Music: Misbehavior at Amsterdam

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The musicians of Amsterdam's distinguished old Concertgebouw protested when the orchestra manager picked Paul van Kempen to take the place of their sick-abed regular conductor.

Van Kempen was born Dutch and had been a Concertgebouw first violinist at 17. He had, years later, become conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic and a German citizen. That was not so bad, but Van Kempen conducted in The Netherlands during the occupation, a few times for the benefit of the Wehrmacht. Many a Dutchman found it hard to forgive that. The musicians warned that Van Kempen would be "a source of pain." Nevertheless, the Amsterdam town council voted, 21 to 17, to hire him.

At the first concert, some 1,000 young men and maidens milled outside in protest. Inside, as the conductor raised his baton for the Verdi Requiem, someone yelled "Down with Van Kempen." Others took it up, added "Sieg Heil" to the chant. Two students began singing the Horst Wessel song, two others tossed bottles of tear gas. Police cleared out the troublemakers and the concert went on.

Not so the next night. Expecting trouble, many an older concertgoer gave up his ticket to someone younger and hardier. Trouble came swiftly: a woman screamed "Naziknecht" (Nazi tool) when Van Kempen raised his arm, and the old hall became a bedlam of cap pistols, noisemakers, yelling, whistling. Another woman screamed "Shut up!" at the demonstrators. Van Kempen's impresario, sitting next to her, mistook her for a demonstrator and slapped her. "Stop it," she yelled, "you dirty Communist!"

The musicians had had enough. Sixty-two (of the 85) got up from their chairs, stalked off the stage and went to their dressing room. There, two passed out cold from the excitement. Said the concertmaster: "It was psychologically and physically impossible to do my work." When a vice president demanded they return or resign, not one of the 62 musicians moved.

Back of the musicians' disgruntlement lie two older controversies: 1) management's plan to give a pension to wartime Conductor Willem Mengelberg, who played for the Nazis and now lives in exile (TIME, Feb. 28, 1949), and 2) the desire of Socialists to take the orchestra out of private hands and put it entirely in the hands of the city. At week's end, although both sides were talking things over, the distinguished old Concertgebouw was still out of business.