He is a composer, painter, singer, clown, violinist, melancholy player – And much more: Hermann van Veen is one of the most famous and well-known Dutch theater artists. Apparently, he sings his repertoire in five languages. In 1966 he was on stage for the first time – and since then he has been traveling the world with his performance (in both senses). Hardly any other Dutch musician or artist is so frantically greeted and celebrated on international stage as Jack of All Art from Utrecht.
After a long break caused by the pandemic, Van Veen is coming to Austria with his new show “With the Knowledge Now” to perform two shows next week. He will be accompanied by guitarist Edith Lerkes, violinist Janimian Knusen, bassist Wake Garcia, guitarist and keyboardist Kis Dykstra, among others.
Before his guest performance in Austria, he gave this interview to “Wiener Zeitung”.
Vienna newspaper: I’ve been on stage for over 50 years and always lived it – did Hermann ever come?
Hermann van Veen: There was almost no difference, my redemption is always my resume.
Didn’t that diverge at some point, in “life” and “going to work”?
No, to me it is something like an impractical presence on stage.
Several years ago I sang a scary song about the novel that Hitler would have won the war: “If it were different.” Something in the Ukraine war and in Putin’s person reminds us of this. How are you with that?
And the dangerous thing is that we can’t predict what will happen because there is no logic. It seems to me that an older world we thought we understood was only happening now. From a philosophical point of view, it seems to have become a conflict between the past and a digital world that has nothing to do with each other. When I saw “9/11” I thought: This can’t be true. With Brexit and with Assad and Putin, I also thought that couldn’t be true. I was wrong four times.
What does that do to your desire for peace and the confidence you once had?
I’m 77 years old, born during World War II, and it’s hard to believe. I feel hot, I’m afraid. This is material. I’m protecting something very big. That we were surprised is amazing. It was obvious, but we didn’t believe it.
Because we didn’t want to believe it?
Something completely different: you are very successful in German-speaking countries, that is, in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and the people there are very familiar. Have you also approached them yourself?
The differences between all the cities we offer are huge. Düsseldorf is not Aachen, Aachen is not Cologne, Vienna is not Graz, and Graz is not Linz.
As you get older, you become more and more curious, and you want to understand something like: why is there a house here like this – and another like that. Then you start googling and reading and talking to people. Asking new questions is actually the best part of getting old. The answers to the questions come, and the new ones are hidden in the answers.
When we first met forty years ago, in the context of a Portrait film, I was very impressed with your company “Harlekjin”, with which you wanted to impart some of your well-being to the young artistic talent. Some became world famous, such as the Schönberg Ensemble or the harpsichordist Ton Kopman. What is Harlequin doing today?
The company is now 55 years old and operates a small cultural center on the outskirts of Utrecht, a laboratory where young artists can experiment with painting, music and drama without being forced to succeed. The public finances this with donations, so the performances are free and there is no pressure from the press or criticism. This is beautiful and I am so glad we can do this.
Is anything else very close to your heart these days?
Well, what actually keeps me together is the love you receive and experience from family, friends and the public. It is nature. What nature tells us makes me happy. As long as you can see that, we have a chance.