With only 10 days to go until the Cello Biennale Amsterdam, we talked to Johan Dorrestein, Managing Director about organizing the world’s largest cello festival and the ‘power of music’.
I was originally called in by an old friend and colleague, Maarten Mostert. He is the one that had started the Cello Biennale in 2006; two editions had already taken place and I quickly jumped on board in January 2010 to begin working on the festival that would take place in the fall of that year.
Previously working as the MD for the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble for 17 years, I have not only only become dedicated to the development of young talent, but organizing and bringing people together, especially over musical programs that are a bit out of the ordinary, are a key interest.
The Cello Biennale is unique in that it combines an international festival with a competition. Usually you have a competition, or a festival; but the Cello Biennale is important for young musicians since is prepares them for competition, while also adding to their development and education.
The competition jury is also interesting, since it is a jury made up of very well known musicians, who also play in the festival. It is nice for participants to see the jury involved and playing on stage, and not just a person behind a desk judging your playing. The Cello Biennale is a place where the international music world can see upcoming talent and become aware of what’s going on.
A lot has changed since 2006. I am challenging myself every day to bring in new ideas, and new support to the festival. The festival has expanded quite a lot in ideas, themes, and the number of prizes; and while it has changed, we kept the initial formula of the festival. We have made sure to continue the tradition of always starting the day with Bach & Breakfast, followed by masterclasses. New to this year’s program are the evening concerts in the Bimhuis, with eight concerts by the non-classical international cello world. WNow people can choose between concerts in the Bimhuis or the main hall of the Muziekgebouw.
At the Bimhuis we focus on new programming, mainly non-classical music – it’s an international stage where young musicians show their talent through jazz, improvising and other types of music. The core of the festival is classical music, but we have always made sure to program and include different styles of music.
This is in relation to my strong connection with Musicians Without Borders. I believe, like many musicians and people, that music has an incredible power to connect people in extraordinary ways. Often music can be more effective than words. Look at music’s influence on the brain, music as medicine and what music can do for people in places of war.
Musicians Without Borders does just that, so when I was thinking of the theme, I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to focus on this idea? So as a result, we have invited musicians who are aware of the power of music and musicians who are using their instruments and their platform, to connect.
The first time I saw our project, De Bestorming, at an elementary school in Amsterdam Zuid Oost. For the project, we had a professional group of young cellists, the Cello Octet Amsterdam, get involved in education and take over a school for a whole day.
The project had a big impact on the kids, but the first time I saw it, I was moved. To see the impact of the moment the kids walk into the school and the cellists are there at 8am, filling the school with music, with sound – to see the faces of these kids was just amazing. These musicians connected with the kids, allowed the kids to play and interact with the instruments. It gave the kids the notion that they too can play these instruments. The project exposed them music and instruments they perhaps would not have had exposure to.
We are growing, but want to keep the cohesiveness of the festival. So while we are not aiming to make the festival larger, I can see us having another biennale in the in between years, some place else.
In fact, we are doing that already, since we have started working together with a new festival in Ireland. They saw the Cello Biennale model and are now working with us to create a festival in the same manner. We are exchanging ideas, and helping them draw an audience to their festival.
Apart from that, it would be nice to do more educational work. Right now we can only work with a few schools, but seeing the success of a projects like The Bestorming, that is something we would like to organize, and more often, in schools.