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Dutch Student Orchestra celebrates female composer: 'Deserve to be heard'

Every year in February, ninety students who love making music come together in Someren, a town in the Dutch province of North Brabant. Through rehearsals and festivities over ten days, they transform into the latest version of the Dutch Student Orchestra (NSO), which then performs concerts in the Netherlands and abroad. This year, the programme focuses on female composers.

Josefien Overeem

'In addition to Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony, we will be performing a new piece by Sílvia Lanao, based on the works of Mahler's wife, Alma,' says Josefien Overeem, a student of Film and Literature Studies and this year's spokesperson for the orchestra.

Like her husband, Alma had great musical talent, but unlike his, hers was not encouraged during their marriage. 'When they got married, he wrote in a long letter that there was only room for one composer in their household: him,' Josefien explains. 'Despite the ban on composing, he still sent her the fourth movement of the symphony we are playing, as a kind of love letter.'

The Mahlers are not an exception. 'I have personally played very few pieces by women,' says Josefien. 'This is partly due to stories like these, so we believe it's important to keep telling them. Our theme this year is therefore "Make yourself heard!"'

Pressure cooker

The orchestra has not made it easy for itself. Mahler's Fifth Symphony is known as a challenging piece. 'Most of us are not studying at the conservatory,' Josefien says. 'This makes the ten rehearsal days exciting but also very special. The period in the orchestra is like a pressure cooker. You experience something unique together, which quickly brings you closer and allows you to give that special performance. And yes, of course, we are still students, so there is also partying in between the hard work.'

'Keep the music alive'

This youthful attitude is also palpable for the audience, Josefien hopes. 'At the average classical concert, everyone is gray. We hope to break that by giving a high-quality concert with young people and maybe a small surprise at the end. Classical music is beautiful. It has to stay alive.'

The NSO is giving ten concerts in the Netherlands, two abroad, and one for mental health care clients. The orchestra performs on Monday, February 12, at the Stadsgehoorzaal in Leiden. Student tickets cost 10 euros, regular tickets are 27.50 euros.

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