Beauty on Location: Mokum Symphony

October 30, 2021

On Saturday evening, October 30, we organized our event Beauty on Location. CSS was invited to the Singelkerk in Amsterdam, to a program filled with poetry and classical music. The poetry was provided by the Feest der Poëzie foundation; the music was performed by the musicians of Mokum Symphony, directed by Joan Berkhemer.

The evening was centered around the work of Dutch poet P.C. Boutens (1870-1943). Simon Mulder gave a short introduction to Boutens’ work and its place in the Dutch literary landscape. Then Joan Berkhemer introduced the Mokum Symphony to the audience. He explained that with the Mokum Symphony he is researching the historical performance practice of classical music, based on the first recordings, from the period 1900-1940. This results in a freer and more melodious way of making music, with more room for free expression and nuance than is usual in contemporary performance practice. (For more on this, we refer you to this report of a lecture by Joan Berkemer at CSS a few years ago. It also includes listening examples that make clear exactly what this way of interpretation entails).

The first piece performed was the famous Clarinet Quintet in B minor by Johannes Brahms, with a solo role for Heleen Oomen. This was preceded by song duo Jeroen Sarphati (piano) and Renate Arends (soprano) performing some poems by Boutens, set to music by the Dutch composers Bernard Zweers and Barend Roest Crollius. The intermission was followed by another set of poems by Boutens, this time composed by Henriëtte van de Brandeler and Alexander Voormolen.

The highlight of the evening was perhaps the concluding piece: Beatrijs. Boutens wrote his own lyrical adaptation of this medieval legend, which was then set to music by Alexander Voormolen in 1921. That composition was originally for piano and recital only, but was adapted for string quintet by Joan Berkhemer. Simon Mulder recited the words of the declamation.

With the mystical history of Beatrijs, this special performance came to an end. We thank Mokum Symphony and Feest der Poëzie for this comprehensive program and for introducing us to the underexposed art forms they practice!

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