Why ‘just’ getting a ticket and going to a concert, if it can be much more exciting? This is what the organizers of the International Chamber Musical Festival must have thought. And so in addition to the Tour d’Utrecht, the festival had another treat in store for its audience: scratchcard concerts. Instead of a ticket, spectators were given scratchcards that determined which concerts they were going to see. Of course, this method was not completely spontaneous, as there were only four (pre determined) routes. But not knowing beforehand where one would go was just that little bit more adventurous.

Seldom Sene © Hans Hijmering
Seldom Sene
© Hans Hijmering

My scratchcard led me to start the journey at Utrecht University’s Academiegebouw. Here, flute quintet Seldom Sene performed in the gorgeous Senaatszaal. They presented a programme consisting of Renaissance, Baroque and modern music, played on flutes stemming from matching eras. The quintet started with Giovanni Coprario’s relaxing Fantasia (after Luca Marenzio: 'O voi‘che sospirate’): meditative music that formed a perfect start to the Sunday morning. But it was the next piece, Thomas Tallis’ O sacrum convivium, that created a particularly special atmosphere. Listening to Tallis’ ancient, rather melancholic music while Utrecht University professors from all eras looked down from their portraits on the wall, was touching. This serenity, however, was disturbed completely by Wouter Snoei’s atonal Interreaction. This contemporary piece, composed to sound different every time it was played, sounded rather like a puffing machine than actual music.

Shin Sihan and Anne Brackman © Hans Hijmering
Shin Sihan and Anne Brackman
© Hans Hijmering

The next location revealed on the scratchcard was the Utrecht Centre for the Arts. In a room that resembled a small church with stained glass and wooden galleries, Shin Sihan played the violin and Anne Brackman the piano. These 19 year olds showed their amazing talent and energy in Maurice Ravel’s surprising Violin Sonata in G major. Sihan’s tones stood out for their clarity, while Brackman's notes shone, then flowed beautifully. Ravel’s music fascinated with special dissonances, mysterious cadenzas and a staggering Perpetuum mobile third movement. A real treat was Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune in an arrangement for violin and piano. Although the duo played somewhat hastily, they did not play without feeling. Brackman and Sihan’s programme ended in a spectacular finale with and strings coming off Sihan’s violin in Fritz Kreisler’s characteristic Tambourin chinois.

This absolute highlight was followed by a visit to the Central Museum. Here, the Furioso Quartet brought Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, Op.59 no. 3 “Razumovsky”. It was played well with the faster, more intense movements standing out from the overall standard classical music repertoire. But when the two violins played together they occasionally seemed to clash, as the sound they produced combined almost sounded out of tune.

Janine Jansen, Jan Jansen and Nicolas Altstaedt © Hans Hijmering
Janine Jansen, Jan Jansen and Nicolas Altstaedt
© Hans Hijmering

The most spectacular location was kept until the end: the Dom church. Janine Jansen herself presented a short concert with works by Bach and Vivaldi. Together with her father, organist and harpsichord player Jan Jansen, and cellist Nicolas Altstaed, she had created a programme with little spectacular music but varied instrument combinations. Although the setting was enchanting, the acoustics were not very good as they created what sounded like an endless resonance where a clear melody was hard to find.

While the festival’s poster girl performing in the imposing Dom church made for a fitting if anticlimactic, finale, the highlight of the scratchcard journey were the youthful Sihan and Brackman. But the journey was never a dull one; the scratchcard concert proved to be as surprising as the concept suggested, and is fully recommended upon its hopeful return next year.