composing the music for the BBC-2 documentary “The reel history of Great Britain” with Graham Reilly, this music was recorded with the BBC philharmonic orchestra. The 20-part documentary will be broadcasted in September, and I intend to write more for film and tv and for symphony orchestra. I am finishing my second symphony at the moment, afterwards, I have commissions for a horn and a oboe concerto (with wind band), and I look forward to doing that.

As a conductor I will conduct my second symphony in Switserland with Aulos Blasorchester in 4 concerts in October, I really look forward to that.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.