case for support – playing the cathedral

oude kerk

The Oude Kerk is a place for contemplation as well as intense experiences of art and music. On Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings the church is used as a house of worship by the Protestant Church Amsterdam. The Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building and one of the city’s newest art institutions. Since 1951 the organization has worked to restore the church and make it accessible to a diverse audience. Since the completion of the restoration in 2013, the Oude Kerk has pursued an active programme of art and music relating to its heritage.


With its programmes the Oude Kerk sets waves of tradition and new developments in motion. Through the interplay of heritage, art and music it seeks to claim a place in the hearts and minds of various generations. The Oude Kerk aims to create space for polychromy and polyphony. Make palpable the idea that our view of the past is in constant motion, in interaction with our view of the future.
Over the past five years the Oude Kerk has periodically put itself on the cultural map of the Netherlands by commissioning internationally renowned artists, twice a year, to create new work that resonates with the church. The interventions are sometimes a silent homage, sometimes a radical inversion. Each opens a new, contemporary perspective on the landmark edifice and its history. People are challenged by the material and immaterial meaning that heritage and art can offer in unison. The Oude Kerk has opted for slow-curating, investing in long-term preparations with artists, and commissions new work within this unique context.

musical history

Concerts have been played in the Oude Kerk since 1584. These concerts were among the first public concerts in northern Europe; the Oude Kerk was a place of musical pilgrimage. It was Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the greatest classical composer of the Netherlands, who began this tradition shortly after the Reformation. The Netherlands had just declared its independence, and Amsterdam was experiencing a major expansion, just as it is today. The concerts achieved worldwide fame. Not just because of their new character and high quality but also because of the outstanding acoustics of the Oude Kerk, which have remained unaltered to this day. The church is not particularly high, is quite broadly constructed, has a wooden ceiling and an irregular floor with rough seams that breaks the resonance of about 5 seconds quite nicely. Happenstances that together form the miracle of the Oude Kerk. Amsterdam’s most beautiful silence. The Baroque Vater-Müller organ, built as the showpiece of an eighteenth-century metropolis, is universally celebrated. It has been preserved in virtually original condition. Following intensive restoration this organ was completed architecturally in September 2018, as the culmination of the church’s restoration (1951-2013). It will be officially re-inaugurated on 11 May 2019 and will be played once more in concerts.

future of music

The Oude Kerk is a Gothic hall church. Its 3,000 square metres of floor space, unique acoustics and top-quality historical organ are the base elements of its future musical tradition, whereby musicians are commissioned to develop new work specifically for this place. Music that cannot be experienced in the same way anywhere else.

After a period of silence, a new musical future is being explored and prepared since 2016. In early 2017 the Silence concert series was introduced. Concerts in which the acoustical experience of the building takes centre stage, and in which art and music complement one another: music is created in the context of exhibitions. On the first Friday of each month at 8 a.m. the church breathes in a relatively silent city centre and the sunlight enters the church through the high windows in a breath-taking spectacle, depending on the season. In a short period of time Silence has managed to attract a faithful group of about 140 visitors, on average. They come to the Oude Kerk throughout the year at this early hour for a contemplative musical beginning to their day. ‘The most amazing music series in the Western Hemisphere,’ according to the headline in the newspaper Het Parool, in which Sweelinck is played along with the work of young composers. Musicians and visitors are challenged to explore the space of the landmark building in sometimes radical fashion. Musicians are inspired by the vast playing field of the church to think in new proportions and dimensions.

playing the cathedral

A new musical ritual will be born in 2019: Playing the Cathedral. Twice a year a new landmark concert series will be held, at the same rhythm as the exhibitions. Prominent composers and/or musicians from the Netherlands and abroad will be invited to develop new work as artists-in-residence. The Oude Kerk will invest in long-term collaborations, slow-curating, with international talents and locally performing musicians of the highest level. In this we will traverse generations and subcultures. Generations and varied backgrounds will be united with music. In an urban context that is a quintessential melting pot of cultures.

A unique hallmark of the new musical tradition of the Oude Kerk is the use of the space of the church itself and the way sound and music are attuned to this space, in collaboration with musicians. The concerts are one-off experiences, non-reproducible: you have to be there. Site-specific music, visceral, corporeal, profound experiences, as a counter-current in an age of instantaneous sharing of impressions.

To complement its current top-level position in the visual arts, the Oude Kerk aims, with the two series Silence and Playing the Cathedral, to establish itself as a unique stage in the Netherlands for space-filling music – ‘spatial music’. Concerts in which musicians and sound sources are spatially arranged and also move about, in a three-dimensional installation of sound. Each spectator chooses his or her own perspective, wandering around the church, so that the perspective constantly changes. New compositions and concert forms are created, along with reinterpretations of existing and ancient music, spatially readapted to the situation in the Oude Kerk. Genres and styles are traversed. The music is not made only through the musical notes; the architecture of the church does the conducting. New compositions and sound installations together form a new, unique and site-specific music collection, anchored in the city’s oldest building and repeatable in the future, as an immaterial element of the landmark monument that is the Oude Kerk.

