Free Music in Amsterdam

One of the neat things about the classical music scene in Amsterdam is that every week there are two free lunchtime concerts put on by their professional institutions, the Concertgebouw and the Nationale Opera & Ballet. (This is not to mention all the pretty decent buskers you can hear playing outside the Rijksmuseum at all hours of the day.)

I was able to catch one performance at the Nationale and two at the Concertgebouw on this trip. The Nationale performed the one-act opera in the video above, The Telephone by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was performed in Dutch, and if you think English sounds awkward in an operatic context, well… Dutch. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it! I especially liked the soprano who played Lucy. They all did a very good job at conveying the humor even to someone who had no idea what they were talking about.

I was unfamiliar with the The Telephone, and upon seeing the title, was wondering if it was an opera I had seen in Aspen fifteen years ago. All I could remember was that it was a woman on the phone, she’s really depressed, and at the end she strangled herself with the phone cord. I looked it up later, and that one is The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc, and it is super-not a comic opera. However, both are sometimes performed together, linked by the telephone theme (and the fact that they’re both one-acts and can’t sustain an entire evening program alone).

The performances at the Nationale are at Tuesday lunchtime, and you can basically walk in and get a seat. The Concertgebouw’s lunchtime concerts on Wednesdays require more planning. There is vastly more demand. People start lining up around 11am, tickets are distributed to the line at 11:30am, and then the concert is at 12:30pm.

The first concert I saw was a piano, clarinet, and oud trio performing traditional music from Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. This was sadly plagued by technical issues. I felt so bad for the poor oud player. His amp kept cutting out. They tried to fix it, but it remained on the fritz throughout their performance.

The second concert I brought Zed along with me. It was a performance of the first and last movements of the Brahms Piano Quintet, which is one of my favorite pieces of chamber music (that the oboe doesn’t feature in). Now, I hate to be That Person who is all “You’re Not Enjoying Music Right!” but damn it people, please put your damn cameras and phones away. It’s incredibly distracting! Not to mention against the rules of the venue! Three people sitting in front of us had their phones up the entire time. Someone sitting in our row was taking very loud photos with an SLR and changing lenses. It was all very annoying.

Anyway! This wasn’t one of the movements they played, but it’s my favorite.

Belgian Fries

[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]
[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]

There was a lot of quick street food to grab while walking around Amsterdam (herring, for instance). Fries + sauce counted as lunch a few days. These were from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, the best Belgian fries from Amsterdam.

This place is basically just a hole in the wall with a walk up line (which is always full). They make the fries as the customers order. Zed and I ordered some with Belgian mayo (not sure how that’s different than “the classic mayo,” but it was delicious) and Andalouse sauce, which was more tomato-y. I saw it described somewhere as “kind of like thousand island.” A few days later I went back by myself and got the yellow curry sauce, as seen in the photo up top. It reminded me of the chicken curry ‘n fries I used to get at St. Stephen’s Green in Mountain View.

Fries for lunch today. I was oddly drawn to yet repulsed by the idea of Hannibal sauce.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

Their menu doesn’t really go into what makes each sauce, unfortunately. What is Hannibal sauce? WHAT IS IT.

Dutch National Opera & Ballet

[image: "Emeralds" ballet costume from Balanchine's Jewels]
[image: “Emeralds” ballet costume from Balanchine’s Jewels]

I took a tour of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet while I was in Amsterdam. They offer free lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays (and if you’re going to be in Amsterdam on the 27th [MARK], I highly recommend it—there’s a freaking theramin and harp duo performing, how lovely and peculiar that will be!).

After the concert, they offer a tour of the building. It was somewhere between 5 and 10 euros for a really comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into putting on their productions. Our two group was three people large. Just me and two Australians. It was great! We saw them setting up the stage for the premiere of Il Trovatore, saw the opera’s current set for Der Rosenkavalier (which was ending soon) (and since they share the stage with the ballet, the various sets get shifted around constantly and therefore have to be pretty mobile), peeped on a ballet rehearsal, and got to visit their costume departments.

They had this green beauty featured among some other costumes. It was so gorgeous! It’s from Balanchine’s Jewels ballet, the “Emeralds” movement. You can see it in action here:

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp

Yes, I’m still talking about the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum has good information. They’ve got a free audioguide app for your phone (and free wifi in the museum for downloading it), or you can get a physical guide there if you’ve forgotten your headphones or whatever. There are also placards hanging alongside the artwork with information (not just the name or the work and artist). And then, as a third option, in case you didn’t have enough, they have large laminated sheets (like 11x17s, except whatever size is equivalent in Europe) with details about the most famous works in the room—pointing out the minutia you might otherwise miss.

