Impressions of a performance of Theo Verbey’s Sonatine

07 Mar 2024

Written by: Robert Oosterhuis

Published in: Newsletter

On a cold and drizzly afternoon, on Sunday the 21st of January 2024, a few dozen people gathered for a concert at The Blue Building (Het Blauwe Pand) in Zaandam, a creative venue with ateliers and all sorts of activities for the neighborhood. The concert was organized by bassoon and saxophone player JanWillem van der Ham around a composition by Theo Verbey that had recently been rediscovered by the Theo Verbey Foundation. JanWillem, a friend of Theo’s from 1982 until 2019, was eager to perform this composition that Theo had written when he was only seventeen. Deuss Music recently published this work in print, and JanWillem had received a copy for his birthday. So, the piece was there, waiting to be performed: a Sonatine for bassoon and double bass, written in 1976 to celebrate the marriage of Nel van Waert and Diemer de Vries.

The short concert was attended by friends and acquaintances, most of whom are artists and musicians themselves. JanWillem confessed that this made him more nervous than during an ordinary concert. But the atmosphere was very relaxed, and everybody was curious to hear what Theo had composed as a young man of seventeen. The program of the concert was constructed around Theo’s piece and contained four other short pieces: Jo Beijersbergen van Henegouwen: Three autumn impressions (arranged for contrabassoon and double bass); Erwin Schulhoff: Basnachtigall (for contrabassoon solo); Francesco Geminiani: Sonata for bassoon and double bass, and Ignacio Cervantes: Los tres golpes (for bassoon and double bass). JanWillem played the concert together with double bass player Sylvia Maessen.

The listeners could hear for themselves that the Sonatine was “vintage Verbey”, as the foreword to the score put it, containing: “humor, canon and rhythmic playfulness”. You could also hear a bit of Stravinsky, something that JanWillem pointed out to me afterwards in the score. Diemer de Vries, the double bass player for whom Theo wrote the piece so may years ago, was also in the audience. He told me that back then, when Theo couldn’t sleep, he mentally created orchestral arrangements of pieces by Stravinsky. In this way Theo made a virtue out of a necessity and he also prepared himself for his future as an arranger and composer.

After the concert we all raised our glasses to toast the new year and Theo’s memory.