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Willem Jeths


31-08-1959 - current


componist, contemporary classical music


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Willem Jeths

Willem Jeths' compositions present a highly individual reaction to music tradition. Jeths has composed chamber and orchestral music (including solo concertos), songs and an opera, initially in an atonal idiom, but later flirting with traditional tonality. He draws on the past and attempts to enrich it through experimentation: “It is ...
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Mentioned in the biography of

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Biography Willem Jeths

Willem Jeths' compositions present a highly individual reaction to music tradition. Jeths has composed chamber and orchestral music (including solo concertos), songs and an opera, initially in an atonal idiom, but later flirting with traditional tonality. He draws on the past and attempts to enrich it through experimentation: “It is precisely by taking tradition as a starting point that it becomes possible to explore new paths.” Of the musical parameters, he devotes the greatest attention to tone colour – “Colour is the theme of all my works.” He meticulously works out timbral effects, often calling for playing techniques unused in the West – or even elsewhere – and creatively incorporating uncommon sound sources: toy instruments, breaking glass, dripping water. That seems more subtle than it sometimes sounds, for subtlety and beauty are not always his goal – showing the extremes is more important. “My music is about extremes: strict purity versus distortion, loud against soft.” For example, he lets a beautiful violin tone fade into scratching, and in his Bandoneon Concerto, the solo instrument instead of being tango-like, sounds at times like “a worn-out dog”. While his music is rich in tone colour, Jeths is frugal with his musical material. He limits himself to a few motifs and presents them from varying perspectives until they are (as his composition teacher Tristan Keuris would say) “run down”.


Willem Jeths (1959) first studies music education at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam. Disappointed, he transfers to the Utrecht Conservatory and there studies composition with Hans Kox and later Tristan Keuris.


He simultaneously studies musicology at the University of Amsterdam.


He composes Procurans Odium, an orchestral piece that divides the ensemble into five groups of twelve strings. With each musician playing a separate part, and through the use of canonic techniques, sound clouds result. The work is an early example of what would become a mainstay of Jeths' music: using a limited amount of material presented in various forms.

1986 - 1988

He writes Novelette for violin and piano, in which he distances himself from Keuris' influence (but wins Keuris' praise). In 1988 he graduates from the Utrecht Conservatory and is awarded the Prize for Composition.

1990 - 1991

Novelette is one of the compositions selected for the ISCM World Music Days in Oslo. Jeths completes his musicological studies with a thesis on the 19th-century composer Elisabeth Kuyper. It is published in the book Zes vrouwelijke componisten [Six Female Composers], Zutphen, Walburg Pers, 1991.

Elisabeth Kuyper


He writes Glenz. In this unconventional violin concerto, interaction between the soloist and orchestra is enriched by a seperate ensemble of nine strings that continuously casts the solo violin's statements in a different sound perspective.


Jeths' receives international recognition when he wins second place (for Glenz) and third place (for his Piano Concerto of 1994) at the international Vienna Composition Competition. On the jury are such distinguished figures as Friedrich Cerha, Franco Donatoni, Gérard Grisey, Wolfgang Rihm en Lothar Knessl.


Theater Lantaren/Venster in Rotterdam organizes a three-day Willem Jeths Festival. Various soloists and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra perform twelve works, among them the premiere of his cello concerto Fas-Nefas. The solist is Frances-Marie Uitti. The Kronos Quartet commissions a piece from Jeths.


The Bandoneon Concerto is premiered during the Holland Festival, performed by Per Arne Glorvigen, to whom it is dedicated, and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Micha Hamel.


The Flugelhorn Concerto, commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, is premiered in September with Peter Masseurs as soloist.

2004 - 2005

The Kronos Quartet premieres the (third) string quartet they commissioned, Intus Trepidare. Jeths is the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra's composer-in-residence this year and composes the commisioned orchestral piece Seanchai. In addition, he is the Brabant Orchestra's composer-in-residence and composes the clarinet concerto Yellow Darkness. Subsequently, he is the composer-in-residence at De Doelen concert hall in Rotterdam. For the reopening of the renovated Filharmonie concert hall in Haarlem, he writes Ombre Cinesi, a piece for symphony orchestra that is a study for his developing opera Hôtel de Pékin.

2006 - 2007

He becomes a composition teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory. The Schönberg Ensemble commissions him to write a piece for two violas and orchestra. Meme is based on an idea from his developing opera Hôtel de Pékin. This season he is the composer-in-residence of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.


The opera Hôtel de Pékin (Dreams for a Dragon Queen), with a libretto by Friso Haverkamp, is premiered by the Nationale Reisopera on November 21 at the opening of the Muziekkwartier hall in Enschede. The opera recounts the life of the last empress of the Great Empire, Cixi (still a controversial figure in China). The nature of the character created by Jeths and Haverkamp conflicts with the current, censored historical account in China, making a performance in Shanghai unlikely for the time being. The viola concerto Meme is selected by Toonzetters as one of the best pieces of the 2007 season.


The Second Violin Concerto is premiered in the Saturday Matinee series at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on May 22 by Tasmin Little, violin, and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw. In September, Jeths is a jury member during the Gaudeamus Music Week. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra commissions him to write a piece for the Mahler concerts. Scale is premiered on December 9, conducted by Ed Spanjaard.

Discography Willem Jeths

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

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