So, the Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp. What did the Rijksmuseum think was one of the most important aspects of this work to focus on?


More from “New for Now”

Yes! I found a photo I took from the “New for Now” exhibition of which I couldn’t find the original in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. This is the painted version of the Arlequine print seen here. This was on display not on the wall, but laying horizontally in a display case under glass. That is why you can see my outline as I tried to shade the image to get as little glare as possible. If only my head were wider!

I have spent many an hour “curating” my collection of fabulous, and I think I’m finished for the time being. 158 images, many of them fashion plates, but also a lot of actual physical fashion—dresses and accessories from the Rijksmuseum. Here is the link to the collection!

And here are a few highlights.

This image+caption made me laugh, because it reminded me of a cosplay group from about ten years ago. The gals from HCC had done these massively impressive Rose of Versailles costumes, and yeah. Going through doors was definitely a sideways proposition! (My friend Lydia and I had been lucky enough to share photoshoot time with them at the Palace of Fine Arts while we were shooting costumes from a different series.)

I especially liked this caption because “Wedding dress with extremely wide, puffed sleeves” is basically saying “Eat your heart out, Anne Shirley!” (I cropped this image because the original weirdly wrapped mannequin head was kind of off-putting.)

“Good heavens, it’s that awful velocipedestrienne.”

I adore Hark! A Vagrant, and the moment I saw these I thought to myself, “You know, I haven’t bought a copy of Step Aside, Pops yet. I should rectify that.”

And finally, boatwigs.


(The placard attached to the first image included the following information: “Ladies’ hairstyles were ingenious works of art, built around a core of cushions and horsehair. Hair was piled high in curls and twists (chignons) and adorned with feathers, ribbons, artificial flowers, tulle and jewels to create various fancifully named poufs. Because the hair was dressed using animal fat and powdered with wheat flour, these poufs attracted all manner of insects. Far from hygienic, they moreover did not last long.”)

Fashion is weird.

Tassenmuseum Hendrikje (The Museum of Bags and Purses)

[image: a beaded bag in the process of being knit]
[image: a beaded bag in the process of being knit on four needles]

One of the museums on my list to visit in Amsterdam was the Museum of Bags and Purses. No, I’m not a bag fiend—that’s my friend TeapotGirl—but I do enjoy them. I also enjoy museums that dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to something niche like this. (Also it was included in the list of museums that had free admission with a Museumkaart.) It’s located in a beautiful canal house near Rembrandtplein.

The bag at the top of this post is a half-finished antique beaded bag. Apparently in order to make these, you first had to figure out the pattern and order in which all the beads needed to be in order to get a coherent design, then string all of them onto your cord (the spool you see at the top left), and then get to knitting. It seems amazingly complicated. I really liked being able to see the process.

I learned after I had gone through the museum that we weren’t supposed to take photos. My bad. Thankfully, these photos are terrible (SHAKY HANDS) and should in no way substitute for an actual visit, should you get the chance!

I really enjoyed the historical section of the museum. Once they got into the latter half of the 20th century the informative aspect of the museum sort of dried up. I guess they figure if you’re into this stuff, you already know? But I would say that the sections regarding the history and evolution of purses were definitely worthwhile.

[image: a series of chatelains]
[image: a series of chatelains]

I thought these chatelaines were pretty damn neat. I thought to myself “these look so cool, they should totally make a comeback,” but then I realized that these days they’d just look like oversized charm bracelets. Still, I think they could be integrated successfully into some sort of steampunk costume. And then I ran a search for “chatelaines” and discovered there are some antiques on eBay if you’ve got a few thousand bucks kicking around.

But really, is it any wonder that this was my absolute favorite purse in the museum? 😀 (Click to embiggen, the thumbnails crop unflatteringly. Or check out the museum’s photo of it from their Facebook page, which is much better.)

The museum also offers high tea, which I would have loved to do, but I was visiting on my own, and doing the whole ceremony by myself seemed like it would be a little awkward. You should check out the page on their website—those little cakes are adorable! (They also had a less fancy tea service, but if I had done it, I would’ve gone whole hog.)

New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines

When I was in Amsterdam, I invested in a Museumkaart, and therefore visited Rijksmuseum to my heart’s content (probably five or six times). One of the temporary exhibits I saw (which has since closed) was called “New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines”. It was really, really cool to look at all the artwork from these early magazines.

This flipbook animation was the opening exhibit. I tried to keep as steady as possible, but good ol’ Shaky Hands Sarah strikes again. I found a few more videos on YouTube of the animation (here, here, and here.

Also, here is the weird promo the Rijksmuseum made for the exhibit.

I’ll probably be posting some images over the month of some of the things I saw. It was a hoot and a half.