Amsterdam Cello Biennale 2016: Anner Bijlsma Master Class; Alexander Warenberg wins Competition

October 29, 2016, 4:04 AM · AMSTERDAM -- Showcasing young talent is another hallmark of Amsterdam’s Cello Biennale. The festival welcomes toddlers to get into the cello groove through a series of Hello Cello programs offered cross-country prior to the biennale and throughout the course of the action-packed biennale week. For the accomplished cellist en route to the concert stage, daily ‘fringe’ concerts offer a chance to hear top talent perform. And of course, there is a wealth of master classes to experience, two simultaneous classes each morning.

Of the many master classes open to the public during the cello extravaganza, the golden words of eminence grise Anner Bijlsma deserve reiteration. Ever fresh, ever at the boundary of musical exploration, this wise force of nature took us back to basics. "It all begins with down bow, up bow. And, balance. We musicians practice Sevcik; we practice countless hours to learn how to control this up and down issue, trying to make the up bows equal to the down bows. Sit still for a moment and think about it. The opening of Bach’s g minor Partita, a long chord on a down-bow makes a natural diminuendo. Let that happen. Do not fight the nature of the music for all music is klangrede, speech and ultimately expression. Never forget, always speak."

Focusing his class on a series of Bach gigues, the ever-original Bylsma gave his master class students homework to complete before attending the class: download Bylsma’s bowings and create your own flow of music. Guiding an international group of young players to get to yes within the vernacular of music, he carefully pushed them not to play tentatively, but to make bold gestures tied to the meaning of each and every phrase while giving hints about the subtext behind the score. "These two notes are brothers, or maybe sisters, they are linked so take care of them. Ask yourself a question, when is an upbeat an independent action and when is it looking over the shoulder to the next bar?"

The audience was delighted to discover that the open-minded master, an informed performance practice expert of note is certainly not allergic to vibrato. "Like Geminiani, I love the closed shake, a bit of vibrato Lord forbid does not hurt, it can even help move expression forward."

The second commitment to the future comes in the form of the National Cello Competition, open to young cellists under the age of 26 who hold Dutch nationality or study at a Dutch Conservatory. On the penultimate night of the Biennale, three finalists competed with performances of Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1. While a wrap-up of the glories of the Biennale is not the place to hold forth on the subject of competitions, it is impossible to resist the temptation to bring several points to the fore.

In the 2016 edition there was such a difference in level between the first two prizewinners and the third prize that one wonders why juries are compelled to grant all three prizes. The winning performance by Alexander Warenberg, 18, the Dutch-born scion of a distinguished Russian musical family put the brooding cadenza at the core of the four-movement work. One of two contestants to speak the vernacular of Shostakovich, Warenberg’s mastery of the instrument gave him the freedom to communicate sarcastic passages while never forgetting the lyricism that lies beneath agitation. An artist on the grow, remember the name!

Second prize winner Anastasia Feruleva who also won the prize for Best Rendition of the Commissioned work, was a worthy competitor for the top prize with her impassioned, powerful performance.

Alexander Warenberg
Alexander Warenberg, 18.

A mere list of festival highpoints would take pages of text. Ivan Monighetti put heart, soul and the amplitude of his amazing technical prowess into the world premiere of a Cello concerto by Rob Zuidam (1964-) in which shimmering sound clusters traded off with jazzy riffs in a riveting composition that will undoubtedly take its place in the mainstream modern repertoire. Jean-Guihen Queras transported us to the Atlas Mountains in a search for sound boundaries, Flamenco took hold, the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic dazzled and the Faure Requiem was transformed into a new art form.

Interested in lutherie? More than twenty cello makers and bow makers showed their wares and banded together to build a "festival cello." Musicians great and small are invited to test run instruments; Royal Concertgebouw principal Gregor Horsch waxed eloquent on his taste in bows. The final revelry, Cello Coupe, Amsterdam’s answer to a French fin-de-siècle café brought the house down in the spirit of great music and good fun. Your best option: put Amsterdam on your dance card for the last week in October 2018, a splendid edition of the Cello Biennale awaits.

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