Rediscovered opera by Surinamese composer

On 15 February, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will perform Het pand der goden, a music drama by the Surinamese composer Johannes Nicolaas Helstone (1853-1927). Otto Tausk will conduct the performance in The Concertgebouw, with vocal soloists and Cappella Amsterdam. This will be the opera’s first performance since 1906.
image: Catherine Nieuwesteeg
image: Catherine Nieuwesteeg

After well-received performances in Paramaribo in 1906, Het pand der goden was nearly forgotten for over a century. Johannes Nicolaas Helstone is an important figure in Suriname’s cultural history as both a musician and a writer. The Concertgebouw Orchestra is delighted to bring this important piece of cultural heritage to the public’s attention once more.

The opera will be sung in Dutch, with surtitles in Dutch and English.

More information and tickets

Temple of the gods

The plot of the opera is a mythical story with elements from Christianity and other religions. The hero Olindo discovers that he has an older sister, whom the gods abducted as a newborn in order to punish their father. Olindo undertakes a perilous journey to the temple of the gods... Will he be able to bring Athlolinda back home?

Johannes Nicolaas Helstone

Johannes Helstone. Image: Collection John Helstone, Allard Pierson, University of Amsterdam

Johannes Nicolaas Helstone was born in the Hernhutters missionary post Berg en Dal on the Surinam River. A talented youth, Helstone was trained as a teacher, but devoted himself more and more to music. An opportunity arose to study at the conservatory in Leipzig; he graduated in 1894 and was a professional organist, pianist and composer, giving concerts in Berlin, Paris and Vienna.

Postzegen Helstone monumentInstead of further expanding his international career, he opted to return to his native land in order to help Surinamese culture develop further. He taught and was the organist of the Lutheran church and founder of the local Hernhutter Committee. He also wrote essays and studied Sranantongo, Surinam’s most widely spoken language, for which he created a grammar. In 1948 a monument to him was erected in Paramaribo.

Enriching the repertoire

The Concertgebouw Orchestra takes pleasure in finding new pieces with which to enrich the orchestral repertoire. There are many unknown and forgotten jewels that deserve to be performed and heard alongside the familiar standard repertoire.

The performance of Het pand der goden is not an isolated event. On 1 October 2023, the chamber music series ‘Bijlmer Klassiek’, a joint effort by the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bijlmer Parktheater, featured music by Helstone and other Surinamese composers, and in future the orchestra will be highlighting more music by composers from, or with a background in, the former colonial territories.

Helstone Fonds

These performances are made possible in part by the Helstone Fonds, a fund founded by Astrid Helstone and Diederik Burgersdijk. The goal of the fund is to get the work of Helstone, his students, and other composers from former Dutch colonial areas, performed and increase public awareness of them. In the years to come, the Concertgebouw Orchestra will be expanding its focus on these composers as part of its objective to put less well-known and forgotten repertoire in the spotlights.

This production is made in collaboration with the Concertgebouw.