No festival without a public. No Early Music Festival without its fans. As can be expected from such a special music festival, its public is special too. This year, a few members really struck a chord – or rather: a discord.
Of course, there are early music nerds. Admitted: one has to be slightly Mediaeval, Gothic, Baroque, romantic – to love this kind of music. Polyphony is not appreciated by all. Some disagree about dancing steps. Others differ about the kind and number of strings a certain instrument should have – or even what it might have looked like and how it should be played.
There are the nerds who are head over heels in love with the sound of a harpsichord, yet simply can not stand a tune played on a clavichord. Folks flocking to this 10-day-long festival may be eccentric, but they are decent. After all: they come for the music, instruments, musicians.
So when I visited my favourite Swedish café for breakfast, I was in for a shock. It is a small place with a lovely view of the back of Utrecht’s Dom. They open at 08:00 during the week, an hour later during the weekend. This Conditorei, or Conditorie closes around 17:00.
It has a terrace in front of the café. Gothic gargoyles seem to look down in envy at your cake, sandwich, orange juice – whatever. You can hop inside for a take-away; or order a Swedish version of high tea. Personally, I prefer going inside, have a look what’s on offer and check which of the two rooms of this former small house has space for me to settle in.
So the festival’s Monday, I had settled in a corner of the small front room on the settee with my laptop on a table. One of the waitresses, students working there to partly fund their studies, served me my kick-start coffee with cinnamon roll. After ensuring I was totally content, she joined her colleagues at the counter. There was a small problem.
While going through my mails, I also followed part of the conversation. It’s a laid-back, sympathetic place, so if there is a problem … Turned out, the weekend had been extremely busy. What with over 60,000 visitors attending the festival, as well as ordinary tourists flocking into town, joined by a new load of students going through their introductory week – The girls had been working hard, minding the café, the small shop, the many customers.
They are clever and experienced waitresses. They keep an eye on things, but what with a back room, a front room, a counter and shop, a bakery at the back and terrace … On both days, they had had groups and on each day a different large group had been seated on the terrace, late afternoon.
The girls had served them and kept an eye on them – but now hawk-like. After all: you do not expect a large group, or even an individual customer, to suddenly vanish – leaving you with an unpaid bill?
From what the girls had managed to hear, both groups had consisted of early music fans. They must have been in a rush to hear their next concert. For fringe concerts end around 16:30. Ordinary afternoon concerts follow a slightly different routine and the next round starts at 17:00. The organisation always ensures there is plenty time between concerts.
Not settling a bill, because one is in a hurry to get to a concert in time? What kind of behaviour is that? It is a-typical for the crowd which attends this festival. It was the first time I had ever heard about such an incident. It was shocking.
For one simply knows when concerts stop, how much time one has for a coffee or tea, how much time one needs to reach the next venue, one fully knows when the next concerts start – for one needs to buy tickets for these. So how come a group of between five and ten people “forgets” to pay a bill, because it’s time to head to the 17:00 round of concerts? Moreover, if one can afford to buy tickets costing at least 20 Euro a piece for these concerts, surely one can afford to pay one’s bill?
The girls were upset. It was not only their belief in humanity and especially music-lovers, which had been shaken. The owner had been away for the weekend. The girls had been left in charge. How were they going to square things with her?
The most experienced waitress suddenly asked how much the tips added up to, for both Saturday and Sunday. The one in charge of the till calculated and recalculated. There had been decent customers, who had tipped the girls on both days. The tips, which should have been divided among the girls, covered both unpaid bills.
The girls heaved a sigh of relief. When the owner would enter, they would tell her what had happened. They would show the tips they had earned. The tips would cover the difference caused by the unpaid bills.
Silently, I cringed. When it was time for me, to head towards my first fringe concert of the festival, a full 30 minutes before it would start, I paid my bill and added a large tip. Not that it would ever obliterate what had happened.