Tag Archives: Free concerts

Free Opera at the Stopera

Every Tuesday from 12:30 to 1:00, you can hear a free concert at the Stopera right on the Amstel River.  It’s a wonderful venue, easily reached by tram or subway, or best of all on foot or by bicycle.

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Because folding chairs are set up on the stairs leading down to the main lobby, there’s lots of room — and at worst you can always stand at the back or lean over the open balconies above. So the need to come early and stand outside is less pressing than at the free concerts at the Concertgebouw. The people at the door greet you warmly and provide a printed program, which is much appreciated.

This week was a particular treat: a superb young Dutch soprano, Maartje Rammeloo, accompanied by Nathalie Doucet on piano, doing classic arias from Verdi, Puccini, and Donizetti.

The singer appeared in a really stunning gown — strapless midnight blue with a full skirt which set off her substantial height. But it was her voice that really gripped us from the start, effortlessly hitting a wide range of notes at both soft and full volume.  Her ability to go through different feeling states and convey them intensely was remarkable, especially in a recital which involves snippets rather than the buildup to a full aria.  We had the delightful surprise of hearing her husband, Jan-Willem Schaafsma, a fine tenor, assist her in several scenes.  Their canoodling had the feel of true love!

Because the whole curved side of the building is glass, the natural light was excellent, and of course there’s no problem for an operatic soprano to be heard right to the top of the house.  In half an hour, we were transported back through centuries, but also into our own hearts.

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The Concertgebouw Orchestra — Free!

After standing in “the cold line” outside the Concertgebouw for an hour, we were rewarded by a half-hour concert by one of the world’s great orchestras in a hall with acoustics which are close to perfect.  (Read about the logistics of the Concertgebouw’s Wednesday free concerts here.)

Musicians of All Ages  What felt so different that day was seeing the members of the Orchestra come in wearing ordinary clothes, as if each of them hadn’t been picked out of thousands of musicians after years of giving their lives to their instruments. A pregnant woman wearing a plain black sweater, her golden hair clipped behind her ears. A sporty young man in jeans and a crew sweater, as if on his way to the café for a beer with his friends. The more predictable people in their forties and fifties – but there were plenty of thirties, reflecting the fact that studying classical music is still cool for lots of young people.

The pianist (a man, not Maria Jao Pires whom we expected) arrived, wearing a brown sweater with elbow patches, and played scales. At 12:30 precisely by the clock on the back wall, the first violin raised his bow, and tuning was accomplished swiftly. Even conductor Herbert Blomstedt wore a sweater without a tie. Everything was in place to remind us that these were ordinary mortals. An announcer told us that the pianist was Martin Helmchen, whom we later learned was playing there for the first time, a remarkable chance for a younger person to break in.

Flawless and Complete Performance, Not a Rehearsal  Then, with the lift of the conductor’s baton, everything changed, and those singular individuals with their barrettes and trousers and boots became one. Mozart lived again, and whatever disappointment the audience may have felt at not hearing Pires lifted immediately. Unlike some other free concerts, which have been recitals for the evening’s performance, this one proceeded through the whole piece one perfect note at a time with no hesitation or interruption for correction. Helmchen, who also received strong reviews that evening, seemed utterly at home, not a note of music before him, utterly absorbed in the music and yet also attending to the conductor and the orchestra. At the end, we applauded and applauded, and the orchestra dissolved away as if it had been a dream.

Pictures aren’t allowed during the performances, but I did manage to catch one cellist before he left.

A cellist who couldn't stop playing

A cellist who couldn’t stop playing

As you enjoy the beauty, don’t forget that the Concertgebouw was forced to fire its Jewish musicians and play music by non-Jewish composers, and it was the site of an early Nazi speech that warned non-Jews to abandon their fellow citizens.  Read about it here.