Festivals Within Festivals

Tuesday night’s concert was divided into two wildly different halves. The first featured ‘de ereprijs,’ a fifteen-member Dutch big band with winds, brass, electric guitar and bass, piano, and percussion. They’ve garnered a lot of attention in recent years as the house band for the Young Composer’s Meeting, a workshop chaired by Louis Andriessen that’s held every February in the eastern city of Appledoorn. The ensemble annually reconvenes at the Gaudeamus Music Week to present the best discoveries of the previous winter.

The concert opened with the reflective One Day God Will Return by Alexandra Fol, a Bulgarian composer currently living in Montréal. This was followed by four selections—all by women—from the Young Composer’s Meeting, featuring the ensemble plus three singers from the Royal Conservatory at The Hague (one of whom had the added task of playing an amplified pepper grinder during Serbian composer Maja Lekovic’s The Pepper Store). ‘de ereprijs’ closed the first half with their own arrangement of Michael Daugherty’s wind ensemble piece Bizarro.

The second half of the concert featured four jury selections for a diverse range of media and performers. First came What about woof? by the Chilean composer Miguelángel Clerc Parada. Five percussionists sat at a row of five tables with their backs to the audience, with a reverse view (showing their faces) projected as a mirror image onto a screen overhead. For thirteen minutes they scraped and hit the top surfaces of the tables with small objects (coins perhaps?) in patterns determined by a sort of controlled improvisation.

Next was Match for percussion and video projection by Alejandro Castaños of Mexico. A solo percussionist—with only a snare drum, cymbal, and wood block—moved to the front of the stage alongside a screen. Onto this screen, an image was projected of another percussionist armed with a snare drum, cymbal, and wood block. The live and virtual performers interact throughout the witty piece in order to, as the composer puts it,”explore the perception of in/out of sync.”

The third jury selection of the evening was a video work titled Un Cadeau Pour… by the Italian composer Valerio De Bonis, an electronic music composer who is also a prize-winning percussionist. The final work was Elpis by Marios Joannou Elia from Cyprus, a polished work for an unusual lineup of seven accordions and two percussionists.

A scheduling conflict kept me from attending Wednesday’s noon concert; as I was on a ferry to the Nieuw Ensemble’s rehearsal space in North Amsterdam for my last rehearsal, the Ensemble MAE took the stage in the Bimhuis. I did manage however to catch the ensemble’s Sunday performance of Dreams of the Blind by their artistic director Yannis Kyriakides. This performance took place within the framework of a new annual festival called TOONZETTERS, which aims to raise the public profile of new Dutch music by taking the ten best Dutch premieres of the previous concert season and re-performing them all in one day (conveniently aligned with the start of the Gaudeamus week). The event started Sunday morning at 11 a.m. and continued all day with free concerts at the Muziekgebouw, featuring (again) the best ensembles in Dutch new music—Orkest de Volharding, Ives ensemble, Ensembe MAE, Schönberg Ensemble—several of whom would perform in the coming Music Week. The festival culminated in an evening gala where a prize was awarded in the form of a 10,000 Euro commission for a new work; this year it went to Richard Rijnvos for his piano concerto NYConcerto.

TOONZETTERS, however, was only part of a larger event called Uitmarkt, a now-annual gathering along the old docklands of the IJ that signals the start of the cultural season. Rows upon rows of booths are set up, each staffed by a different cultural organization—music ensembles, theater companies, bookstores, children’s museums—all promoting themselves with programs, fliers, and other incentives (candy, cheese, or discounted tickets). Food, drinks, and outdoor stages were set up along the water. All in all, the event attracted about half a million visitors over two days. I stopped by the Nieuw Ensemble’s booth and remarked to the staffer there how impressive I found the whole event, especially from a foreigner’s perspective. “Yes,” she told me, “it’s very Dutch.”

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