Judith van Driel from Dudok Quartet Amsterdam. Photo: Green Room Creatives/Yuri Andries (detail) View full image

Local heroes

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s new music festival, Dudok Muziekdagen, in the small Netherlands town of Kampen, offers events and concerts for locals and tourists alike. Violinist Judith van Driel explains why she’s excited to bring the festival to her own home town and describes the musical philosophy behind it


How did your festival come about?

We have been thinking about organising a festival for several years, but we never made a plan because it takes a lot of organisation. I have often thought about doing something in my old home town of Kampen, in the east of the Netherlands. The town was important in the 12th century, because it had a big harbour, so there was a lot of trade – it was the Amsterdam of the Netherlands. Today it’s very small and quiet, but it’s a beautiful place with lots of old churches and other possible concert venues, all within walking distance, so it’s the perfect location for a festival.

There is a lot of amateur music going on there – 60 choirs – and a very active music school, which is rare in the Netherlands now because the government has cut all the money for music schools. There is a lot going on at an educational level for people who want to play, but not much happening at a professional level for listeners. We wanted to contribute by bringing some new music and involving the people who live there in the festival.


What are your hopes for the festival?

There are two aspects. We hope to attract people from the area, offering a nice way for them to get to know music and meet fantastic musicians without having to go far. In a big city like Amsterdam there’s a lot of choice simply because there are more people and musicians. One disadvantage of being in a local area is that there are fewer opportunities to hear a concert. That’s why I think it’s important to bring music to a place and connect with people there. We also have our own audience, which we’ve built up over the last 15 years, and we want to attract them to the campus from wherever they live, to discover the town and people.


‘We are all playing everywhere – the evening concerts, our own concerts, in nursing homes and masterclasses, trying to connect with as many people as possible throughout this weekend


What will happen at the festival?

During the four days of the festival, there will be music all around Kampen. In between concerts, there will be a fringe programme, and there will be small groups playing in the shops, library and other places, as well as in nursing homes, with special concerts for children.

There will be four main concerts and in each of these, one of the Dudoks will curate the programme. We have thought carefully about the music, making connections between pieces. We’re also working with a director to make them more of an overall experience than an average concert.

Alongside all these events, there will be walking tours. People can stroll through town and find three concerts of about half an hour each – very short, all with different genres. We are keeping these a little secret so the audience doesn’t know exactly what to expect and will be surprised – in a nice way. It will be a chance for them to get to hear things they might not have chosen, and to have new impressions of music they didn’t even know they would like.

We have some incredible players. Hilary Summers is a contralto from the UK, with whom we recorded our latest album; Pieter Wiespelwey is a very famous cellist in the Netherlands; Hannes Minnar is a great pianist; and Shunske Sato, who is going to play a Beethoven sonata, is one of the best Baroque violin players in the world. The musicians are wonderful, but they’re also very enthusiastic about bringing music to people and about how it can enrich your life.

Together with the quartet there are seven other main musicians, so we are like a football team of 11 musicians. We are all playing everywhere – the evening concerts, our own concerts, in nursing homes and masterclasses, trying to connect with as many people as possible throughout this weekend.


What is your approach to programming?

We have tried to get away from the traditional way of programming – both musically and in the way it’s set up. The theme is ‘home’ and we have all thought about what the associations are for that individually. For me, it’s obvious: Kampen was my home for almost 16 years, so I have a lot of connections with the people who live there, the buildings and the music. This includes the music of the church, but also the music I played with my sisters growing up, as well as the more general sense of the music with which I feel at home. I’ve enjoyed working on the schedule, engaging with the other musicians and thinking about which elements work in the programme.


‘We have to sell enough tickets, obviously, but it’s an experiment, and if you don’t dare to try these experiments, you never know how they will work out’


What have you learnt about managing a festival like this?

