This year’s Holland Festival is titled Edges of Europe, delving into the continent’s history back into Ancient Greek myth, but also the way it is changing in the 21st century. Since 1947, this innovative festival has been famed for its focus on contemporary music, dance and theatre and its mix of established names and exciting new artists.

Kronos Quartet: <i>Fifty for the Future</i> © Jay Blakeberg
Kronos Quartet: Fifty for the Future
© Jay Blakeberg
The Kronos Quartet are this year’s artists-in-residence, featuring their project Kronos’ Fifty for the Future, for which fifty scores have been commisisoned from fifty different composers over five years. Fifty for the Future at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ,scores by Yotam Haber, Merlijn Twaalfhoven and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, as well as a Holland Festival commission in which the Ragazze Quartet joins them to perform the world première of The Lost Folk Dances of Southern Europe by Yannis Kyriakides

Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth is at the centre of the festival’s music programme. Ensemble intercontemporain plays her latest major work Le Encantadas at the Gashouder. Le Encantadas was the name of the Galapagos Islands and Neuwirth’s work is inspired by Herman Melville’s descriptions of them. The musicians in the Gashouder will be stationed on islands around the space. Also at the festival, Neuwirth will lead a discussion about The Art of Listening, and bassoonist Pascal Gallois will play Neuwirth’s Torsion, a work composed for him.

<i>Grand Subphonia</i> © Holland Festival
Grand Subphonia
© Holland Festival
Gallois is spearheading a campaign to “Save the Bassoon”. A participatory event “Play Bassoon at the Proms” asks players of all abilities to turn up at the Concertgebouw to take part in Merlijn Twaalfhoven’s work Grand Subphonia for over a hundred bassoonists!

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, some of whom found refuge in Europe, is drawn from players living across Europe. It will be reunited for an orchestral concert alongside Damon Albarn at the Royal Theatre Carré.

Opera plays its part at the festival. Following on from William Kentridge’s production of Lulu at last year’s festival (which also triumphed at The Met this season), the director now offers a concert performance of the same composer’s Wozzeck, a dark tale about a simple soldier and the misuse of power, based on Georg Büchner’s gripping 1837 drama. The cast is headed by Austrian baritone Florian Boesch, whose singing was recently described here by Jenny Camilleri as ranging “from the subtlest Sprechgesang... to cracking operatic thunder”. Asmik Grigorian, star of Komische Oper’s excellent new Yevgeny Onegin, sings Wozzeck’s wife, Marie. Another highlight should be Stefan Herheim’s eagerly awaited new production for Dutch National Opera of The Queen of Spades, about a gambler obsessed in discovering a secret formula for winning from the mysterious old Countess. Mariss Jansons conducting the Royal Concertgebouw should be reason enough to catch these performances.  

Birtwistle's <i>The Corridor</i> © Aldeburgh Festival | Clive Barda
Birtwistle's The Corridor
© Aldeburgh Festival | Clive Barda
British composer Harrison Birtwistle stages his chamber operas The Cure and The Corridor (which utilise the same set) at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. The Corridor takes the Orpheus myth but focuses more on Eurydice and her anger at Orpheus. The Cure tells the story of Medea, who uses her magical powers to restore her father-in-law Aeson's youth. Reviewing the production at last summer’s Aldeburgh Festival, Charlotte Valori enjoyed David Harsent’s “subtly-crafted libretti” and Birtwistle’s “musical language of dissonance, sharp edges and smooth yearning lines”. The same cast and musical forces take the production to Amsterdam.


Akram Khan's <i>Until the Lions</i> © Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan's Until the Lions
© Jean Louis Fernandez
Dance plays its role at the Holland Festival, headed by Akram Khan’s Until the Lions, which is the choregrapher’s first work in the round, presented in Amsterdam’s Gashouder. It is based on a section of Karthika Naïr’s book Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata, and was positively reviewed by John O’Dwyer when it premiered at London’s Roundhouse: “The contact that Khan’s kathak-trained feet make with the floor gives new meaning to the word ‘spin’, when he spins.” Set on the concentric rings of a cross-section of a tree, Khan asks questions about the differences between man and woman. This year’s dance programme also includes the Wuppertal Tanztheater’s 1982 staging Nelken by Pina Bausch, where thousands of carnations seem to grow from the stage, through which the dancers travel.

The Holland Festival Proms features six promenade concerts in a single day, featuring the Kronos Quartet, an African arrangement of Terry Riley’s In C, and Paol Ruders’ Solar Trilogy which depicts the birth, life and death of the sun in music – a feast of contemporary music to close this cutting-edge festival.