Telemann - Der Tag des Gerichts - Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century - Tour 142 - Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Living a life as a touring musician, it is certainly a frequent occurrence to wake up and wonder exactly where you are. Sometimes it takes just a few moments to realise, as you recall your movements of the previous day. On other occasions a blandly corporate hotel room (while offering predictability and consistency) gives little indication of whether you are in London, Paris, Vancouver or Sydney. Even if you look out of the window, you often see only ubiquitous concrete or a featureless courtyard.

There are other times when your living arrangements are so inextricably linked to your location that you wake up in absolutely no doubt as to where you are. On this occasion: sounds of rippling water, a gentle motion from side-to-side, a cabin bed, and porthole-style windows overlooking a wide quay with tall, narrow houses. Unmistakably Amsterdam. In fact, so quintessentially Amsterdam that it was almost a caricature of itself, in a brilliantly quirky way.

I stayed in the captain’s quarters aboard a vessel named Ira which was moored on the Borneokade (and conveniently situated by the orchestral manager’s home and office). The Ira was once a long, flat-bottomed, river-going cargo boat. It was converted into a houseboat, after being shortened to fit in the Borneokade. Photographs show a third of the hull being removed, before the bow and stern sections were welded back together. The stern still houses the raised wheelhouse with the guest accommodation below. The owners of the Ira live in what was once the cargo hold of the ship; now a luxurious and contemporary living space. At the bow they have an outside deck, in the truest sense of the word. The Ira was a characterful place to call home while I was working with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in Amsterdam.

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It was a great privilege to return to perform with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in December 2017. I last played with the orchestra for Tour 123 in November and December 2014. This tour, Tour 142, would include two performances of Telemann's Der Tag des Gerichts [TWV 6:8]: firstly in a try-out concert in Zaandam (8th December) and then as part of the prestigious Zaterdagmatinee series (9th December) at the world-famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.



Rehearsals for the orchestra began at 13:30 on Tuesday 5th of December in one of the orchestra’s regular rehearsal venues, the Gereformeerde Kerk on the Keizersgracht. The first rehearsal coincided with the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) - with parents and children (of all ages) exchanging gifts, sweets and bespoke poetry. Sieuwert Verster, incidentally one of the most modest and inspiring people I have ever met, is the orchestra’s illustrious manager. He ensured that the cinnamon-scented kruidnoten and suitably festive schuimpjes were freely available in the canteen at the church on the Keizersgracht - a very thoughtful touch.



After a brilliant first rehearsal and very enjoyable day, I returned to the Borneokade with one of the viola players, Antonio Clares - who was staying with Sieuwert. Antonio is a great musician, a very fine photographer (we had lots to talk about), and he does a great job for the orchestra in keeping their social media up-to-date with the latest information and artistic photographs (as above). We became good friends over the course of Tour 142. Antonio and I had dinner with Sieuwert and his wife, Freddie. Sieuwert told us that he had been to the choir’s rehearsal in the morning, before our orchestral rehearsal in the afternoon. His route there had taken him to the south of Amsterdam and near to his old school, which he hadn’t seen for some considerable time. As he passed, Sieuwert glanced through into the schoolyard to inspect five poplar trees. He explained to us that forty-three years ago, as a schoolboy, he had subtly transformed the school’s uninspiring concrete courtyard by discreetly planting these five poplar trees. While the car was stationary outside the school, he lowered the window and told the excitable children (I’m told that the Sinterklaas celebrations continue at school) that he had planted those trees all that time ago. The young children replied expressing their love for these trees, and they told him that they often enjoyed eating their lunch in their shade. He beamed.
Having just learnt about the Dutch customs and traditions of this day, I decided to attempt to write a Sinterklaas poem for Sieuwert (Verster). These poems would traditionally begin: Sinterklaas zat te denken wat hij jou zou schenken (St. Nicholas was thinking what he would give you):

With Verster’d interest, planting trees,
at school he always aimed to please.
In two score years and three he found,
a great metaphor growing from the ground.

I showed it to Sieuwert who, from then on, referred to me as ‘The Poet’.
Over the next few days the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the brilliant choir, Cappella Amsterdam, rehearsed in preparation for the Zaandam try-out and for the Concertgebouw performance. The group had invited the Italian (Treviso-born) director Andrea Marcon to be their guest conductor for Tour 142. He was very encouraging and positive. He knew Der Tag des Gerichts thoroughly as he had recently directed it with La Cetra Baroque Orchestra in Switzerland. It was great to play with such a fantastic choir; they sang with total skill. Their choir master, Daniel Reuss, was thoughtful, insightful and helpful.
“Under Marcon, the orchestra sounded gracefully and Cappella Amsterdam once again proved itself as a world-class choir.”

