Utrecht Early Music Festival 2016 part 18: Duo Ranganathan – Fernández

They were having fun. The audience was having fun. What more is needed for an enjoyable concert? The venue was the large concert hall of Tivoli-Vredenburg and its sound-system did not play up. So like last year, the duo Ranganathan – Fernández gave an enjoyable concert.

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Early Music Festival Utrecht 2015 part 10: Gradus ad Parnassum

Fringe concert: Gradus ad Parnassum in London Moods

No idea why some ensembles are part of the fabulous fringe group and others are performing in the ordinary fringe group. Hardly two days into the fringe performances of this year’s Early Music Festival and I was wondering about things. The bafflement would only increase during this concert.

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Early Music Festival Utrecht 2015 part 8: Bach and Pisendel

Fringe: Shirley, Resche and van der Wel on Bach and Pisendel

The Mirliton Theatre is one of those small Dutch theatres with a rich past, which are under threat of closure due to governmental cuts of over 70% in the budget for culture. It seems it has a rich past with well-known cabaretiers and stand-up comedians performing there. Like another, even smaller theatre (Branouil in The Hague), it now regularly hosts musical events. The first fringe concert I had selected to attend on Tuesday the 1st of September, took place in Mirliton.

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Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014 part: 21

Fringe concert: Ensemble Arcata

From the peaceful hortus of the university museum (see part 20) it is just a short walk to Sonnenborgh. This 16th century fortress evolved into an observatory and is now a small concert venue.

As in Kuub (see part 18), the public sits about three to five meters away from the performers. This creates quite an intimate atmosphere. It may seem that a nearly subterranean room in a former fortress is far from ideal as a concert venue. This is not the case. At an earlier Early Music Festival, I heard a concert here by an ensemble which sparked and sizzled. I have heard good concerts here by various musicians on various instruments, but so far that particular fringe concert has not been surpassed.

Tuning harpsichords

On the right: the harpsichord tuner at Sonnenborgh

While most of the public was already seated, the harpsichord was tuned. Nobody ever takes pictures of the festival’s harpsichord tuner nor applauds him for his hard work. On his bicycle he races from harpsichord to harpsichord to tune them for each fringe concert – all over Utrecht. With so many fringe concerts per time-slot, it is a hard job. It may not be a Tour de France but it certainly is a Tour de Force. When he had finished tuning this harpsichord, this audience at least gave him a well-earned applause.

Like at least two of the three previous fringe concerts of the day, the public was treated to 18th century music. Or to be more precise: to Italian sonatas from the mid 18th century. With more fringe concerts containing 18th century Italian music, there were at least two pieces I was now familiar with.

The first piece of the concert was the sonata in A op 6 nr 2 by Giuseppe Tartini. This piece was played by all three musicians and it sounded not okay. It was followed by sonata in A K. 208 by Domenico Scarlatti – solo harpsichord performance. This went pretty okay. As I love Scarlatti, I’ve heard many of his sonatas by the best harpsichord players. This performance was okay but not brilliant.

The sonata in A op 5 nr 1 of Francesco Geminiani, performed by harpsichord and violoncello was also okay. The concert ended with the sonata in A op. 1 nr 7 of Francesco Maria Veracini performed by all three musicians and this again went totally not okay.

The problem was clearly the violin. It was dreadful. Was it nerves? From observing her before the concert started, when she was walking around the room, it seemed nerves were not the problem but a dislike of the venue. But if other ensembles are able to give a sparkling, sizzling performance there, which gets the audience on its feet and shouting and clapping, there is nothing wrong with the venue.

While becoming upset by the sound of the violin, I observed other members of the public. They also pursed their lips, showed involuntary twitching, or other reactions to the horrible sound. It was not me, but it certainly was dreadful.

I’ve visited the Early Music Festival for years now. So far, there have been only two concerts where I voted “don’t want to hear this again” when handing in my voting sheet to volunteers at the end of a concert. This concert was one of them and I was pretty relieved, fringe concerts are free.

When I walked back towards the large Dom tower, I heard its carillon play. The sounds of the bells rang out over the old town. The “beiaardier” was playing either the Tartini or the Geminiani piece. I am no fan of carillon music, but it sounded a lot better than what I’d just heard.

A few streets further on, I passed someone playing on a recorder. He was also playing Italian 18th century music and a piece I now recognized from a fringe concert. It sounded better than what I had just heard.

Finally, not far from central station, I passed a girl playing on an Irish harp. She was not playing Italian 18th century music, but the music finally restored my good humour.

Ensemble Arcata:
Amy Shen violin;
Anthony Abouhamad harpsichord;
Ester Domingo Sancho viooncello

For information on Sonnenborgh: Sonnenborgh

Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014: part 16

Fringe Concert: Divérbium Ensemble

I thought Plein 5 was one of the worst places of Tivoli-Vredenburg to perform? (See previous posts like part 15)There is another place in the building which should best be evaded. Should you be offered Pandora for a 2015 (fringe) concert – think twice!

There were the usual problems for people whose eyesight is not 100% or who have problems with walking or are in a wheelchair etc. To start with, the concrete steps are heavenly light blue. For someone who has a problem gauging depth, for instance, these concrete steps are a nightmare.

Going up to Pandora is one thing. Trying not to crash down the concrete stairs is quite another problem. There were also the by now familiar problems for other people with finding an elevator or the right elevator. Sign-posting can be improved throughout the building. The place was actually so new, the smell of paint was still strong. Or as someone mentioned “gosh, this is just or not even yet finished!”

The problem for musicians is far worse. High up in this space, are the ventilation shafts of the airco or the climate control system. This system can not be disconnected during a concert. So throughout a concert, there is this background droning going on to which musicians as well as public are forced to listen.

During the concert by the Divérbium Ensemble, people kept leaving and it was not just because they needed to hurry to one of the concerts which started halfway through this fringe concert. Quite a lot complained about the irritating noise. A few tried out different places in the hall. Many gave up after all this and simply left well before the concert had finished.

The public who sat out the concert were treated to the by now nearly standard changes in the program. The first piece actually was not by Corelli. What I think I heard above the humming irritating background noise was, that the opening sonata would be by Sicker (?) who got his “input” from Corelli. The second sonata was by Corelli, but would be played at the end of the concert.

In between these pieces, the audience was treated to sonata nr 6 TWV 42:D8 by Telemann, Triosonata Op 5 nr & “la Corelli” by Valentini, and Sonata op 5 nr 2 by Pietro Antonio Locatelli. Or as the title of this concert ran: “About Corelli”. What the exact influences and relations were to the theme, would have to be looked up after the concert.

In any case, most pieces were performed nicely enough, but not brilliantly or stunningly. Which was a bit of a let down for me, as Elisabeth Lochmann who played the violin, is a member of the Ensemble Weimar (see part 13) which had so impressed me at 11:00 that very same day.

So: it is not only choice of music which is all important and plays an important role for a successful fringe concert. Your “podium” or stage presentation is very important as well. But if you happen to be allocated the wrong location for your instrument (see for instance part   and articles in the Dutch national papers, or other blogs) or a lousy place like Plein 5 or Pandora: your chances of winning the Public’s Fringe Award become very slim.

Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014::Divérbium Ensemble, 3rd of September 2014, 15:30, Tivoli-Vredenburg, Pandora.

Divérbium Ensemble:
Enrica Sirigu traverso;
Elisabeth Lochmann violin;
Roberta Tagarelli harpsichord

Facebook page Divérbium Ensemble


Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014: part 13

Fabulous fringe concert: Ensemble Weimar

The best way to start an Early Music Festival day in Utrecht was – according to me – to head for the café-restaurant “Winkel van Sinkel”. This venue is not only a café and restaurant, but has also been used to host fringe concerts over the years. In fact, I had attended a concert there already. (See part 3.)

What makes this a decent place to start the day is that it is already receiving customers from at least 10:00 onwards, it is situated right next to a canal, it has free WiFi, and the morning sun shines on its small street side terrace. All this together make it a place for a relaxed start of the day – even if you are not in Utrecht for festivals or concerts. On Wednesday evenings you can apparently get your future told by getting your hand read or by a Tarot reading. On other days, there are usually cultural events scheduled. This is not exactly a dull spot.

Though Tivoli-Vredenburg also has a café restaurant, free WiFi, and the coffee is just as expensive, I much prefer the “Winkel van Sinkel”’s terrace with view past the Karyatides, across the street and canal to the old town-hall and even the Dom tower.