The title of the new music series is a historical wink to the history of the capital – a city of palaces for commoners . . . No bishop ever had his diocese here, so the city never had a cathedral. Playing the Cathedral marks the cathedral space of the Oude Kerk as a common venue for gathering, as a contemporary place for resonance.

11 may gala

In May 2019, with the re-inauguration of the famed Vater-Müller organ, the future of music in the Oude Kerk will be definitively launched as a unique laboratory for spatial music. The foundations for this future will be laid with an exclusive benefit gala on Saturday 11 May. Philip Glass (b. 1937, Baltimore) will personally come to play one of his contemplative works on the organ. In his music he works with continually repeated motifs, in regular or irregular patterns, vast chords, slowly shifting harmonies. Glass’s hypnotically minimalist music is well suited to the church acoustics of the space inside the Oude Kerk. Music genius Nicolas Jaar (b. 1990, New York), is spending the autumn of 2018 preparing a composition for the first music residency at the Oude Kerk. Serene, dizzying, musical and awe-inspiring are some of the adjectives used by the media to describe his music. Jaar too is working with the Vater-Müller organ, by which he felt immediately inspired at his first encounter with it.

This music will be performed on 11 May at the first edition of Playing the Cathedral. It will have its première at the gala and will resonate for audiences in the months to follow. The gala dinner will be composed by Robert Kranenborg (of the Bolenius restaurant). The evening will conclude in a manner fitting for Playing the Cathedral, with an interactive composition. On Sunday 12 May there will be free concerts for all Amsterdam citizens and music lovers from sunrise to sunset.

help build

In earlier centuries citizens helped build the cathedrals and churches of their city. They expanded basilicas and chapels. Guilds were associated with the church edifices, chapels to patron saints were established and money was raised to produce altar pieces and monstrances. Ambitions were lofty. The Oude Kerk was a prime example of this.

In 2019 a new musical tradition is being launched, made possible by the involvement of the citizens of today. Long before the restoration of the Vater-Müller organ there were calls for more music in the Oude Kerk. The time to make this ambition a reality, and put the Oude Kerk prominently on the musical map of northern Europe as a modern-day place of musical pilgrimage, is now.

The Oude Kerk seeks to achieve the expansion and intensification of its music programming in a balanced manner. A balance of public income and private and public investment. The goal of the gala is for its proceeds to be the basis for the new musical future of the Oude Kerk. Laying the foundation for the next five years, with composers/musicians being commissioned to develop new work.

The Playing the Cathedral benefit gala on 11 May 2019 will be for the most part funded by ‘in kind’ sponsoring. Through their contributions, sponsors are also making the concert on 12 May accessible to all.


Help build the future of music in the Oude Kerk and lay a vital building block in a new music tradition with Playing the Cathedral.

With your support we will achieve the following:

  • a concert series of outstanding quality, Playing the Cathedral; unique concerts that resonate in the landmark monumental space,
  • the continuation of a centuries-old tradition: the Oude Kerk as an international music stage,
  • annual residencies for top international musical talent,
    new heritage: the development of a collection of new compositions, which can be reprised in the future as an immaterial element of the landmark monument that is the Oude Kerk,
  • a foundation of five years for the long-term repositioning of the Oude Kerk as a leading music stage,
  • a musical day for all on 12 May, with the re-inauguration of the Vater-Müller organ.

You can reserve a table for the benefit gala on 11 May 2019 via the website A table costs € 5,000. It seats 8 guests, which you can invite yourself. Availability is limited: the first edition of Playing the Cathedral is a one-off historic moment; there are 100 tables in total.

Instead or in addition to your own table, you can also sponsor a table for local residents, artists or musicians. You pay € 5,000 and invite one of these networks to the gala in the Oude Kerk. You can choose whether you want a seat at one of these tables for yourself.

Corporations have the opportunity to provide in-kind sponsoring for Playing the Cathedral. Custom sponsor listing and VIP activities can be arranged. The Oude Kerk approaches corporations for funding and sponsorship, but also likes to establish enduring relationships with them.

The Oude Kerk enjoys solid and healthy funding. The Oude Kerk receives support for its programming during the 2017-2021 period from the arts plan of the Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst (Fund for the Arts) as well as project subsidies from public and private foundations. In order to realize its musical ambitions, it is seeking support and cooperation from Amsterdam citizens and anyone who feels connected to the city and its musical traditions and innovations. Under Dutch tax legislation, the Oude Kerk is a Public Benefit Organization (ANBI). Your donation can be made in 2018 as well as in 2019.


The Oude Kerk seeks to play a prominent and enduring role, as a leading museum, in the cultural programming of Amsterdam and beyond. As part of this ambition, it wants to introduce its new music programming and raise it to a high level by developing a new music programme with two series, the morning series Silence and the landmark evening series Playing the Cathedral. These are the first steps towards a promising future, reaching a new (music) audience and opening the church henceforth in the earliest hours of the morning as well as the evening.