The coming edition of the Holland Festival, running from 3 to 25 June, features 33 Dutch premières and 17 world premières. The festival celebrates its 70th birthday with an unwavering commitment to the arts.
During the presentation in the Amsterdam Bimhuis on Tuesday 7 February Annet Lekkerkerker, director of the festival, quoted Henk Reinink, one of its founders: ‘We initiate this festival in order to realize something great with joint forces.’
From spectators to ‘introspectors’
This was in 1947. Lekkerkerker stressed that seven decades later this mission statement is still in full force. ‘Shortly after World War II people acknowledged the importance of the arts.’ Unfortunately this is no longer a given in these troubled times, where all former certainties seem to be under attack from populist forces. Lekkerkerker, however, insists: ‘Art forms an essential and indispensable part of our lives. It broadens our perspective and turns spectators into “introspectors”.’
The festival has two main themes. The first one is highly topical: democracy in all its different aspects, with eye-catching events such as The Nation, a theatrical thriller about tensions in the ‘multi-culti’ Netherlands by Eric de Vroedt; My Country, a production of the British National Theatre on the Brexit; Octavia. Trepanation, a new opera of Dmitri Kourliandski investigating the mechanisms of the Russian Revolution in 2017, and La Democrazia in America in which Romeo Castelucci probes the function of theatre.
Contemporary music from Indonesia
The second theme is Indonesia, the former Dutch colony that was only granted its independence in 1949, after fierce struggles and under international pressure. Even today Indonesia is a sore point in Holland, where relatives of the train hijackers that were brutally killed in 1977 are still fighting for justice.
To this day Indonesia is often mainly viewed from a colonial perspective, but the festival chooses to zoom in on contemporary art from the sprawling archipelago. ‘A Night in Indonesia’ presents a five hour long mini-festival in the famous pop venue Paradiso on 16 June.
It features underground bands combining elements from traditional Indonesian music with pop, rock, folk, noise and/or electronics.’ The duo Boi Akih of jazz singer Monica Akihary and guitarist Niels Brouwer will première Controlling the Swing, commissioned by the Holland Festival.
The next day Ensemble Modern presents Ruang Suara in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, showcasing music from young Indonesian composers that was crafted in close cooperation with the Germans.
In the infectiously Dah-Dha-Dah by Gema Swaratyagita, the musicians only seem to fill the stage in passing, producing weird & crazy sounds along with purely musical ones. Swaratyagita herself has a vocal part and plays the suling, an Indonesian recorder.
Religions without borders
The Dutch-Indonesian composer Sinta Wullur will realize Temple of Time. She specially designed it for the Holland Festival Proms in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 24 June. Audience and musicians are encircled by 84 gongs from Wullur’s chromatic gamelan.
The gong players and eight vocalists from different religious traditions will perform both traditional and newly composed music. The texts are based on ancient sacred texts from the four world religions about the passage of time.
At the presentation Wullur mentioned that while at school in Indonesia, her religious classes were evenly dedicated to Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Islam. Librettist Miranda Lakerveld pointed out that this seems less obvious today, considering how difficult it was to find appropriate religious texts that both respect tradition and avoid sensitivities.
The Proms also feature the world première of Sacred Places, a collaboration between the Australian-Dutch composer Kate Moore and visual artist Ruben van Leer. In this oratorio the singer Alex Oomens makes a trip to Hunter Valley in virtual reality, the audience following her to the temple on the sacred grounds of the Australian Wonnarua and Darkinjung tribes.
Theo van Gogh meets Gilbert & George
I look especially forward to Huba de Graaff’s music theatre piece The Naked Shit Songs. It is based on an interview of Theo van Gogh with the British artists Gilbert and George in 1996. The discussion addresses such diverse themes as art, sex and religion, Muslims, fundamentalism and death.
Huba de Graaff set the (almost) complete interview to music. This is the more poignant since Van Gogh – who was very outspoken and straightforward on controversial issues – was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist in 2004.
As is its wont the Holland Festival chooses to walk untrodden paths. Not only does it address topical themes, but it also prominently features women composers, still too often overlooked in regular concert programmes. It can only be hoped they won’t again be forgotten when artistic director Ruth Mackenzie leaves for Paris in 2019.