The Holland Festival dedicates a grand retrospective to the Italian composer Luigi Nono (1924-1990) in the characteristic Gasholder from 19 to 22 June. As a convinced communist Nono tried to better the world, supporting blue collar workers in their quest for reasonable payment and immortalizing many a freedom fighter in moving scores of intense and pure beauty. With Nono’s vision of a Brave New World in mind, we checked out some other events worth visiting while you’re in Amsterdam. Enjoy your trip!

Let’s start our itinerary at the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Jan Wolff’s dream of a spectacular venue for new music come true. Built by the Danes Nielsen, Nielsen and Nielsen it was opened in 2005 by former queen Beatrix, striking a huge and deeply resonant gong. Situated on the river IJ, the building is breathtaking with its immense panes of glass, enormous overhang and the Bimhuis protruding like a black box from its backside, deftly balancing on thin air. Unfortunately Wolff, who lobbied for this hall for decades, couldn’t enjoy its realization for long: he died in 2012. 

The Muziekgebouw is famed for its wonderful acoustics, immeasurable foyer spaces and great views of the river IJ, the district of Amsterdam-Noord and the film museum Eye. The latter is housed in a no less spectacular building and was opened in 2012. There the Holland festival stages the multimedia spectacle River of Fundament of Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler. They fuse narrative cinema, live performance, sculpture and opera in a reinvention of Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, featuring the renowned American singer Joan la Barbara. 

During the Holland Festival the Muziekgebouw forms the backdrop for an exhibition by pianist/visual artist Tomoko Mukaiyama, ‘Nocturne’. It was inspired by the tsunami that devastated large parts of Japan in 2011. Two broken grand pianos symbolize the unfathomable destruction that provokes feelings of loss and regret. These are counterbalanced by lipstick markings, a metaphor for people’s resilience and their hope for a better future. 

In the same venue Nico Muhly and David T. Little take us from heaven to hell in their double bill Spiral Mass/Soldier Songs, while the German composer and director Heiner Goebbels stages a visionary tour of Harry Partch’s self-built instruments in A Ritual of Dream and Delusion. “A piece of music theatre that can only be described as out of the world”, reads the brochure. And in her new opera Oidípous the Greek/Dutch composer Calliope Tsoupaki rethinks the myth of the ancient Greek who met his fate by trying to flee from it. 

From the Muziekgebouw it’s just a stone’s throw to the Scheepvaartmuseum  (Maritime Museum), where you can visit an exhibition of atlases made by pioneer cartographers between 1482 and 1665. Helped by the information of adventurous seafarers, they charted entirely new worlds for the general public. Here you can also mount a replica of a VOC ship, with which Dutch traders undertook lucrative voyages to ‘East-India’ (modern Indonesia).

We then move on to the neighbouring science centre Nemo, a striking building in the form of a ship, built by Renzo Piano - who also designed the wooden ark for Nono’s magnum opus Prometeo. Kids can tame the power of water, look at their brain, undertake laboratory experiments, become logistics experts and (much) more.

Right in the heart of Amsterdam, on Dam Square we visit the World Press Photo exhibition in the New Church. The winning picture, by John Stanmeyer, shows African migrants on the shore of Djibouti City, trying to send a last message to relatives before embarking on a risky and illegal voyage to Europe – though this continent may not prove to be the brave new world they are setting out for. On our way to the Stadsschouwburg we make a small detour to check out the exhibition ‘Crimean gold and secrets of the Black Sea’ in the Allard Pierson Museum. It shows costly artefacts that were seldom exhibited outside of Ukraine. One wonders to which country they will be returned: Russia or Ukraine.

In the Stadsschouwburg we witness the world première of Laika, an opera by composer Martijn Padding and librettist P.F. Thomesé about a famous television presenter fed up with his shallow world. He decides to join Yuri Gagarin and cosmonaut dog Laika in outer space, and exchange his earthly existence for eternity. From here we move on to Amsterdam West, where Museum Het Schip is dedicated entirely to architecture of the so called ‘Amsterdam School’ that became popular at the beginning of the 20th century. The architects mainly designed large apartment buildings for the lower classes, yet adorned these with playful ornaments and avoided a massive appearance.

Close to this museum is the Gasholder, where the Nono retrospective takes place. No less than four days are dedicated to this Venetian composer who still captures our hearts with his magical sound worlds. The SWR Orchestra and conductor Ingo Metzmachter present the ‘Trilogy of the Sublime’, featuring Nono’s key works Prometeo, Il canto sospeso and Caminantes… For the occasion the impressive round space of the Gasholder is turned into an ‘industrial cathedral’, with the orchestra performing on platforms scattered around the audience. The listener will be immersed in surround sound, and experience ‘a dream-like odyssey of heavenly vistas and hellish chasms’. 

An extra concert is devoted to La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura for solo violin and tape that Nono realised between 1988-1989. The title may be interpreted as: the past is reflected in the present and will lead to an ideal world of endless possibilities in the future. Its subtitle Madrigale per più “caminantes” con Gidon Kremer refers to violin improvisations by Kremer that Nono recorded and mixed with a variety of pre-recorded sounds. The violinist Irvine Arditti plays from multiple music stands spread across the stage and the auditorium of the Gasholder, while André Richard controls eight tape recorders. Arditti seems to be at his mercy, but the “freedom to interact with each other creates a completely new musical experience”. 

For those who wish to delve deeper into the musical and political idea(l)s of Luigi Nono, there’s a two-day symposium with international participants such as the British musicologist Robert Adlington and Nono's widow, Nuria Schoenberg Nono. She also stages an exhibition in the Gasholder consisting of pictures, writings, scores and other Nono paraphernalia that can be viewed for free from 4 pm on concert days. Last but not least, in the underpassage of the Rijksmuseum, students of the department of Sonology at the Royal Conservatorium will reflect on Nono’s spatial music. Let’s see what brave new worlds they have on offer.

Click here to find out about other Amsterdam festivals and the opportunity to win tickets!

You can find more information about the festivals here.