Cross-pollination and mutual inspiration

Throughout his life Adriaan Valk always meets the right people at the right time. It starts in his childhood, when he is musing on the waterfront – at a safe distance from the school. There he meets artist Jaap Stellaart, who tells the little ‘Adri’ exactly what he needs. When the 16-year-old Adriaan is standing behind the assembly line at the factory, desperate about the apparent futility of his existence, he sees a gentleman walking on the street with a bass tuba. Suddenly he realizes his deepest wish: music! He runs after the man and ends up at Harmonie Apollo in Zaandijk, where he gets an old, rickety alto saxophone. Soon the chaplain recognizes his special tone and lets him solo.

The rest is history. Adriaan inspires others and others inspire him.

The Iona Saxophone Quartet was founded in 1991 and consisted of Vincent Bergervoet (soprano saxophone), Annelies Hendriks (alto saxophone), Esther van den Berg (tenor saxophone) and Johan Kloosterhuis (baritone saxophone). Their goal was a fusion of spirituality and musical-technical control. Iona used the music and ideas of Adriaan Valk for this. The mythology and minerals of the island of Iona and the close relationship with the quartet Iona inspired him to create characteristic compositions. One example is the ‘Mineralcycle’ of the saxophone quartet, which he described as ‘an attempt to capture the individualities of these ‘slow-living’ stones in sounds. The music is sometimes meditative, sometimes very rhythmic. For an extra dimension, the Senegalese martyr drummers Pape Seck and Mousse M’Baye were introduced, with whom Iona regularly collaborated.

The first actor with whom Adriaan Valk collaborates is Henk van Ulsen (1927-2009). They met in 1975, since they were both guests in the program ‘Onder de bomen op het plein’ by Wim Ibo. Adriaan: ‘After the performance I was drawn to Henk in one way or another. I said cautiously:  We should collaborate…’ Henk looked up and said only: ‘That will be about time, do not you think?’

‘Honorable invitation for 23-year-old Koger’, headlines a regional daily newspaper. Conservatory student Adriaan Valk may play tenor saxophone with the Royal Orchestra. Because the promising guest conductor Edo de Waart (24) himself said that he wants to have Adriaan. Mind you, this is a happening of international allure: the Holland Festival 1967. And the Aeschylus’ tragedy ‘Prometheus’, for this occasion music provided by Jan van Vlijmen. Erik Vos is the director. Big actors adorn the poster: Albert van Dalsum, André van den Heuvel, Margreet Blanken…

But that’s not all. A few months later, Adriaan also participated in ‘Lulu’ by Alban Berg, a production of ‘De Nederlandse Operastichting’. Once again with the Royal Orchestra. 1967 is a year of great significance for ‘Adri’, the lonely provincial that blew its very first tones as a 16-year-old – on a very old saxophone from Harmonie Apollo in Zaandijk.

In 1994 Adriaan Valk and ‘his’ Iona Quartet worked together with director/theater maker Dea Koert in the production ‘A Hairy Locomotion’. Koert derived the title from a painting by the Spanish / Mexican surrealistic Remedios Varo (1908-1963). The performance would become a trilogy about Varo’s life and work. Dea Koert knew immediately that she wanted Adriaan Valk: ‘I had seen him at work at Schokland with Henk van Ulsen. And I was deeply impressed by those long lines and the space in his music.’ ‘A Hairy Locomotion’ was tailored to one specific location: the Broerenkerk (a 15th century hall church) in Zwolle. The saxophonists of the Iona Quartet were assigned their own characters.

Valk music lends itself perfectly to theater and film, says Dea Koert. ‘To me, Adriaan is really a conceptual artist. His music had a driving force in the creation of the performance. Look, as a theater maker you usually take the story as a starting point, with music and decor as underlining. But with ‘A Hairy Locomotion’ it also worked the other way around: sometimes the music was decisive for the storyline and the image.’

In 2009 film director Annegriet Wietsema made her documentary ‘Panta Rhei, the death of a building’. The National Monument Service had commissioned a report on the history and the demolition of the former Colonial Establishment in Amsterdam.

For the music Wietsema eagerly drew from Adriaan Valk’s oeuvre. ‘When I had all the footage, I thought: I want to completely edit this film on music. I knew five CDs from Adriaan and knew: that music just adds to this! ‘

‘For the editing of the film ‘Panta Rei’ I have eagerly drawn from Valk’s oeuvre. What I found so special is that Adriaan was immediately open to being able to cut and arrange my question. “Go ahead, make something beautiful!” You do not get that much freedom, since many artists make it a condition that their work remains completely intact.

