Walking around Utrecht’s old town centre, it is difficult to miss the huge Dom tower. It literally towers over the city. But during the Early Music Festival, its bells also ring all over this city.
In England and a few other places, there exists the noble art of bell ringing. Anybody who ever visited the Netherlands, Belgium, Northern France and a few other places, is familiar with the sound of carillons. It is not just one bell chiming the quarter, half hour, hour. Many a large tower hides a whole set of bells: the carillon.
A carilloneur plays something which looks slightly like an organ “dashboard”, but which is situated high up a special bell tower. He or she had been to a special school to learn to pay the carillon, like the one in Leuven in Belgium or in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Employing a carilloneur, maintaining the tower and carillon: it all costs money.
So these days, many a carillon rings out artificially: a tape recorder or whatever mechanical substitute is used. This saves a town money. Fortunately, they do things differently in Utrecht. Here, the tradition of employing a carilloneur, going back to the middle ages, is maintained.
Due to the close link between the Dom tower, Utrecht’s carillioneur, and the Early Music Festival, the carillon rings out each festival day. The first Saturday of the festival, the walk around old Utrecht with the Utrecht bell ringers guild was popular. Sunday, there was a two-hour-long workshop on bell ringing as well as Frans Haagen playing works by Gabrieli, Vivaldi, Galuppi and Paradies on the carillon.Tuesday, Koen Cosaert played Willaert and Galuppi.
The best place to listen to such carillon concerts, is the small garden called Flora’s Hof, or the garden of Flora. One needs to walk towards the Dom tower from the old town centre and just before reaching the imposing tower, pass through a gate. Past the strawberry bed and there is Flora’s quiet, hidden garden complete with benches and seats to listen to carillon concerts.
After the concert of AeroDynamic, I hurried from the Pieterskerk to Flora’s secret garden. There was a seat and I enjoyed the concert for about 30 minutes.
Wednesday, Malgosia Fiebig played pieces by the brothers Marcello, Bach and others for an hour. Thursday, Wim Ruitenbeek played Albioni and Casparini. Friday it was Jakob de Vreese’s turn, whose theme was Carnaval di Venezia. Saturday Malgosia Fiebig will play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on the carillon and Sunday works by Vivaldi, Legrenzi and Bach.
Saturday – and on a few other days – it is possible to have a look at the carillion. Sunday, there is another workshop on bell ringing. It is all part of the so-called Beiaard Festival or Carillion Festival, which is part of the Early Music Festival.
Interested in carillons, how to become a carilloneur, or perhaps take part in a workshop on bell ringing or have a look at the carilloneur playing during the next Early Music Festival?