In response to the performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on February 11, 2024, at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, we spoke with Fred Luiten from the concert organization Barok Vocaal. Since 1996, he has been organizing this renowned concert series, bringing together the best baroque ensembles and soloists. He often combines concerts with social themes; for example, in 2018, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first concert took place in 1997, featuring a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the famous Emma Kirkby and Michael Chance.
What sparked your fascination with baroque music?
Not inherently from my upbringing, but rather through high school, specifically at the Marnix Gymnasium in Rotterdam, where we translated excerpts from Virgil’s Aeneid. I discovered Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, which captivated me with its exciting music. It sent shivers down my spine…
How did you get into organizing concerts?
The idea to seriously enter the concert market stemmed from my love for music. While studying cultural and arts management, I wrote for the Entertainment section of the AD newspaper and got in touch with a concert organizer hosting events in the Concertgebouw’s Small Hall. Through cellist Lucia Swarts, I got acquainted with countertenor Michael Chance. I greatly admire him. Together, we organized my very first concert featuring a Purcell program.
You manage to engage exceptional orchestras and top soloists such as the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Michael Chance, Andreas Scholl, Christoph Pregardien, Emma Kirkby, Philippe Jaroussky. And for the upcoming concert, Alexander Chance and Miriam Feuersinger with the baroque ensemble Il Gardellino… It’s noteworthy that you organize these concerts entirely at your own risk, without subsidies. Is it big business?
It is certainly a business, but more risky than ‘big.’ Cultural entrepreneurs are not driven solely by money – that’s a misconception. You won’t become a millionaire. With each concert, you take on significant risks as an entrepreneur. To take on that risk, you must have a passion for, in my case, Baroque music. If it were solely about business, we wouldn’t be involved in various educational projects to engage new and young audiences with classical music.
How did you navigate through the pandemic?
We did receive support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science for fixed costs, but they primarily favored subsidized institutions. As a business with 0% revenue in 2020-2021, we received no support. In our anniversary season, 2021-2022, we launched a crowdfunding campaign. Our loyal audience witnessed our dedication and financially supported us.
We often contemplate whether we can capture the interest of young people in the text and music of the Stabat Mater. It’s a universal theme: a mother witnessing her child’s death. It can hardly be more relevant. Music that makes loss and comfort palpable and connects people. There are compositions by “classical” composers from the 1400s to the present, as well as compositions in folk, rock, hip-hop genres, all inspired by Jacopone di Todi’s text. You developed Mecenas Klassiek. In 2015, around 300 young people listened and watched Giulio Cesare by Handel for four hours. How did you make that happen?
Crowdfunding allowed us to finance this project. We provided teaching materials about the opera and invited teachers from schools to incorporate the music and the characters Julius Caesar and Cleopatra into their lessons. Tania Kross, a renowned mezzo-soprano, provided information at various schools and even sang there. Teachers and students were well-prepared, and in the concert hall, they had an unforgettable musical experience! A student emailed me afterward: this changed my life.
You believe that making tickets cheaper or organizing performances in ‘quirky locations’ isn’t the solution to attract new/young audiences. Instead, you focus on information and education. Could you elaborate on that?
Reducing ticket prices or hosting performances in unconventional venues may not be the most effective methods to attract new/young audiences. Education and information are key. If you don’t know who, for example, Bach is and how his music sounds, you might not attend, even if the ticket is only €10. Considering that teachers nowadays could benefit from education in classical music, we have invited them, along with the education organization Mocca, to the upcoming performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on February 11.
Have you ever included the Stabat Mater of a composer other than Pergolesi in your program?
I’ve programmed Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater a few times. Indeed, there are many beautiful Stabat Maters, including those by Dvořák.
What do you personally experience when you listen to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater?
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater remains one of the most beautiful classical compositions. The renowned philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote about the opening: “…the most perfect and moving duet ever to flow from a composer’s pen…”
The Stabat Mater Website is a monument to someone who started a collection of Stabat Mater CD recordings. It’s a journey through music history. Our project, a music platform, facilitates contact between music lovers worldwide. We are still fascinated by how contemporary composers, especially, incorporate Jacopone’s text and others into their compositions. Hannie van Osnabrugge wrote a book about her journey, and the poem’s theme is timeless. There is so much poignant, touching, and comforting music written for the Stabat Mater! You’ve explored our website too. What do you think?
I find the Ultimate Stabat Mater Website to be a beautiful and invaluable project, and it’s wonderful that you can listen to so many compositions on CD! However, vocal music should also be experienced in person, witnessing the moment when a composition comes to life again, interpreted by the performers. Listening together with a group is indeed a very special experience. For me, nothing surpasses a live performance of the Stabat Mater. I hope that your website inspires people to attend concerts, and conversely, that concertgoers discover and appreciate your website!
The Ultimate Stabat Mater Website offers a discount of €15 for this concert. The soloists are Miriam Feuersinger and Alexander Chance (indeed, the son of…). Want to know more? Visit https://barokvocaal.nl/stabatmater-eng and learn how to order discounted tickets.
- Pergolesi: Stabat Mater in F
- Vivaldi: Nisi Dominus in G, RV 608
- Pergolesi: Salve Regina in C
- Albinoni: Oboe Concerto, op. 9, no. 2
During the concert intermission, the book “Stabat Mater Dolorosa – a journey through seven centuries of music” is available at a discounted price.