Unison and counterpoint
The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1955, since when it has proved itself an exceptional ensemble with a long history of notable achievements. Although it merged with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985, the orchestra has never lost its own identity. In fact, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra has consistently surprised its symphonic ‘big brother’.
Particularly notable is the dynamic between the members of the orchestra, which rarely performs under a conductor. The musicians have complete confidence in each other and their chemistry is obvious to all. ‘It’s a state of mind in which everything comes together. You can rise above yourself. Everyone goes to a own special place where we all meet each other. Call it a common feeling, a certain mythology, a scent, poetry, whatever. The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra can do that,’ states Gordan Nikolitch with verve.
Gordan Nikolitch (b. 1968) was appointed concertmaster in 2004. Through his passion and commitment, the Serbian-born violinist has spurred the orchestra to ever greater artistic heights. Nikolitch studied in Basel under the renowned conductor and violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow. His greatest inspiration was, however, the legendary British conductor Sir Colin Davis. In 1997, Davis invited Nikolitch to become leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, a post he holds to this day. Among many memorable moments with the LSO, Nikolitch recalls recording the music for the later Star Wars films under the baton of its composer, John Williams. Nikolitch has also worked alongside renowned conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle and Bernard Haitink, great names of today who stand alongside the heroes of the past such as Mrawinski, Toscanini and Klemperer.
Goran Nikolitch is aware that he is the custodian of a rich artistic heritage. The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra rose to international fame under violinist and conductor Szymon Goldberg, who founded the ensemble in 1955 and continued in the role of concertmaster until 1979. Goldberg took the orchestra on several international tours. On one occasion, the music critic of the New York Times wrote, ‘If ever a concert merited the epithet ‘perfect’, it was the one given by Szymon Goldberg and his Netherlands Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.’
Informed and creative
‘The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra is extremely precious to me by virtue of its history,’ says Nikolitch. ‘Some of the scores we play from still have the fingerings and bowing directions that were pencilled in by Szymon Goldberg himself. It’s clear that he was able to delve to the heart of a composition and understand what the composer really meant. Being so well-informed and creative at the same time is extremely rare today.’
Gordan Nikolitch is not the orchestra’s conductor but its leader. He directs his fellow musicians from the ‘first chair’, sometimes termed ‘first desk’. In 2015, the orchestra recorded the two symphonies written by French composer Charles Gounod. As one reviewer noted, ‘With violinist Gordan Nikolitch at the helm, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra is enjoying a sort of second youth. They play with audible pleasure.’
Full house in Paradiso
The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra gives dozens of concerts every year. It can regularly be heard in Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw and the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, as well as other major concert halls throughout the Netherlands and beyond. The orchestra also plays in venues that are not so readily associated with classical music, such as Amsterdam’s Paradiso where an enthusiastic capacity audience recently enjoyed a programme of works by Stravinsky and Ravel.
Like the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra often takes part in productions of the Dutch National Opera. Recent triumphs include Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Waiting for Miss Monroe by contemporary Dutch composer Robin de Raaff, and Rossini’s Armida. In its review of another Rossini opera, Il viaggio a Reims, the national newspaper Trouw noted the orchestra’s contribution: ‘The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra cantered expertly through the score with exuberant pleasure. All the musical ‘jokes’ worked to perfection, while the playing remained crisp and controlled even in the most rapid passages.’