People who’ve been reading my blog for the past few years already know that after my yearly, almost traditional Tour de la Hollande, I usually write some kind of emotional nostalgic slobbering blog upon my departure, expressing how blessed I feel (without any religious inclination) that I still have so many friends in my home country, how grateful I am for the guestrooms, bikes and meals I get offered, how much I’ve enjoyed the Dutch foods & snacks, the dinner parties and the drinks, bla bla bla, etc, etc, etc…
Of course after this year’s visit, I could write precisely the same, because it’s exactly the way I feel again, but I’ve been there, done that and ticked the box. So I won’t.
Instead, I would like to focus on one particular evening. It was a cultural one.
When back in Holland, I always try to go to a classical concert or two, in order to catch up on cultural stimuli I’ve been lacking on the tropical island here or in the dusty desert there. This year, my brother suggested to go see a French quartet performing in the small concert hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam: Quatuor Ébène. Ying Wei warmed me up: young upcoming talents who’d won a several awards, super popular, amazing musicians, new swing to classical music and more superlatives of the sort.
The price already impressed me. EUR 45 per ticket, which is roughly the same amount I paid for the last pop concert I went to in 2006 (Robbie Williams), was a bit steep I thought.
But considering that Ying Wei has been playing violin for 27 years or so, has played in several (youth) orchestras, is first violinist in a string quartet and sextet and is also concertmaster of a great amateur symphonic orchestra (Bellitoni), I would say his opinion on the matter is equal to that of professional. I do therefore, trust my little brother blindly when it comes to classical music – and some other things too, but I’ll stick to the point. The point being: Ying Wei was right and Quatuor Ébène was worth every single cent. (Note: I’m quite proud of my little brother, did that come across? 🙂 )
The performance started with a Mozart piece written in 1785 and I was entranced from the very first note. Although I must admit, I was initially a bit distracted by the musicians themselves. Aside from the fact that they appeared rather hip for a classical group (though very smartly dressed in black suits), the first violinist looked like the twin brother of a friend of mine and kept sliding his feet back and forth as if he was cross-country skiing. The second violinist, the shortest of the group, kept bouncing up and down on his chair as if he was trying to stick his head above the crowd. The viola player looked like a fraternity student who had been drinking too much beer for too many years and held his bow as if he had just had a couple to many just before getting on stage. That guy must have the worse stroke I have ever seen… The cellist, the sexiest of the lot, had a good part my attention too as I know from personal experience how bloody difficult it is to master that ultra romantic yet mighty instrument.
Anyway, as they went through a most passionate and inspiring performance, I realised that the music they were playing was composed over 225 years ago. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many hip and trendy pop groups will still perform “Let Me Entertain You” or “Angel” in the year 2267.
Schubert was perhaps even better than the Amadeus piece and if I was impressed after the first half, I can fairly say that I was flabbergasted after the second half. They played Tsaikovsky with such verve, enthusiasm, flawlessness and power that I ended up sitting on the brink of my chair, with a straight back, totally mesmerized and as high strung as the cords of their fine instruments.
I don’t usually agree with the standing ovations the audiences give away so easily in the Netherlands, but this one was worth jumping on the benches for…
And then came the encore…
The cellist gave a short speech introducing it as a piece by a famous quartet from Liverpool that we might have heard of, they shoved aside the musical scores, looked at each other, smiled and started playing the funkiest, jazziest and grooviest interpretation of “Come Together” you can ever imagine. I have never seen so many old people (your average Concertgebouw audience) swing with so much gusto and I decided then and there that I would buy their newest CD “Fiction” on the spot. Sadly it was already sold out that evening, so it will be put on my Christmas wish list. I had an unforgettable evening.
Merci Quatuor Ébène. And thank you Ying Wei for the intro and the company.
Classical music rocks.