Contemporary music has a reputation for being difficult. The tired cliche of dry, impenetrable music played to empty halls still exists. But De Doelen in Rotterdam is overthrowing the stereotype with a lively and accessible new music series. It’s called Red Sofa, and celebrates its tenth anniversary this week with the six-day Spring Loaded festival. A film concert, a bicycle ride to secret concert venues, a ‘pop-up artist,’ world premieres, and of course the red three-seater sofa as the center for informal talks before and after the concerts. “I put everything into this festival that makes Red Sofa into Red Sofa,” says Programme Director Neil Wallace.
The pop-up artist is the adventurous violinist Monica Germino. She will open the festival and perform a number of interventions. Germino is a fervent admirer of the Red Sofa series: “Neil Wallace has achieved something you also see in modern art museums: people aren’t apprehensive, they’re curious and open to new discoveries.”
The Red Sofa formula revolves around this curiosity, says Wallace (1953). “We have built a community of interested people who are not afraid of new notes. I’m probably the only new music programmer in the Netherlands who has no worries about what I present – people will come anyway.”
As the pop-up artist, Monica Germino will decide what she will actually play in the moment. It will certainly be soft, because a few years ago Germino was diagnosed as ‘sensitive to sound,’ which means that her ears are more prone to damage [from high decibel levels]. She had to say goodbye to the high-octane soundtracks and louder works for electric violin, giving up many pieces she had often performed.
She is now “more curious than sad,” says Germino. Playing quietly opens up a whole new dimension; and apart from a reflection on silence and listening it can also be “an antidote to the relentless noise of our world.” She has amassed a huge collection of mutes (sourdines) and plays a rare ‘frame violin’ from ca. 1870, an instrument without a sound box which therefore plays at a very low volume. Germino: “Neil wants me to play the frame violin in the Main Hall without any amplification; for me that’s a thrill, an adventure.” Wallace: “You will hear a pin drop.”
Spring Loaded Festival: 10 years of Red Sofa. 21-26 / 3 De Doelen Rotterdam. Inl . www.dedoelen.nl