Baroque to the Future: Daniel Rowland Lights Up Richter’s Take on Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’

Rowland—a member of the acclaimed Brodsky Quartet from 2007–2019—chose the Stift Festival Orchestra to record 'Recomposed: Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons"'

By Greg Cahill | From the May-June 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

Violinist Daniel Rowland founded the Stift International Music Festival in the bucolic Twente region of the Netherlands in 2005. Thus, it seems only natural that Rowland—a member of the acclaimed Brodsky Quartet from 2007–2019—would choose the Stift Festival Orchestra with which to record Recomposed: Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ by Max Richter on Challenge Records. “The Stift Festival Orchestra is a project very close to my heart,” Rowland notes. “For this recording, it was made up of several of my favorite musicians: dear friends, free spirits, virtuosos, and masterful musicians, as well as six brilliantly talented young musicians, each of them part of the Young Artist Program of the Stift Festival. The energy onstage was electric, and we’ve very much tried to keep the essence and spirit of a live recording.”

Max Richter Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Daniel Rowland, violin (Challenge Records)

Violinist Floor Le Coultre, who plays (along with Rowland, violist Dana Zemtsov, and cellist Maja Bogdanović) in the newly formed Arethusa Quartet, led the festival orchestra during the sessions.

Rowland’s pursuit of 20th- and 21st-century works has a deep personal connection. “My father was a wonderful avant-garde composer, and I grew up with the music of Boulez, Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, and Harrison Birtwistle being rehearsed at home, and I still really like that kind of music that for many people may sound rather challenging,” he says. “I think it maybe comes from seeing my father composing, for all those years, in the attic room in our house in the Dutch countryside: I have such immense respect for composers, and believe that it’s our mission as ‘mere’ performers to commission new works, to work with composers, as Rostropovich said, to ask, to coax, to beg, even to threaten composers into writing new works for us!”

Indeed, as a member of the Brodsky Quartet, as a soloist, and as director of the Stift Fest, Rowland has worked with such composers as Pēteris Vasks, Osvaldo Golijov, and Roxanna Panufnik, among others.

Strings asked about the Recomposed: Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ recording and Rowland’s love of modern classical music.

How and when did this project come about? 

This is a piece I’ve loved for quite a while. I performed it at my Stift Festival, which will celebrate its 20th edition in August, with the festival orchestra in ’22, and then in ’23 we performed it again, with very striking visuals by Cypriot visual artist Christos Constantinou. The recording was made in the Bethlehemkerk in Amsterdam [in Studio 150, a modern recording facility in Amsterdam-Noord], right after our performance at the Stift Festival. 


What drew you to Richter’s Four Seasons?

It has been a huge pleasure to record the brilliantly imaginative, totally captivating, and addictively energizing Seasons by Max Richter. I first performed them about ten years ago, and they have been a favorite of mine ever since—I love the way the music morphs in and out of Vivaldi, using Vivaldi’s brilliantly colorful and endlessly evocative music as a springboard and inspiration for a new masterwork, brimming with electric energy and shimmering soundscapes very much of our time. 

It’s a complex work. What are the challenges of mastering this reimagined composition?

Well, one has to really dive into the eclectic mix of styles: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons could easily be the most famous piece of classical music ever composed—the first piece of “programmatic music.” Vivaldi vividly depicts the joys, beauty, drama, sense of wonder, tremendous power, and endless fascination of the seasons—the birdsong, nymphs, and peasants dancing, the heat, the destructive storm, the pleasures of the harvest, the freezing cold winter, and all the joys that come with that. It is in many ways a groundbreaking, radical piece, one that by its fame has, as Richter tells it, “become part of the musical landscape and a part of my daily life.” 

In the 2012 album Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Richter completely recomposes and reinterprets Vivaldi’s beloved Baroque work. He approached his Vivaldi Recomposed project as both an admirer of Vivaldi and a composer. “Anything that a composer writes is part of a conversation with music that has gone before,” he says. Affection is an integral part of Vivaldi Recomposed. His “post-classical idiom” draws inspiration from influences like electronic music, punk, club music, psychedelic rock—the performers have to really be ready to highlight and revel in all these different styles and moods. The piece needs to be performed with total conviction and daring, otherwise it doesn’t really work.

Had you performed or recorded other works by Richter?


No, it’s really just this piece that I love to perform, and I am always struck by the huge appeal it has. Honestly, my musical tastes tend to be with a bit more hard-hitting contemporary composers, but I have to admit to a huge weakness for these Seasons—I never get tired of them! I think that with these Seasons, Max has struck gold, and I find them simply brilliant, colorful, exciting, and extremely effective, a total delight to both perform and listen to. And my three-year-old daughter wants to hear this CD all day! 

How do you feel when you play this music, when you’re immersed in it?

I love the energy, the groove of the piece—it’s really a thrill to play. I personally never get tired of Vivaldi’s Seasons: they give the performer so incredibly much space to give the imagination free reign—all the little poems that Vivaldi wrote in the score about the extreme weather, from a sultry summer afternoon to devastating storms, with an idyllic pastoral scene to the frenetic hunt, from the soothing raindrops to icy winter winds. All of these just give us license to use all the means at our disposal to depict these moods vividly, with daring and in full color.

What do you bring to this work?


Honestly, I rarely hear the Vivaldi Seasons performed quite with the degree of fantasy and brilliance that I would dream of—it’s so thrilling. And much the same, I would say this applies to the Richter: the piece only truly takes wing when it’s performed with a great palette of quite extreme moods and colors: the “Vivaldi moments” should be truly crazy Baroque. In the places where Max takes us to psychedelic rock or electronic music, the performers should dare let it rip and slip into the persona of a rock guitarist. And in the many beautiful dreamy moments, we need to go for real tenderness and sweetness. If all these contrasts come to life, and the energy between the solo violin and the ensemble is full of flashes of individuality and color everywhere, then this piece is just so great. 

What were the challenges you encountered in the recording process? 

I’d say that, as with all music, but certainly to quite a degree with this piece, the challenge is to achieve the electric, dynamic energy of a live performance in the studio. The piece is so vivid, and in concert it’s such a fantastic, thrilling ride for the solo violin and the ensemble—we feel the audience’s reaction to the way we make this exciting journey during the 45 minutes or so that the piece takes. It was absolutely essential to keep and to convey this sense of freshness, sparkliness, and adventure in the studio. 

What do you hope listeners will take away from the recording?

We hope this recording conveys the excitement, thrill, and sense of fun that we had. There is much great music that’s deeply profound, challenging, searching, full of moments of darkness and light, moving personal musical confessions, anguish, and torment, and I couldn’t live without these masterworks for even a day. But sometimes what we want is something that is radiant, sparkly, with electric energy, sweetness, and an irrepressible sense of dynamism and fun, jumping between brilliant Baroque and edgy rock and soaring minimalism. I’d say that when we are in this mood, this piece is pretty hard to beat—45 minutes of sheer enjoyment.