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Willem van Overeem
In Memoriam

Willem van Overeem

Lecturer of Music

UC Irvine

Willem Frederik van Overeem, beloved piano professor in the Department of Music from 1979-1997, passed away on January 12, 2015 at the age of 82.

Born in De Bilt, The Netherlands, March 1, 1932, Willem graduated from the Utrecht Conservatory of Music earning the Prix d’Excellence (1954), the highest diploma attainable at a Dutch Conservatory. He also studied with Walter Gieseking in Saarbrucken, Germany (1953) and at the Paris Conservatory (1954) with Jules Gentil. Willem married Alida Charlotte Schat in 1957 and emigrated from The Netherlands to the United States in 1959. He received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley and taught at Hastings College in Nebraska from 1970-1977.

During his career, Willem made several hundred concert appearances in major European cities and in the United States, giving solo recitals and appearing as a guest soloist with major symphony orchestras, including the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, The Hague Residentie Orkest, The Utrecht Symphony, several European radio orchestras, and the San Francisco Symphony. He performed under the batons of distinguished conductors Bernard Haitinck, Willem van Otterloo, Jean Fournet, Enrique Jorda and Arthur Fiedler. In the 70’s, he also performed solo recitals under the auspices of Community Concerts, a division of Columbia Artists Management Inc.

Well known for his interpretations of Debussy, Ravel, Franck, Fauré, Chopin, and Liszt, Willem also performed major works by Beethoven, Bach, Bartok, Schumann, Grieg, Mussorgsky, Mozart, and others, recording some thirty CDs after his retirement from UCI.

Most memorable among his many performances at UCI was the inaugural concert for our then newly acquired Hamburg Steinway D on May 3, 1986. He featured those composers closest to his heart – Chopin, Debussy, Ravel and Liszt, and those in attendance will never forget the exquisite sounds he drew from the “Hamburg,” the shimmering lightness of his touch, the sparkling quality of the upper register and his nobility at the piano.

As a teacher, he was a caring and involved mentor whose students went onto successful careers in music and other prominent fields. He left not only the imprint of his artistic sensibility in the hearts and minds of his pupils, but also transmitted the unique language of each composer to them with his wisdom, dry wit, and gentility. 

Willem Frederik van Overeem was the son of Willem and Hendrica van Overeem. What began as a carefree childhood was interrupted by the German occupation of Holland, an ordeal that left its imprint on the eight-year old Willem and his sister Jannetta. Although times were difficult, the family managed and survived the hardships of the occupation. When the war was over, Willem, who was just thirteen, immersed himself in the serious study of the piano, a passion that began at the age of five, and continued throughout his life. 

While at the Utrecht Conservatory, Willem became friends with a brilliant, red-haired fellow music student, Pieter Schat. Schat, who was later to become one of Holland’s most important composers, introduced Willem to his sister, Alida Charlotte Schat, a young girl of fifteen. Despite an age difference of five years, they fell madly in love – a love that only grew stronger through the fifty-seven years of their marriage. Willem and Alida married five years later in the Domkerk (a cathedral built in 1254) in Utrecht on June 13, 1957. Their daughter Kinë was born the following year.

Difficulties associated with finding a house and frustration due to the endless rain of Utrecht led Willem and Alida to leave Holland. On March 29, 1959, the couple immigrated to the United States. They first moved to Bishop, California, where their son William Frederick (Eric) was born. The family then moved to the Bay Area and another son, David Leonard, was born in 1961. Willem enjoyed teaching his many piano students in the Bay Area, but his aspiration to teach at the college level motivated him to pursue an advanced academic degree. In 1970, Willem graduated from UC Berkeley with a master’s degree in music.

The family relocated again when Willem accepted a job offer as a Professor of Music at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska. They bought a wonderful old house close to the college in August of 1970. Three years later, they built a house at Lake Hastings where they enjoyed swimming in the summer, ice-skating in the winter, and threw wild parties year-round.

Tiring of the harsh Nebraska weather, Willem and Alida moved back to California in 1977, this time to Laguna Beach. Alida opened a bakery and Willem began teaching at UC Irvine in 1979. They eventually sold the business and Willem retired from UCI in 1997. Willem enjoyed a retirement that was truly golden. Alida cooked gourmet meals three times a day and made a beautiful home for him. He spent every day practicing the piano and recording his concert repertoire. His thirty CDs are a testament to the breadth of his artistic achievement and a legacy that will be treasured by family, friends, colleagues, and students for years to come. A man of great intellect, strength of character, wit, and modesty, he was also a loving husband and father who taught by example.

Willem passed away on January 12, 2015, the day after suffering a stroke, surrounded by his loving family. Willem is survived by his wife Alida Charlotte van Overeem; a daughter, Catharina Elizabeth Benrubi; two sons, William Frederic and David Leonard; three grandchildren, Jason, Jennifer, and Michael; and four great-grandchildren.

Nina Scolnik 
Professor of Teaching
Department of Music, Claire Trevor School of the Arts

Catharine Elizabeth Benrubi, daughter of Willem van Overeem