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Friday, March 12, 2010


Yesterday at Harvard University, composer Rob Zuidam delivered the second of three lectures on contemporary Dutch music. The ongoing series is presented by the Harvard Music Department in conjunction with the Erasumus Lectures on History and Civilization of the Netherlands and Flanders.

Zuidam focused on what's known as Hoketus - or "ensemble culture" in the Netherlands and how it evolved.

It really all began in 1966 when a group of five Dutch composers organized to protest against the artistic direction taken by the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The group called themselves The Five and led a larger group known as Notenkrakers ("Nutcrackers" - which has multiple meanings, including "note" and "nut").

The Notenkrakers wanted the orchestra to hire Bruno Maderna as a second conductor to work along side with their current Music Director, Bernard Haitink. Maderna was perhaps the leading conductor of contemporary music at that time.

Over the course of the next few years little progress was made by Concertgebouw to purge the conservatism from their programs and inject music composed by the younger generation of Dutch composers (such as members of The Five). The Notenkrakers made little if any progress with the Concertgebouw managements on this matter.

It all came to a head in November of 1969 when The Notenkrakers stormed in and disturbed a concert about to begin in the Concertgebouw. This "notenkrakersactie" (nutcracker action) was a historic event that some say changed level of acceptance of new music in Holland.

Just before Haitink was able to complete his initial downbeat, the protesters had skillfully disrupted the concert with their noise makers and megaphones. The group of students passed out leaflets and confronted the orchestra and audience.

Peter Schat (1935-2003), a member of The Five, used his megaphone to demand that Bernard Haitink come down off the podium and address The Notenkrakers and the audience in an open public discussion. The confrontation instilled a a minor riot, and the police were soon called to eject the protesters from the concert hall.

Besides Peter Schat, members of The Five included Misha Mengelberg (b. 1935), Louis Andriessen (b. 1939), and Reinbert de Leeuw (b. 1938) - all of which had studied with the composer Kees van Baaren.

To the disappointment of The Notenkrakers , their protest was denounced by their philosophical mentor: Matthijs Vermeulen. The Five had held Vermeulen (who was the subject of Zuidam's first lecture) in high regard for his harsh reviews of the Concertgebouw and their lack of interest in performing contemporary music. But to their surprise, Vermeulen released a public statement that The Five was off-base. Vermeulen wrote that hiring Bruno Maderna would be impractical and that Concertgebouw actually supported modern music rather well compared to other international orchestras.

Undeterred, throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s, members of The Five independently formed and led ad hoc new music ensembles throughout Holland. Effectively, younger Dutch composers had largely abandoned the idea of the symphony orchestra as an instrument in favor of more responsive new music ensembles that were fluid and dynamic. Louis Andriessen's group Hoketus is a prime example of the resulting "ensemble culture" which continues on today.

(Link: )

In the end, the incident of the November 1969 notenkrakersactie when The Notenkrakers stormed in at the Concertgebouw resulted in a positive change for musical performance in the Netherlands. The Five has been credited with "shaking Dutch musical life out of its suffocating provincialism."