Researching my trip to Central Europe several years ago, I came across the article in the journal Gramaphone U.K., World’s Greatest Orchestras, and resolved that if I ever got to Amsterdam, I would attend a concert by the world’s premier orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The opportunity finally arrived when I needed a stopover in Europe before the second long flight from Europe to Cape Town. I had to hope my flights would be on time, since my arrival at Schiphol airport was at 10:05 a.m. and the concert began at 2:15 p.m. No problem! Thank you, KLM!! I even had time for lunch and a glass of wine before the concert, and why not?
The program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B flat major and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, with guest conductor Tugan Sokhiev, who, among other things, is the musical director of the Bolshoi Theatre and a Russian specialist, conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Beethoven wrote the Fourth during the late summer and fall of 1806, while staying in the palace of Count Franz von Oppersdorff in upper Silesia, to whom it was eventually dedicated. A critic at the time said, “the first Allegro is very beautiful, fiery and rich in harmony, and the minuet and trio also have a distinct, original character.” Later, another critic stated that “there are no words to describe the deep, powerful spirit of this work from his earlier and most beautiful period.” If you like, listen to an excerpt from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 played by the Concertgebouw orchestra directed by Carlos Kleiber.
That was the starter; now, on to the main course. Though Shostakovich wrote this piece after the death of Stalin, it is speculated that he conceived of it during the last tyrannical years of Stalin, when, in an atmosphere of fear for one’s life, Shostakovic was heard saying, “even if they chop my hands off, I will continue to compose music – even if I have to hold the pen between my teeth.” The beautiful piece expresses the mood, from dark and dreary to angry (the second movement has 50 crescendos) to ultimately optimistic. This is an excerpt from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 played by the World No. 2 Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle:
The musicians were so nuanced in their playing and what stood out for me was they were constantly adjusting the volume from very soft and trilling up to very loud but every single instrument played at exactly the same level, it was amazing. They did a lot of that, too, which was very effective, that may have been the influence of Tugan Sokhiev. He had his back to us, of course, but at the end of one very heavy duty ending of a movement, he had his arms outstretched and he lowered them very, very slowly, and you could have heard a pin drop. At the end of the piece there was a great sudden, great crescendo and a final note that ended abruptly, all the strings played the last note on the upswing and pointed their bows to the sky in a flourish. It was so dramatic! Of course the ovations were amazing, Europeans absolutely love and appreciate their musicians.
I fell in love with Amsterdam immediately. There are bicycles and beautiful separated bike paths everywhere. The leafy streets are lined with brick townhouses until the road opens up and a magnificent example of modern architecture reveals itself.
This is my street:
After a sleepless overnight flight, early to bed tonight in my cosy single room at the gorgeous boutique hotel Bilderberg Jan Luyken (named for the Amsterdam engraving artist), located steps from the concert hall, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.