A Blast from the Past| Viewing Concert Videos from the Past
The Back Story
During my fifteen or so years with the Oslo Philharmonic, part of each season was devoted to making radio and TV recordings for the Norsk Riks Kringkasting (Norwegian Radio and Television Broadcasting – NRK for short) as part of the government support for the orchestra. About six weeks of each season was set aside for this purpose, usually at the tail end of the concert season, with a couple of weeks at the beginning and some television recordings (without audience) for later broadcast during the season. Usually, these were of Norwegian compositions, both from past Norwegian composers such as Edvard Grieg; Johan Halvorsen and Johan Svendsen as well as contemporary composers such as Arne Nordheim, Ketil Hvoslef, Geir Tveitt and others. In addition, the NRK recorded for radio all our subscription concerts and televised many of them as well.
When living in Oslo, I had the chance to see them when they were re-broadcast after the event and thought that was cool. There were a couple of special events at which the orchestra was one of the featured performers. One
such special event was the concert that was the concluding event of the Eli Wiesel Foundation’s Anatomy of Hate Conference held in Oslo in August 1990.
The concert was held at the Oslo Konserthus on August 28th and was conducted by Lukas Foss. It featured soloists Carol Stoessinger, piano; Frederica von Stade, soprano; Simon Estes, bass; James Galway (as he was then), flute; and had as master and mistress of ceremonies the late great Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. The program was made up of music by Mussorgsky; Lukas Foss; Mozart; Mahler; Jerome Kern and Aaron Copland.
There were presentations by Eli Wiesel; Vaclav Havel and others, and it was a concert that was attended by world leaders and the then crown prince and crown princess of Norway (now King Harald V and Queen Sonja).
As I remember it, preparations for concert began shortly after our return from our first Salzburg concert (more about that in a separate blog). Originally, Leonard Bernstein was supposed to conduct, but his health took a turn for the worse and he announced his retirement from all conducting engagements – he was to die at the age of 72 just a short six weeks later. The Berlin-born American composer-conductor Lukas Foss (who was for a time conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) was invited to replace him. The orchestral works on the program included “The Great Gate of Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition” of Modest Mussorgsky; and ”Lincoln Portrait” by Aaron Copland. Simon Estes would sing “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Handle’s Messiah and “Ole Man River” from Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat”. Frederica von Stade would sing an aria from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and the final movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. James Galway would perform Mozart’s Flute Concerto and Lukas Foss contributed his own “Elegy for Ann Frank”.
I used the Light Metropolitan B timpani for the occasion and at the time, they had calfskin heads on them. As it was still summertime, I had to fight the humidity in the hall a little. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, but I had to keep hygrometers to hand as the TV lights kept the temperature rising in the hall just a bit over the comfort level. By that time was used to keeping the heads hydrated enough to have a decent playing range (I learned the hard way not to overdo it – but that is another story for another time). Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned to have my bucket and hygrometers to hand – actually had them in the bottom air holes throughout the concert and was able to get through without any mishaps. The concert itself went very well, and as it was broadcast live, we of course did not have a chance to see it until a re-broadcast a few months later. After that, it was out of sight and out of mind.
Every so often, I do visit the Oslo Philharmonic web’s site to see how things are going with the orchestra. I rejoice at their successes under former music director Jukka-Pekka Saraste (with whom I worked on several occasions during my tenure) and the exciting things going on under present music director Vasily Petrenko. I also note the retirements and the vacancies and note that less and less of the orchestra of my era remains as most of the principals and many section players who were my friends and colleagues have retired. A few days ago, I was visiting the site and clicked on the News section and noted the “Anatomy of Hate” article. I dug further and clicked on the link taking me directly to the NRK archival footage of the concert. I expected a few highlights, but I was almost struck dumb to realize that it was the whole concert! A blast from the past indeed!
After getting over my initial astonishment, it was time for me to go through the concert and analyze my participation in the event. It is a strange thing to review one’s own performance after a period of almost thirty years. However, after watching the concert for a few minutes, that feeling of “strangeness” went away and my analytic processes kicked in. I remembered how problematic the lights were during the concert were as I struggled (just a little) to keep the calfskin hydrated enough to ensure a good range and decent enough tone. In the event, judging by the sound of the drums in the Mussorgsky, my efforts succeeded as the sound was huge, round and rich. Ditto the Mahler 4th finale, which while not having a lot, nonetheless had a couple of delicate spots in which to show off pitch – namely the A and E, and the low D roll. They were spot on.
The Copland was the final work on the program, and I remembered that during the performance, the lighting was beginning to have an adverse effect as the heads were beginning to dry out quicker. Luckily, the Copland is only seventeen or so minutes long and I was able to manage without any mishaps. I did notice the sound was a bit drier, both due to the nature of the work and the heads as well as the harder mallets I used.
All in all, while I thought it was okay when I first saw and heard it in 1990, I was surprised how well it actually came out when I heard it a few days ago. The sound and video actually stood the test of time pretty well. So well that it made me did into the archives further and I found quite a bit more, some of which will discuss in further posts.
Here is a link to the concert. Enjoy! I hope that you find it as much fun as I did, as well as impressed by the soloists and the Bambini di Praga. NB!! You’ll have to right click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser’s URL box.