Duke Ellington’s jazz and classical music in Amsterdam church


This video from the Netherlands says about itself:

When Amsterdam expanded in western direction in the beginning of the 17th century, new churches were needed. One of these new churches was the Westerkerk (The Western church), built between 1620-1638. The initial designer of the Westerkerk was Hendrick de Keyser, whose son Pieter took over after his father died in 1621.

On 15 November 2015, there was a concert in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. This church is not far from the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank could see the church’s tower from her window in the secret annexe during World War II.

The big church was full of people for the concert. There ware many people on stage as well. The Nationaal Symfonisch Kamerorkest this time, besides their usual classical music instruments, had jazz instruments like drums and saxophones as well.

There was also a big choir. Really, a merger for this concert of two Amsterdam choirs: GrootNoord, from the north of the city. And Singi Nanga Firi, a Surinamese name for a multicultural Christian choir.

Westerkerk concert flyer

The music was by Michael Tippett, a British classical composer, inspired by African American music in the ‘Five Negro Spirituals’ in his work A Child Of Our Time. After Tippett came the Sacred Concert, by famous United States jazz musician Duke Ellington, with classical music influences as well. This was the first time ever for Ellington‘s Sacred Concert in the Netherlands, as one needs many people to perform it. Tippett’s Spirituals had been performed only rarely in the Netherlands.

This music video, recorded in Hong Kong in 2007, is called Michael Tippett: Go Down, Moses.

The five spirituals, performed in Amsterdam, were: Steal away to Jesus; Nobody knows the trouble; Go down, Moses; By and by; and Deep river.

While they are Christian religious songs, based on the Bible, there is an undertone of the struggle for freedom in African American history, against slavery and discrimination. Eg, in parallels with the Bible story of ancient Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt, led by Moses.

This undertone of secular opposition to oppression within religious music is also present in Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. They frequently have the word ‘freedom’, sometimes in many languages. The Christian right in the USA did not like that, claiming that Ellington had ‘polluted’ religion with jazz.

This music video, recorded on 17 March 2013 in San Marino, is called Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts (Full Concert).

Duke Ellington wrote three Sacred Concerts. In 1993, a compilation of these three was arranged by John Hoybye and Peder Pedersen. The Amsterdam performance was based on that compilation.

There was much applause after the music stopped.

6 thoughts on “Duke Ellington’s jazz and classical music in Amsterdam church

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