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.

Jan Dismas Zelenka

Gosh I love Zelenka.

Tonight I went over to Pikacello and Hoshikaji’s house for dinner. During the course of the evening the conversation turned to music. I am an occasional oboe player, while Pikacello is a professional cellist and Hoshikaji is a violinist. I happened to mention one Jan Dismas Zelenka, my favorite baroque composer, and before I knew it, I was fetching my oboe so that we could sight-read his third trio sonata. AND GOSH IT WAS FUN.

Back in college, I played the first trio sonata (two oboes, bassoon, and continuo). Man, that was an amazing experience. There’s this stretch in the second movement in the first oboe part where you can’t breathe for like a minute. It’s so good. I seriously loved playing for stuff like that. (Someday I will regale you all with my tale of Pasculli cadenzas, but that day is not today.)

They’re all amazing pieces. This is a superb recording, headed by the great Heinz Holliger, or you can listen to them here on YouTube.

Légère Oboe Reeds

I am super-excited about this! As you may or may not know, I was an oboe player in my previous life. One of my biggest issues was reeds. I wasn’t very good at making them, and moreover I hating doing it. (It was kind of a chicken-and-egg sort of situation, I guess.) Plastic reeds used to be total crap back in the 90s—I remember trying a couple out when I first started playing. I think they were supposed to be better for beginners, since we wouldn’t accidentally chip them on our teeth or whatever. Sounded like hell, though.

I did some looking around when I was starting to play again. I saw that Légère Reeds had developed a bassoon reed, and they were in the development phase for oboe reeds! Their bassoon reeds say they can last 12–14 months! Yeah, they’re probably going to be wicked pricey (looking at their bassoon reed prices, the oboe ones will probably go higher). But if they do last a year, I think it’s worth it. Think about all the hardware you have to buy: cane, splitters, gougers, shapers, staples, thread, knives, stones. Even if you buy already shaped cane, you’re still looking at a lot of money, considering how long reeds last and how much your time making them is worth.

The big question for me is whether the scrape fits with how I’ve learned. They say they’re a European Scrape. If I look at my pedagogic ancestry, I’m (unsurprisingly) from a San Francisco line—my teachers were Tom Nugent and Bill Banovetz (note: that is a sad link), who were in turn students of Marc Lifschey, who studied with the legendary Marcel Tabuteau, the father of American oboe playing. Tabuteau’s students—and there were many—all developed different scrapes. For instance, I know the John Mack school is pretty different than what I learned. Perhaps if the European Scrape is wildly successful, they might branch out into an American Scrape? East Coast / Midwest / West Coast Scrapes? The possibilities are endful!

Will the Légère reed work for me? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out! They hope to be selling them by the end of the year!

For more, check out the Légère Reeds European Scrape Tour on YouTube! You can hear in the London video an extended example of how the reed sounds, with the first movement of Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid—ah, the memories! (And dig that Pasculli in the Rome video. Gosh Pasculli is fun to play.)