Film director and television producer Camille P. Verbunt has collaborated on several occasions with Adriaan Valk. In 2007 he put fragments from Adriaans ‘Aquamarijnkwartet’ under his short film about the Van Nelle factory, an assignment from the municipality of Rotterdam. In 2001 he already made ‘The Way to Heaven’; a TV documentary by the AVRO, with art historian Henk van Os. Adriaan wrote the music for that. At first I thought: ‘what a strange man’. That ‘strange’ became ‘fascinating’, and what fascinated me I learned to understand.’

‘Adriaans music is like the composer himself: not always easy to fathom. But those who take the time to listen, discover a very layered and challenging sound world. Adriaans music evokes abstract images on my part. And yet, on the other hand, she lets herself be combined very well with existing images.’

In 1977 Adriaan Valk broke through nationally, thanks to a radio interview with VPRO presenter Han Reiziger. There he plays the Small Suite by Géza Frid (1904-1989), together with Henk van Ulsen (declamation) and Marina Horak (piano). Frid was Hungarian by birth and had studied at Béla Bartók himself in Budapest. His Small Suite he wrote specifically for Adriaan, in the occupation of alto sax, piano and voice. Géza Frid becomes the one who gives Adriaan the decisive boost to a career as a composer.

The child Adriaan receives a spartan, dogmatic upbringing within a communist working class family. But when he is six years old, his non-conformism manifests itself. After a few days of primary school, he decides to avoid the education system as much as possible. He preferred listening to the life lessons of eccentric neighbor: painter Jaap Stellaart (1920-1992). Stellaart reads the truanting boy Krishnamurti. He gives Adriaan the advice that stays with him for life: “Boy, you are a free soul. Remember that you will not try anything later! You can not become anything, you are already there.”

Cees Valk (1938) is not only Adriaans biological brother, but also an art brother: ‘Adriaan makes music and I make paintings. Because we can not do otherwise. ‘The painter and the composer regularly exchange ideas about the art profession. I think Adriaan is a genius. But music is also so wonderfully abstract. Sound goes beyond words and also beyond paint. If I could ever make a painting that is as beautiful as music … ” Two ‘seekers’ – the term both brothers regard as applicable. Cees Valk: “That’s the word. Back to yourself. We both really like that. The moment you think you can put us in a box, we jump to something else. That’s in us.”

In 1999 the Senegalese percussionists Pape Seck and Mousse Pathé M’Baye participated in the intercultural project ‘Experience’. The CD of the same name became a collage of improvisations and meditations; a synthesis of Western European classical music and African primeval rhythms. Pape Seck describes his memories poetically: ‘For me, ‘Experience’ was like as when we were children, playing in the woods. As a voyage of discovery where every sound evokes feelings of tension. Adriaan took us to a new world, to another planet with and own nature, full of strange animals and birds … We felt like a dream.’

A separate experience was the lack of a fixed rhythm. ‘We Africans are used to one specific rhythm continuously. Now we suddenly got the freedom of what you think, play impulsively. I learned a lot from that. ‘

“Adriaan and I could find each other in music. He needs a lot of stories to explain what he wants. I’m not like that. But he encouraged me to answer through my music. “

‘The performance and recordings for the CD’ Experience ‘, felt like playing children in an unknown nature, a forest with strange animals and birds. It was innovative and challenging, a voyage of discovery. Look, we Africans are used to a continuous, determined rhythm. Now we got the freedom of: that which you think, play impulsively. There was a new kind of music: Afro-classical.’


'Adriaan and I have been a fan of each other's work for years. He composes not only very spiritually and emotionally, but also extremely danceable; something you can not say about all music. As soon as I hear Adriaan's music, I immediately get movement on my retina.'

Nils Christe, choreographer

Danced in 1996 Christes' solo 'Angle of Attack', with music by Adriaan. She is now also a choreographer: 'Only now do I realize that this music is so useful due to its transparency and a strongly repetitive factor. Adriaan Valk creates a separate world. But at the same time he offers the choreographer every opportunity to speak his own language above it.'

Neel Verdoorn, ballerina and choreographer

'Adriaan's music easily fits under film. Especially the rhythm is very nice to mount on.'

Bernadette Geels, filmmaker