Today’s extra was, that the sunny terrace was also halfway to the venue of my first fringe of the day. The Ensemble Weimar was going to play in the Pieterkerk. This church is one of my favourite spots as it has a very quaint garden (not always open to the public).

The church itself is also very beautiful as it is an old, historic building with many original features. There are Roman bits. There are remnants of frescoes. There are Gothic and Renaissance elements. The acoustics are good and the church is regularily used for concerts. The hard wooden benches are less inviting, but the concert by the Ensemble Weimar was so brilliant and impressive, most of the public took this for granted.

I had heard this ensemble last year and had been greatly impressed; especially by the breath-taking performance on the traverse by Gregorio Carraro. This concert seemed even better and brought tears to my eyes. It was that beautiful. The rest of the public shared my opinion, for they treated the ensemble to a very long, standing ovation to ensure the group came back on stage and there were even – quite un-early-musical: catcalls and wistles! Unfortunately, all these signs of great approval did not entice the ensemble to an encore. After their concert there was, however, plenty time to talk with its members, ask questions, have a look at their CD.

Like previous ensembles I heard, this one also contrasted music from Italy and northern baroque music. However, for an amateur like me, the choice of music seemed to bring out the differences and similarities better during this concert.

The ensemble started with sonata nr 4 by Dario Castello. The sonata sounded playful, teasing, quick-witted. Then there followed three sonatas by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, whose music can be heard regularly as he is one of the Habsburg composers the festival focusses on. The sonata 4, sonata 8 and sonata 9 all sounded more solid yet still lovely compared to Dario Castello’s sonata. Sonata 8 definitely started melancholically but the mood soon brightened up. The last sonata of this concert, sonata nr 9 by Dario Castello, brought the concert to its cascading finish.

Again: a truly fabulous Fabulous Fringe Concert!

Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014: Ensemble Weimar, 3rd of September 2014, 11:00, Pieterskerk

Ensemble Weimar:
Gregorio Carraro traverso;
Elisabeth Lochmann violin;
Gertrud Ohse viola da gamba;
Daniele Rocchi harpsichord.

Ensemble Weimar can be found on Facebook and has a webpage.
A Youtube excerpt of ensemble Weimar

Click here for info on
Winkel van Sinkel Utrecht
Pieterskerk Utrecht (Dutch)

Early Music Festival Utrecht 2014 part 1

Fringe concert: La Favilla

After the horrors involved in obtaining the day’s fringe concert tickets at Tivoli-Vredenburg, I hastened through Utrecht’s museum quarter to the Bartholomeus Gasthuis. At least this fringe concert – my first of the Utrecht Early Music Festival – took place in a period building. Once seated among public, also grumbling about the dreadful organisation and life threatening scenes at Tivoli-Vredenburg, I slowly started to unwind and get into the right festival mood.

La Favilla’s three members played 17th century music and started their concert with Suite 5 by Charles François Dieupart. It was satisfactorily performed and followed by “Le Badinage pour basse de viole et basse continue” by Marin Marais – played by Filipa Meneses and Joao Rival. Of the whole concert, this beautiful, haunting, melancholic piece impressed me most.

Only after these two pieces, did Isabel Favilla start her introduction. This was about halfway through the concert, so rather late. Background information about pieces, composers, influences, should come before each piece – or after the first suite at the latest. How the selected composers and music relate to this Festival’s theme – the Habsburg era, Vienna, Prague – was not explained either.

The concert continued with another piece by Charles François Dieupart, Sonata nr 2. This was followed by an explanation which I was unable to hear, though less than 10 rows from the group. The performance ended with sonata Opus 5, nr 4 by Arcangelo Corelli.

All pieces were, of course, perfectly executed. After frequenting this festival for years now, I know all fringe concert performers though young, play at elevated levels. The best are contracted by firms on the spot.

Isabella Favilla performs regularly throughout Europe with this and other ensembles. So la Favilla did not disappoint, but the performance did not exactly sparkle and a slight change in presentation would perhaps ensure better marks for podium presentation. Unfortunately, this concert seems to have been their only one during this festival.

Utrecht Festival Early Music: fringe concert La Favilla 30th August 2014, 11:00, Bartholomeus Gasthuis

Isabella Favilla recorder
Filippa Meneses violin
Joao Rival harpsichord

Website La Favilla: la Favilla