Amsterdam’s original ‘Temple of Enlightenment’ Felix Meritis is tuning up with three new concert series. Tim Peterson spoke with organisers Arjan Hebly and John Snijders.
Given the enormous anticipated rollback of government funding for classical music in Holland, it would make sense to see a bit more conservative programming from classical venues right now. Surprisingly, the folks at Felix Meritis, the stately, columned monument to arts and science on the Keizersgracht, are doing just the opposite.
Starting this month with a performance from Amsterdam-based contemporary chamber group the Ives Ensemble, music programming manager Arjan Hebly, along with help from Ives’ founder and artistic director John Snijders, has conjured up three new series – 22 concerts in total – through May 2012. The previous year’s count: 12.
‘I wanted some regularity in the programming, not just one every month,’ says Hebly, who came to the Felix Meritis two years ago from a cultural centre in Hoofddorp. ‘We want to establish our new-old concert hall. When you have too few concerts, people start to forget you.’
The ‘new-old’ hall to which Hebly is referring received a complete new paint job and modern ventilation system just last year. The project was part of a massive renovation that’s been going on for 20 years in preparation for the 225th anniversary of the building in 2013. That year also marks the 125th birthday of the Concertgebouw and 300 years of the beloved grachtengordel, so some significant collaborative concerts are in the works.
Until the 19th century, the main Felix Meritis concert hall, which was actually the model for the Concertgebouw’s small hall, was pretty much the only musical performance venue in Amsterdam, often playing host to period rock stars including Robert and Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saëns and Julius Röntgen.
Deputy director of international programmes Joanneke Lootsma said it was time to ‘revive the concert practice as it once was.’ Hebly agrees: ‘It was the natural moment.’
September kicks off the new music schedule with the first series, ‘News Amsterdam’s original ‘Temple of Enlightenment’ Felix Meritis is tuning up with three new concert series. Tim Peterson spoke with organisers Arjan Hebly and John Snijders Felix cats: The Ives Ensemble makes for the Meritis. Below: ‘Die Kammersängerin’ A series matter from the Front’, which focuses on unpacking the term ‘modern music’ through classical, contemporary and new compositions, and features concerts from Ives as well as 18th-century specialists the Van Swieten Society and contemporary vocalists the Asko Chamber Choir.
‘“Old” and “modern” don’t have anything to do with the time that music’s been written,’ says Snijders. ‘Music written in the 14th century could sound like it’s been written in the 1940s. Someone like Beethoven or Haydn – their music was avant-garde in its own right, not contemporary but modern. That quality doesn’t get lost in time.’
There’s only one concert this month: ‘Two Women’ on 16 September features two half-hour pieces. The first is ‘Les Emois d’Aphrodite’, a collection of three dances for an ‘invisible’ goddess, written by musique concrète pioneer Luc Ferrari. Following is award-winning musical theatre production ‘Die Kammersängerin’, a work for high soprano and nine musicians from Dutch composer Richard Rijnvos, based on texts from 20th-century Austrian poet Ernst Jandl.
The rest of the programming doesn’t really get going until November, but there’s plenty on the roster thereafter.
As far as the national budget cuts are concerned, Felix Meritis isn’t expecting much of an impact; it receives only half of one per cent of its annual operating budget from the local government, according to director Linda Bouws, and nothing from The Hague. The rest? Rent from letting all of the building’s seven unique halls: ‘Some days there’s a photo shoot, a summer course or a business conference,’ says Lootsma. In that sense, Felix Meritis is already running as The Hague would like: using income earned from mostly private sources.
‘Even though the government is doing everything they can to destroy as much as they can manage, we’ll go on ‘When you have too few concerts, people start to forget you’ regardless,’ says Snijders. ‘A message can come from our concerts, but it’s not the reason for them. We’re more musicians than politicians.’ Maybe they can be a little of both.
The Ives Ensemble performs at Felix Meritis, Keizersgracht 324, Friday 16.