Since its inception, the NJO Music Summer spread its wings. It started in 2001 as a summer course for music students who got to work with internationally renowned musicians, composers and conductors. Since then, the NJO Music Summer has grown into an unmissable, audience-friendly festival, covering the entire province of Gelderland. On Friday 19 August, it takes a step across the border to Overijssel, with a concert by the National Youth Orchestra in Enschede: Drama in Vienna.
Conductor Antony Hermus, who only last year signed for a steaming final concert at Theatre Orpheus in Apeldoorn, now leads the young musicians through works by Brahms, Strauss and Ravel. Also this year, he will lead the final concert in Apeldoorn, with a second performance of Drama in Vienna.
The title was not chosen at random: at its centre is the quarrel between Johannes Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim, for whom he composed his famous Violin Concerto in 1878. Both lived in the Austrian capital, then the music centre of Europe.
The two had met around the age of 20 and formed a lifelong friendship, which also bore fruit musically. Thanks to Joachim, Brahms got to know the composer couple Robert and Clara Schumann, which gave his career a huge boost gave. Inspired by Joachim's Hungarian background, Brahms also composed his popular Hungarian dances.
A kink occurred when Joachim suspected his wife of sneaking around with his publisher. He complained his distress to his friend, who, to his dismay, sided not with him but with his wife. Brahms wrote her an empathetic letter, which she promptly used to initiate divorce proceedings. Joachim felt doubly betrayed and refused to exchange another word with Brahms.
A third friend, the cellist Robert Hausman, could not stand it any longer and took on the role of driving judge. After three years of cold war, he managed to reconcile the two stubborn gentlemen again. Brahms was so relieved that he wrote a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, which he dedicated to Joachim and Hausman. The National Youth Orchestra will play this in Enschede with the violinist Shin Sihan, young artist in residence, and lauded cellist Raphael Wallfisch.
Vienna also plays a role in the two other pieces. It was in this city that Johann Strauss and Johann Strauss Jr. created a furore with their infectious waltz music. Die schöne blaue Donau by junior became a mega hit, which was also admired by Brahms. 'Leider nicht von mir' he wrote under a score of the piece.
Ravel seems to be in La valse making fun of Vienna's decadent Sissy atmosphere. Unlike the jaunty waltzes of the Strausses, this dance seems to regularly limp along - as if a boorish gentleman steps on the hem of his lady's gala dress. The Rosenkavaliersuite by Richard Strauss - no family! - is about young lovers, strict fathers and, yes: jealous husbands.
Music in many flavours
In its fifteen years of existence, the NJO Music Summer has managed to reach seasoned classical music lovers, interested laymen and unsuspecting passers-by alike, with a host of events and concerts at surprising venues. With the Nationaal Jeugd Orkest's successful performances during several editions of pop festival Lowlands as the highlight.
This year the opening took place at Burgers' Zoo, there were musical bike and walking tours and concerts at book and wine shops, and the opera The Mother of Black-Winged Dreams by Hanna Kulenty performed on the deserted Zwitsal grounds. This production about a woman suffering from multiple personality syndrome managed to touch many people deeply, especially those who normally avoid concerts of modern music.
That the festival is able to attract new audiences to classical and contemporary music is heartening. The performance of Drama in Vienna on 19 August has even been declared a 'social concert'. Thanks to a collaboration with the Municipality of Enschede, there are free tickets for refugees through COA, children supported by the Youth Culture Fund and volunteers from the Lions Clubs and the Food Bank, among others.
Those who just make their own ticket buy, thus runs the risk of casually striking up a conversation with someone from Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia during the interval or afterwards. A sympathetic initiative that really brings the time-honoured adage 'music unites' within reach.