The Year 1989 – Part One
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a member of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra during the years 1983 through 1998. From the prospective of the early twenty-first century, it seems that the tenure of Mariss Jansons as its music director was a golden age for the orchestra, and for me musically. Each of those years – in particular the years 1987 through and including 1994-95, was a year of development and consolidation.
The year 1989 was no different. We continued touring and making recordings – this time exclusively for EMI, with whom we had a recording contract. As for touring, there was a tour to Germany, Switzerland and Austria in February, and our second visit to the BBC Proms in August. While there were no tours in the fall, November did see the orchestra celebrate it’s 70th anniversary with special concerts, a recording (not for EMI) and an orchestra dinner. It was also the year that our search for a new principal percussionist came to satisfactory and happy conclusion.
A Satisfactory and Happy Conclusion – 1989 begins with a bang!
In my previous post, It wrote about the orchestra’s search for a principal percussionist to replace our late colleague Per Melsæter, who died in August of 1987 before he could take up his duties. (He was a member of the percussion section from 1982, before being named principal in the spring of 1987.) Auditions were held in the spring of 1988, and Matts Nilsson of Sweden came in as the winner, with Christian Berg, then with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra as runner-up. Matts duly took up his position in August of 1988, but as the end of his probationary period approached, it was felt that the orchestra needed to go in a different direction, so Matts was so notified, and Christian was engaged as acting principal percussionist for our recording sessions in late January and our tour to Germany, Switzerland and Austria in early February. I had seen Christian perform with the Trondheim Symphony at a concert in Oslo just after we returned from Japan in early December of 1988, and by his performance and the way he handled his instruments – I had one of those revelatory moments – an “Ah hah!!” moment. It turns out my colleagues had the same experience – which led to Christian’s “audition on the job.” It was a six week period jam-packed with playing, enough to tax the skills of any percussionist, beginning with recording sessions for EMI, concerts over two weeks, and the tour itself.
It had been decided to make a “potpourri” album for EMI, and the choice for this album boiled down to three works: Respighi’s Festa Romane (Roman Festivals) – the biggest and wildest of the composer’s Roman Trilogy (the other two parts of the Trilogy being the Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma) and Roman Fountains (Fontane di Roma); The Second Suite from Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnie et Chloe, and Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (L’ apprenti sorcier). Each work is a tour de force for the percussion section, and all of our skills would be tested to the limit, and then some. (Note: I won’t go into too much detail about the recording sessions now, but will do so later in a post devoted to that specific subject.) The Respighi and Ravel works required an expanded percussion section: nine players for the Respighi and seven for the Ravel. Only four players are required for the Dukas, which has a notoriously difficult glockenspiel part – required material on all percussion auditions.
These pieces kept me jumping as well, as each part has its difficulties, as well as being a lot of fun to play.
The Ravel, which we were recording on this album, was also going to be taken on tour, along with the First Symphony of Jean Sibelius, and the Rachmnaninoff Second Piano Concerto. For this last, Andrej Gavrilov was engaged as soloist. Among the other works on the tour, were the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and if memory serves me correctly, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The tour covered Germany and Austria and Switzerland, and the main venues included Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, Munich, Germany, and Linz and Vienna in Austria.
For the tour, I took the Light Metropolitan Bs (although I did the recording on the Hingers), as they had already proven themselves to be excellent touring instruments, indeed, excellent instruments all around!
This tour would be Christian’s actual final audition, so to speak, as he would be hired permanently as a result these few weeks – both recording, concerts, and tour. I am happy to say that this was a very happy period for us. The recording went very well, and I know that the percussionists engaged for the work had a great time. Christian didn’t put a foot wrong in the recordings and associated concerts, and we were all happy with the results. The tour was at it always was for the orchestra, a pleasure. There were highs and lows as on all tours, but on this one there were mostly highs. The weather wa gorgeous, and the bus trips through Germany and Austria were just gorgeous. Sibelius One in Geneva’s Victorial Hall got an excellent review, with the critic commenting on the timpanist’s “creamy”tone in the opening roll of the work.