- Merlijn Kerkhof - ‘Eindelijk gerechtigheid voor componist Telemann: topuitvoering van zijn oratorium in Concertgebouw’ ('Finally justice for composer Telemann: top performance of his oratorio in Concertgebouw') - 12 December 2017 - de Volkskrant ★★★★
Der Tag des Gerichts (The Day of Judgement) was the last oratorio that Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) composed. Written in 1762, when Telemann was an octogenarian, it is progressive in style with vestiges of his older music. The symbolism of the trumpet parts is clear from the beginning of the French-style overture, which is interrupted by a trumpet call. Trumpet fanfares were played in courtrooms as the judge entered, and the trumpet’s association with the Day of Judgement is referenced in the Bible (and memorably utilised in Handel’s Messiah: The trumpet shall sound… and the dead shall be raised incorruptible). In the first Betrachtung (which translates as consideration or contemplation) the trumpets and timpani play in the introduction, second movement and tenth movement; the latter two are both entitled: Chor der Gläubigen (Chorus of the faithful). We then played in the opening of the fourth Betrachtung in the Chor der Engel und Auserwählten (Chorus of the Angels and the chosen). The trumpets return at the end of another chorus (Betrachtung 4, No.6) and then throughout Betrachtung 4, No.8 - which features concertante horns and trumpets and ends in a flurry of repeated semiquavers in the clarino register. The final chorus (Betrachtung 4, No.10) Die Chöre der Himmlischen (The chorus of the heavenly) ends Der Tag des Gerichts in a triumphant style. Het Parool (★★★★) mentioned the presence of “dramatic timpani and trumpets".

edgeI really enjoyed being back in Amsterdam and playing with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century again. On this occasion, I was playing first trumpet, with Jonathan Impett on second, and Rob van der Sterren on timpani - both were great company. I know Rob well from our performances with the Handel Festival Orchestra in Göttingen and we always have a good time when we are together. His English is flawless and he is one of the finest timpanists I ever get to play with. Also, as Rob pointed out, now we’ve played together with me on 3rd trumpet, 2nd trumpet and 1st trumpet. Jonathan is equally brilliant and he has all of the traits you could wish for from a great second trumpet player. He is consistent, encouraging and makes you feel confident. Both Rob and Jonathan are highly intelligent, easy-going, humorous and professional. I felt very fortunate to be playing in such a good section.

With only five movements for the trumpets and timpani to play in Der Tag des Gerichts, I had a good amount of free time to enjoy Amsterdam. I had particularly wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum, so I went there one afternoon. As well as the expected Rembrandt, Vermeer and Delftware, I also found brilliant examples of hand engraving and silversmithing. Just before I had to leave, I chanced upon a silver natural trumpet (c.1813), immaculate in condition, made by the English maker William Sandbach (who was active between 1809-1831). The trumpet has a long inscription on the bell which lists the names of those who defended their country from the French in 1813 and 1814. William I had ordered this silver trumpet for his life guards and it was presented to the former life guards at a ceremony in the Dam Square in Amsterdam on the 26th of March 1814, just four days before William’s investiture as Sovereign of the Netherlands.

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I marvelled at this beautiful object until the time the rehearsal ended, when I needed to return to the Keizersgracht to collect my trumpet. I met Antonio and some other friends from the orchestra for an evening meal. We visited the Tibet Restaurant where we enjoyed memorable food with lots of chilli and Szechuan pepper. A great evening.

edgeOn this visit, I began feel like a local resident in this wonderful part of Amsterdam. I enjoyed visiting a community-run pub down the street called De Oceaan. I got to know a couple of the locals; it was the sort of place where it’s easy to get talking to people. One morning I left the Ira and went down the quay to meet one of our colleagues from the orchestra who, along with some friends, swims in the open water from a jetty in the Borneokade. I decided not to get in myself in case I got ill before the concert - but it looked like a real thrill in this cold weather.

Speaking of cold weather, on Friday 8th of December 2017 the orchestra traveled to Zaandam (north of Amsterdam) in the increasingly wintry conditions. The members of the orchestra boarded a smart and pleasingly warm coach. To my amazement, each player was greeted like old friend by a very genial driver called Jorine. She is the orchestra’s regular (though she is anything but regular: she is exceptional) coach driver and she is clearly cherished by everyone in the orchestra. She had provided tea, coffee, biscuits and chocolates on board and she made sure that everybody had everything they needed. When we arrived at the snowy Bullekerk in Zaandam, she parked the coach and then came to listen to the rehearsal and the performance! Being surrounded by such exceptional people, who are clearly willing to go above and beyond what is necessary, makes the experience of being in the orchestra all the more amazing - and these people are certainly appreciated.

Having a try-out performance (in informal clothing) was a brilliant idea. It was great to learn how the movements fit together to form the whole work and it also gave me an opportunity to find out exactly how the trumpet would feel after varying lengths of inactivity between entries. This kind of knowledge is crucial when playing a temperature-dependant instrument and it certainly was a good idea to do this performance. The Bullekerk was a great venue and the performance was well-attended. Having heard all of the elements of Der Tag des Gerichts in the Zaandam performance, I couldn’t wait to play and hear it all again in the Concertgebouw the next day (Saturday 9th December 2017).


