Derck Littel, cellist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I started to learn the ‘cello from the age of 7 – now I’ve been playing for 50 years and never regretted a moment!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Besides my teacher at the conservatorium of Amsterdam, Harro Ruysenaars, cellists like Colin Carr, Anner Bijlsma and Misha Maisky.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The change from my position as 2nd principal in the ‘Orkest van het Oosten’ to freelance cellist in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. I played there for 18 years, but then decided to study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. After graduation, I continued my studies at the Royal College of Art in London and I hope graduate with a Masters in Sound Design this year.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

With the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra we made hundreds of live recordings and some are quite outstanding. Strauss’ Heldenleben with Mariss Jansons for example.

After my shift to the art world I made several live recordings with my friend Robin Koek that resulted in a CD with improvised cello and electronics, alternated with the parts of the 6th Suite by Bach.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The CD is the most personal work I made, performing live in an art installation. It is also the most challenging as nothing is guaranteed when you play live, but if you succeed in ‘touching’ your audience it is the most rewarding. After Gordon Pask in ‘the architectural relevance of Cybernetics’ 1969, I think that ‘[music] cannot be viewed simply in isolation. It is only meaningful in a human environment’.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

In that notion lies the connection to my sound installations and other work at the art academy. Like music, art should convey meaning and not only be entertaining. So generally my work has more layers. For example my work “Kristallnacht’ was made for the remembrance day of the Night of the Long Knives and consists of an installation of 14 grey speakers that only play their natural [unwanted] 60 Hz hum when grounded.

They could have had a voice…..To that sound I improvise on the cello.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

The Concertgebouw is of course Holland’s most cherished music temple and I enjoyed playing there very much. Other halls I like very much are the Carnegie Hall and the Musik Verein in Vienna, places we played many times when touring. Nowadays I play in all sorts of alternative places. I performed at the opening of the Design Museum in London, in the V&A museum, but also at Manchester University and IRCAM in Paris. The nice thing is that you encounter a different audience than at mainstream classical concerts when performing with electronics and cello.

Who are your favourite musicians?

For different reasons I admire Ernst Reiziger, Mistlav Rostropovich, Robin Koek and Jordi Savall

What is your most memorable concert experience?

After my Masters graduation in Amsterdam, I was offered a job by someone in the audience. He was leader of a Jewish chamber music ensemble. For several years I played in that group and we gave countless concerts, mainly in Germany, giving voice to in sound – without reproach or hate – a cultural heritage that once existed but is hardly there anymore. Some of these concerts and encounters were very emotional. Since than I realized what music can do and mean.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Music is never a guarantee for success as it shouldn’t be a routine. The challenge is to reach out to people. If that succeeds that is the best you can have, no matter what kind of music you play or for how many people.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Quite simply, playing an instrument, the cello, demands a lifetime commitment if you want to make it to the stage.  Young musicians should take that into account. I practice every day and that is rewarding in itself, but my music should be social before it is technical.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Going on performing in different combinations with different people. I hope to be physical able to do so

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

When all aspects of music as pointed out here come together [and that is quite difficult]

What is your most treasured possession?

I own 2 celli, a Panormo from 1827 and a baroque cello by Rombouts from 1698.

These are my babies.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m very happy with my family. We are all into music. My daughter studies Singing at the Royal Conservatorium of The Hague, my wife is a singer too and at times we make music together. Sometimes it is difficult to study abroad but it’s just a few more months to my graduation now.


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