I had originally intended to blog about the experience of planning the upcoming two consecutive piano house concerts (1st and 2nd July 2011) so that I can share what I’ve learned with others. Much of this will have to be written in hindsight when, hopefully, I will find the time to do so.
Planning these events has turned out to be incremental and evolutionary. In other words, I did not have a grand plan from the beginning. The add-ons, almost an afterthought, are the bells and whistles that differentiate these concerts from any other.
Just the performer and the music should be enough to lure anyone to a concert. Not so in culturally rich Utrecht, also known as the creative capital of the Netherlands, home of the largest university and oldest conservatory in the country. Often considered the centre of the Netherlands for public transport (30 minutes by train or car to Amsterdam and 2 to 3 hours to Brussels or the German border), many people come to Utrecht for cultural events, as mentioned in a previous blog post.
Thus there are many competing events on a summer weekend evening, not just classical music but staying home or going out elsewhere. For the Dutch, birthdays and summer holidays are not to be cancelled for a house concert. The Dutch celebrate their birthdays every year. Their annual six week vacations entitle them to take several consecutive weeks off at a time. This is nearly unheard of in the USA.
July 1st is such a day — the beginning of their summer holidays. One Rotarian is driving to Italy with his family. Another has already flown to Turkey. My original plan to have an all American 4th of July weekend with American pianists, American philanthropy, and American-style barbecue has fallen victim to the Dutch way of life — no compromise on holidays or birthdays or competing events.
How else can I to lure people to come to a concert? In a previous blog post on this very subject, I suggested that the concert (performer + music) is not the only reason people will come to a concert. Some come for the social aspect. Others for the venue itself. Here is where I add the bells and whistles.
As early as January 2011, I booked wine expert Eveline Scheren to give organic wine tasting after experiencing it at another house concert in 2010. For those who don’t take wine or alcohol, I made elderflower drink as soon as I returned to the Netherlands a month ago — picking elderflowers from the trees that lined the canal around the Monument House in late May. There are bottles in the basement waiting to be consumed. Very organic.
In the Netherlands, going out to eat is a big deal. Kitchens (in restaurants) close at 10 pm, sometimes earlier if they run out of food. Service is slow. Expect 4-hours for a sit-down meal. It’s not cheap to eat out. How do you entertain visitors? Cook at home. It’s not Spain where you can go to a bar and get tapas at all hours of the day. It’s not the USA, where service is fast and choices are plentiful.
How to lure people to come to a house concert? Arrange a chef to cook a meal before or after the concert. Chef Alberto from Cordoba has already sourced the ingredients for his Andalucian feast for our 1st July Body of Your Dreams piano concert by Nathanael May. I will need to give the headcount to Chef Hong first thing tomorrow morning for the Vietnamese dinner on 2nd July — the piano concert of Brendan Kinsella.
On Saturday 2nd July, after dinner, there’s the added bonus of luxury organic cookies from Utrecht-based American entrepreneur Katie Miller who will donate a box for the silent auction. I have yet to meet her but I’ve already fallen in love with her cookies. These are tiny cookies of various flavours that melt in your mouth and disappear quickly if you’re not disciplined. According to her advocate, Susan of Susan Scribes Blog, the ingredients are organic and carefully selected. I love the website and presentation of cookies as a luxury yet personal product — the perfect gift for a Dutch birthday. I can’t wait to meet Katie in person!