In Memoriam Roland Dyens

Roland Dyens at the Guitar Festival Nordhorn

Today, 30 october 2016, I got the message that the guitarist and composer Roland Dyens had passed away suddenly.

My first acquaintance with Roland Dyens was via his compositions. My then guitar teacher Ed Westerik had brought in a copy of Tango en Skai and proposed that I gave it a try. He had studied the piece in his own conservatory years and it had helped him with mastering a few techniques.

I started to study cheerfully, yet oh my, the piece was difficult! I have a tendency towards control during playing, which can work out counterproductive while playing music. Quite a few passages from this piece, for example the scale passage in measure 5 and the ornamentation in measure 7, require a liberty that you have to permit to yourself. Any attempt to control the situation removes the tempo and the easy-going atmosphere. To achieve this approach, you have to study hard to get some control, and study even harder to find the courage to let it go!

I never finished this piece, unfortunately.

Another guitar teacher of mine, Robert Horna, is a passionate fan of Dyens’ music and likes to perform it. In this way, he plays for instance Songe Capricorne en Saudade Nr. 3 in an inimitable manner. A combination of the genius of the composer and the skills and empathy of the player. This brilliant swing and deep emotion of Saudade! Wow…

It is so weird: In fact, at this moment I am writing down a Saudade for Roland Dyens himself. In characters…

I have had the pleasure to hear him playing live twice, and to “meet” him once via the written interview that he participated in for my anniversary book Feast on Six Strings, Five Years Guitar Festival Nordhorn (at the moment I am making it ready for publication).

The first time that I heard him play was at the Twente Guitar Festival in Enschede in 2008. He was a quiet person, at times almost tranquil and deep in thought. Yet he had a sharp view on his environment, observing it eagle-eyed. His concert was an experience, it was the way that he tasted the atmosphere in the hall during the first pieces that he played in order to connect to it, it was the way that he succeeded to invite the audience to participate in it.

In a subtle way, he conveyed the audience the right attitude to enjoy the music. This particularly applied to the nuisances on the balcony in the Concordia Theatre that thought that it was necessary to audibly comment on his playing on the fly, disturbing the experience for the others. He dropped his playing volume such, that the chatterboxes soon found out that they were disturbing the atmosphere. The curious fact was that his eloquence in the music remained unchanged. The dynamics in his play were independent of his playing volume to a large extent.

The second time that I heard him was on the Guitar Festival Nordhorn in 2012. As a consequence of the small scale of this festival, the atmosphere is pleasantly intimate, and you meet the artists more “in the wild”. Here I saw him quiet and deep in thought at times as well, yet by his glance I could recognize that he felt at home here and enjoyed the festival atmosphere. A fact that he acknowledged in the written interview later.

One of the highlights on that festival was his performance of Tango en Skai, dedicated to Fred Rootveld, member of the loyal support crew for a few editions of the Twente Guitar Festival and all of the Guitar Festival Nordhorn. Both had met on that occasion and become friends.

Next year -2017- Roland Dyens was bound to play again on the Guitar Festival Nordhorn. It is sad that this will not happen now…

My “meeting” in writing with him was a special experience. As an inexperienced interviewer, I had asked an interview with him for the book Feast on Six Strings, Five Years Guitar Festival Nordhorn. He was one of the first with a positive reaction to join in. He answered my questions in a personal manner and indicated my journalistic blunders in subtle way with a very personal and mild humour. That’s a positive way to learn as an amateur!

His response (Bravo…) after I sent him a concept of the book was a great encouragement for me personally.

He has passed away… What is left to me are the encounters with his music. The memories to his concerts and of course the CDs that he recorded. In particular, Nuages and the two CDs Chansons Francaises. Where else do you hear the remarkable contrast between Bachianas Brasileiras and Felicidade (both on Nuages) and the bright happiness that speaks from his interpretation of Felicidade? Where else do you hear the soul of the French Chanson more than in his arrangement and performance of La Chanson des Vieux Amants, Ne me quitte pas and the tender version of Plaisir d’Amour…?

His music has become a heritage now. Roland Dyens is no more… Yet his music and compositions will live on!

I wish his next of kin, beloved and friends, and the guitar world, lots of courage to cope with this loss.