No purer sound than the human voice, and no vocal ensemble whose sound has to be more precisely measured and balanced than a chamber choir. The Nederlands Kamerkoor (The Netherlands Chamber Choir), which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012, knows a thing or two about that, having been a top-class chamber choir for decades. Their field of activity encompasses the entire chamber choir repertoire, from medieval to contemporary and from a cappella to accompanied. The choir is an independent organisation, not attached to an opera or broadcasting company. As well as putting on its own concert series in a number of Dutch cities, the choir regularly collaborates with ensembles such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Asko|Schönberg Ensemble and the Orchestra of the 18th Century.
In 1937 the choir's founder Felix de Nobel assembled a chamber choir which consisted of a number of young soloists. After the Second World War he re-formed the choir. Within a few years he had created a homogeneous ensemble in which the voices blended with each other and coalesced into a genuine chamber choir sound. Invitations from foreign festivals and from the Holland Festival followed. Having initially proposed a modest subsidy, the Dutch government followed this in 1965 with a structural one. Among the artistic highlights of this period are the multiple tours of the United States and the Holland Festival opera productions conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.
When in 1972 Felix de Nobel laid down his chief conductor's baton, a period of exploration ensued. The choir was ready for some innovation, and achieved this by working on a project basis with specialists in various fields. Conductors such as Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, Christie and the choir's Flemish honorary guest conductor Paul Van Nevel, now an indispensable element in their programming, helped create for the choir a new reputation as interpreters of early music. At the same time, conductors including Ed Spanjaard and Reinbert de Leeuw led the choir in pioneering performances of contemporary music.
In 1987 another chief conductor was appointed. Uwe Gronostay from Germany used his speciality - the Late Romantic repertoire - to hone the choir's sound to perfection. His successors also set their stamp on programming: the Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste with attractive choral music from Eastern and Northern Europe, Stephen Layton with stimulating combinations of British and French repertoire. There then followed another period without a chief conductor.
How multifaceted the Nederlands Kamerkoor is these days, is demonstrated not only by the programmes in its own subscription series, but also by its many collaborative projects and premières of works it has commissioned. Among the composers who have written for the choir are Francis Poulenc, Frank Martin, James MacMillan, Sir John Tavener, Giya Kancheli, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Mauricio Kagel, Karin Rehnqvist and Edith Canat de Chizy, as well as several Dutch composers. In many of the works, singers from the choir are given solo roles, proving again and again the enormous versatility of the individual choir members. Permanent guest conductor Peter Dijkstra and choirmaster Klaas Stok play a significant part in the preparation and performance of the very demanding repertoire in which the choir is well versed.
The Nederlands Kamerkoor has released some seventy-five CDs, several of which have been awarded an Edison or a Diapason d'Or. In recent seasons, tours have taken the ensemble to countries such as France, the United States, Canada, Spain and Poland. With unusual programmatic formulas, such as a semi-staged evening of Burt Bacharach songs arranged for chamber choir, or a programme of psalms in the synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam, the choir continues its process of rejuvenation. To watch over this process, and over the preservation of the precious chamber choir culture so characteristic of the NKK, in the season 2011-2012 a new chief conductor arrived: the 32-year old Risto Joost from Estonia. In 2011 and 2012 two cds were released, conducted by Risto Jost, with works of Arvo Pärt.