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With a cohesive team, you win the World Cup. How the Holland Festival gagged all the cynics this year.

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The 2019 Holland Festival was the best in decades. At least in the 25 years I have consciously witnessed it, I cannot remember a national festival that coupled so much impact with so much prestige. Whether visitor targets were met or not will be of no concern to me in this regard. As Volkskrant colleague Hein Janssen once remarked, the only question is whether you count the passengers of tram line 9 at Opera in the Park. Anyway, I did not sit in empty halls, the twenty or so evenings I spent in the capital.

The secret of this festival's success could, of course, be attributed to Aus Licht. This Stockhausen project brought world fame to the capital on a scale that will be hard to match in subsequent years. But, as much as I was totally overwhelmed by that three-day marathon, the real highlights for me were more in the programming of the other parts. The Holland festival, thanks to the three programmers Annemieke Keurentjes (theatre & dance), Jochem Valkenburg (music and musical theatre) and Ravian van den Hil (the rest) brought a festival that found unity in diversity. They built bridges to the overall diversity of city residents and managed to demonstrate beauty in things that traditional champions of the high arts might condemn as amateurish.


For years, in the shadow of successive artistic directors, this team has set the tone and content of the Holland Festival. They travel the world (Jochem and Annemieke) and the city (Ravian) in search of content, always in consultation with each other and the directors. The special contributions, this year, of Congolese artist Faustin Linyekula and South African William Kentridge, they, with broad knowledge of the international festival world, provide context.

All this under the inspired leadership of a director who had been the great unifying force of the Holland Festival for many years, before they finally included it in 2017 got the job that suited her role. As general director this year, Annet Lekkerkerker put an absolute crown on what such leadership infusion can lead to. She gave a free hand to the artistic staff, but never without declaring each other's business interests to be inferior. There stood a close-knit team. Such a team spirit thanks to which now another Dutch football team could compete in the World Cup.

Men's World

This does not always seem to go down well in the traditional, still male-dominated, music world. In a Facebook post a fortnight ago, the artistic director of the NTR Saturday matinee called her appointment and that of her successor a blunder of the first order. According to him, an artistic director should never be subordinate to anyone. He was supported by the reviewer of an Amsterdam weekly. Quality newspaper NRC on Monday 24 June still qualified Lekkerkerker as an 'interim pope' in a follow-up review. That's a bit odd for someone who was at the head of the organisation for 12 years, longer than any artistic director besides her.

I am not often ashamed of my peers of age and gender, but when it comes to the treatment of female executives, there is still something to be gained, shall I say.


This Holland Festival was the best in years because the team that has been deciding what the festival looks like all these years was able to work precisely now in a way that could lead to the best artistic result. The bar has been set incredibly high by this team, thanks to an inspired general director. The head of this leader is now hunted. She will be member of the two-member Executive Board of the Amsterdam School of the Arts. I can only wish Lekkerkerker's successor a lot of courage and strength to match the level of her predecessor. In an art world that still doesn't seem to have a particularly woman-friendly attitude.

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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