Musica Sequenza © Sophie Schwarzenberger
Musica Sequenza
© Sophie Schwarzenberger
The site of a summer residence used by the Dutch Royal family dating back to 1676 might not seem the most obvious setting for a forward-thinking arts festival, but Oranjewoud Festival’s experimentalism isn’t of the obvious kind. Tempering innovation with tradition, the 2018 edition of the festival in the Friesland area of the Netherlands sees historically-faithful Baroque performances sitting alongside immersive post-rock concerts, and classic chamber works next to techno-informed interpretations of Bach.

BACH, Inc. is one of the more intriguing themes in this year’s programme, specifically in how it includes young musicians with a plastic attitude to the master’s legacy. Turkish bassoonist Burak Özdemir’s ensemble Musica Sequenza have been bringing a 21st-century approach to the canon for some time with their Sampling Baroque project, which grafts glitchy beats onto works by Handel et al. At Oranjewoud this year they’ll be Exposing Bach, answering anyone who wondered what Bach’s music would sound like transplanted to a Berlin nightclub. Bach/techno parallels have been drawn by another young musician on the programme, pianist and sometime DJ Francesco Tristano. Tristano has performed at electronic music festivals with the likes of techno legend Carl Craig, and he sees in the interlocking parts and mechanistic continuo of Bach a prototype for modern club music. His Goldberg City Variations performance, however, leaves Bach’s music relatively unscathed: it’s the audiovisual aspect that really fires the imagination. Using Xenakis’s concept of the “Cosmic City” – an avant garde, utopian megastructure that allows the urban environment to coexist with nature – he has created a game software that maps the many thousands of notes of Bach’s piece onto a digital, 3D representation of the imagined city. Tristano’s piano is fitted with MIDI technology, and as he plays each note forms an element of the graphic depiction of Xenakis’s city on a projection. For Bach lovers after something a little less intellectually demanding, Geneviève Verhage and Sytze Pruiksma’s Birds of Bach performance pits the soothing tones of the Second Cello Concerto and Pruiksma’s own “bird compositions” against the sounds of nature, starting at 5am to align with the dawn chorus. As well as fringe experimentalists, Oranjewoud’s Bach theme has also pulled in some big guns: on the second day of the festival, Nigel Kennedy gives a solo concert presenting the most meaningful music of his life, from Gershwin to his own transcriptions of Bach.

Francesco Tristano © Marie Staggat
Francesco Tristano
© Marie Staggat

Oranjewoud doesn’t seem arbitrarily experimental, and there are plenty of more orthodox elements to offset the unusual. Acclaimed Bach interpreter Jean-Guihen Queyras will be presenting a programme centering on the Cello Suites, while the Calefax ensemble are giving a straight-up performance of The Musical Offering (transcribed for reed quintet, granted). 

As well as the pleasant environs of the Mansion Oranjewoud and its accompanying Overtuin park, there are more intriguing venues. For the first time, Oranjewoud punters this year will experience concerts in The Bubble, designer Marco Canevacci’s transparent orb-like structure. There, guitarist Aart Strootman and his group TEMKO perform a silent concert (with both musicians and audience hearing the music through headphones rather than amplified in the collective space) on the piece Lunar, which traverses creeping post-rock and Reichian minimalism. The piece will also be performed in the swimming pool of the local hotel – pumped through the water so as to only be heard below the surface. The Bubble also houses Moving Letters by Tijn Wynbenga, a young composer with feet in both classical and jazz traditions, and the piece is a collaboration with the Wonder Ensemble – part chamber group, part contemporary dance act. Interdisciplinary impulses can be seen elsewhere on the programme: La voix humaine 2.0, for example, uses technology to update Poulenc’s one-act opera to a parable on the alienating effects of modern communications. The most idiosyncratic venue at Oranjewoud would likely be the BB Bunker, a Cold War-era shelter that still bears the marks of its previous function as a nuclear hideout, replete with huge maps of the Netherlands and showers to wash those contaminated with radiation. This will be the site of cellist Katharina Gross and composer-percussionist Arnold Marinissen’s Pitch Dark performance. Using light projections emerging from the gloom, the work is based on the strange visual effects that occur when you close your eyes. Another dark work, Sarah Kirkland Snider’s brooding song collection Unremembered, constitutes the midnight concert on the penultimate night of the festival, and its combination of classical textures, filmic orchestral writing and intense modern songcraft give an indication of where classically-informed composition might be going in the near future.

Evening performances in the Overtuin © Lucas Kemper
Evening performances in the Overtuin
© Lucas Kemper
Being the classical wing of nearby Leeuwarden’s EU Capital of Culture celebrations, Oranjewoud understandably shows off native talent. Violinist Noa Wildschut features prominently, having played at every edition of the festival since 2012. The 17-year-old clearly has strong ideas of who she works best with, assembling an international cast of musicians that includes Russian violinist Vladimir Babeshko and Italian pianist Enrico Pace to perform a set of works by Fauré with her. She’ll also open the festival in a concert with the Noord Nederlands Orkest, as well as collaborating with children’s author Joke van Leeuwen and accordion duo TOEAC in a concert which places Vivaldi, Stravinsky and more against comedic narration. Dutch artists are also represented strongly in pianist Hannes Minnaar and the historically-informed Ensemble Cordevento, who will be performing works of the French Baroque.

Many in Friesland travel south to Utrecht and Amsterdam to experience classical music, so there is the feeling of a mission about Oranjewoud. However, with an audience of 300 at the first edition in 2011, growing to 10,000 last year, the goal of building a classical music community in the north of Holland seems to be nearing. Perhaps this appeal comes down to how they’ve pitched the programming: there’s an adherence to tradition coupled with more envelope-pushing impulses. If anything, the success of Oranjewoud’s quiet innovation shows that you don’t need to be in-your-face radical to be experimental.  

Click here to view the full events for Oranjewoud Festival. 


This article was sponsored by Oranjewoud Festival.