Jacob ter Veldhuis' classical music-multimedia compositions have been compared to Andy Warhol's pop art, and the man better known as JacobTV couldn't be more pleased.
JacobTV composes for orchestra, ensembles and quartets and, with visual artists Kristien Kerstens and Jan Boiten, creates multimedia experiences like "The News," which has its world premiere at the Byham Theater Friday night as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Distinctively Dutch Festival.
When the invitation to Pittsburgh was delivered, JacobTV made an immediate connection between his pop culture inspirations and Pittsburgh native Warhol. His work also hit home with The Andy Warhol Museum's Off the Wall series, which is a co-presenter of "The News."
"The News" is an example of how musical presentations have caught up with the way Mr. Warhol presented art.
"There was no musical means to capture a sound bite in the '60s the way Andy could capture an image, and it took until the '80s that composers could capture sound bites and manipulate them," the 60-year-old composer said by phone from Amsterdam. "So it's technique that made it possible for composers to do the same thing."
Mr. Boiten, also the lighting designer for "The News," is a devotee of the artist. "He's totally influenced by Andy Warhol. So you will probably recognize the use of colors, the bright conflicting colors ... Andy would combine bright colors like nobody before him would have thought to combine them. I was inspired by that, and also inspired by the fact that he used ready-mades, like the Brillo boxes and the soup cans."
Sound bites like "beachcomber" and "citizen of the world" describe the inspirations that influence JacobTV's concepts. A stroll along the beach might spark an idea, or he might be walking against the wind in Chicago, which is where he was in 2009 when he conceived "The News."
"My ears were freezing off, it was very cold, and there I passed a television studio with glass walls and you could look inside. We don't have that in Europe. You saw the anchor sitting there, surrounded by cameras and technicians and there, in a split second, I knew it. This world is so fascinating: infotainment, media, manipulation, news that is being made up, etc. I knew right then, I'm going to make an opera about news, media, politics, social scenes, the Third World, about populism, celebrities, about this whole world of media that is now a worldwide roller coaster of so-called news."
Stars of the show are listed as "President Obama, Putin, Mubarak, Berlusconi, the Pope, Dutch Queen Beatrix, Lady Gaga, Michael Moore, Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin, Sarkozy, demonstrators from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street and more." A screen projects scenes of war, politics, disasters, celebrities, high society and scandal, all to the accompaniment of the Fulcrum Point New Music Ensemble of Chicago and two singing "news anchors," soprano Josefien Stoppelenberger and alto Lori Cutler. The next stop after the work debuts here is the Windy City on May 4.
In choosing video clips from hundreds of hours of news and interview shows, JacobTV thought about how a journalist must choose sound bites because whole interviews are not an option. In his work, though, he considered the image in artistic terms, including the musicality of voice.
"I'm a composer, I'm not a philosopher, not a journalist. The beauty is I can be a bit of a poet because I use the footage from the news and I manipulate it, like journalists do, too. You have to, and the result is, what is reality? It's in the eye of the beholder."
In a case where the images come first, as in "The News," the visual helps to dictate the sound.
"I write a lot of music for saxophone, it has to do with my roots. I grew up with rock 'n' roll and jazz, and I find the saxophone so versatile, it is like the human voice. It can be harsh, it can be gentle, it can be sweet, it can whisper, it can cry, it can do everything. It has a soul, like every musical instrument. A saxophone is very powerful, very expressive. There are three saxophones in the band."
Although this is a world premiere, it's not the first time JacobTV's work has been heard in Pittsburgh. He said Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble flutist Lindsey Goodman and composer and pianist David Cutler, a professor at Duquesne University, have interpreted his work.
The composer, who splits his time between a New York City apartment and a woodsy suburb of Amsterdam, readily admitted his longtime obsession with American media, which has morphed into a fascination with global media.
He described watching the Rome Olympics as a boy growing up in Holland, and he was hooked. His pop-star name, though, came from a musical source.
"In 2003 I was in Manhattan rehearsing with a band, Electric Company, and we were having a break, and two guys were talking about 'Mr. TV.' And I said, 'Who's that?' And one of the guys said, 'That's you, man. We can't pronounce your name so we call you JacobTV.' "
He told the story to his record company, which at the time was preparing a box set of his work, and they were delighted with the idea of the composer creating a unique brand. Plus, Jacob ter Veldhuis said, his Dutch name is difficult to pronounce in many other languages.
"It's so apt, since the media is my inspiration, so here I was in my early 50s, changing my name to JacobTV. It's really been great. I was in Tokyo and they can pronounce it and they can remember it, and that's also really important."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.