There’s a lot of administration! That’s one thing we’ve learnt, but we’re happy to have a very good manager who lives in town, and a great marketing manager, so these practical things are being taken care of well. We also have a good board. The main thing we have learnt is that you have to find as many people as possible who can help you in the most practical ways, because we are musicians and our strengths are programming and playing.

Money is very important, of course. It is not a favourite subject, but you need it for festival like this. We’ve been lucky that almost everybody we told about the festival has been enthusiastic and wanted to help us financially. We have to sell enough tickets, obviously, but it’s an experiment, and if you don’t dare to try these experiments, you never know how they will work out. That’s why we thought let’s try and see where it gets.


‘What I like most about festivals is that you feel how strongly music can connect people in so many ways – on personal, musical and spiritual levels. These all come together, just by having fun’


What makes festivals special?

As a string quartet, when we do concerts, we usually only see each other and it can be quite lonely. You go from one place to another giving concerts, with only brief contact with the audiences. That contact is one of the most important things for us and we always try to meet them after concerts, even for a short time. But at festivals, there are many more opportunities to talk to them, and you can spend time with other musicians, which is great.

At our festival we will all be staying in the same place and will have time to spend with each other, which will be a joy. We are already friends with the players we’ve invited, but you become even closer friends with such cooperation. What I like most about festivals is that you feel how strongly music can connect people in so many ways – on personal, musical and spiritual levels. These all come together, just by having fun.


‘Younger people are more interested in music in general, but also classical music, because they have a lot of access to it through streaming services. We would really like to attract this younger audience to our concerts’


What are the responsibilities of classical musicians today?

It’s a difficult question. The greatest responsibility is to show that classical music is for everyone, but it’s hard to fix the problems. We know from experience that wherever we play – in high schools, for example, for kids who have never heard a live instrument before – it’s easy to touch people when you play for them, but they have to have the opportunity to come to listen to you. For a normal concert that means they must buy a ticket. That is the biggest problem. How do we get the audience into the concert hall? Once they’re there, there’s no problem.

Something interesting seems to be happening with young people, though. We heard from somebody who has researched this and found that there’s a lot of interest in classical music in people aged between 20 to 40 – much more than with the generation above. We’re not sure why this is. Maybe people aged between 40 to 60 had parents who told them that playing an instrument is boring. But that thought has gone and younger people are more interested in music in general, but also classical music, because they have a lot of access to it through streaming services. We would really like to attract this younger audience to our concerts.

Our strength is the music itself. I know that playing a few notes can touch people and do something with their emotions. You can’t describe what it is – it just happens. With a string quartet, this is even greater than when you play on your own – that’s why I started playing string quartets.

The best way of attracting people is to show them about the music. One of the ways we try to do this is through social media. We just recorded new albums of Tchaikovsky’s string quartets and made a few video clips. They’re short and not what you’d expect – Tchaikovsky combined with unexpected images. This takes the music away from the dusty image it has. When you listen and see the image, you start to listen in a different way. This is something we like to explore.


‘We’re not trying to be different for the sake of it, but to think of as many ways as possible to become close to the audience’


We’re not trying to be different for the sake of it, but to think of as many ways as possible to become close to the audience. When we give concerts, we are on the stage and people are in the hall, so there is a barrier in a way, but we try to make it as small as possible. We also do this by talking to the audience from the stage whenever possible – about the music and our instruments, or the way we work and how we see music. It can be very short, but it’s a way to connect to the audience.

It’s an ongoing experiment, but that’s the only thing you can do. The most important thing is that when you are enthusiastic about something, people will become enthusiastic about it as well. I’m not a big football fan and I never will be, but even so, when a football fan tells me about the game and takes me to a match, I become more enthusiastic. That’s what we’re trying to do.


Dudok Muziekdagen Kampen runs from 16 to 19 May 2024.

The quartet also releases its first volume of recordings of Tchaikovsky quartets on 26 April.

Dudok-Floris-Scheplitz_image00005.jpg#asset:15150Photo: Floris Scheplitz