On the


Born in Amsterdam Two – The Miracle Kids


Two busy weeks of absence in Holland and a backlog of blogs! Apologies!

Besides sightseeing  Amsterdam’s canals in a glass boat, having a good Indonesian “rijstafel”, or admiring the sacred paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh in the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums, Amsterdam is a city of music. So are New York, London and Paris you will say, but Amsterdam has its special sphere. My father, who was a classical pianist while being a beer brewer at the same time, lived a few hundred yards from the Concert Hall when I was born, and the family had even bought permanent seats there, so that they could attend a concert on short notice when they had time. Naturally, I had to take piano lessons as well, but unfortunately was not endowed with his tremendous talent and more inclined to play pop music and jazz. His early death avoided a definite father-son conflict in this area, but I always remained impressed with young people playing classical piano so well.

This is why I attended the recent Amsterdam Young Pianists Festival in November. Remembering how I struggled to read notes and translate them to the keyboard, I listened in awe to three finalists in the Youth Competition of the Young Pianists Festival. Yang Yang Cai (Dutch, 14 years old), Jorian van Nee (Dutch, 13 years old) and Youngjae Kim (Korean, a brilliant 13 year old autistic (!) youngster) played difficult Sonatas by Domenica Scarlatti and Piano concerto  nr. 14 by Amadeus Mozart, ALL BY HEART! You wonder how these young talents keep popping up in today’s lowbrow world. The accompanying Yehudi Menuhin School orchestra, flown over from London especially for this occasion, was a miracle by itself. These young musicians are still at school and play like full-fledged professionals.


The Yehudin Menuhin school orchestra with four young soloists directed by Malcom Singer.

If I had to be in the 8-member jury, I would have had a great problem choosing the best. I gave Yang Yang Cai the edge because she played her Sonatas very Scarlatti-like and the Mozart concerto as playfully as Mozart would have done it. So when I met her during the intermission, I took a picture of her, wishing her she would get the first place, which she did. Another point of surprise: these 13/14 year olds are not like 13 0r 14 year old kids anymore: they are way ahead in personal growth compared to the “normal”13 year olds. They are  naturally bright with a God-given talent.

Pictures of Iphone 570 Yang Yang Cai, a “professional”at age 14.

Pictures of Iphone 576Jorian Van Nee (Dutch) 13.  Chatting with his Dad? He got second place this time, but many ranked him first.

Piano Festival Jury-1


The jury included several renowned pianists (Anne Queffélec (Fr), Emile Naoumoff (Romania), Boris Berman (Russia), Evgeni Koroliov (Russia), Jorge-Luis Prats (Cuba), who each played individually. Jorge-Luis Prats played the most difficult “Valse” by Maurice Ravel to an audience that went ballistic about his virtuosity. Then they played all together on three pianos at the same time! It was so spectacular that they had to give two encores.

At a Sunday matinee concert, renowned pianist Paul Badura –  Skoda (Austrian from Vienna) played Bach and Mozart on a “pianoforte” instrument, between the clavecimbel and the later “piano”as we know it today, accompanied by an engaging quartet of two violinists, a cellist and a bassist. As much as you admire the “Miracle Kids”, you admire an 86 year old pianist, considered one of the most important pianists of our time. If I look at my fingers, half bent with arthritis, and his lean fingers still flying over the keyboard, I wonder what kind of miracle medicine he’s taking to stay at that height of pure professionalism, and that ALL BY HEART!

Paul Badura-Skoda

Eymert Van ManenEymert Van Manen was the unsurpassed Business Leader of the YPF.

The YPF took place in memory of Youri Egorov, a phenomenal Dutch-Russian pianist who succumbed to AIDS in 1988 at the age of 34 much the same famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev did in 1992 when the disease took many unsuspecting victims.

Youri Egorov

Youri Egorov. You cannot but love him when you hear him play.

 His fabulous records  can now be ordered at info@ypf.nl. More information is available at

A most endearing and successful festival that I would not have missed for a million.




The Dead Sea is Alive!

John 2

A few years ago, I landed in pitch dark Amman, capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to participate in a conference with Iraqis at the Dead Sea on World Bank managed development projects in Iraq in which I was involved.  From the plane, coming in from the black Mediterranean, the only sea of light I saw was Haifa in Israel. After that a much more subdued Jerusalem. Next, flying onto Amman over the West Bank, darkness. That’s how I always could gauge the state of  a country’s “economic development”: light in the dark and buildings, agriculture and roads during daylight. But Amman is a beautiful city. I would discover that later during daylight.

It was cold. The driver who picked me up from the airport drove with high speed for one hour and a half over a deserted highway, continuously descending from higher elevated Amman to the lower level Dead Sea, a difference of 800 meters, and dropped me at a luxury hotel.  A summer-like temperature surrounded me. This is what I saw when I woke up:

 Mowenpick 2Dead Sea Mowenpick

 The Dead Sea looms behind the majestic swimming pool. The veil of pink haze in the back hides the West Bank. A Middle Eastern colleague said with great pride at breakfast on the terrace: “There is Palestine.” A peaceful look on battled territory.

It was an excellent place to discuss hot topics of the difficulties of project generation and implementation in neighboring Iraq that was still suffering from internal strife. Iraqis are smart people, like most Arab nations, but would benefit from organizing themselves a bit better. It is not for nothing that Babylon lies in the middle of Iraq. But  no “Babylon” at the conference: we had good interpreters (in the little box at the back).

Dr Huda Iraq Ministry of Planning right-1 EMCS Consultants-1

The occasion of the conference fulfilled an old wish: swimming in the Dead Sea where “you cannot sink”. But I had no swim trunk with me. What to do? Early in the morning, at 6 o’clock, I put a bathrobe over my underpants, hoping nobody would see me, and walked from the hotel down to the Dead Sea shore. A beautiful scenery, except that a lonely lady took a swim there, too. Bravely, I took off my bathrobe and horrified she dove under. But you cannot sink! By the time she came back up, I was floating in the water, eight times saltier than the saltiest Ocean. “Good morning Ma’am” – “Bonjour,”she said. “Ça vous plait?” Well, of course it “pleased”me, floating effortless like a rubber dinghy. The French lady spent probably a few days enjoying spas in Dead Sea mud. When I got out, my underpants felt like lead. Completely stiff of salt. I could hardly walk with them and when back in my room had to throw them out.

Me in Dead SeaTake the plunge

But not before I had taken a nice pic of the shore side. Later in the evening I took the picture that now frames this blog:

Dead Sea ShoreSunset at Dead Sea


The Dead Sea area is famous for its sunset views. When the sun goes down, you can clearly see “Palestine”, a huge wall of mountains.

Since my passport name is “Johannes”, I visited the nearby site at the source of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It represents a vivid image of the Kingdom of Jordan being a place where Christians can live with Islamic people without being pursued. Pope John Paul II held a mass there for 25,000 people in 2002.

The Jordan River-1 Baptism Site-1

Pope John Paul read Mass here-1 An orthodox Church at the Dead Sea-1

From above left: Jordan River, Baptism Site,

From below left: Area where the Pope held Mass, Orthodox Church.


Proof that I felt “re-baptized” is below.

Johannes at his baptism site_crop

The conference did not “dance”: working deep into the night, we left with “a plan”. Which, as it appeared later, was pretty well executed thanks to an omnipresent Iraqi consulting firm “Etiman” (which means “fiduciary”) in Baghdad and its leader Dr. Tahir Hassoun, whom you see prominently with a white tie on the picture above, surrounded by his dedicated coworkers. And my long-held dream of swimming in the Dead Sea was fulfilled, despite the loss of my underpants.

%d bloggers like this: