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Fred Wondergem: 'There is always more that you don't see than what you do see.'

'When I look in the auditorium at a classical concert now, I do think: it's full now, but in 20 years eighty per cent will be dead. So the bottom has to be fed, and TivoliVredenburg does that well. For example, they do it with Out of the Blue, which is a programme where you get great food and are led through the music by a special host.'

Fred Wondergem is one of the three 'heavy users' of TivoliVredenburg I interview for this small series. He is a glutton for good reason: he goes to a concert in TivoliVredenburg 45 times a year, but that's not all. He also attends Into The Great Wide Open on Vlieland, co-organised from Utrecht, every year, as well as about 40 concerts elsewhere. Plus, and he values this very much: the permanent seats he has in De Kleine Komedie. 'There are limits to how much you can see. There is always more what you don't see than what you do see. Especially with things like 'Le Guess Who?. Then there are seven things at once, so I can see one thing and there are six things I don't see.'

The spectator is the star
Who are those people you're in the room with anyway? What story is behind that order for that one ticket? As part of the double anniversary of TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, the Cultural Press Agency portrays visitors to those buildings. Fanatical visitors. Who enrich the image of an innovative building with their stories.

Fear of missing out

The question arises whether he - being in his fifties - does not suffer from FOMO, the infamous Fear of Missing Out, which makes life hell for many millennials? He can laugh: 'I've stopped doing that. I have had it in the past, though. It started pretty soon after my first festival. That was in 1982 still with one stage, at Torhout. That was easy, but later on, at those festivals with multiple stages, I stuck to a maximum of three songs at one, three songs at another, and then back to what I liked best. Now I am calm again. If it's good, I'll stay. I've lost that running back and forth.'

Not that Fred comes from a very musical background. 'I grew up in Zeeland, the youngest of eight in a reformed family. My father especially tended to be the first to turn off the radio when he came in.'


His concert career began with Mike Oldfield in 1979, an event he will celebrate at a Joe Jackson concert in 2019. In 1982, he cycled to Torhout, where Talking Heads and U2 performed: groups that marked the beginning of his musical voyage of discovery.

In the 1980s, he came to Utrecht to study Medical Biology. Tivoli and Café België became his regular nightlife spots. Classical music, he wasn't really into that back then, although his girlfriend used to visit series at Vredenburg where he would go with her once in a while.

That he does go often now is because of the new building. That has created programmes in which the different programmers work together to find new audiences for each other's music.

'For me, "Pieces of Tomorrow" the opener. That's a programme of classical music for pop lovers. Two programmers, one for pop and the other for classical, thought they could do something together. So on Fridays you always have the classical Avrotros VrijdagConcert. The orchestra is then often there the night before. On Thursday, they play one of Friday's three pieces: The Piece of Tomorrow. ' He understands the surprise: 'Yes, you don't make it up yourself.'


'It starts a bit later, DJ St Paul plays music in the mood and spirit of the classical piece, interviews the conductor, and the orchestra is in looser clothes. You bring your beer. You can walk in and out, and afterwards there are some spots around the hall where you can linger.'

That sounds a lot more casual than what you might expect at a classical concert. But there is more, like the programme maestro Jules, which also seeks a more relaxed approach to the classical canon. 'Before the interval, Maestro Jules explains what the piece is about. The orchestra is there in very colourful attire and you are guided through the music with pictograms. Those signs indicate what the 'male theme' is, and what the 'female theme' is. These days, this also allows me to recognise Coda's.'

Seasonal brochure

'And now we plan every season from the classic seasonal brochure. It is read from cover to cover, and then I have 60, 70 things ticked off where I want to go. We bring that down to about 30, and that also has to be coordinated with De Kleine Komedie. And there has to be room for pop music.' He laughs. 'It's almost a job.'

When making his choice, Fred is partly guided by what he already knows, 'but I always choose some different things too. I want to keep sniffing around, keep discovering!' He also attaches great importance to the tips from professionals that can be found in TivoliVredenburg's brochures: 'Johan Gijsen, the director of Le Guess Who, was in it last year, for example. I take their tips very seriously, it always results in fantastic things.'

What is clear is that Fred Wondergem does not rely on mainstream media when making his choices: 'I've built up enough stubbornness. Reviews I do read from time to time, but mainly if they are pointed out to me via Twitter.'

Bad bands

For this music aficionado, the building is a godsend, although this is especially apparent during festivals. Around classical music in TivoliVredenburg, despite barrier-free programmes, there is still too much exclusivity. 'It's not a transparent world either. It is more difficult to determine what is good. In pop music, if you bought a record by a mediocre band once and didn't like it the second time, you won't buy a CD from them again the third time.'

'With classical music, you just have to catch the right performance. One Four Seasons can sound very dull, while another is breathtaking. I also think you only develop a feeling for it later in life. But then you also have to come into contact with it earlier.'

Suicide Bar

But the building also changes a lot: 'In the old Vredenburg, when a pop concert finished and the lights went on, the very unpleasant cleaners would already come and chase people out of the venue. It wasn't pleasant to be there for more than 15 minutes after the end. Now it is right: the bar is open, stick around for a while. The audience appreciation from the organisation is 100 per cent different, though. I really feel like an insane guest.'

'What should be left: the opening of the 'Suicide Bar'. That's a pimple on the outside of the Pandora, on eight high. I saw that one twice on a tour by the architect. According to him, that's one of those spaces that could play a bit of the same role as the 'corridor' in the old Tivoli. A place where you can exchange the first kiss with your date without your friends seeing. I know where it is, but every time I feel at the door, it's locked.'

Other stories in this series:

Forty times a year to TivoliVredenburg: 'You get everywhere if you love music, eh.'

Are you such a spectator?
Do you have a special story of your own about TivoliVredenburg? Let us know about it!

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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