I heard from two friends today about a New York Times article entitled
A Dutch Town That Nurtures Its Quirk
As a resident of Utrecht, I am rather flattered by the two page article published today. Utrecht (pronounced OO as in ooze – TREK – T) is the fourth largest city (by population) in the Netherlands. It’s considered the centre of the country for reasons of the train and road network. Half the population is under 40, largely due to the largest university, the oldest conservatory, and other educational institutions.
I know Utrecht from the music side, more specifically, the classical music side, not the pop and rock culture or the visual arts scene as described in the New York Times article.
Recently an English pianist told me that he wanted to come to Utrecht because a friend had said it’s the place for music (as far as Holland was concerned). His friend was right. There are music festivals, live concerts, and much more in Utrecht than one hears about.
The Utrecht Early Music Festival takes place every August. The celebrated Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has her chamber music festival in December. The International Liszt Piano Competition takes place every three years. “Kerken Kijken” is a period of “church seeing” that opens all churches to the public for visits and concerts.
The residents in Utrecht are lucky to have Cultural Sundays with free performances, exhibitions, and interactive workshops on a different theme once nearly every month. The biggest of them all is the Utrecht Uitfeest which takes place in September and involves more than 100 free events throughout the city.
When we moved here in 2006, we launched the Monument House Concert Series to introduce live music involving either the piano or the guitar in a relaxed and intimate setting of a private home. Our second house concert “Piano as Orchestra” in December 2006 coincided with Cultural Sunday’s “Gluren bij de Buren” (Peek at the neighbours) of some 100 house concerts – all free. While ours was not free entry, it was completely sold out and packed, with elbow room only.
Besides the free events of Cultural Sundays, free concerts take place regularly elsewhere each week in Utrecht. The Friday lunch time concerts at the Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh Church are nearly always full-house. Early arrival (i.e. around noon for the 12:30 pm concerts) is recommended. Every Saturday afternoon, the Dome Church offers free concerts that usually involves the organ, choir, or period instruments. I enjoyed a magnificent antiphonal performance of Mozart’s Requiem on period instruments.
If you’re a true classical music junkie, go hang out at the Utrecht Conservatory at Mariaplaats (between the central train station and the Dome). There are free concerts nearly every day in various styles: early music, classical, contemporary, and pop/rock/jazz. Early music is usually performed in the chapel in the brown building which was a former men’s hospital. The yellow building (K&W which stands for Kunst and Wetenschap) contains the big concert hall which boasts perfect reverberation ratio for live classical music.
It’s difficult to keep track of all the concerts and gigs that happen in this cultural city. Just like the 20,000 bicycles parked at the central station (scroll down to the last paragraph in the US News & World Report article), you have to know what you’re looking for. To make Utrecht more transparent to the non-Dutch visitor, it would help if the largest concert hall in Utrecht would lead the rest of the venues by introducing its forthcoming concerts in English. Until that happens, I do my best to keep the “free or nearly free concerts” listing updated (in my spare time).