Classical:NEXT opening night – reviewed

Maria Roberts, editor of IAM, heads to Rotterdam for the Music Olympics 2016

The fifth edition of Classical:NEXT got underway on Wednesday night (25 May) at de Doelen performing arts centre in Rotterdam. The venue is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, quite bizarrely symbolised by a giant pink baby head erected on the square close by.

The first-night crowd of C:N delegates hung around in the vast upper foyer area of de Doelen, sipping on a glass of Prosecco and networking (or trying to – the bar staff almost caused a stampede as they struggled to uncork the bottles of fizz fast enough), and there was an unabashed sense of enjoyment in the air. (Coupled with silent echoes of ‘Just open the bloody bottle!’)

After a little tipple, delegates followed a marching band into the concert hall for the energising, humorous, noisy and inspiring opening ceremony, Dutch Mountains.

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas – Sci-Fi style

C:N director Jennifer Dautermann began with an energetic welcome, then the lights went down for founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, who provided a witty informal video address via some sort of AV-Star Trek triangular contraption suspended centre stage from the ceiling. Genius.

Beaming a inspiration wall to the delegates

Later, monochrome film interviews with Persis Bekkering, Peppie Wiersma and Aart Strootman, among others, were beamed onto the walls, reminiscent of a Star Wars Senate meeting (right). I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff, so it got my vote.

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Jennifer Dautermann calls on the classical music senate of the future

Live speakers on the night included Hans-Hermann Rehberg (Berlin Radio Choir); Beth Morrison (Beth Morrison Projects) and stand-up comedian Dr Clemens Trautmann, president of Deutsche Grammophon, who announced a new collaborative project with Apple Music, and urged everyone to ‘stay paranoid’ as ‘only the paranoid survive’.

I just hope all these arts managers have a therapy budget to draw on.

Trautmann also exclusively announced Deutsche Grammophon’s new initiative with Apple Music: a curated online space which can become a ‘prime destination for veteran followers, as well as new listeners.’

"Stay curious, stay hungry and stay paranoid. As we know, only the paranoid survive. But most importantly, have fun!"
DG’s Dr Clemens Trautmann calls on C:N delegates to ‘have fun’ (They didn’t need much convincing)
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Slagwerk den Haag whacking some equine jaws

The opening ceremony went big on Dutch contemporary music with live performances by Slagwerk den Haag, Neo Fanfare 9×13, and a rather rambunctious excerpt from Louis Andriessen’s 1939 piece Workers Union, for which all of the opening acts got involved ­– to give me a headache.

Workers Union seemed a maddeningly appropriate choice for the conflicting times we are living in. It certainly got my blood rushing.

Dutch Mountains was curated by three young programmers: Masa Spaan, Shane Burmania and Floris Kortie; artist and filmmaker Jules van Hulst provided the visuals and Neil Wallace the staging. Together they neatly exploded their ideas into the brooding setting of the de Doelen concert hall interior. I liked it. They did a good job: there were a few wobbles, but it was thoughtful and light, simple and clever, and we all had a good laugh.

As the music came to an end, the vibrant mix of jest and mayhem filled de Doelen with anticipation – so what is NEXT? We all wondered...Tech? Percussion on the jaws of horses? Chamber concerts in outer space? 



– said the message on the triangular screen, at which point everyone let out a relieved chuckle and headed off to the bar. Again.

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The very busy bar


This last point is important, and shouldn’t be underestimated, because the classical music industry can be harsh, judgmental, and relentless (and that’s on a good day). As theatremakers know, you need to give the audience permission to laugh: once you do this, you set the tone.

The subliminal message from Dautermann, to MTT, to Trautmann, to Slagwerk seemed to be:

  • ‘I give you the go-ahead to have fun with music making.’
  • ‘Let’s go back to enjoying the basic act of making music together.’

Could it be that simple?

Overall, I think the Classical:NEXT team did an excellent job of getting the pitch right from day one.

Let’s not lie, conferences can be TEDIOUS, but what the C:N opening ceremony did was lead by example. Their confidence worked: everyone I spoke to commented on just how ‘relaxed’ they felt, and this created a buzzing atmosphere that spun throughout. You didn’t have to agree with the C:N agenda, you just had to discuss it.

As you’d expect, by Thursday afternoon there were mixed opinions being debated over a delicious glass of red wine (The Great Britain Stand); Belgian beer (The Belgium Stand); vodka shots? (I have no idea what I drank) (The Estonia Stand); Caipirinhas (The Brazil Stand) – by the time I got to Sweden drinks at the Manhattan Hotel, I was ‘infused’ with international spirit.

So what did the delegates have to say?

A highfalutin reviewer told me he thought the programme wasn’t classical enough – the clue is in the name Classical:NEXT, not Classical:PAST. (I bet he doesn’t use emojis in his texts either.)

There weren’t enough women heading up the video interviews in the opening ceremony – I usually hold the gender watch ball tightly in my hands and I didn’t feel this – because I was surrounded by great women and so many fabulous women headed up the panels. However, maybe I dropped my gender watch ball on Wednesday night. In my opinion, if a woman in the industry feels underrepresented by what she experiences, let’s hear her out and aim to do better.

The opening ceremony was all a bit too Dutch – As I helpfully pointed out to this person: the opening was supported by Dutch Performing Arts, it’s in South Holland; it’s de Doelen’s 50th anniversary. Surely it would have been more shocking if C:N had selected to go big on Moroccan contemporary music? [Get with the programme people!]. Actually, I didn’t meet anyone from Morocco.

It’s like the Olympics – there’s the Brazilian team, there’s the Dutch team, there’s the Swiss team… The Dutch were the winners in IAM’s unofficial best expo stand category, there were no runners-up… well, Belgium and Switzerland possibly. But there was an ‘Olympic’ solidarity feel, yes. This congregating of countries seems to work.

If you stand with a baby at the door, I’m going to get distracted – Said by a woman patting an infant’s head after #composerfocus. I spotted two babies strapped to their mothers at Classical:NEXT, maybe there were more, and this is a truly fabulous thing. More babies please. I’m happy these professional women felt comfortable to take their babies along. Truly a NEXT:generation movement.

So, all in all, this was a great start to Classical:NEXT. Too often at professional gatherings there’s a storm of suits on the march, with furrowed brows, worrying away at their business cards all trying to find the right words to say.

What worked?
The general set-up of Classical:NEXT is an antidote to trade-fair fatigue.

It is super organised; the C:NET database means you have contacts to hand; the ease of a walkable city like Rotterdam is a joy to navigate; its new conference app helps you hop from one discussion panel to another; the proximity of hotels to the venue is ideal; de Doelen’s expo and breakout spaces give you room to breathe (though some talks were too packed, others less so).

There was a certain alchemy at play at Classical:NEXT that removed your usual trade event stress. What’s more, the raspberry smoothies at lunch were amazing, and the perfect midday vitamin boost (hangover cure?) for flagging executives.

Classical:NEXT will return to Rotterdam for 2017. Full news round-up next week.

Remember, you can follow the conversation on Twitter @ClassicalNEXT and join in with the hashtag #cnext16.