Amsterdam's Concertgebouw

Thrills at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw

  • Updated
  • Posted in Travel
  • Published

First experience of the Concertgebouw was a disappointing performance

In December 2019, a visiting company presented Rossini’s La Cenerentola. It was the worst production and performance of the opera that I’ve seen, making me sorry to have gotten my friend to treat me to that evening, and sit through it with me as well. I won’t mention the company, just say, it had nothing to do with the permanent orchestra, opera company or ballet. But that performance was what was available when we were in town, so we gave it a shot.

Scheduling travel around performances in 2023

Now I’m planning better: picking performances and then traveling for them, not just choosing a city and catching what I might chance to find. So I was extremely excited about this return to Amsterdam. Julia Lezhneva and Franco Fagioli were performing in Porpora’s Polifemo, just for one afternoon; it’s not something you hear often! On youtube, I’ve been able to hear several performances, and I tend to compare singers of the aria “Alto Giove,” music that enthralls me. Ann Hallenberg handles it with excellent voice and technique, but to my ears, no one brings the passion that Franco Fagioli does. I have become absolutely addicted to his 2013 performance with the Bach Consort Wien; and as I told him after the concert, it soothed me through all the stress of showing and selling my house! LOL – but true. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. And I adore Julia Lezhneva and am enraptured when she is singing before me. She is exquisite.

After booking Polifemo, I checked to see what else I could catch while in town, and lucky, lucky me, John Eliot Gardiner was going to be conducting Brahms’s Second and Fourth Symphonies the evening before. This is not a rarity; he has led Brahms’s four symphonies in rather regular cycles here, but I haven’t been to one of his concerts since moving out of New York City, so this was another great delight for me. Talk about over the moon – this beautiful city, in spring, these concerts at the famous Concertgebouw: life is unbelievably good these days.

Outstanding conducting of Brahms’s Symphonies by John Eliot Gardiner

Friday evening I was off to Gardiner and Brahms. I booked a table at a restaurant just a few doors away, that looked pretty upscale and appealing: Chang-I. I would just have time for a quick main course because the concert had an early, 7 pm start, but that suited my budget as well as my timing; and I drank only water with the meal. I had ribeye with bulgogi-truffle sauce, it was delicious, and the atmosphere started the evening in high style.

As I left the restaurant, with the Concertgebouw just a stone’s throw down the street to the right, I saw a shiny black sedan pull up and realized the artists’ entrance was right there. Indeed, it was Maestro Gardiner arriving. As he got out of the car, I was pleased to see he looked in fine form, healthy and vital, almost glowing. The concert had been moved up an hour because he was participating in Charles’s coronation in London the next day. I had been very relieved that the concert was moved up rather than canceled. So I said, “It’s wonderful that you’re still willing to do this.” He gave a wry laugh and half smile and said, “I didn’t have a choice.” So: “We appreciate you” was all I could come back with. Of course the Concertgebouw and the orchestra are pretty constantly booked up, but I would have thought someone of JE Gardiner’s stature would be able to cancel or reschedule in this circumstance. Naïve me.

The concert was glorious. I especially appreciated the tempos Gardiner kept, resisting any lingering over phrases, keeping the music dancing or driving, with dynamics that gave a beautiful shape, and intonation that meant the performances (of each of the two symphonies) were exciting and enchanting. Bravo, bravi, exceeding even my very high expectations.

After the concert I went back to the artists’ door and waited. When Maestro Gardiner finally came out, he spoke to some people, allowed a couple of photographs, but his assistant then hustled him into the car. As he got seated, door still open, I leant forward and said, “Just to say thank you. It was glorious!” And he looked me in the eyes, extended his hand and gave me a long, firm handshake.

Color me thrilled!

A rare performance of Porpora’s Polifemo

Saturday afternoon I was back for the performance of Polifemo. Of course, with just one presentation, it was not a staged, costumed performance, but was as you see in the first photo below. I loved it: most of all, Julia Lezhneva, who put so much personality and subtlety into her arias. The beauty of her voice is out of a dream! I got to enjoy hearing “Alto Giove” in a live performance, but I and others around me who chatted afterwards noted that Franco seems to be dealing with some voice issues, that change how he handles some arias. The performance was very different than that of ten years ago. Ah, but no real surprise there, in ten years everything changes; and besides what challenges time may bring, I don’t expect an artist to perform in the same way every time, or where would the artistry be? Franco is a great artist, and I loved hearing him.

Just as the evening before, I waited at the artists’ door. Why not … And so I got to compliment each of these two favorites of mine (and tell Julia how much I’d enjoyed hearing her in Berlin when she stood in for Franco in Handel’s first oratorio); got hugs from both; and pictures where I could hardly look like more of a witch, so you can be sure those will not enlarge when you click on them like other blog photos do. Not much time to fuss with my hair in my shared quarters, and no mirror outside the bathroom; and then I got caught with such awful expressions; but I will try to quell my vanity and just share the fact that I had these moments with performers I so admire and enjoy.

A fun fact about Concertgebouw events

menu of beverages offered at the Concertgebouw

A ticket includes refreshments before the performance and in any intermission. (The occasional exception will be noted on your ticket – and it’s not about your seat, it’s a per-performance policy.) Brilliant, because it makes it all so much easier. The only thing you would have to pay for is champagne. But wine, beer, tea and all types of barista coffees are complimentary. Glasses of wine are set out on trays or tables where you can just help yourself. Nibbles – cookies or such – are on the bar where you can also just take them if you want. How nice to spend time socializing with fellow concert-goers rather than spend most of the intermission in line! Though I do think that making all the fancy coffees keeps the staff as busy as they would have otherwise been in processing charges and making change. But now you know why I settled for water with my quick dinner. Free drinks were literally around the corner; and I wouldn’t want to be too sleepy for the concert, would I?

Tell me about your experiences at the Concertgebouw!

Would love for you to share your memories – or your plans! Use the “Leave a reply” section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.