After the Zaandam performance, we returned to the snowy Borneokade. I invited Sieuwert, Freddie and Antonio over to the Ira for a drink. We sampled some of the excellent beers brewed by the local Brouwerij 't IJ and enjoyed the snug and cosy lounge on board. Early on Saturday morning, I had to pack my bags and bid a fond farewell to the Ira, to get to the Concertgebouw.

The Concertgebouw (or the Royal Concertgebouw, to give it its proper title) sits to the West of the Museumplein at the opposite end to the Rijksmuseum. As I approached the impressive Neoclassical building, I realised that I had never seen a photograph of it nor had I any idea what it would look like inside the Main Hall. All I knew was its reputation for having one of the best acoustics of any concert hall in the world. I came up the stairs from backstage and entered the Grote Zaal. I went up the steps up to the high stage and looked around the hall in awe. From the stage you can prominently see the names of composers on the upstairs balustrade. To the left: Strawinsky, Pijper, Ravel, Reger and Wagenaar, in the middle: Zweers, Bruckner, Mahler, Franck, Diepenbrock and Tschaikowsky, and to the right: Dvorák, Bartók, Röntgen, Rich. Strauss, Dopper and Debussy. Above, in the ceiling-level arches, were the names of older composers: Bach, Haydn, v. Beethoven, Spohr, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Verhulst, Niels Gade, Rubinstein, Brahms, Haendel, Lulli, Scarlatti, Mozart, Cherubini, Weber, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Gounod, Wanning, Clemens non Papa, Orl. Lassus, Sweelinck, Obrecht, Schuijt and Reincken. Sadly, Telemann’s name doesn’t appear on the wall but it was great to be playing Telemann’s music, 250 years after his death, in the wonderful Concertgebouw with this stunning orchestra.

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Throughout the rehearsal and subsequent performance I continued to marvel at my surroundings: both architectural and musical.

The superb acoustic of the Concertgebouw lived up to expectations. In-between the movements involving the trumpets and timpani, I was able to sit back in my seat (metaphorically) and enjoy listening to the orchestra, choir and soloists making some of the most stunning music I have ever heard.

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Of course great moments came from all over, including from all four soloists: Lisa Larsson (Soprano), Carlos Mena (Alto), Thomas Cooley (Tenor) and Konstantin Wolff (Bass).

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Great moments were too numerous to list. Exceptional contributions came from: duetting violinists Rémy Baudet and Dirk Vandaele, later Frank de Bruine (oboe) and Donna Agrell (bassoon) featured with Lisa Larsson in a stunning aria, and time went into suspended animation during the tenor aria (Betrachtung 4, No.3) - sung by Thomas Cooley with breathtaking Viola da gamba playing by Rainer Zipperling.

The performance was broadcast live on the radio, and the video footage from around eight cameras was live-streamed online.

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The footage was subsequently edited to create this final version, a great reminder of a remarkable performance:

[VIDEO LINK / EMBED TO FOLLOW]

I left the Concertgebouw immediately after the performance to get to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I had scheduled in a little extra time in case the performance overran. Gladly it didn’t and getting from the Concertgebouw to the station, on Amsterdam’s fast and inexpensive public transport system, took less time than I had expected. I was still excited from the thrill of performing in the Concertgebouw so I went upstairs in the station and rewarded myself with a glass of beer, while waiting for the Thalys. I waited in the dignified and charmingly-nostalgic surroundings of the station’s former First Class lounge.

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The First Class bar felt appropriately in-keeping with the luxurious style of the Concertgebouw; both venues felt to have ‘old souls’, to use a phrase borrowed from Teunis van der Zwart (principal horn). I later discovered that the Concertgebouw first opened in 1888 and Amsterdam Centraal Station first opened in 1889.

I began thinking about Teunis’ words from a film about the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century (The Breath of the Orchestra by Katarzyna Kasica, for the Frederyk Chopin Institute). Teunis said: “For me to possess several instruments that are more than two hundred years old; to work with them, to play with them on a daily basis, I think I can feel the soul of the instrument, and a very old soul of these instruments - it’s very inspiring.” - Teunis van der Zwart

Coincidentally, that film was recorded at the same time that I first heard the orchestra playing live, in August 2014 and I recalled many happy memories from then. As I reflected, I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century for a second time.

Casting nostalgic thoughts temporarily aside, I boarded the sleek Thalys (which links Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris on the high-speed rail network) and made way towards Paris. I had enjoyed a wonderful week and now I lamented reaching the end of the (beautifully-printed) orchestral schedule. As the platforms of Amsterdam Centraal station began to slide past the Thalys windows, I took solace in the fact that I would be joining another fantastic project - Lully’s Alceste at the Opéra Royal de Versailles with Les Talens Lyriques, directed by Christophe Rousset - soon after I arrived in Paris.
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