A trip to Oranjewoud Festival

Freya Parr visits the Friesian festival that’s taking inspiration from its incredible surroundings

A trip to Oranjewoud Festival

It is rare to listen back to an interview recording and be transported back to the space in such an impactful way. The recordings from my trip to Oranjewoud Festival in the north of the Netherlands are all accompanied by the overwhelming noise of birds chirping, delivering me straight back to the beautiful Dutch landscape. Artistic director Yoram Ish-Hurwitz says this sound has become an intrinsic part of the concert series they run every year in the small village of Oranjewoud, home to the former summer residence of the royal family.

‘In our outdoor concerts, birds fly overhead,’ he tells me on our walk around the festival site. ‘We have a lot of woodpeckers and owls. On the opening night, we commissioned a composer to write a piece and she intentionally left several pauses throughout the piece, but of course here it is never really silent. It was an opportunity for the birds to come in and be part of the music.’

The surroundings really make this festival what it is. I visited the festival on one of its quieter days, which meant that I got the opportunity to explore the grounds and all the exceptionally varied concert venues. From an underground bunker used in the Cold War to a contemporary art gallery straddling the canal via the Dutch royal family’s orangery, the spaces are eclectic and full of character.

Photo by: Freya Parr

Yoram Ish-Hurwitz discussed the point at which he began to diversify the concert venues and programming: ‘When we started in 2012 we used only the older houses and the museum, and it was a very small, traditional festival. We started pushing the boundaries with a percussion concert in the woods, featuring Michael Gordon’s percussion sextet, Timber, using logs which made different sounds.’

Ish-Hurwitz’s experimental style has meant that the festival has become more of an immersive multi-sensory experience than a regular concert series. Although there is a main programme of concerts, there is also an event called ‘The Night of the Park’, in which guests move in groups from one performance space to another.

Photo by: Lucas Kemper

Surprise performances take place along the paths between the main venues, Ish-Hurwitz explains. ‘There will be musicians with traditional instruments performing with body sensors that will distort the sound, and within a hidden area of forest a singer will perform, beckoning people in to join her with an old copper megaphone. We’ve included lots of surprises along the way. I call these performers fireflies and moths, because they appear so quickly and are gone again before you know it.’ It really is quite a magical setup.

There is also an area of food and drink stalls with a stage in which everyone from the main programme plays for 15 minutes. This part of the festival is free, meaning that children are invited after school, and families oftencome and enjoy the music for a whole evening. It is called the ‘Proeftuin’, which loosely translates as ‘the garden of delights’, but Yoram and I decide that this sounds too much like an all-you-can-eat buffet!

Photo by: Jantina Talsma

One of the more innovative concert spaces I was introduced to was the bubble. Created by artists Marco Canevacci and Yena Young of Plastique Fantastique, a studio that creates temporary structures to engage with the natural surroundings, it is an inflatable concert venue. I was not expecting such a dramatic change in acoustic when entering the bubble – it was like no sound I’d ever heard before. Speech sounded strange enough, but then a musician started playing the soprano saxophone in the space and I was tranfixed. The sound was completely otherworldly.

‘It’s a really artificial environment inside the bubble, but then the trees cast shadows over it, creating a lovely contrast of the natural and unnatural,’ says Yoram Ish-Hurwitz. He’s entirely right – it’s a stunning structure before you even consider the incredible acoustic potential inside.

Photo by: Freya Parr

‘This is a place where you can experiment,’ says Ish-Hurwitz, with real excitement and pride. ‘You can put on a pilot series and see how it works – then you can take things on and use them in future or disregard them.’ Over the years, both the musical genres and the venues have diversified.

‘Although we have traditional concerts too, which I think are very important, we have taken the festival beyond the boundaries of classical music. We spend too much time deciding what can be deemed ‘classical music’, whereas actually classical music is just what is considered worthy in hindsight, with the benefit of historical perspective. What stands the test of time is truly classical. We need to stop worrying and start embracing all genres and all forms and experimenting with where and how they intersect.’

Photo by: Freya Parr

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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