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Art society

On the concert life in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia.

Cultural life in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia has, apart from the literary sector, hardly been studied yet. The world of classical music, for example, has not been mapped out. As in the mother country, amateurs and professional musicians also performed in the colony.Companies from abroad, like the Russian Ballet, the Cossack Choir, and the Milanese Opera from Italy, came also.

My survey confines the inquiries to the classical concerts and tours that were organised by the 'Bond van Nederlandsch-Indische Kunstkringen' (the Association of Dutch East Indian Art Circles).

This organisation almost entirely controlled the 'official' concert life. For obvious reasons, this concert life was in a way a reflection of that in Holland. Sources for my first piece of research are distributed articles, including articles from Tong Tong/Moesson, and memorial books. But also reviews from the Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad - by the renowned music critic Sjoerd de Witte - of concerts in Batavia between 1928 and the outbreak of World War II. Apart from this, a thing or two could be read in the memoirs of several musicians. The 'Bond van Nederlandsch-Indische Kunstkringen' was established in 1902. The aim was to organise all sorts of art-manifestations: theatre, literature (Louis Couperus), ballet (amongst others Anna Pavlova), cabaret (Corrie Vonk and Wim Kan). With respect to music, concerts and tours all through the Dutch East Indies in many large cities and small towns were concerned. Concerts by soloists, ensembles and orchestras. There were alsogramophone- and youth concerts. The Dutch community in the archipelago was of course much smaller than in Holland and the number of people that was interested in western music was therefore also smaller. This meant that there were fewer local professionalmusicians and more amateurs. All the same, concert life developed gradually from performances of predominantly local people to an ever increasing number of performances of Dutch and international top-musicians. Before the war, compatriots like the pianists Theo van der Pas and Cor de Groot, and cellist Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp performed. Of the foreigners, who else came but the pianists Rubinstein, Brailowski and Lili Kraus, and the violinists Heifetz, Hubermann, Goldberg and Lola Bobesco. Apart from this, amongst others, the string trio and string quartet of Budapest. The increasing threat of war in Europe and Asia put an end to the stream of musicians from overseas at the beginning of 1940. Two soloists formed an exception: because of the Japanese invasion they couldn't (just as Corrie Vonk and Wim Kan couldn't) leave again: Lili Kraus and Simon Goldberg. Because they weren't Dutch they were only later interned and they could perform in all sorts situations, for example for the radio and in the internment camps. Even when they themselves ended up in the camps - Lili Kraus in at least four, and Simon Goldberg in fourteen - sometimes they were allowed, under the most primitive circumstances, to play for their fellow prisoners. The duo survived the war yearsand they resumed their international career later. After the war, cultural life got under way again. Welfare-organisations started taking care of all sorts of entertainment pretty soon, and in 1948 the re-establishment of the 'Bond van Kunstkringen' ensued. Musicians, again of great reputation, were now send from Holland. Now the audience exists of people who work for the reconstruction of the Indies and the soldiers that were present. It is astounding how all this continues as usual during the dangerous period of Bersiap en the police actions. The fact that everything is maintained until the end of the fifties, when president Soekarno declares the Dutchman persona non grata.

Three radio-broadcasts this month relate these facts and events larded with passages and anecdotes from the music reviews that were mentioned and from the memoirs of Arthur Rubinstein, composer-pianist Geza Frid and singer Peter Pears. A choice of historical recordings, many still from the original (78-revolutions) gramophone records played on an windup-gramophone which is just as old, shall be heard.

If there are any readers who have the disposal of information on this subject, in whatever form, I shall be very glad to receive it!

Frans Schreuders.

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