Julia Bronkhorst (sopraan)

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Julia Bronkhorst
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  • Dutch soprano Julia Bronkhorst age one
  • Playing guitar in her teaching days 1970's
  • Bronkhorst in theatrical music by Monteverdi with Ellen Buyser.
  • Bronkhorst in Die Rose von Stambul
  • In the Dutch Opera World premiere of Schnittke's Life with an Idiot (1994)
  • In the 2015 World Premiere of Caroline Ansink's opera 'Polen in Plan Zuid'

I met Julia Bronkhorst for the first time during the world premiere of Caroline Ansink’s opera Polen in Plan Zuid. As a result of producing the 401 Dutch Operas filming of that world première, I discovered that Bronkhorst, in addition to having participated in a number of Dutch National Opera productions and numerous other pioneering opera productions in the provinces, has a special calling when it comes to Dutch composers. A world opened up for me when I heard about CD recordings and concerts with the music by Julius Röntgen and Henriëtte Bosmans and when I then heard songs and operas (Halewijn) by Willem Pijper and song cycles based on South African poets. How to write about this a versatile (mezzo-)soprano with such a mission? It seemed that the best way to do so was to let Julia tell her own story. She is modest and does not have any “celebrity airs”. She loves singing and music is her life and the results show. You can hear and see this for yourself in this richly illustrated portrait with five MP3 downloads of CD and double CD size. These downloads give a good cross section of her repertoire in opera, in Dutch, German, French and South African songs, as well as in spiritual music. This ranges from baroque to romantic to contemporary music, some of which have specially been composed for her. The material also provides insight into the development of Dutch Art Song and into the development of opera outside the “Muziektheater” from the 1990’s until today. Welcome to the magical world of Julia Bronkhorst! – RS.

Tekst: Julia Bronkhorst
Beeld en geluid: archief Julia Bronkhorst
English translation: Jos den Bekker

My mother, startled, came rushing into my room, when she heard the loud cries of her baby. But nothing was the matter: I was just listening to the sound of my own voice, which I found mighty interesting. I think at that moment my feeling for sound, and the sound of the human voice, was already born. When I was eight, my school teacher used to let me sing in front of the class, because she liked what I did. In fact, at that time I wanted to become a singer, but then, when I was six, I’d also thought that I really wanted to become a teacher, so that too was an ambition I had to fulfill. And that’s how it went, in reality and in that order: first I studied French and was a full teacher for three years at a secondary school in Amsterdam, and only later did music come fully into my life.

When I was a teacher I used to take my guitar to school now and then, to teach my pupils French chansons. I also incidentally participated in contests, where I usually ended up as one of the best, and sometimes even won a prize. But it took a while before I eventually went for singing all the way (in spite of my girlish certainty at the age of eight).

Concertgebouw Choir

It was the Concertgebouw Choir which finally pointed me in the right direction. Quite often at rehearsals I was asked to sing the solo part, in order for the choir to get the feel of where they had to come in. Then it happened that the real soloist, whose part I had studied, fell ill and I had to perform her part in the Concertgebouw. That was a truly magical and almost unbelievable experience: me singing Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody in the Concergebouw with a men’s choir!

For me that was a firm push in the right direction at the right time. It gave me the courage to try and see if it was realistic for me to become a professional singer. I auditioned for the Opera Choir and was hired. At that point I decided immediately to quit my job as a teacher, although it was with tears in my eyes: I had really enjoyed working with those kids and I also loved teaching.

After a year in the Opera Choir, I decided to move in a more soloistic direction and auditioned for the so-called ‘Opera Studio’ (an opera academy for young singers) which existed at that time. They rejected me, because after only three years of singing lessons, I wasn’t still ready for it. So I did a number of different courses in France, with Udo Reinemann. We got on well together, and at one point he asked me to come and study with him in Utrecht, where he had recently got a job at the Academy of Music. It sounded like a good idea, because in the meantime I did have finished some exams in musical theory and was still taking singing lessons with Sophia van Sante, but really didn’t know how to move on from there. That’s how at the age of 31 – pretty old – I ended up as a student at the Utrecht Academy of Music. I was admitted in the third year, and in a few years’ time I got my music teacher and soloist diploma. I’d had a great time. Suddenly so many exciting possibilities opened up, there were so many interesting students and projects. At the Academy of Music, for instance, I was allowed to sing the enfant part in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, directed by David Zinman.


Chausson: 'Chanson Perpétuelle'
(1987, LP Muziek Helpt, Utrechts Conservatorium Orkest o.l.v. Kenneth Montgomery)
'Chanson Perpétuelle' available on DD201611 Julia Bronkhorst in Concert

Later I also co-operated in the recording of a long play vinyl recording, produced by a charity for patients with muscle disease: I sang Ernest Chausson’s beautiful 'Chanson Perpétuelle'. It remained my only vinyl recording because onwards the cd format became standard. The Chausson recording brought me onto national radio for the first time in my life.

