The Strijkkwartet Biennale Amsterdam is the première festival of its kind, a gathering of world-class quartets and enthusiastic listeners in one of the loveliest cities in Europe. Immersive, intensive and inspiring, the festival embraces both tradition and innovation, and presents the familiar and the unknown. Mainly, however, it is a sublime sequence of some of the finest music ever composed.
From the week-long festival we have selected 15 recitals of varying formats and durations, some starting at 9.30am (Haydn) and some at 10.30pm (Beethoven). If this sounds a formidably busy schedule, be comforted by the proximity of the hotel: you could be in your room within four or five minutes of the players leaving the stage.
The concerts take place in the three halls of the Muziekgebouw and BIMhuis, an adventurous building by Danish architects 3XN which opened in 2005, and is located in the docks just beyond the main railway station. A huge glass wall affords views across the River IJ, Europe’s busiest port in the 17th century. We have two dinners in the excellent restaurant here, and there are other cafés and bars for breaks at other times to supplement the facilities at the hotel.
An Amsterdam-based art historian leads guided visits to art galleries and historic buildings of the city.
Depart c. 11.00am by train from London St Pancras (Eurostar, under four hours) and transfer from Amsterdam Centraal to the hotel. Dinner is at the hotel before going next door to the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm concert: the Jerusalem Quartet plays Smetana (No.1), Shostakovich (No.11) and Beethoven (Op.59 No.2).
Concert at 9.30am: Leonkoro Quartet, Haydn Op.33 No.3 and Wolfgang Rihm’s String Quartet No.9. Our visit to the Rijksmuseum concentrates on the major works in its unrivalled collection of 17th-century paintings, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and four Vermeers among them. As alternatives (or additions) you could choose the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art or the Van Gogh Museum, both nearby. The first of Leo Samama’s three talks is followed by: 5.00pm concert, Ragazze Quartet, Mendelssohn Op.80 and world première of String Quartet by Seung-Won Oh. Dinner at the 4’33 Grand Café at the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm: Orchestra of the 18th Century, Kitgut Quartet, Amandine Beyer (violin), works by Spohr, Sirmen, Fanny Mendelssohn and Pleyel. Short break before: Late Beethoven at 10.30pm: Brentano Quartet, Op.130.
Concert at 9.30am: Kitgut Quartet, Haydn Op.33 No.5, Schubert D94 and Albrechtsberger Op.4. Pause. 11.30am: ‘Masterclass’ with Amandine Beyer (Kitgut Quartet). Afternoon lecture followed by: 2.15pm, Australian String Quartet, Lou Bennett (voice), works by Peter Sculthorpe, Moya Henderson, Lou Bennett, Jack Symonds and Beethoven (Op.59). Dinner is independent today. 8.15pm: Brentano Quartet, Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Mozart (K.499), String Quintet by James MacMillan (European première), Brahms Op.111.
Concert at 9.30am: Simply Quartet, Haydn Op.33 No.4, ‘Lucid Dreams’ by Thomas Larcher. Visits to the magnificent 17th-century Portuguese Synagogue and to Rembrandt’s House, recently and excellently refurbished. Afternoon lecture followed by: 5.00pm, Doric String Quartet, Jelmer de Moed (clarinet), Beethoven (Op.18 No.5), ‘Alchymia’ by Thomas Adès. Dinner at the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm: Australian String Quartet, Lou Bennett (voice), String Quartet by Paul Stanhope and Lou Bennett (European première), Mozart K.421, Britten (No.2). Pause. 10.30pm concert, Simply Quartet, Beethoven Op.135.
Concert at 9.30am: Australian String Quartet, Haydn Op.33 No.1, ‘Sacred Sky’ by Nigel Westlake. Pause. 11.30am: ‘Masterclass’ with Tabea Zimmermann (viola). Break for lunch. 2.15pm, Solem Quartet, Ayanna Witter-Johnson (cello), ‘Island Suite’ by Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Beethoven Op.133, Bartók No.3. Some free time before our final dinner.
Concert at 9.30am: Tetzlaff Quartet, Haydn Op.33 No.2, Berg Op.3. Visit the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, a fully-furnished 17th-century canalside merchant’s house, before boarding the afternoon Eurostar. Arrive at London St Pancras International at c. 8.00pm.
Writer, composer, and co-founder of the Netherlands String Quartet Academy, he has worked with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague and the Netherlands Chamber Choir. Between 1977 and 1992 he taught at the Utrecht Conservatory, the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and Utrecht University, and today teaches music philosophy. Among his publications are Nederlandse muziek in de 20-ste eeuw (Dutch Music in the 20th Century), a monograph on Alphons Diepenbrock, The Meaning of Music and most recently Het strijkkwartet (The String Quartet) in 2018. In 2010 he was knighted as an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau for his contribution to Dutch musical life.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,120 or £2,910 without Eurostar. Single occupancy: £3,600 or £3,390 without Eurostar.
Tickets for 15 concerts; rail travel by Eurostar (Standard Premier); travel within Amsterdam by coach or taxi; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts and four dinners with wine; admission charges to places visited on the guided tours; tips for restaurant staff, drivers, guides etc; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guide.
Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre: a modern, comfortable hotel located directly next door to the the Muziekgebouw.
Participation in the walks and visits requires the fitness to be expected of everyday walking and stair climbing, and to be able to walk at least a couple of miles unaided.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'The very best musicians playing a varied programme of well known and lesser known works of the highest quality – what could be more delightful?'
'Leo Samama's lectures were one of the highlights of the trip. It was a privilege to sit at his feet, hear his overview and be inspired. Mealtime discussions were also appreciated in his company.'
'It had the "wow" factor and fully exceeded my expectations. The tour had a good balance between the different elements, concerts, cultural activities, visits.'