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The 5 concerts you don't want to miss at Musica Sacra

Last year's arts festival Musica Sacra featured 'the way', inspired by the many pilgrim routes that lead to holy places. This year in Maastricht, it is all about the 'sacrifice of love'. At first sight, an anachronistic theme, which seems at odds with the sentiments in our current society. The aggression against asylum seekers, the ruthless pursuit of profit by big companies and banks, but also our own often selfish attitude to life, seem to leave little room for altruism.

Perhaps that is precisely why the theme is very touching. By immersing ourselves for four days in art that demonstrates compassion and sacrifice, we may also come to reflect ourselves. From the wide range on offer, I chose five concerts you won't want to miss.

Terry Riley: Salome Dances for Peace

Salome, painting by Gustav Klimt (photo credit Wikipedia)
Salome, painting by Gustav Klimt (photo credit Wikipedia)

The Babylonian princess Salome seduces her uncle and stepfather Herod with a sensual veil dance. In return, the horny old goat has promised to grant her every conceivable wish and she asks for the head of John the Baptist. For revenge, as John has brutally rejected her advances. As soon as she is offered his bleeding head, she triumphantly presses a kiss to his still warm but lifeless lips. Herod has thus made a very gruesome 'sacrifice of love', at someone else's expense moreover. Richard Strauss made a compelling opera about it.

American minimalist Terry Riley presents a very different vision in Salome Dances for Peace for string quartet. Instead of a vengeful, necrophilic adolescent, he presents us with a modern shaman who uses her seductive skills to bring about global peace. The five-part cycle pairs a driving pulse with lyrical and hushed passages, with echoes of jazz, blues, Indian Ragas and Asian music. Last year, Riley was a guest at the Minimal Music Festival at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ in Amsterdam. Now there are whispers that he will come to Maastricht for the Dutch premiere of the integral cycle.

Frank Martin: Le vin herbé

Richard Wagner, in his opera Tristan und Isolde the tragic love between the title heroes immortalised. The Irish princess Isolde is married off to King Marc of Cornwall, whose adopted son Tristan will pick her up. During the crossing, they drink of an aphrodisiac herbal wine, which ignites them in a fatal love. Out of loyalty to Marc, they decide to renounce their love, but blood runs where it cannot go: as Tristan lies dying badly wounded, he wants to see Isolde one last time. However, she reaches him too late and dies of heartbreak.

The Swiss-Dutch composer Frank Martin composed his story-inspired Le vin herbé (the spiced wine). With its small scoring of 12 voices, seven strings and piano, this 'secular oratorio' is deliberately anti-Wagnerian. After all, Wagner's music was greatly admired by the Nazis. Against the bombast of its German predecessor, Martin sets subdued but no less poignant music, which, with its recitative singing style, exudes a French atmosphere.

Laila and Madjnoen

At the opening of the last Early Music Festival, Jet Bussemaker called on the organisation to focus more on new and more diverse audiences. Musica Sacra served the minister at her weeks with the triptych Laila and Madjnoen. This 11th-century Arabic legend was later immortalised by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Tragic love also plays the leading role in this poem: Kais and Laila fall deeply in love with each other, but her family resists and forbids them from ever meeting again.

Laila is married off to another man, but Kais, increasingly desperate, continues to sing of her beauty. People call him 'the madman, the madjnun'. Eventually, Kais wanders aimlessly through the desert, bereft of his wits and dressed in rags. From far and wide, people come to listen to the verses he keeps making for his unattainable beloved. Laila dies of grief; Madjnoen breathes his last at her grave. Their story is performed in three different versions, by the Mehmet Polak Trio, the Abbas Bakhtiari Trio and singer Anass Habib.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste

A very special sacrifice of love is made by Alceste in Gluck's opera of the same name. She is willing to die in place of her mortally ill husband, King Admetos. Once she has offered her life to the gods, Admetos miraculously recovers, much to the delight of his people. A messenger tells him that apparently someone was willing to give his life for him, upon which he suspects how things are going.

When asked, Alceste confesses her intention, but despite Admetos' entreaties, she refuses to abandon it. At this, the king decides to follow her into death. Struck by their unconditional love, which reaches beyond the boundaries of the underworld, the gods decide to let both of them live. The opera is performed by students and alumni of the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and Ensemble Currende.

Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer (c) Marco Borggreve)
Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer (c) Marco Borggreve)

Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer: Dialogue de l'ombre double 

Dutch clarinetist Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer performs a solo programme named after Dialogue de l'ombre double Of those who died last January Pierre Boulez. This work for clarinet and electronics is inspired by a scene from the monumental play about love renunciation Le soulier de satin By Paul Claudel. In Boulez' iconic work from the 20th century, the soloist conducts a dialogue with music - played by himself - on tape.

While playing, the performer walks from music stand to music stand, while the sound of the recorded fragments comes out of six different speakers. The all-out, lightning-fast virtuoso runs jumping between registers seem like one big jubilation at life. Wouters van den Oudenweijer combines this with works by Stockhausen, MacMillan and with a Paraphrase by Alexander Goehr on Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. In it, the crusader defeats his Saracen lover, whom he failed to recognise through her armour.

I hope to see you at one of these concerts.

More information and the playlist can be found here.

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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