Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A few hours with Rembrandt & Co.

Rembrandt -- a self-portrait
    At the Rijksmuseum -- the Dutch national museum -- we came face to face with Rembrandt, and with his most famous work.
    At the Concertgebouw -- Concert Hall -- in Amsterdam, we attended a concert by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and sat close enough to the percussion section to ... well, bang the drum ... slowly. (OK, a bad line).
    Our two trips to Amsterdam's Museumplein -- museum square -- were among the (many) highlights of our two-week stay in Holland in the second half of April.
    The memories won't fade too soon and I'm not quite done recounting them in this blog. But only a couple more, I promise ... bear with me.
      Visiting the Rijksmuseum, which reopened April 13 after a 10-year renovation -- yes, 10 years -- was, as I've noted before, the idea which spurred Bea to suggest the return to my home country. So we visited the building -- regarded as one of the world's greatest museums -- nine days after then-Queen Beatrix rededicated the place.
      Two days earlier, our friends Patricia and Peter DeWeijs had taken us to the International Peace Palace and then the Gemeentemuseum (municipal museum)  in Den Hague (Den Haag).
      So with the two museum visits, we saw works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and others -- most notably from what is known as the Dutch "Golden Age" of painting, the late 1500s through the 1600s. 
      The Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam's landmarks, with its iconic "I Amsterdam" sign in front. The building has been at this location since 1885, and undergone several partial renovations and additions, but this was the first major overhaul.
      Because of several factors -- money, problems with contractors, the director resigning and a battle with bicycle lobbyists who wanted to maintain the pathway that ran through the building -- the renovation became a decade-long ordeal. The final bill came in at a reported 375 million euros.
      It's a long story and if you want details, here's a link to a British newspaper story: 
      Here you get a great sense of Dutch history, from the artwork but also from a "special collectibles" area on the ground floor that I found fascinating. This was a Smithsonian-type collection of weaponry, ship models and ship decorations, lighthouse models, porcelain, armor, Delft blue, etc.
Rembrandt's Night Watch, in all its spendor
      But the main attraction for us, and for most people, was the "Golden Age" works on the second floor, the great galleries of paintings, most spectacularly Vermeer's Milkmaid -- the painting whose replica is used to promote many Dutch attractions -- and, most of all, Rembrandt's Night Watch.
      I read in the Observer -- a British newspaper -- that the Rijks renovation was so extensive that "only Rembrandt's Night Watch remains in its original location among 8,000 objects in its 80 rooms."           
      (Also read that during the renovation, the Night Watch and some 400 other paintings were on display in a south wing of the museum completed in 1996 and known as the "fragment building.")
      One surprise to us about the Night Watch and several other paintings, they were massive, much bigger than anything we'd seen (and Bea has been to many more museums than her sportswriter husband).
      Compared to local museums, Bea found the extensive and ornate decorative nature of the renovated Rijks -- stained glass windows, the murals and frescos -- perhaps a distraction from the paintings themselves. Ah, such luxury.
      The Rijksmuseum, for years (even through the renovation) has drawn more than a million visitors a year. Now the estimate is it will draw 2 million a year. Hope they all enjoy it as much as we did.
      The journey to the Concertgebouw, on the other hand, came as a pleasant surprise. Our host Kitty was able to purchase tickets to the Koninginnenacht 2013 concert (Queen's Night) on Monday, April 29 -- the night before Beatrix abdicated as queen and her son Willem-Alexander became Holland's first king in 125 years.
The Concertgebouw's Great Hall (our seats were on
the upper left in this photo)
        Couldn't help but think of my mother as we made our way into the building, which is magnificent. She liked her classical music and she especially loved the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
        And what seats we had -- to the right of the orchestra, facing the conductor.
        So we were able to watch one of Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly (this orchestra's main conductor for 16 years,1988-2004) and his active -- almost manic -- style that contrasted with the calm, dignified guest conductor Jules Buckley (a young man from England). The concert featured New York City-based Jose' James, a talented vocalist who mixed jazz numbers with hip-hop and soul (I loved his "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess) and Italian jazz pianist Stefano Bollani.   
      To add an American theme, and a mix of jazz with classical music, much of the program featured compositions by George Gershwin, including his famed Rhapsody in Blue by the orchestra -- my favorite number of the night (think the United Airlines theme song).
      All of it -- the building, the orchestra, the conductors, singer and his combo, and the featured pianist -- were outstanding.
      It was a wonderful program and a wonderful night, capped by the playing of the Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus, just before midnight -- a great sendoff for the next day's national celebration.
      Rose Van Thyn would have loved it.
      One more personal thrill to the Concertgebouw trip. Our journey to the old south part of Amsterdam near Museumplein took us past the Olympic Stadium. I love stadiums, of course, but this is the first stadium I loved.
      This is where my Dad saw some of the 1928 Olympic Games (he was 9) and where I saw my first pro soccer games, where Dad first took me in the early 1950s and where, as a 7- and 8-year-old, I walked from our house by myself -- it was about a mile -- to attend games on Sundays, paying 10 cents for a standing-room place. 
      Until Amsterdam ArenA opened in 1996, it was the home for many of the most important national and international soccer games in Dutch history.                
      I saw the stadium in my previous returns to Amsterdam, the old stadium in 1991 and the renovated one in 2004. As we approached in Kitty's car this time, I recognized the light standards instantly.
      But the biggest thrill came on the return trip, past midnight, when we went past the stadium again and the OIympic rings -- in color -- were lit up on the tower built for the '28 Games, the first Games for which the Olympic flame burned throughout.
      The stadium is classified as a national monument. It's always been monumental for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment