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.

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: