Johannes Leertouwer, violinist and conductor
Johannes Leertouwer, violinist and conductor
Johannes Leertouwer was born in the Dutch city of Groningen on December 5, 1959. He started playing the violin at an early age. After obtaining his Gymnasium diploma, he moved to Amsterdam to study the violin with Bouw Lemkes at the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam. During the National Violin Competition of 1983, Leertouwer won the Elisabeth Back prize and the Buma-prize for best performance of a contemporary composition. In addition, he received a special stipend from the Dutch Ministry of Culture and Education to study abroad. This enabled him to continue his studies with the legendary violinist Joseph Suk, both as a student at the ‘Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Künste’ in Vienna and privately in Prague.
After returning to the Netherlands in 1986, Leertouwer graduated from the Conservatory of Amsterdam in the same year. In 1983-1987, he worked as a substitute in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra where his interest in the world of Historically Informed Performance Practice took root. After contacting him during rehearsals with the Concertgebouw orchestra, the orchestra’s guest conductor Nicolaus Harnoncourt invited him to come and study the Schubert Symphonies in a summer project in Graz, Austria in the summer of 1987. Thereafter, Leertouwer became a member of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (1988-1990) as well as a concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Society (1988-2016) and the Amina Eterna orchestra Brugge (1989-2000). He appeared as soloist with all these orchestras.
Chamber music has always been an important part of Leertouwer’s work. After finishing his studies in Amsterdam, he made his debut as a recording artist. With pianist Julian Reynolds, Leertouwer recorded the complete works for violin and piano by Beethoven for the Dutch Cd-label ‘Globe.’ He also made period instrument recordings of sonatas by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann (all available on Spotify). With the Ensemble Schönbrunn, which he formed with flautist Marten Root and cellist Viola de Hoog in 1987, Leertouwer performed and recorded a series of Cd’s dedicated to well-known repertoire such as the Musical Offering by J.S. Bach and some lesser-known composers in a series of recordings named “Out of the Shadow of the Masters.” As a soloist and conductor of his own ensemble La Borea Amsterdam, Leertouwer released a double-Cd with Mozart’s complete works for violin and orchestra in the Mozart year of 2006. He currently acts as first violinist of the Narratio string quartet. After being invited to perform the five last Beethoven quartets at the 2009 Holland Festival of Early Music, the Narratio quartet now regularly performs the complete Beethoven quartets on period instruments and will complete Cd recordings of the full cycle in 2024. Leertouwer plays a violin made by the brothers (Antonio & Hieronymus) Amati in Cremona in 1619.
Leertouwer has been a professor of violin at the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam since 1989, where he has taught violin and chamber music, conducted orchestra projects (1989 to present), and led the young talent department, the Sweelick Academy (2014-2018). In 2018, the CvA invited him to conduct PhD research on the historical performance practice of Brahms’s orchestral music as part of a four-year program to stimulate research in the arts by its professors. As part of this project, Leertouwer developed a special program to share the results of his research with fellow professors, alumni, and students, and integrated it into the curriculum of the conservatory. Over the course of his PhD project, he recorded the complete symphonies and concertos by Brahms, made a number of documentary films about the project, and a doctoral thesis. Leertouwer received his doctorate at Leiden University in January 2023.
For Leertouwer conducting came as a natural extension of his work as a concertmaster. After conducting the National Youth String Orchestra for over 10 years, he appeared a guest conductor with many national and international ensembles and orchestra’s before accepting a position as chief conductor and artistic leader of the ‘Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht’ (www.NPhU.nl) in 2009. With this orchestra, he has played and conducted a wide range of repertoire, from a debut program in 2009 with Ravel and Stravinsky to annual tours with Händel’s Messiah and Bach’s Matthew Passion. The orchestra plays nineteenth- and twentieth century repertoire on period instruments and invests a lot of time and energy in education. Many of the productions of Leertouwer and NPhU have received high praise in the press. Dutch national newspaper NRC, for instance, described the performances of Matthew Passion as the best in the country in 2017 in a five-star review (*****). Cd-productions, such as the live recording of Beethoven symphonies 4 & 7 and Berio’s Chorale for violin and orchestra with violinist Joe Puglia, have also been positively received by the international music press. Other special projects have been Mahler IV for the Maastricht Festival ‘Musica Sacra’ in 2017 in which a Mahler Symphony was played on gut strings in the Netherlands for the first time since the early twentieth century. This performance was based on Leertouwer’s analysis of the Mengelberg score and recording of the symphony.
Leertouwer strives to share his ideas and insights through different channels. For Brava television, he has made sixty-eight short films, explaining the theological and musical content of each of the individual movements of the Matthew Passion. These films are available with English subtitles on a YouTube channel: Matthäus volgens Johannes. Leertouwer has made podcasts for Radio 4 about Messiah and his Brahms research, and also shares his work on Brahms on a special website, brahms.johannesleertouwer.nl
In 2022, Leertouwer accepted a professorship in HIPP at Seoul National University. He combines this position with his work with the Narratio Quartet and The Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht. After having held the position of chief conductor of the orchestra class of the Conservatory of Amsterdam for eight years, he was appointed regular guest conductor at the CvA in 2023.
With his period instrument string quartet, the Narratio Quartet, he will record all Beethoven string quartets over the course of the 2023-2024 season. The Cd-recordings will be released through Challenge Classics. At this same label Johannes Leertouwer, together with pianist Julian Reynolds recently released a recording of the Brahms violin sonatas on period instruments.