Early Music Festival Utrecht 2015 part 1: opening concert

Festival opening concert at Tivoli-Vredenburg, Utrecht, Friday 28th of August 2015

The public got more than it bargained for. According to the blurb, the opening concert of the Early Music Festival 2015 at Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht, would be viola da gamba music performed by Hespèrion XXI with Jordi Savall. The large hall of Tivoli Vredenburg was totally sold out and filled with ordinary enthusiasts, as well as officials like the British ambassador and his wife.

However, It was not Hespèrion XXI and viola da gamba music which started the concert. Oh no! The audience and EU countries to which the concert was broadcasted life on radio received a shocking surprise. No courtly music from the era of Elizabeth and Shakespeare – no-no! Something far more entertaining: a rapper sword dance performed by the Newcastle Kingsmen. Yippee!!

But then, this year’s focus is not only on courtly music. “England my England!” is about early music ranging from folksy rapper sword dances, to hopefully: catches and glees. The festival will have music performed for Elizabeth, church music, and music which could be heard in the taverns of England. John Dowland will be in the spot-light, but there will be much from other composers as well. The rapper sword dance was just a reminder!

Couldn’t keep my feet still, but did not dare clap with the rhythm. Just in case it broke concentration and the swords caused damage. For though the swords are no longer real ones, they can still hurt.

But after this feisty show, the festival director addressed the audience. Pre-sale figures are up – and quite rightly, for this is a truly magnificent festival. The festival intends to not only focus on performing early music on authentic and replica instruments, but also concentrate on research and experimenting. Fine by me, as long as the 10-day-adventure is not altered too much, for the recipe which has been used for close to thirty-five years does not need much altering.

Xavier Vandamme quite rightly pointed out the dreadful cuts to cultural budgets in 2012. Who needs IS with ordinary western governments causing so much irreplaceable damage to their cultural heritage. This festival survived, despite losing over 70% of its governmental financial help. This says a lot about the popularity of the festival and early music, but not all cultural events in the Netherlands have been as lucky.

The festival will be able to continue till 2016, but still needs donors. They actually need 3 million Euro to be able to continue. It is to be hoped that listeners and early music fans, as well as foundations and organisations will follow others in donating money and ensure more than 3 million Euro will be available soon.

However, after the surprise opening and excellent welcome speech, Hespèrion finally came on stage. Jordi Savall took Hespèrion XXI and the public through several ages of viola da gamba music. Most composers were English and included Byrd and Purcell. The pieces ranged from courtly music to pieces likely performed in English homes of the golden era of the instrument. Some were hauntingly beautiful, quiet pieces and others courtly dances, but also improvisational jolly twirls.

Like a few in the audience, I was not sure about the organ which was part of the consort. However, I was told this did occur in well-to-do upper-class home-performances. Personally, I find organs – even the small chest or box organs – overpower instruments like a clavichord, lute, and other early music string instruments. But the organ was only very present in one of the pieces performed during the second half of the concert.

What luck it was, that the ensemble gave us an encore! That was truly a nice extra concluding a wonderful opening concert. The only thing I was miffed about after being so spoilt: I missed out on the after-concert event: another performance by the now world-famous Newcastle Kingsmen treating many of the public to a pub-style performance! I am sure this was another brilliant and stirring one.

The Newcastle Kingsmen
Hespèrion XXI
Jordi Savall

Youtube The Newcastle Kingsmen rapper sword dance
Youtube Hespèryon XXI
Youtube Official festival site

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