Perhaps four or five times over the past year I’ve spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Concertgebouw for their Zaterdag Matinee. I’m the first to admit I’m not an expert in classical music, like a lot of people of my generation I’ve mostly been exposed to it via movie and commercial soundtracks and although I’ve never viewed classical (whatever that term really means) as alien, it was just something that I felt needed a lot of time to appreciate, time that I didn’t have.
So our Saturday excursions have been a real treat. Firstly the Concertgebouw is a beautiful building, everything you expect that sort of environment to be. The staff are friendly and helpful and the patrons tend toward the knowledgeable and casual (more on that later). The afternoon lends itself a pleasant and unfussy air, not in the least assisted by the refreshments – coffee, tea, sodas, red and white wine and beer – that are included in the cover price. In fact the only hassle is the scrum for the bar(s) before and at the interval.
This Saturday we arrived half an hour before the start time and took a refreshment in the upstairs annex, over-looking Museumplein, with the autumn sun streaming through the glass walls, and then settled in for a couple of hours of music from what is now known as the Czech Republic.
As mentioned, I’m no authority on classical, so I’m always pleasantly surprised when I pick out a tune that I’ve previously heard. The music this Saturday was all written at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, and there seemed to be touches within each piece that echoed both the more traditional music of the region and also military music.
Dvořák’s Ouverture, ‘Carnaval’, with its sweeping strings and martial rhythms felt cinematic, even panoramic in places, and my son and I enjoyed watching the percussion section from our vantage point in the upper circle.
Martinu’s Tweede vioolconcert, H. 293, was in a similar vein, even more like something from art-house cinema: some of it could easily sound-track, say, a wide-angle shot of a figure emerging from snow-field, or a character silently watching the wind whip green summer trees. Very visual music.
The violinist Simone Lamsma joined on stage next. She’s one of the future big stars of classical music, apparently, and was greeted accordingly. While I can appreciate the virtuosity of such individual musicians, I tend to feel that they change the nature of these concerts; I like the group-feeling you get from an orchestra – in this case the wonderful Rotterdam Philharmonisch Orkest – and rather feel that an individual star takes something away from that. It’s like that old football saying about a talented player who wants to do everything himself “you need two balls, one for him and one for everyone else”. But maybe that’s just me.
The afternoon continued with Smetana’s Die Moldau, which is a lovely Autumnal piece, again with sweeping strings, which tugged a memory as it was used most recently in Terrance Malik’s Tree of Life.
And finally ended with Janáček’s Sinfonietta, a great big showstopper with additional brass (the extra guys had to sit in the audience) and huge percussion, all excellently held together by conductor Jiri Belohlavek. A good ending.
I can’t recommend more wholly spending a Saturday afternoon at the Concertgebouw, for a novice like myself or a more cultured fan there’s something for all.
Which takes me to my final thoughts, on the patrons, the people who turn up and enjoy the music. I love the idea that the Concertgebouw opens its doors to one and all, their democratization of classical music must be applauded (there are no boxes here, everyone sits together, and all the seating has a similar – good – view and sound quality), and I like the informality of the event.
But I feel this informality leads to a issue of costume propriety: the people on stage make an effort, even if this leans toward inexpensive black suits for the men and last-year’s-Christmas outfits for the women. And always the guest artist really goes for it, usually in what could only be described as a best dress. I’m not expecting the whole audience to rent dinner jackets and cocktail dresses, but a little more effort could be in order. There are far too many sweatshirts and cheap trainers, and don’t get me started on the amount of white gym socks and sandals, worn, of course, with a jacket and tie and slacks. Come on people, this is a lovely afternoon in a beautiful environment, make some effort.
For details of future Zaterdag Matinees, and the rest of their extensive programme, go to www.concertgebouw.nl
Welcome, can you first tell me something about yourself and your function at Concertgebouw?
My name is Jill Pisters, I work at the department Marketing. I represent the foreign market. I recruit tourist for visiting the shows in Concertgebouw. I do this work for over more than one and a half year.
I understand this is a special year for Concertgebouw, it exists 125 years. Can you tell me something about the activities being hold?
This year is the 125th existence of Concertgebouw, we celebrate this from January already. We celebrate it in different ways. For example, every month we have two anniversary concerts. It is divided into themes, where each month represents ten years from the history. We are now in the last 30 years of the history, concerts are linked to the time period with a special theme. Also Dutch historian Geert Mac writes every month in our magazine about that decennium in the history of Concertgebouw. Those are the concerts we do. The 10th of April there was a charity event, a gala, where the real celebration was held. Furthermore we have exhibitions, you can stand in front of the building en be a conductor yourself. It’s really interactive. This is in cooperation with the institute of Beeld&Geluid, they decorated the façade and they make each month a historical movie about the decennium. Those are the things we do the celebrate the anniversary the whole year through.
Can you tell me something about the artists that will perform?
For example last week the world famous Angela Gheorghio performed. The public went crazy, it was very special she was here. She hasn’t been in the Concertgebouw for over 15 years and this was the first time on invitation of Concertgebouw. She was ecstatic, she did four encores. That was one of the anniversary concerts. We have in December the West Side Story. There has been a lot on the television about West Side Story. It’s a participation project where young adults auditioned online to be in the cast. They have been rehearsing for a few months now to perform West Side Story in December. This is the closing of the anniversary year as well. It is produced in a certain way that makes it really modern. Because we are working with young musicians we look at the future; the musicians of the future.
I understand that on the 3th of November there’s a ‘sterrenjubileum’.
Yes, but that’s the night of the Concertgebouw orchestra, because they exist 125 years as well. They are a different organisation. It used to be one organisation, but they went on tour more and more so therefore they became an independent organisation. It’s the orchestra’s birthday, but also the birthday of the Concertgebouw. 3 November is the celebration of the orchestra.
There’s a special book being published and a special photo exhibition, can you tell me something about that?
There’s a special book being published called Bravo. It’s about the history of the orchestra and of the building.
What about the photo exhibition?
There’s a photo exhibition about the royal family in one of the foyers.
Can you tell me something more about the anniversary concerts which are hold every month?
Every month there’s one anniversary concert in the big venue and one in the small venue. The theme of the history is linked to the concerts.
Which theme’s are still remaining?
The years ’80-’90, ’90-’00 and ’00-’10. Those are the years in history which don’t have a theme yet.
Is it well attended the anniversary concerts?
Also a lot of tourist?
It’s not bad. A lot of regular visitors. On a yearly base we have 700.000 visitors and around 700 concerts. You have the small venue where there’s a lot of chamber music, the big venue where the big symphony orchestras are. For example Caro Emerald this year. Last week the frontman from Live Ed Kowalczyk performed. We also have a jazz basement.
Are there special concerts in the jazz basement in honor of the 125th anniversary?
No there are no special concerts in the jazz basement. The jazz basement is each Friday in the month.
If people want more information or want to visit a concert, how can they do that ?
The most easy is from the website, it’s in English as well with the whole concert agenda. Also people can book through the phone, 7 days in the week from 9 till 5 for reserving the tickets. Also they can get it at the cashier.