This is something to look forward to: on March 10 Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra will perform at the Muscat Opera House. Now some will say on what I am about to write: "He is just saying that to promote a Dutch orchestra". But I can say with my hand on my heart that Ton Koopman is my favourite conductor. Check it out on the Internet: in one of my previous columns I mentioned that Johann Sebastian Bach is my favourite composer. And well: Ton Koopman is right now worldwide one of the top Bach performers, so my fascination with his work cannot be a surprise. He recorded all Bach cantatas between 1996 and 2004, and the quality is awesome.
That achievement reminds me moreover of the start of my love affair with Bach several decades ago when I, though a student with limited means, spent my money on buying the then fashionable recordings of all Bach cantatas by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, all played on original seventeenth and eighteenth century instruments. I still have all those records even though my record player gave up already quite some years ago.
However, I should not zoom in too much on Bach since it is the music of Bach's contemporary and fellow German, Georg Philipp Telemann, which will be performed tomorrow. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra will play his Table Music and the fabulous Ode to Thunder, a work Telemann composed after the horrendous earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon that shocked Europe. While that shock made Enlightment writer Voltaire state that the earthquake was a moral evil that should – somehow – be fought by anti-fatalism, Telemann took things from a religious angle and saw the thunder of the quake as a reason to glorify God.
My idea would be to leave the religious or unreligious musings for what they are, and to just enjoy this remarkable piece of music. Baroque music has these beautiful qualities like perfect balance and order, polyphony and counterpoint. Especially the last two create the typically baroque effect that the listener gets the impression that lots of different things are happening at the same time on stage. But the essence of counterpoint is of course that all these seemingly independent sounds and melodies are ultimately fully harmonious.
Did Bach and Telemann ever meet? Not that I know of. They were, however, well aware of each other's music. Actually, Telemann counted in the eighteenth century as the more famous of the two. In the nineteenth century that perception changed dramatically when Bach's work was rediscovered and a true Bach cult came into being, pushing Telemann to the background. German music professor Hans Joachim Möser found the right balance in 1952, stating that Telemann "some time ago was considered a rather crude and prolific composer, producing more than Bach and Händel together. Nowadays he is however counted, thanks to many new recordings, as a captivating maestro of that extraordinary generation, immediately behind Bach and Händel."
Enough about the composers, let's turn to the conductor. If there is anything special about Ton Koopman, apart from his obvious virtuosity, then it would be, to my feeling, his intensity. He is literally "in" the music when he conducts. And not just when he conducts:
he is also one of the world's best organists and is able to conduct and play the organ at the same time. That may seem impossible but somehow he is then able to conduct his orchestra with small movements of his head. It is certainly something you may want to keep an eye on while enjoying the music.
Meanwhile, I am also looking forward to the performance at the Opera House later this year of a Richard Wagner opera, as he is certainly another of my favourite composers. It is treat after treat. That it will be The Flying Dutchman may show that to many things there tend to have a Dutch link!
Stefan Van Wersch is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Oman