After studying Conducting at Amsterdam Conservatory, Tienstra's current practice encompasses chamber choirs, Gregorian chant groups, orchestra projects, chamber ensembles and the occassional music theatre project. A recurrent repertoire is the combination of orchestral and choral forces, performing all the major works of the Classical and Romantic repertoire in combination with lesser-known pieces.
Tienstra has worked with Nederlands Symfonisch Kamerorkest, Nederlands Begeleidingsorkest, Ars Musica, L'Estro Armonico and ensembles of the Amsterdam and The Hague conservatories amongst others.
"Working as a church musician - regardless of denomination, amateur or professional practice - is one of the most rewarding professions."
Tienstra studied Church Music at Amsterdam Conservatory, being the last Dutch conservatory student in Catholic Church Music. His extensive work experience includes directing the seven choirs of St Bavo Cathedral Choir (concurrently teaching at Cathedral School Haarlem), the ecumenical Iona choir, Schola Gregoriana Noordwijk, RC parish choir 'Maria ter Zee' in Noordwijk, Schola Cantorum Amsterdam, Schola Cantorum Oegstgeest, and the ecumenical Schola Cantorum of Ekklesia Leiden's monumental Hooglandse Kerk.
The video shows an interview (in Dutch) on church music at St Peter's Square in Rome, at the end of a concert tour of St. Bavo's cathedral choir.
After studying Gregorian chant at the conservatories of Amsterdam, The Hague and at the well-known International Summer and Winter Courses of Gregorian chant at Essen, Germany, Tienstra completed PhD studies in Musicology at the Folkwang University in Essen with a magna cum laude dissertation on melodic variation in Northern Low Countries manuscripts with professors Stefan Klöckner and Hartmut Möller.
As a chant conductor, he leads the the Schola Cantorum Amsterdam (having before been cantor for seven years) and the two ensembles of the Schola Gregoriana Noordwijk. From 2013-17, he led the Schola Cantorum Oegstgeest, one of the country's oldest chant groups.
Since 2021, Tienstra is artistic director of the Dutch Festival of Gregorian Chant (NGF) in the medieval city of Den Bosch.
His performance practice encompasses: Masses, the Divine Office (weekly Sunday Vespers and Matins for all the major celebrations with the Schola Cantorum Amsterdam), newly arranged liturgies (such as 'Our Lady of Sorrows' and 'Rosary services'), concerts (Gregorian Christmas Concerts, Codex Calixtinus, Hildegard of Bingen), courses, lectures and publications (particularly on Dutch manuscripts).
The experience with different kinds of chant groups and repertoires has given him a deep insight in the full range of chant, both in research and practice - reflected in his Guide on chant interpretation and conducting. In international context, Tienstra is passionate about helping researchers and performers interested in the liturgy and chant of the Low Countries.
See Publications for an overview of publications on chant.
After additional musicological minors at Amsterdam Conservatory, Tienstra first studied Musicology at Birmingham University with Dr Ben Earle, graduating with a thesis on the late choral works of Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw. His PhD in Musicology at the Folkwang University in Essen was rounded off magna cum laude with an extensive study on melodic variation in Low Countries chant manuscripts.
Further publications include studies on the liturgical music of Bernstein, Reger and Bartolucci, the medieval saint Jeroen of Noordwijk, the Oegstgeest Chant Book and a performance edition of Lamentations from Low Countries manuscripts. Tienstra is a regular contributor to the Gregoriusblad (the Dutch journal on liturgical music) and the journal for the Rotterdam diocese, Tussenbeide.
Orchestration & Arranging
An important part of Tienstra's composition practice is orchestrating and arranging existing works, a métier he studied for three years at Amsterdam Conservatory with the late Theo Verbey.
All thinkable genres of music have come by: a choir/ensemble version of Schubert's Winterreise; full orchestrations of Debussy's Préludes and Children's Corner; ensemble versions of piano pieces by Shostakovich and Berio; orchestrated songs by Poulenc, Glinka and Ravel; chamber versions of songs by Weill, Villa-Lobos and Brahms; arrangements of Christmas carols, fados, jazz standards, klezmer, lullabies, folk and cabaret music.
The video shows an arrangement of Madredeus' Ao longue o Mar, made for KunstKlank's 2017 theatre production Gestrand Verlangen.
Since the time of his own conservatory studies, Tienstra has taught students of all ages, preparing a wide range of performers for further studies. Besides a private practice (piano, theory, composition and preparing students for conservatory admission), he has taught Solfege, Music Theory and Harmony at Nieuw Vocaal Amsterdam (formerly Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderkoor), at the Kleynkoor Academy Noordwijk and at Haarlem Cathedral School.
