In 1985 the Amsterdam Barlaeus gymnasium celebrates its 100 years anniversary. To mark this anniversary, the school orchestra performs an opera by Willem van Manen. Four boys from the orchestra, saxophone players Raaf Hekkema and Lucas Helsdingen, bassoonist Alban Wesly and oboist Eduard Wesley, decide to found a wind quartet.
Bold as they are, they ask Willem van Manen to write a piece for them. To their surprise, in the summer of 1985, the composer tells the boys that the piece is finished.
Van Manen calls the piece the Barlaeus Blaaskwintet. Indeed a quintet…, the composer added a clarinet to the instruments, what turns out to be an enrichment of the sound spectrum. The piece premiers on 21 November 1985 in the Ysbreker (Amsterdam). Calefax is a fact. German teacher from the Barlaeus Geert Kapteijns, plays the clarinet part.
Kapteijns says farewell to Calefax soon after the first concert and after some personnel changes on the clarinet, Ivar Berix joins the quintet in 1987. With two saxophones, the midsound of the wind quintet is still a bit too strong. But when Lucas Helsdingen switch to bass clarinet this creates a better balance. With the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet and bassoon, the current instrumentation is found. The ensemble it so satisfied and happy about this line up that it aims to make it as common as the string quartet and saxophone quartet. And with success! Throughout the world arise reed quintets, from Argentina to Japan and from Denmark to Australië. In 1994, after some changes of the bass clarinet stand, Jelte Althuis joins the quintet and oboist Oliver Boekhoorn started in 1997. This was the occupation of Calefax untill Ivar’s departure in 2020. Calefax will continue as a reed quintet, and in the course of 2021 hopes to announce who will be their new clarinetist.
Some of the members of Calefax played in The Riciotti Ensemble, an illustrious street orchestra. The ensemble has been a major influence on Calefax. The Riciotti Ensemble played their concerts standing and often from memory and were used to announce the pieces loudly. Calefax has taken over this good habits, only with a more modest voice.
“What Van Manen is capable of, so can we!”
Therefore Calefax played mostly original compositions. But soon they found out that arranging existing pieces is easier, because of the higher basic quality of the original music.
Boldness featured the young quintet and it still does. Though it is now perhaps more appropriate to speak of a mature and professional collective characterized by their innovative and original, contemporary yet timeless interpretation of classical music.