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Ties Mellema receives the Netherlands Music Prize

Nov 10


AMSTERDAM – On Sunday afternoon 14 November the saxophonist Ties Mellema will receive the Netherlands Music Prize in Eindhoven. The Netherlands Music Prize is the most prestigious government award for musicians the Netherlands has. It is nothing short of a miracle that Ties Mellema has been awarded this prize. Two years ago he fell and his right wrist landed on an espresso cup. An artery, tendon and nerve were severed. He thought he would never play again. Did this mean he should revert to plan B and become a postman?

For a long time he didn’t have the use of his right hand, as his muscle function was reduced to a fraction of what it was before. There are such things as piano concertos for the left hand and so Ties Mellema asked all the composers he knew, to compose pieces for the saxophone for the left hand. The result was an extraordinary repertoire which also featured on his CD ‘On The Other Hand. There is even one composition with one tone. But although this physical impairment opened up new worlds, it was far from ideal.


Whether or not his right hand will ever fully recover, no one knows. But at the moment Mellema can already play Otto Ketting’s ‘Medusa’ for alto saxophone and orchestra again. It’s a composition which will hear of no impediment: the composer wrote it for Leo Oostrom and the Dutch Metropole Orchestra in 1992. Mellema will be performing the piece with the Brabant Orchestra on Sunday, during the final concert of a three day festival honouring the work of Otto Ketting. He will also give a rendition of the ‘Sequenza VIIb’ (1993) for soprano saxophone by Luciano Berio. And then: the Netherlands Music Prize.

This prize is only granted to the country’s top musicians. They must take an entrance exam and after completing a two year course the jury decides whether or not the candidate in question is worthy of the award. Mellema was awarded an extra year, due to his set back, and then passed.

The Netherlands Music Prize was initiated in 1981 and is awarded less than once a year. Former winners include the pianist Ronald Brautigam, the cellist Pieter Wispelwey and the violinists Janine Jansen and Liza Ferschtman. Ties Mellema is the third saxophonist to receive the prestigious award, after Olga de Roos (1987) and Arno Bornkamp (1991), which is remarkable, as some instruments have yet to be selected. As for instance the organ. Or the guitar and the recorder, although that is about to change as Izhar Elias and Erik Bosgraaf, respectively, are to receive the Music Prize. Another elected musician still awaiting his award ceremony is the baritone Henk Neven.

In keeping with tradition the award is presented by the minister of education, culture and science, emphasising the status it holds. It will keep Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart occupied over the coming months.

The Dutch Music Prize: the winners

1981 Hans Roelofsen, contrabass

1984 Jard van Nes, vocals

1984 Ronald Brautigam, piano

1985 Wout Oosterkamp, vocals

1987 Martijn van den Hoek, piano

1987 Olga de Roos, saxophone

1988 Jacob Slagter, horn

1989 Theodora Geraets, violin

1991 Arno Bornkamp, saxophone

1992 Pieter Wispelwey, cello

1993 Manja Smits, harp

1994 Quirine Viersen, cello

1995 Godelieve Schrama, harp

1997 Geert Smits, vocals

1999 Pauline Oostenrijk, oboe

2003 Janine Jansen, violin

2004 Jörgen van Rijen, trombone

2006 Liza Ferschtman, violin

2007 Gwyneth Wentink, harp

2008 Christianne Stotijn, vocals

2009 Bram van Sambeek, bassoon

2009 Lavinia Meijer, harp

2010 Ties Mellema, saxophone