The choir and a supportive band of camp-followers have just returned from a really excellent trip to Utrecht in the Netherlands. We are so lucky as a choir to have an experienced dedicated choir trips’ organising committee with many varied talents who started planning some two years ago.
My husband, a seasoned camp follower, ruptured his Achilles tendon a few weeks before departure and ended up in an air-boot 24/7. However, difficulties in getting around were minimised by the excellent mobility assistance given by Flybe and airport staff and the central location of the Apollo Hotel near the main square in Utrecht. The hotel was a ten-minute walk from the station and two of our concert venues as well as a wealth of cafés and restaurants in easy “hobbling” distance.
Group members swelled the vast numbers of cyclists in and around Utrecht. The city will shortly have the world’s largest bicycle parking garage located under the central train station. At present it only holds 12,500 bikes!
Our organising committee had organised a good balance of singing and free time. On the Monday, after rehearsals in the Dom and Lutherse Kerk, a group of us headed off for a fascinating guided tour of the Speelklock Museum, housed in the former Buurkerk. It contains the national collection of automatically playing musical instruments from clocks, boxes, pianolas, barrel and street organs.
On the Tuesday for our first concert, we headed south by coach to the small town of Wijk bij Duurstede. A fine afternoon allowing us to have a drink in the square before rehearsal. Spotting a specialist Dutch cheese shop nearby, some of us went to investigate and were not disappointed with the flavours of the many free slithers of tasty Dutch cheese.
The concert given in the Grote Kerk to a full capacity audience featured a wide-ranging span of well-known English Renaissance pieces by Byrd and Tallis and Flemish composers Lassus and Gerarde. This Renaissance repertoire was well balanced with contemporary American, Welsh and English works including the first performance in the Netherlands of Rebecca Dale’s moving setting of a poem by Joyce Grenfell, “If I Should Go”.
The following day, the coach took us to Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands on the banks of the river Waal near the German border. In September 1944, it was at the centre of Operation Market Garden featured in the film A Bridge Too Far.
The early afternoon concert in Stevenskerk went well though it was chilly in the church. Thursday was a free day and the group dispersed to the four winds to visit Amsterdam, Delft etc. “Achilles” and I had an interesting boat trip on the nearby canal with Captain Yop who told us about the city’s long history and culture.
This was rounded off with amazing snacks in a Belgian speciality beer café Olivier located in the former schuilkerk Maria Minor (1860), many elements of which, like the organ and upper gallery, had been preserved.
As Friday’s concert wasn’t till the evening, there was plenty of scope for shopping and a big market in the main square. Some members went to Het Spoorwegmuseum, the national railway museum to discover the story behind 175 years of the Dutch railway housed in the former Maliebaan Station. The concert in Pieterskerk, ten minutes from the hotel, went well and followed by another standing ovation.
By Saturday, our last full day in Utrecht, the choir were well into the swing of things with music well mastered and ably fitted to varying acoustics by Peter Gambie, our admirable conductor.
In the afternoon, the choir gave its last performance in the famous Domkerk, a well-known landmark with its 465 steps to the top. In 1674 a disastrous tornado destroyed the nave cleverly indicated by darker paving stones on the square. The concert, in a pretty much full cathedral, was enhanced with an interlude played by the Dom’s organist, Jan Hage and a box of cakes and refreshments provided by Mieke Breij.
This was followed by a group meal in Humphrey’s, a unique restaurant in quayside cellars by the canal with plush décor and gold-coloured chandeliers. The winner of the traditional choir tour limerick competition was announced and duly rewarded as were members of the Utreckers organising group bringing to an end a highly successful week in Utrecht.