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 sixteen 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 seventeenth century. We have three of the five 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. There is also a trip to the lovely little city of Edam where there is a specially arranged recital on the famous 1663 Father Smith organ.
Depart c. 11.00am by train from London St Pancras (Eurostar, under four hours) and by taxi from Amsterdam Centraal to the hotel (walking is an option). Dinner is at the hotel before going next door to the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm concert: the Hagen Quartet plays Dvorak (op.106) and Shostakovich (nos. 7 & 2).
Concert at 9.30am: Schumann Quartet, Haydn op.33/3 and Helena Winkelmann’s Papa Haydns Parrot (2016). A break before going to another hall for the 11.00am event: Attacca Quartet, masterclass on Haydn’s Seven Last Words. In the afternoon there is the first of Leo Samama’s three talks, and this is followed by: 5.00pm concert, Ruysdael Kwartet, Scott Dickinson (viola), Mozart String Quintets K.593, K.406. Dinner at the 4’33 Grand Café at the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm: Attacca Quartet, Haydn’s Seven Last Words. Short break before: Late Beethoven at 10.30pm: Borodin Quartet, op.127.
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. Afternoon lecture followed by: 5.00pm, Schumann Quartet, Adrien La Marca (viola), Mozart’s K.174 and K.614, and works by Caroline Shaw. Dinner at the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm: Borodin Quartet, Mark Schmann (cello), Shostakovich (No.1), Arenski (op.35), Tchaikovsky (arrangement of Children’s Album). 10.30pm Late Beethoven: Calder Quartet, op.130 (arrangement), op.133.
Haydn at 9.30am: Chiaroscuro Quartet, op.33/5, Beethoven op.18/4. Pause. 11.30am: Cuarteto Casals and composer Francisco Coll talk about his Concerto Grosso. Afternoon visits to the magnificent 17th-century Portuguese Synagogue and to Rembrandt’s House, recently and excellently refurbished. Dinner is independent today. 8.15pm: Cuarteto Casals, Quatuor Danel and Amsterdam Sinfonietta perform Kurtág, Coll, Haas, Hartman and Bartók. Pause. 10.30pm concert, Chiascuro Quartet, Antoine Hunter & Zahna Simon (Urban Jazz Dance Company): Beethoven Reimagined, op.130 & op.133 with dance.
Excursion to Edam, a delightful little town with an outsize church in which we hear a specially arranged recital on the 1663 organ by Barend Smidt (‘Father Smith’). 5.00pm concert: St. Lawrence String Quartet plays Mozart (K.421) and Korngold (op.34). Dinner at the Muziekgebouw. 8.15pm: concert with the Calder Quartet and Davóne Tines (baritone) performing music by Julius Eastman (Prelude for solo voice), Schubert (Death and the Maiden, quartet and song), Arvo Pärt (Ein Wallfahrtslied), Peter Maxwell Davies (Blake Dreaming), Samuel Smallwood and Caroline Shaw.
Haydn at 9.30am: Marmen Quartet, op.33/6, and Salina Fisher’ string quartet ‘Heal’. 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. 5.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,780 or £2,590 without Eurostar, single occupancy: £3,110 or £2,920 without Eurostar.
Upgrade to room with a view. Two sharing: £50 per person, single occupancy: £100
Tickets for sixteen concerts and the organ recital; rail travel by Eurostar (standard premier); travel within Amsterdam by taxi, to Edam by coach; 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.