This year, both The Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra celebrate their joint 125th anniversary. On Wednesday, 10th April, the eve of the hall’s ‘official’ birthday, a combined celebration will take the form of a Star Jubilee performance, at which guest soloists Janine Jansen, Thomas Hampson and Lang Lang will join the orchestra and its Chief Conductor, Mariss Jansons.
The opening work, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is of special significance – it was performed at the opening concert of The Concertgebouw on 11th April, 1888. The 2013 programme also includes songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Mahler, and the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Both Mahler and Strauss conducted the Concertgebouw Orchestra on several occasions.
A new work has been commissioned for the occasion – Bob Zimmerman has composed a set of variations on the Dutch folk song Komt vrienden in het ronden (Come, friends, gather round) – and musicians from the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras will join the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a performance of the Elégie from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.
All musicians appearing at the Star Jubilee concert are donating their services, and proceeds will go towards the education programmes of both the Orchestra and The Concertgebouw.
Since its founding in 1888, the Orchestra has had only six chief conductors. Hailed by Gramophone magazine as “the world’s greatest orchestra”, it received its royal designation on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary in 1988. It comprises 120 musicians from over 20 countries, and despite its size, it functions – according to its website – “more like a chamber orchestra in terms of the sensitivity with which its members listen to, and work in tandem with, one another”, requiring “both a high individual calibre and a great sense of mutual trust and confidence”.
With its own Orchestra Academy providing tuition to young talented musicians, the RCO reaches around 250,000 concertgoers each year, through approximately 90 concerts in Amsterdam, and 40 performances in some of the world’s leading concert halls. It also participates in residencies at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, BOZAR in Brussels, at the Barbican Centre in London, and the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, and in 2004, launched its own in-house record label, RCO Live. This year saw the launch of RCO Universe, an online application featuring enhanced concert recordings for iPhone and iPad.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is renowned the world over for its unique sound, and whilst the superb acoustics of its Amsterdam home play an important role in upholding this reputation, it’s also universally accepted that outside the Main Hall, there is no other orchestra which sounds quite the same. The influence of its chief conductors – of which there have been only six in its history – and the calibre of the musicians themselves, are also acknowledged to be important factors.
It was Bernard Haitink who referred to The Concertgebouw as “the best instrument of the orchestra that it houses” – both the Main Hall and the Recital Hall are renowned for their exceptional acoustics.
Designed by Adolf Leonard van Gendt, Amsterdam’s most frequently patronised architect at the time, it was commissioned in 1882 with no requirement for a particular style – merely that it would fit a prescribed area of land on the outskirts of Amsterdam, be constructed in compliance with a set budget, and provide space for 2000 concertgoers. “Seven years later,” according to The Concertgebouw website, “the swampy fields just outside the city limits boasted a wonder of neoclassic architecture”. The Concertgebouw has served as the venue for tens of thousands of concerts since its opening in 1888, and hosted countless musicians and international stars.
During this celebratory year, special Jubilee Concerts are being presented every month, in both the Main Hall and the Recital Hall of the historic Concertgebouw, with international luminaries such as Angela Gheorghiu, Valery Gergiev, Bernard Haitink, Leonidas Kavakos, Menahem Pressler, Christianne Stotijn and Eva-Maria Westbroek as guest soloists.
Included in the jubilee activities will be a focus each month on a different period in the rich history of The Concertgebouw, presented in music, text and images, and at the end of the Jubilee year, there will be “a large-scale project based on West Side Story.
Two commissioned works – by Magnus Lindberg and Louis Andriessen – will make their international debut during the year, and a jubilee book entitled Bravo!, 125 years of The Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is being produced.
Details of the 2013 Jubilee Concerts programme can be found on The Concertgebouw website: www.concertgebouw.nl/en/125jubilee