The Delft Chamber Music Festival, in its 26th edition, needs no introduction. Its new artistic director, Nino Gvetadze, is in her second year. She succeeded the splendid ten-year residency of Liza Fertschman, a hard act to follow – and Nino is doing it brilliantly.
This year’s theme is Op reis, meaning a journey, a time of travel, or on the road, in other words, a voyage in music. From music inspired the nomadic Roma to the Northern Lights and the Silk Road, the audience will certainly be taken on a voyage. Also included are young musicians, as well as music to compliment the Dutch 17th century Golden Age paintings many of which are present in Delft’s splendid Prinsenhof Museum. As usual, the musicians are drawn from around the world to ensure top class performances the public have become used to. Astrid Burchardt reports . . . (most recent first)
Thursday, 3rd August
It’s a rare treat to have une soirée américaine, as we would say if we were French, at a classical music festival. Maybe because organizers in general don’t consider the music classical enough.
When Bach and Beethoven were beavering away our American cousins were busy building log cabins and fighting off the Indians. It wasn’t until the skyscrapers were nearly finished that they had time to do any composing. So, there isn’t much American music older than a hundred and twenty-odd years and much of that is not classical music as we know it. There are often strong influences from the blues and they use saxophones and such like, often without a violin in sight. So, what I am saying is that American music is frequently not appreciated; snobs and purists will turn their noses up at it. Well, by doing so they are missing an awful lot as tonight’s concert went a very long way to demonstrate.
Many European composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century found the idea of the America very attractive, either as a place of inspiration or refuge. Bartók, Rachmaninov and Korngold among many others either visited or lived in the New World. Dvořák, in particular, was impressed and influenced and even wrote a symphony about it. He also wrote a quartet called . . . err. . . The American Quartet and it was this wonderful piece of music that opened tonight’s concert.
I must confess to not being familiar with Amy Beach. She was born in New Hampshire in 1867 and her Gaelic of 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. So, not knowing what to expect from tonight’s concert, her 1893 duet Romance for Violin and Piano Op.23 came as a very pleasant surprise. Nino Gvetadze and Frederieke Saeijs played this more conventional nuanced classical composition beautifully.
If there is one piece of music that epitomizes American classical it is George Gershwin’s mesmerizing Rhapsody in Blue. It encapsulates all that was American in 1924 – the vigour, the optimism, the excitement and the hustle and bustle of the new metropolises. If you close your eyes it’s easy to imagine yourself hailing a yellow taxi in Fifth Avenue in the rush hour. Tonight’s performance featured, of course, Ms Gvetadze on piano and a reduced five-piece ensemble, as opposed to the full twenty-two piece orchestra. Few in number they may have been, but they certainly delivered the goods with gusto and verve, sweeping us along like a crowd making headlong for Grand Central Station.
Tuesday, 1st August
Noorderlicht (Northern Lights)
The Delft Chamber Music Festival, as in previous years, seems to attract the best musicians from the world over. Luckily, many of them love to work in The Netherlands. Each year this gives me the opportunity of discovering not only new music but also new musicians and so it was with tonight’s programme.
Northern countries such a Finland, Norway and Sweden are often thought of as dark and rather melancholy due to their very long winters. It is an established fact that human moods flourish the more light they are exposed to. Paintings of dark skies, snowed-in landscapes and dramatic fjords certainly prove this, but in music it seems to be a different story.
Finnish violinist Sibelius’ Pianotrio nr. 4 in C with violin and cello was the first in tonight’s programme. An energetic first movement was followed by a lovely melancholy one, ending with an upbeat, animated third part that coursed through the Mandelzaal concert hall. I especially enjoyed the cello playing by Gavriel Lipkind.
Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Theme with variations was composed in 1917 and was very much in the spirit of the period. Colourful, pensive and fun in turn, at times eccentric and abstract, it reminded me of a musical version of Kandinsky’s paintings.
Severin von Eckardstein on piano was outstanding.
Värmlandsvisan – this traditional Swedish folksong was last year specially arranged by Gareth Lubbe for the Swedish King and Queen and included his iconic and technique of ‘overtone singing’ in which Lubbe seems to specialise. The brilliantly creative Gareth Lubbe on altviola was accompanied by viola, violin, cello and double bass. Mysterious and intriguing how Lubbe can produce these extraordinary sounds and play his instrument at the same time.
There can hardly be a person alive who has not heard the opening bars of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt and yet, his name is the first that springs to the public’s mind when talking about great music. Tonight Grieg’s Holberg Suite was the high point of this concert as eleven musicians marched onto the stage – two alto violas, two violas, three violins, two cellos and a double bass struck up. Led by Candida Thomson the lady musicians all donned splendid evening dress. Grieg’s Holberg Suite, a truly beautiful piece, at times had quite an English feel, almost folkloric in places with a central theme laden with emotion.
De Zijderoute (The Silk Road)
We have the Chinese to thank for not only silk, but for the fact that paper on which our western civilisation has built its education, reached us via that dangerous, blood-drenched route.
This was a spectacular multi-media production – music blended with the images on the giant backdrop to trace the story of the Silk Road, with the images enveloping the musicians as it went. The pictorial and musical journey began in China and travelled through India, Egypt, Spain and finally to Delft itself.
