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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

AMSTERDAM | At the Concertgebouw Café, April 22

L to R: Aviva Boissevain, John Tepper
Marlin–second cousins once removed (her
great-grandfather was my grandmother's
brother).  Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
Amsterdam, April 26, 2016–On Earth Day last week Alice and I had lunch with Aviva Boissevain at the café in the Concertgebouw.

Aviva was the main moving force behind the Boissevain Family Reunion in Amsterdam on April 16-17.

This concert hall is something for which our ancestor Charles Boissevain fought through his newspaper, the Algemeen Handelsblad. As the late Sacha Boissevain told me at the dinner commemorating the 120th Anniversary of the Concertgebouw, "in 1888, grass grew here".

Two of Charles' sons, Charles E. H. and Menso Boissevain, were actively involved in the program of the orchestra, as was his son-in-law Han de Booij.

25th Anniversary Plaque. In 1913 Charles
E. H. Boissevain, son of Charles Handelsblad 
Boissevain, was on the Concertgebouw Board
with Han de Booy, his brother-in-law.
Mengelberg was one of the two conductors.
Photo by Aviva Boissevain.
The director of the Concertgebouw was nearby at the café and he kindly gave permission for us to go into the building to see the plaque honoring two Boissevain family members and their friend the orchestra leader Willem Mengelberg.

Mengelberg has been described as the greatest classical music conductor of the first half of the 20th century.

At the New York Philharmonic recently, my friend Riva Freifeld tells me the program notes for two different concerts mention Mengelberg:
  • For the Béla Bartók program, the notes mention that Mengelberg was conductor of the world premiere of Bartók's 2nd Violin Concerto (a "fiendish, dazzling" piece, adds Freifeld) in March 1939 at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw; his soloist was Szekely, to whom the work was dedicated.
  • Willem Mengelberg. The greatest conductor
    of his time?
  • For the three-day Mahler program last week that included  performance of Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Alan Gilbert, the notes mention that Mengelberg conducted the NY Philharmonic premiere on Jan. 3, 1929, at the Concertgebouw.
I have previously written about Mengelberg's importance as an interpreter of Mahler and other new composers.

It was sad, but understandable, that after the war was over Dutch prosecutors decided he should be punished for having continued to perform during the Nazi occupation.

During the anti-collaboration fever after the war was over, Mengelberg's German birth was held against him; he was stripped of the many honors that the Queen had bestowed on him and he was exiled.

He lived out his remaining years in Switzerland. An appeal on his behalf was sustained but it came  too late and Mengelberg died abroad in 1951, his career having ended at the same time as the war.