Thursday morning, the news reached me that a Dutch colleague of mine had passed away. Even though Otto Ketting was 77 years old, the news saddened me. I knew Otto personally since about 1988, when we were in a project together. He was a funny guy, both in the sense that he had an interesting sense of humour, but could also be very acerbic. How many composers can you think of that complain about the performance, after the Concertgebouw Orchestra has performed their composition on tour in America? I guess he had very high standards, and not only for the Concertgebouw Orchestra but for himself as well. Not only was he a composer, but a very active conductor as well as a writer. Reading his obituary, I realized how close I was to many of the ways he thought about music and musical life.
As a composer, he said, one has to actively fight for a better musical climate “A composer who sits alone at home is an absurdity”. He often criticized orchestras for their lack of attention to music composed by Dutch composers. And he had very few good words about cultural politics in the Netherlands. These are all issues that I have taken up in my various posts on boards of Dutch cultural institutes.
Twenty five years ago, Otto Ketting was chairman of GeNeCo. In a speech that he wrote celebrating the 75th anniversary of the composers’ union, he wrote to me directly saying that he hoped that the chairman of the board celebrating the 100th anniversary of the union would be relieved of the problems surrounding the Dutch music publishing house Donemus, which was set up by the Dutch composers after the Second World War. A few days before the 100th anniversary the news arrived that the government was completely cutting the subsidy to Donemus. I guess Otto’s cynicism towards cultural politics turned out to be deserved. I just hope that Dutch orchestras will continue to perform his compositions, as well as the many other deserving works by Otto’s colleagues.