Nino Gvetadze with her commanding mastery of the piano led the various musicians’ interventions – Bram van Sambeek on fagot and Heiko Dijker drumming Indian tabla merged with the ever-moving giant illustrations created by Teus van der Stelt. Fredrieke Saeijs’ extraordinary violin playing would have mesmerised the crowd of Glastonbury – maybe next summer?
Saturday, 29th July
Jonge Meesters Concert (Young Masters)
If you mentor the young you will not only get respect but love and friendship, not to mention gratitude, for life – at least this is what I’ve always practised in my career. Nino Gvetadze is obviously of the same mind and this afternoon’s concert amply demonstrated it by giving the younger generation a platform in this prestigious festival. First up was Mendelsohn’s String quartet in F minor brilliantly played by Maja Horvat, first violin, Iris van Nuland, violin, Giulia Wechsler, viola and Stefano Bruno, cello. The winner of many prizes and co-founder of the London based Brompton Quartet, it is no exaggeration to say that Slovenian born Maja Horvat stole the show with her passionate style – wielding her violin she could squeeze blood from a stone.
For Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano quintet in G minor, Sandro Nebieridze on piano joined the line-up. Shostakovich wrote this piano quintet in 1940 and the tension of the period was all too obvious. Once criticised for his unsentimental playing he excelled at a very descriptive ambiance in this piece – I could hear frenzied industrial clanging alternating with frustration, anguish and resignation. Not surprisingly, just a short time after composing this his work was condemned by the Soviet government, putting his career in peril.The performance of both pieces by these young musicians proved a raging success this year.
Hollandse Meesters Muziek en Verf (Dutch Masters Music and Colour)
The title of tonight’s concert calls to mind the exquisite paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. The aim tonight was to bring together, or contrast, Dutch composers of the 20th century and works in the wonderful Prinsenhof Museum, once the home and the scene of the murder of William of Orange. On the menu were a sonata as well as a sonatino by Willem Piper (1894-1947) as well as Leo Smit’s piano divertimento for four hands composed in 1942, a year before his untimely death. Elegantly played by Frederieke Saeijs on violin, Ed Spanjaard on piano, it was followed by Nino Gvetadze and Sandro Nebieridze respectively, beautifully giving the dramatic divertimento for four hands on piano.
But the outstanding piece was Vanessa Lann’s world premiere of And These Hands for violin and viola, played by Tosca Opdam and Gareth Lubbe who once again produced his miraculous and earthy breath-singing. The set-up of eight music stands along which the musicians moved as they played, was a simple but very effective device to increase the tension, and attention, of the audience – simply ingenuous.
Last came Louis Andriessen’s Miserere strijkkwartet. Andriessen was considered the most influential Dutch composer of his generation. This piece was composed in 2006 and was played by Candida Thompson and Frederieke Saeijs on violins with Gareth Lubbe on viola and the young Georgian cellist, Ketevan Roinishvilli who is a member of the Ferschtman cello quartet.
After the performance the audience was given the opportunity to visit the Prinsenhof Museum with a guided tour and, if so inclined, linger in the historic building for a little longer.
Friday, 28th July
Openings concert – Alla Zingarese
The Opening Concert was loosely inspired by the music of the nomadic Roma. The five musicians of the opening concert – Nino Gvetadze on piano with violinists Frederieke Saeijs and Candida Thompson, Harriet Krijgh on cello and Gareth Lubbe on viola/violin, gave us three very different pieces: Hayden’s Piano Trio Hob.XV/25, Brahms Piano Quartet Nr. 1 op.25 and the Red Violin Caprices by John Corigliano from the film Le Violon Rouge.
In its third movement Hayden’s Piano Trio, rather sweet to start with, blossomed into a swirling finale in the third movement. The Brahms Piano Quartet escalated into an almost heart-breaking Roma motif by the end. Gripping stuff.
But for me the outstanding piece was the Red Violon Caprice, dramatically played by Gareth Lubbe on violin/mouth music, accompanied by Harriet Krijgh on cello. Jaws dropped when Lubbe began with what was described as ‘song’ but what emanated from his mouth was a total surprise – not so much a song but a series of sounds, growling and whistling at the same time, produced by a method of breathing which resembled ritual sounds made by aborigines instruments. Utterly riveting.
At the end of the evening we made our way to Delft’s Markt where we were treated to a free concert. These free Marktconcerts in the city’s cobbled market place have become, if maybe not the high-spot, certainly one of the focal points of the Festival. In past years they have been a sort of showcase for the Festival as a whole with many of the participating musician turning up to do a turn. This year was slightly different with the bulk of the show being performed by a band that was not in the main Festival
Argentinian tango music became very popular a few years back due to the amazing Astor Piazzolla and last night as the moon rose behind the Stadhuis, the Carel Kraayenhof Quartet re-created that sound with Mr Kraayenhof himself on bandoneon accompanied by Juan Pablo Dobal on piano, Bert Vos on violin and Jaap Branderhorst on bass. Their hour-long set was mesmerizing with traditional tunes and original compositions. The audience may well have been tangoing in the aisle but, as we were at the front, we couldn’t see them. Altogether a very entertaining start to the 2023 Festival where a good time was had by one and all.