In my second year at the Academy of Music, Opera Studio – which had rejected me the year before – offered me the opportunity to participate in a number of their productions – again, a wonderful experience. I sang in Benjamin Britten’s Beggar’s Opera, which toured all over the country. It was performed in Dutch, and one of the parts I played was ‘Molly Brazen’ (Mietje Grotebek in Dutch). At the end of my school career I was given the opportunity, together with Piet van der Steen, to participate in the recording of a double album with music by André Jolivet. That CD, but also Konrad Boehmer’s opera Woutertje Pieters (1988), were spectacular productions at the time, both in degree of complexity and in special quality

Having finished my studies, audition time began, and I don’t know how I managed, but I think I had an audition pretty much every week, until it made me sick. I had it up to here with auditioning, because I wasn’t hired, not once, until there came a breakthrough.

Dutch National Opera!

There came a moment when I thought: I’m really just literally a moving estate agent, because I try to move people with my music. I kind of liked my own little word play and decided to change my attitude: I relaxed and immediately got hired. That’s when my career really got off the ground. I got nice roles, like ‘Venus’ in Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba, and the part of the mother in Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors (in Dutch language).


Mozart Ascanio in Alba 'Al chiaror’ (1991, as Venere in Amsterdam)’
401DutchDivas download DD201609 Julia Bronkhorst in Opera


Menotti Amahl en de drie Koningen 'Excerpt of the complete recording’
(1993, July 29, Voorschoten, Dorpskerk; Amahl (Ruben de Grauw), Moeder Amahl (Julia Bronkhorst), conducted by Jaap Schallenberg - sung in Dutch!)
401DutchDivas download DD201609 Julia Bronkhorst in Opera

All this resulted eventually in small solo parts in productions of the Dutch National Opera, like Schnittke’s Life with an idiot. That production was a world première and incredibly exciting. It was entirely directed by Russians, with Rostropovich as the conductor. At that time I also played a role in Schoenberg’s Die glücklige Hand, with stage direction by Pierre Audi, and Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten.

In-between voice

Since I have an ‘in-between voice’ (between mezzo and soprano), I could, to a certain extent, sing arias and Lieder in two different vocal ranges. In Menotti’s opera, for instance, where I played the mother role, I sang as a mezzo. And after the break I sang some stage-managed Lieder, composed by Andriessen, called “Dances”. Those are really set for soprano voice and they were perfectly within my natural range. After the performance I overheard two people saying: “How beautiful those two singers!” They were talking about me, but they hadn’t recognized me, because in the Andriessen performance I was dressed differently. My in-between voice had brought me exciting opportunities, but it also hampered my career in the world of oratorios, because the voices there need to be often much more sharply defined. But I did sing in Bach’s St John Passion a number of times, with good reviews, and a lot of Bach cantatas besides. Also operettas, like Leo Fall’s Die Rose von Stambul, where I sang the part of Kondja Gül.


Louis Andriessen: Dances V
(Julia Bronkhorst (soprano))


André Jolivet: Messe pour le jour de la Gloire ‘Agnus dei’
401DutchDivas download DD201612 Julia Bronkhorst in Oratorio and religious Music

Later I concentrated on Lieder by Dutch composers, and that’s how I came across Henriette Bosmans. It was “love at first hearing”, so to speak, and I immediately started to perform her music. In 1998, which saw the hundredth anniversary of her birth, production company Globe, then still in the hands of master-recorder Klaas Postuma, gave me the opportunity to record a full album of her Lieder.


Henriëtte Bosmans 'Teeken den hemel in het zand der zee’
Julia Bronkhorst (soprano)
(1998; CD Globe GLO 5183 Henriëtte Bosmans and her circle)


Henriëtte Bosmans 'Lead kindly light’
Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), 1995, July 12, Amsterdam, Willem Pijper & Henriëtte Bosmans concert in de Beurs van Berlage)
401DutchDivas download DD201610 Julia Bronkhorst in Dutch Art Song


Willem Pijper 'De winter is verganghen’
(Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), 2000 Amsterdam, Grachtenfestival)
401DutchDivas download DD201610 Julia Bronkhorst in Dutch Art Song


Carl Smulders  'Il pleure dans mon coeur’ (Verlaine)
(2003, January 30, Rotterdam, Dutch Composers Song Recital in De Doelen)
401DutchDivas download DD201610 Julia Bronkhorst in Ducth Art Song


The CD, which I recorded with Maarten Hillenius as my accompanist, was received well and got quite high marks in the Dutch music magazine Luister. All of a sudden I appeared regularly on radio. I decided to do something more with this CD and send it to the Dutch embassy in South Africa, which reacted positively and forwarded it to the festival in Oudtshoorn. The festival then asked me to set up a mixed programme of this music and composers that had something to do – anything – with South Africa. I dived into the library and discovered a true treasure of Afrikaans musical scores, i.e. Afrikaans lyrics set to music by Dutch composers. With this material I set up a programme and sent it to the festival in Oudtshoorn, which soon after invited me to their festival in 2001. My accompanist there was Jacco Lamfers.