Germany – and our first visit to Kolberg Percussion in Uhingen
For some time now, the percussionists were looking to upgrade their equipment – namely, bass drum, tamtams, chimes, etc. The timpani upgrade was handled by yours truly in consultation with my assistant and colleagues in the section and administration. Per Erik had handled the purchase of a new bass drum to replace our Ludwig when we went to the USA in 1987. We picked up, and used on the tour a large Pearl bass drum, which worked out really well and took care of that problem. However, tamtams, chimes and other percussion were a concern, so it was decided that on one of our free days in Germany, the percussion section would make a visit to the factory of Kolberg Percussion, located near Stuttgart in a suburb called Uhingen. We had made the acquaintance of the owner and proprietor, Bernard Kolberg through his supplying me with calf heads and rims, and in June of 1988 he drove up to Oslo with a small truck full of his instruments and accessories. We spent an afternoon with him, and this visit led to the visit that we were now planning for our off day in Germany. We actually had, I think a relatively free day after the visit as well, which was a good thing, as the trip took most of our free day and into the wee hours of the next. Bernard sent a van to our hotel to pick us up, and we all piled into it – Christian, Trygve, yours truly, Bjørn Løken, Einar Fjærvoll, Joakim Nordim, Hans Kristian Kjos-Sorensen and Atle Opem, our stage manager. The van was not exactly passenger-friendly, but neither was it uncomfortable. There were places for all to sit, and we were relatively comfortable for the trip, which took about an hour and a half. We at arrived at our destination in good shape. Bernard Kolberg greeted us personally and then proceeded to take us on a tour of the factory. We saw the rooms where snare drum sticks were made; where xylophones and marimba bars (mostly of kelon) were fabricated and tuned; where timpani were assembled and
kettles finished; and then he showed us his massive show room. Honest to goodness, I had never seen such a wealth of percussion instruments before in my life! From triangles and tambourines to timpani and tamtams; from snare drums and bass drums to percussion stands and timpani stools, you name it, he had it! I remember playing on two sets of Kolberg timpani. One was a top of the line model with Berlin-style pedal; the other was a less expensive model with Dresden-style pedal. My colleagues were deep into trying out triangles and tambourines. I
think we were all like children let loose in a candy store. Despite this feeling, there was a purpose to this tour, and business had to be conducted. That was done during the tour of the factory, and also over dinner, which was delicious. We then returned to the showroom, and did some testing of instruments. Triangles and tambourines were tested, as well as chimes and orchestra bells, and tam-tams. I wasn’t in the market for instruments, but Christian (representing the orchestra) was – and we were at it for another hour and a half. Then, Bernhard invited us to have drinks and relax before we headed back to our hotel. He showed us a special tom-tom – beautifully finshed, which turned out to be a drinks dispenser – schapps and all that. I stuck to mineral water and soft drinks. By this time, it was about 11:30 pm – local time – and we satyed at least another hour, and I think it was about 1:00 am before we were aboard the truck and headed back to the hotel. Trygve and I were the only ones that were not “under the influence”; the rest of the gang were pleasantly oblivious to the surroundings. It was an interesting trip back, I must say.
We came out of the deal having ordered about half a million kroner worth of equipment – new orchestra bells – new chimes (including a lower extension); tamtams; triangles, and percussion stands. Bernhard did well by us that evening, and the orchestra got some fine equipment.
The rest of the tour – Wien
The tour as a whole was excellent, and as usual with these tours, the culmination of our efforts was our appearances in Vienna at the Golden Hall of the Muiskkverein. Playing that hall, as I have probably said before, is the European equivalent of playing Carnegie Hall in the States. I have played both, and while I love Carnegie, for me there is a special cachet to have played in the Musikkverein. The acoustics there are incredible!
The program included the following: Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (with Andrej Gavrilov as soloist); and the Second Suite from Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis et Chloe”.
Not a bad program at all. For our concert in Wien (Vienna), I had the three larger Light Metro Bs on stage. Normally I bring out all four, even if am not using the top drum, as a form of insurance in case ahead goes out. With plastic heads, which I had on those drums at the time, there wasn’t much chance of that, so I guess I was feeling a bit self-confident, or was it cocksure? In any case, it worked out fine.
Previous to this concert, the orchestra had played in the Musikkverein only once : in December of 1985. We had a great success then, and we had set the bar pretty high. We had to do even better.
And I am happy to report, we did. The concert was the highpoint of tour, as concerts in Vienna most always were. The Sibelius was first rate, and the Rachmaninov and Ravel were of the highest quality. Everybody from Mariss on down was on an emotional high after the concert, and we were all treated to a party at the Matthias Keller – a Hungarian restaurant not far from the Musikverien. The food was delicious, and we enjoyed the music of a Zigeuner band. I was particularly fascinated with the zimbalon player.
We flew home to Oslo next day, satisfied that we had kept up our usual standard, and in many ways, even improved on it!
Also, and I think this was the best result of the tour – Christian was confirmed as our new principal percussionist as of August1, 1989!
Here is a link to our pre-tour concert featuring the Sibelius 1st Symphony. This was played and recorded by the NRK just before the tour. If you copy the link into your browser, you’ll be able to view the performance. Enjoy!