A lecturer, teacher and performer at the International Summer and Winter Courses on Gregorian Chant in Essen-Werden, the International Summer Course on Gregorian Chant in The Hague, the Festival of Gregorian Chant in Den Bosch and the 'Days of Gregorian Chant' (Utrecht, Franeker) from their first inception, Tienstra is a highly sought-after speaker inspiring new generations of performers and researchers.
Related to his teaching activities, Tienstra participated in a number of educational projects and methods. These include the Dutch children's operas Kinderen van de Zaan in the Zaans Museum (2013; see the video) and Help, mijn stem is weg! (2017); contributions to the Nachtegaal method for solfege; a method of (classical) Harmony for the advanced students of Nieuw Vocaal Amsterdam; lessons in Gregorian chant for children for the Cathedral School St Bavo, and a curriculum of Music (including Solfege exercises and tests) for the aforementioned school.
For the productions of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, Britten's Saint Nicholas and Bach's Matthäus-Passion, Tienstra created scores especially usable by children.
"A great way of introducing those interested the musical treasure trove, by tackling those elements that can make them seem daunting at first - be it one of the choral classics, newly written music, a medieval manuscript or unknown masterpieces."
Tienstra regularly gives workshops with all his chant groups and for organisations such as KunstKlank (Noordwijk), La Voix (Haarlem), Pieterskerkconcerten (Utrecht) and Amici Cantus Gregoriani (The Hague, Utrecht, Den Bosch, Franeker).
Tienstra regularly creates concert and liturgical programs, either for his own ensembles or at request. His programming is characterised by a more reflective (and, also in concert, somewhat liturgical) nature, making use of the entire span of music history. As composer, conductor, church musician, musicologist and teacher, he benefits from an extensive knowledge of repertoire, always eager to help colleagues in programming.
Recurrent programming - next to the yearly performances that are part of cathedral practice - is that of the All Souls concerts and Festivals of Lessons & Carols in the beautiful Old Willibrord's church in Oegstgeest, since 2013. See the 'Programming' page for some examples.
From 2010-2020, Tienstra was ensemble programmer at the concert series Muziek in Jeroen for Noordwijk's majestic Old Jeroen's church.
From 2021 onwards, he is artistic director of the Dutch Festival of Gregorian Chant (NGF) in the medieval city of Den Bosch.
For many years Rens Tienstra works with the KunstKlank Foundation (Noordwijk) on all sorts of inspiring projects, most notably music theatre on unconventional locations. His functions per project have always been manifold: arranger, (assistant) conductor, performer - and sometimes even actor. KunstKlank's aims to make connections between amateurs and professionals, and seeking the potential of every human being and location.
Next to this, he has composed a number of theatrical pieces for specific occassions, such as the Marco Polo project on the well-known Zeedijk street in Amsterdam (2008) and Grensgevallen for the 20-year celebrations of the Fall of the Berlin Wall (2009).
The video gives an impression of the 2021 production Voor de Slaap, featuring lullabies from all around the world. In this project, Rens was responsible for the production's concept, arrangements, and performance as conductor and pianist.
Since many years Rens Tienstra forms a duo with Kees Putman, called Put & Tien, performing (in a somewhat theatrical way) the songs and 'light verse' of the famous Dutch artist Drs. P. (Heinz Polzer, 1919-2015), whom they visited a number of times. During his lifetime, Drs. P. wrote dozens of humorous songs, masterfully demonstrating the endless possibilities of the Dutch language.
Rens holds it a great joy and honour to perform his repertoire, and write the occassional light verse in line with the spirit of Polzer, Piet Paaltjens, Godfried Bomans and Kees Stip.
In line with his work as a teacher and workshop leader, Tienstra is also active as a historic guide, either in his home town, Teylingen and Brederode castles, or abroad. The video shows a 'culture trip' made with the Kleynkoor Noordwijk to Venice.
In his free time, Rens enjoys walking Europe's long-distance trails and pilgrim paths, having walked the Camino del Norte, Hadrian's Wall Walk, the Dutch Coastal Path and Pieterpad and the Belgian part of the GR5.
Annie M.G. Schmidt
The pupils from Haarlem Cathedral School (groups 5-6) performing theatrical songs on texts by the famous Dutch writer Annie M.G. Schmidt, with their music teacher Rens behind piano.
A Christmas wish from the cathedral choir
A Christmas wish to honor the U.S. veterans anno 2020, 75 years of freedom for the Netherlands. Credits at the end of the clip.
Christmas at the cathedral 2017
Interview (in Dutch) from the NOS Jeugdjournaal ('Children's News' of Dutch National Television) with the children from St Bavo Cathedral Choir, during rehearsals for Christmas 2017.