Well before the free open-air concert began, at around four on Thursday afternoon, Mahlerplein was rapidly starting to fill up. Music lovers from Zuidas and beyond headed towards the dozens of folding chairs to enjoy a full two hours of Indian song and American jazz. ‘When you’re building a new part of a city, it’s important to give it some soul’, said David van Traa, Zuidas Director, as he opened the concert. ‘One of the symbolic ways of doing that is by naming streets and squares.’ Van Traa was referring to the five streets and internal squares in the Kenniskwartier, that we are naming after women composers: Margaret Bonds, Jaddanbai, Florence Price, Fanny Mendelssohn and Hildegard von Bingen.
At the concert, organised in partnership with the Concertgebouw and the Muze van Zuid Festival, two female vocalists performed works by three of these acclaimed women composers. When the dulcet tones of singer Madhu Lalbahadoersing began to fill the air, the audience immediately fell silent. Completely at home in Indian classical music, she sang a selection of work by the composer Jaddanbai. She was also accompanied by three other musicians, including her brother. He drummed rhythmically and seemingly effortlessly on a tabla – a percussion instrument used in Hindustani music. The lively ensemble presented a startling contrast to the rather sober Mahlerplein and were greeted with warm applause.
Later on, ‘Let the rain kiss you’, was the first line of a song by jazz vocalist Marjorie Barnes. It could not have been more appropriate, as, just at that moment, the grey clouds thickened and a heavy downpour ensued. As the audience quickly searched for umbrellas or ponchos, Barnes encourage them to move in the direction of the music tent. ‘Why not all come and stand here!’, shouted the singer, originally from America. It was a very cosy experience. Although slightly packed together, everyone who attended enjoyed this intimate performance. Barnes, Ellister van der Molen (on the flugelhorn) and Bob Wijnen (keyboardist) also seemed to enjoy the unexpected turn of events. They performed songs by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, while also seizing the opportunity to give a full explanation of the history of Afro-Caribbean music to the audience. After the final applause, the sun reappeared.