Wolfgang Wijdeveld: 'Vaalvalk’
(Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), Jacco Lamfers (piano))
(2003, CD Q-Disc Q97042  Swewe en Swerwe)

JBSweweBack in Holland, Muziekgroep Nederland (‘Music Group Holland’, formerly Donemus), invited me to record an album with this repertoire. Around that time I saw Henk van Woerden’s documentary about Ingrid Jonker and her poem Die Kind (‘The Child’, read by President Nelson Mandela during the opening of South Africa's first democratic Parliament). I decided to ask a Dutch composer to set the poem to music, and my choice fell on Caroline Ansink. Her composition was recorded on my album Swewe en Swerwe, poetical songs about and from South Africa (2003).

The CD was well received, especially in South Africa, and especially Caroline Ansink’s piece was highly praised. I decided to send it to another festival in South Africa, Woordfees, a prestigious literary festival, because it contained some poems by Elisabeth Eybers, whom I had visited in Holland, where she lived, before my first journey to South Africa. Her beautiful poems moved me very much. At the occasion of her 90th birthday, Caroline Ansink, at my request, set one of her poems, Uitsig op die kade, to music, and I had the privilege to perform it in her presence. In 2015 I received an invitation to sing some of her poems in South Africa, at the occasion of her 100st birthday. While searching for composers who had some connection with South Africa (in preparation to my first concert in Oudtshoorn), I had come across Wolfgang Wijdefeld, who had written beautiful compositions on Afrikaans poems. Ton Hartsuiker, my former director at the Academy of Music and ex-student of Wijdefeld, brought me into contact with Wijdeveld’s daughter, who was very stimulating and special. She gave me a lot of compositions by her father. One of those was a piece, called Taliesin, for voice and harp, a composition which was dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect. It turned out that Wijdeveld’s father was an architect as well and that he had worked together with Wright. That’s why Wolfgang dedicated this piece to him. I googled for ‘Taliesin’ on the internet and saw that it was Wright’s winter home in Phoenix, Arizona. It turned out that in 2012 is was exactly 75 years ago that the house was built. I contacted the organization of the Taliesin home and received an invitation to perform Wijdefeld’s piece there. I did it with very good musicians from the Academy of Music in Phoenix. Those same musicians accompanied me when I performed that piece in Denver and Phoenix.


Wolfgang Wijdeveld: 'Die bloeisel van Jesus’
(Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), Ton Hartsuiker (piano))
(2010, CD EtCeTeRa KTC1417, Wolfang Wijdeveld Lieder & Chamber Music)

In 2019 I recorded, together with Ton Hartsuiker, my former director, an album at the occasion of Wijdefeld’s 100st birthday.

Röntgen cd

In 2005 I recorded an album with music by the Dutch-German composer Julius Röntgen, with his ‘Chinese Lieder’ as the center piece.


Julius Röntgen: Chinesische Lieder 'Traurige Frühlingsnacht’
Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), Hans Eijsackers (piano))
(CD Cobra 0013 Julius Röntgen Chamber Music Vol. I)

This music I performed at a number of concerts in Scandinavia and Holland.

Sephardic music and klezmer

esides Dutch composers, I also concentrated on Sephardic music, music from the multicultural society that existed in medieval Spain. My CD Rosa Ibérica not only contains traditional songs, but also new compositions by two Dutch composers, Jeff Hamburg and Pablo Escande, set on texts written in Ladino, the language of the Spanish Jews. But I went beyond opera productions and concerts with music by Dutch composers: for many years I had a programme with Yiddish songs, and together with the Dutch klezmer band L’Chaim I toured the whole country.


Dick Visser 'A la virgen de los dolores’
Julia Bronkhorst (soprano), Henk van Lingen (guitar)
401DutchDivas download DD201613 Julia Bronkhorst in Rosa Iberica

Naast operaprodukties en concerten met muziek van Nederlandse componisten heb ik verder langdurig een programma gehad met Jiddische liederen. Jaren zijn we hiermee, samen met de klezmerband L'Chayim door het land getrokken.

From Polen in Plan Zuid to Desmund Tutu

In 2015 I sang in Caroline Ansink’s much acclaimed opera Polen in Plan Zuid, based on the memories of a Jewish boy who, shortly after the war, grew up in a relatively new neighborhood of Amsterdam, where many Jewish immigrants from Poland lived. On September 25, 2016, I performed a composition by Leo Samama on texts by Bishop Desmond Tutu, at the Just Peace Festival, in The Hague’s Peace Palace, to celebrate the U.N.-declared International Day of Peace (September 21). This concert was my own initiative and was organized by myself, in co-operation with the Peace Palace.


Singing lessons

Besides singing I also love to teach. Since 2008 I am a auxiliary teacher of French at the division of vocal studies of the Artez Conservatory in Zwolle. I also have private students, whom I quite often invite to come with me to Sweden, where I teach a series of opera classes, with a final performance in a beautiful church. Sometimes I get assistance from director, playwright and librettist Olaf Mulder. I am begeistert by singing and all that one can accomplish with it.