André de Ridder (photo Marco Borggreve)

Ensemble Stargaze: musical inventors

Interview with conductor and founder André de Ridder

26 March 2024
by René van Peer

Thanks to the Muziekgebouw Production House, ensemble Stargaze will find a home in the Muziekgebouw in season 2024-2025. A permanent home for this international collective that has made it its mission to bring contemporary and pop music together. What makes the ensemble so special and what can audiences expect?

Stargaze was founded about 10 years ago, when André de Ridder was looking for a different and more flexible way to work with music. Initially a think tank, it crystallized into a more or less permanent ensemble of international musicians. Nowadays, half of the musicians are based in the Netherlands.

Stargaze (photo Reiner Pfisterer)

How would you describe the ensemble?
Stargaze is a collective in which the musicians work closely together. We have a common goal in mind. We work with various musicians: singer-songwriters, players of electronic instruments and contemporary composers. We mix all these elements together, or simply juxtapose them. Sometimes we make collective arrangements. In that respect we actually work as a rock band in contemporary classical music. We are always looking for new ideas, new projects, something that is only possible thanks to the composition of the group and the musicians we meet. We have developed such a clear understanding of what Stargaze should sound like, and how to collaborate with musicians, that it has become second nature.

Next season, Stargaze will present three concerts in the Muziekgebouw. What can you tell about  these concerts?
The programs for the first two concerts are finalized and give a clear impression of what we do and who we are. Song of the Earth on September 18 is a project centered around composer David Longstreth, a member of the fantastic indie rock group Dirty Projectors. The album will be released on Nonesuch this summer, just before the concert in Amsterdam. In the original version, we brought this project to London, Helsinki, Dublin and Hamburg. The music has changed quite a bit lately, so the concert in Amsterdam is almost a new premiere. Song of the Earth is inspired by Mahler's song cycle. It consists of six new songs, alternating between male and female voices, as in Mahler's composition, which, incidentally, it has nothing to do with musically.

David Longstreth (photo Jason Frank Rothburg)

On January 29, we bring you a project around the notorious Smile album that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did not complete at the time. Only fragments of the recordings exist. Composers Aart Strootman and Morris Kliphuis have used this material to create their own version for a classical instrumental ensemble. We combine it with Stop und Start by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was written for six synthesizers, each corresponding to an acoustic instrument. We gave it our vision, courtesy of the freedom in the score. It is a kaleidoscopic experience with Brian Wilson, Stockhausen, Stargaze, Aart Strootman and Morris Kliphuis as ingredients. Yet it becomes a cohesive whole, with groovy elements and experimental sounds.

I can't say anything about the third show yet, except that it will be a completely new project with a singer-songwriter. I can't yet provide a name, but it will be very exciting for everyone involved.

What do you think you can do in this collaboration with the Muziekgebouw and the Productiehuis that you would not otherwise be able to do?
We are currently at the beginning of a new phase, a new setup. This Productiehuis is exactly what we need now. We always worked internationally, meeting in different countries to rehearse for projects with musicians from different countries. But now this place becomes our base, from which we develop things, and where we meet more regularly. We will not necessarily always rehearse there for a premiere or a concert, but it’s a place where the members can develop music and ideas. It will have more of a workshop character, which has always been our way of working, but now we can do that in one place. The ensemble will become even more democratic, because for quite some time the artistic impulses came from me. I often took the lead in projects. But now the musicians themselves will be able to put creative impulses into these workshops themselves, and develop projects from within Stargaze, and will have the opportunity to become more independent of me as an artistic figurehead.

What does that mean for your role in Stargaze? Will that change?
I am moderating this process by encouraging everyone to become more involved in the creative aspects of the ensemble. I don't have to be directly involved in all projects, although I do want to keep an eye on them and act as a guide. The musicians can take projects into their own hands, like any other chamber ensemble would do. They can develop projects and tour with them. There have always been projects in which members of Stargaze played and conducted at the same time. Romain Bly and our guitarist Aart Strootman did that. It will certainly happen more often.

Stargaze (photo Marco Borggreve)

What role does the Muziekgebouw Production House play in this development?
The Muziekgebouw will be far more than just a space to perform out our projects in. We will use this time and space to think out of the box more, to think more radically, to explore the boundaries of music genres, where they get taken down, and to invent things as creative musicians. The Muziekgebouw Production House has not given us any constraints as to what we must do or achieve. That is a wonderful, generous opportunity, but also a challenge. It should happen more often in artistic organizations, because otherwise you may get stuck in a mechanism of short-term planning, causing you to regurgitate what you have been doing for years. This will almost inevitably lead to a standstill, a stagnation in development and growth. I suspect that the Muziekgebouw had this in mind when they started this Productiehuis.


Stargaze (photo Reiner Pfisterer)

Song of the Earth

Stargaze + Dirty Projectors

Wed 18 Sep 2024 20:30 - 22:00

A Teenage Symphony to God


Wed 29 Jan 2025 20:30 - 22:00