Yasmin Hilberdink is the founder and director of the String Quartet Biennale Amsterdam (SQBA). The idea to organize a string quartet festival originated in 2015. I’m not a musician, but was overwhelmed by the beauty of this form of music, it is beautiful and pure. Four players trying to form a unity requires dedication and perfection. With a quartet you hear every note, which makes it exciting for the players and for the audience. The second edition of the String Quartet Amsterdam Biennale will start on January the 25th, Lloyd Hotel is the festival hotel. Here you can sleep, have breakfast and dine amongst the artists. Lloyd Hotel has its own signature, I immediately knew that the musicians would have to sleep here. It’s original, it’s genuine, it’s fun, it’s a place where you can be yourself.’
How do you get people to love string quartet?
With the biennale I wanted to bring this art form up to the 21st century. We think about every detail: what context do you create, how do we take the audience on a voyage of discovery and even what do you serve for lunch … The biennale is an immersion in music. When you go to a performance you want to recognize a piece you love, but you also want to be surprised. So we experiment with form and length.
I also wanted to showcase the people behind the work. It’s a tough job, the musicians spend more time with each other than with their family and partners and the work requires a high degree of discipline. Yet the quartets often live in a rather anonymous manner. They have told me, ‘We are like ships at night’; they know about each other’s existence, but don’t see much of each other. Except during a festival where they meet and listen to each other. This is something they find very exciting and challenging.
When did you fall in love with string quartet music?
When I was in my early twenties. Friends took me to a series of concerts of the Beethoven cycle with the Alban Berg Quartet in Vienna.. The hall was packed and I felt it was something special. The music touched me. I started “understanding” the Beethoven quartets and recognizing the compositions when I heard them elsewhere. When I was in my late twenties I was offered a job as director of a castle near Vienna where there was a concert program, this is where I learned to understand String Quartets and started loving the music. The music is so pure, I love that. Sometimes I compare it to bread. The ingredients are simple, but baking a good loaf of bread is an art or a craft. It also fits in with the current time where people are searching for simplicity.
What makes string quartet so beautiful?
You can say that string quartet is a rigid form of music.. Each person has a very specific role. One carries the melody, the other sets the tone and yet another lays the foundation. Haydn was the first to work with a string quartet. He lived in the time of the Enlightenment, he was a freemason, as was Mozart. The string quartet was a reflection of their beliefs. They created their work by following the ideas of the Enlightenment: equality and equivalence. It is not always the king or prince who have the leading role sometimes it’s the chamberlain. I like the idea of working together as one, and it’s still relevant today.
Which people do you attract?
Of course we attract string quartet lovers. But we also want the string quartet to be known amongst a wider and younger audience; classical music lovers, the cultural omnivore and those who have never been to a concert hall before.
We work with schools to stimulate classical music among children. We have a project with the Leerorkest, in which children who are already playing in an orchestra form string quartets and receive extra lessons for a year. Four quartets from the Leerorkest performed during the first edition and were incredibly proud. These are small and vulnerable projects, but if every cultural organization would initiate projects like this, we could create something impressive.
How are the preparations for SQBA going?
We have already started on the next edition. We have so much to organize, the catering, the decoration of the building, we are busy with PR and are in contact with all string quartets for their travel schedules and overnight stays. It feels a bit like the morning before you throw a party, we are very focused on our work. Our team is growing each festival. Ticket sales are going well, a number of concerts are sold out and we have an advantage over the first edition where we had a lot of last-minute ticket sales.
Can you recommend certain concerts?
I am very proud of the Turkish Borusan Quartet because I was born in Turkey. String Quartet is a Western art form, it is very special that there are quartets from so many different countries taking part. The Borusan Quartet is a very good quartet and they play the music of modern Turkish composers.
When you’ve had a full day, you’ve seen and heard a lot, you’ve eaten well, what else do you need? Bonbons or a glass of champagne? My tip would be to listen to Beethoven’s late quartets at 10.30 p.m; they really are the epitome of classical music.
In addition, we have a series at half past nine in the morning. Why not start your day with a beautiful piece of music? Listen to music by Haydn or Beethoven’s early quartets; light and sparkling, a happy start to your day!
Why not an annual event?
It’s like a party with fifteen chocolate pies, that’s fantastic but you shouldn’t have that every year. With more than 25 string quartets from all over the world, more than 50 concerts in eight full days it’s the highlight for all string-lovers and musicians.
The String Quartet Biennale Amsterdam can be visited from January the 25th till February the 1st in the Muziekgebouw. Tickets are available at www.sqba.nl. With the discount code SQBA2020 you get a 15% discount on the best available price for a room at the Lloyd Hotel during the String Quartet Biennale Amsterdam.