The Bells of the Netherlands Carillon Resound Back to Life

The Netherlands Carillon, a gift from the people of the Netherlands to the people of the United States in gratitude for American aid during and after World War II, has rung out again over Arlington Ridge Park after a three-year restoration.

The restoration beautified and secured the open steel structure, while all 50 tower bells were returned to the Netherlands for cleaning and retuning. An additional three bells were cast and added to the assembly, elevating the instrument to grand carillon status. 

Guests Enjoy the Rededication of the Netherlands Carillon

Image: Guests await the Freedom Concert and rededication of the Netherlands Carillon on an overcast Thursday, May 5, 2022.

To rededicate and mark the return of the carillon bells, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the National Park Service jointly hosted a Freedom Concert this last Thursday (aptly timed to coincide with the Netherlands’ Liberation Day). The morning program began with a prelude by a quintet from Washington Symphonic Brass, who would return throughout the program to add their richness of sound.

Charles Cuvelier, Superintendent of the National Park Service, George Washington Memorial Parkway, welcomed guests to the grassy knoll overlooking the National Mall, before the American and Dutch national anthems were played.

Additional remarks were given by Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III, Director of the National Park Service, and André Haspels, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who spoke warmly of the shared friendship between the two nations and the beautiful gift of music that unites us. A screen illuminated images and videos collected during the restoration, before a joint ringing of handheld bells proclaimed the bell tower official reopened.

Marshall Bell Hangs in the Netherlands Carillon

Image: One of three new bells installed in the Netherlands Carillon, the George C. Marshall bell weighs 7,595 lbs. and was cast to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Courtesy: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

With that, all eyes (and ears) turned to the 127-foot structure, where carillonist Edward M. Nassor had taken his place inside the musician’s cabin. Joined by Washington Symphonic Brass, the sound of Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow and America the Beautiful cascaded from above. 

One of the most poignant moments of the occasion came in the form of a speech by Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine, who spoke passionately about the defense of freedom and democracy in the face of the current Russian invasion of her homeland. She gave thanks for continued American and Dutch support for Ukraine in the war. “You cannot win wars without people who share your values,” she said, adding, “Freedom is something we have to work and fight for on a daily basis.”

In a prerecorded performance, legendary Dutch violinist André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra played En Aranjuez con tu Amor as the carillon bells, under the handling of carillonist Frank Steijns, resounded along to the stirring music. Mr. Rieu, speaking from the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands, summed up the theme of the rededication ceremony: “Thanks to you, we are free to celebrate life and play music.”

After a brief closing, those present were treated to a roughly hour-long recital on bells by Messrs. Nassor and Steijns. Selections included Rhapsody in Blue, Stars and Stripes Forever, and a powerful duet with mezzo soprano Madieke Marjon, who sang along with the bells from the soaring tower.

With the bells officially rededicated, the Netherlands Carillon is set to resume its much-loved summer concert series. We’re thrilled the gentle tintinnabulation of bells is once again heard over the rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery and the Rosslyn, Virginia community.

Cover image: An inscription on the Netherlands Carillon reads, “From the People of the Netherlands to the People of the United States of America.”