there goes the pianist Thomas Beijer, to his ‘breakthrough moment’


Thomas Beijer at the piano just before his performance in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.Picture Erik Smits

11.45: ‘Are you actually looking forward to it’
Thomas Beijer writes…
11:45: “Yes. But. Give a concert first
11.46: ‘The good news is that almost no one knows Escher’s music. Neither does Manuel de Falla. So you don’t need to practice that
Thomas Beijer writes…
11:47 AM: Wow. Get out of my mind, Cemetery. As in: that’s exactly what I’m thinking too’

It is Sunday morning, December 18 and Thomas Beijer (34), pianist, composer, writer, artist, but today a pianist, stands for the most important achievement of his career. Tonight at 20.15 he plays a solo recital in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. This time yes.

It was big news in the classical music world when it became known that Beijer was allowed to appear in Meesterpianisten, a series with status because only the world’s greats played. Dutch pianists were few (four). And now Beijer could join that list with piano phenomena like Alfred Brendel and Martha Argerich. The concert was originally planned for March 21, 2021. Beijer had selected a special repertoire, Arcana by Rudolf Escher (1912-1980). But the promoter who rented the Concertgebouw for Sunday evenings had to stop because of financial problems. The corona crisis gave the final push.

Beijer told the paper that it could have been ‘some kind of breakthrough moment’. His manager was already inviting impresarios from all corners of the universe to watch him work. Today’s breakthrough.

Disclaimer

The Concertgebouw decided to create its own piano series on Sunday evenings and to enhance the atmosphere of the Master Pianists series with the always dimmed lights, approach as much as possible. The new name: Great pianists. And now Beijer is playing in Grote Pianisten, and he might break through after all.

We asked if we could follow him until he descends the famous Concertgebouw stairs. Of course. On a.

Thomas Beijer in the antechamber of the Concertgebouw.  Picture Erik Smits

Thomas Beijer in the antechamber of the Concertgebouw.Picture Erik Smits

First, a disclaimer. A friendship between a reviewer and a performer who also performs so often that there are hardly any evenings left to meet with is of course almost impossible, but it is also impossible not to become friends with Thomas Beijer. Since our last interview, in 2020, we have app daily. I am calling.

The time is 16:30. Stir the beige in a Le Creuset pan over medium heat. He is making a vegetarian lasagna, in advance for tonight, for the after-party at home; today you can’t eat anywhere after eleven in the catering industry in Amsterdam, and he prefers not to eat beforehand for an evening concert anyway. Many friends and family are expected here tonight. And his partner, the most beautiful woman in Slovenia (not his words).

Beijer’s cooking tip: You must first crush the garlic with your knife to release the juice, and only then finely chop it. Do not use regular paprika, but smoked paprika in combination with lentils, and you will never hear meat eaters complain that there is no meat in your sauce. Yes, he just chops with those knives on a concert day. Did you know that Maria João Pires once had to cancel a concert in Master Pianists because she cut herself on the leg while cooking a fish? None?

Remain calm

Beijer is the ‘spotlight artist’ at the Concertgebouw this season, so the marketing department wanted to make a video of him. In a showcase is a large mask off Star warsfigure Darth Vader. Beijer suggested that he put on a suit, that they would film him from the bottom up, and that they would then see him playing the piano with that Darth Vader mask on. Very strange, but they didn’t like that. “That mask has nothing to do with your game.” Yes, that is true, but for Beijer there is no reason not to do it.

Does he have rituals on a day like today? Not that. However, there are things he knows he shouldn’t do on a concert day: planning an activity that requires his full attention, e.g. Don’t draw, don’t write a chapter (the promised book of essays on music is still a long way off). He doesn’t listen to music. He just doesn’t need that. There is already enough music in his head, the pieces he is going to play tonight.

We were supposed to leave at 5 p.m., but it’s already a quarter past one and Beijer is still quietly sucking on his electronic cigarette. He turns off the heat under the pot and takes out a black leather bag. The contents: the scores (Chopins Third Piano Sonatathat Six moments of music from Schubert, Cuatro piezas españolas from Manuel de Falla and them Arcana that is – a masterpiece, according to Beijer). A comb, a suit, shoes, a nut bar.

You have to keep calm. He played the piano, but it was to make it feel good to play. If he had had to study something today, had to get a run in his fingers, he would have been late anyway. In fact, a concert starts months in advance. Tradition dictates that a concert like tonight be played from memory. Thousands of notes, all the musical lines that he has to internalize: compared to that, the actor who has to learn Hamlet has it easy. With the encores added, that’s nearly two hours of music.

Axes in the trunk

He once had that Chopin sonata a long time ago practiced, to his surprise it turned out that quite a lot of it still stuck. But if you rely on your motor skills, on muscle memory, you will be screwed in a concert. The body and head must know the music. When do you know if it’s good enough? A difficult passage must be played ten times in a row, with the ticking metronome. If it fails the ninth time, you start over. The fear of memory is always there, the fear of forgetting something.

In his barn, which has been converted into a studio, behind his ground-floor apartment, he has been imagining it for weeks: now I am sitting in the Concertgebouw, on the big stage, with the lights dimmed. But he does not want to reproduce what he found in the investigation; then it won’t be a fun concert.

We really have to go now, although Beijer himself seems less aware of it. He asks Siri in English to turn off the lights and off we go. We go to Slurpie.

Slurpie, Thomas Beijer's Porsche.  Picture Erik Smits

Slurpie, Thomas Beijer’s Porsche.Picture Erik Smits

Slurpie: that’s the name of his gray Porsche Cayman-S, built in 2006. If Wibi Soerjadi has a Daimler DS420, can’t Thomas Beijer have a Posche Cayman-S? Although friends say Beijer doesn’t care about image, he thought for a moment: should Slurpie be in the paper? It’s not like he has that much money. Rather, it’s a matter of prioritizing – and forgetting that another tax bill is coming and you need to have some cash on hand. The slurp isn’t too bad either: it runs 1 to 12.

The car is undoubtedly the most beautiful on this canal, which can also be mistaken for a ditch, in the western part of Amsterdam. Beijer opens the trunk. What the hell! There are four axes in it. He sees it as four newborn puppies. From Sweden, handmade, with the blacksmith’s coat of arms. Once in a while he and friends cut down dead trees on a property in ‘s-Graveland, then he comes back to nature. Okay, we really have to go now.

The photographer, Erik Smits, has a request: whether he can photograph us in the car. The recording lasts two minutes. For the first time I see stress in Thomas Beijer: not stress for his performance, but stress for the traffic jam caused by those on the canal. Two cars are waiting behind us. Three. Four. Shit.

Career broken!

5:27 p.m.: We’re finally leaving. This could have been a very exciting story if it had actually gone black as predicted. Stuck in Amsterdam West! Thomas Beijer too late for life-changing concert! The career is now really broken! But no, Slurpie can just drive on. All cyclists step aside in awe.

It is important that the friends are there, he says: then he feels the support. Only Marco Riaskoff, the impresario who invented Mesterpianists and gave him the chance, is not there (sick in bed), and Beijer is disappointed. What separated master pianists from great pianists? The impresario himself, his presence, his stories.

Earlier this week, Beijer was allowed to choose a piano. He played for an hour and a half in the Grote Zaal, testing the new Steinway that the Concertgebouw has bought. I liked the old Steinway a little better: a little softer, more pastel colors, important for Schubert’s vulnerable tones. The new one – serial number D-620490 – is brighter.

We arrive at 17.38. The doorman lets us put the Slurpie next to the artist entrance. I’m worried that I feel so calm, says Beijer. The doorman has more nerves: France has just drawn 2-2 in the World Cup final, he bet his money on the French.

The producer Stephan in a nice checkered suit greets Beijer and gives him the key to the antechamber, where the pianist can change. Does he still need an ironing board? Nah. In the antechamber, with a meter-high mirror, there is a small Steinway that Beijer can play on; there are three white towels on it. He plays his scores on the piano and changes his clothes. Manager Ydeleine, just inside, looks the other way. Beijer opens the window to blow some more e-cigarette smoke into the Amsterdam air and asks the photographer if he doesn’t want to take too many pictures of it, because Beijer’s grandmother (90) doesn’t like him smoking. She’s coming tonight too.

Thomas Beijer walks down the famous Concertgebouw stairs.  Picture Erik Smits

Thomas Beijer walks down the famous Concertgebouw stairs.Picture Erik Smits

The piano is lifted onto the stage in the Grote Zaal, Beijer can finally start warming up. Problem: There is still an annoying shadow on the keys, which makes black and white difficult to distinguish in low light. Beijer shuts himself off from the technicians and other audience members and continues to play his pieces. From now on I will not disturb him.

At 19.15 he finishes and goes towards the antechamber to retire. Now I see that look again under our self-created traffic jam: that stress.

As I walk down the hall past the antechamber, I can hear little Steinway through the walls, so unsentimental yet imaginative, and crystal clear. I haven’t heard him play live since the last interview. Maybe I forgot who I was dealing with in the meantime, I didn’t see him enough as a pianist because he has so many other talents. But this is very very good. We are contemporaries of Thomas Beijer, dear people. We must realize that.

Listen?

The concert will be broadcast on Radio 4 on 20/12 at 20. Afterwards it can be listened to at radio4.nl.

CV Thomas Beijer

1988 – born in Haarlem
1996 – starts playing the piano
2002 – young talent class at the conservatory in Amsterdam
2008 – soloist with Residentie Orkest, debut CD (Brahms)
2011 – graduates with highest honors with teacher Jan Wijn
2011 – says he escaped a six meter saltwater crocodile in Australia
2017 – novel No jalapeños appears with Prometheus
2020 – writes song cycle A lock without a key
2022 – receives Dutch music award for proven talent, premiere of his jazz violin concerto, release of Mozart album with Nicolas van Poucke

Thomas Beijer lives in Amsterdam.

Leave a Comment