Amsterdam: 10 Days of Beautiful Music

You never know what you’ll discover during Amsterdam’s Grachtenfestival, or Festival of the Canals, ten days of classical music which every August takes over seemingly every inch of this beautiful city. Last summer, the 12th annual Grachtenfestival kicked off with the world premier of a Stravinsky piece called “Svadebka! The Village Wedding.” Not only was it performed for the first time, thanks to the permission of Igor Stravinsky’s heirs, but the festival’s producers presented it at the Hermitage Amsterdam, a 17th -century building that houses the city’s newest museum, a branch of the famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

photo by Ronald Knapp

photo by Ronald Knapp

Since its beginnings, the Grachtenfestival has grown from only a few performances along the major canals of the city to a comprehensive effort that organizes concerts in private apartments, off-beat museums, warehouses, public parks and, even, on boats.  “We try and be creative when it comes to organizing music venues,” says festival director Alma Netten, who started the event more than decade ago. “We really make use of the canals, the city’s architecture, and its classical music heritage.”

Although the Grachtenfestival attracts thousands of Amsterdammers each year, along with many other Dutch and European residents, it is still flying under the radar when it comes to American visitors. Of course, American tourists are well acquainted with the city’s rich array of icons:  Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Anne Frank, diamonds, Heineken, the Red Light District, liberal marijuana laws, tulips, and, yes, those canals. But few have even heard about the Grachtenfestival, which is a shame.

About 100 events are scheduled for the 2010 Grachtenfestival with tickets priced, as usual, quite inexpensively (between 5-12 Euros or $8-$19), with somewhat higher prices for the opening and closing concerts. Many of the outdoor events are free. If you’re thinking of going, now’s the time to start planning.

Cultural performances in Amsterdam do not begin and end with the Grachtenfestival, either. The city offers more than 60 theatres and concert halls, showcasing world-famous organizations like the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, the Dutch National Ballet and the Netherlands Dance Theatre. The historic Muziektheater is the home of the Netherlands Opera, and other musicians and cabaret entertainers find a home in the Royal Carre Theatre on the River Amstel and in the nearby Kleine Komedie, a wonderful little theatre that dates back to 1788.

One good book: Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age