The Year 1993 – Part One
The year 1993 was another banner year for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra as well as for me personally. The orchestra undertook two fantastic tours – we visited and toured Japan and Hong Kong in January and February, and undertook a Festival tour to the Salzburg Festival and BBC Proms in August. In March, I celebrated my fortieth birthday, and just after the successful Festival tour, I experienced my first strike. So, it was a year of ups and downs, although to be honest, it was more ups than downs.
The year started on an upbeat note, which was maintained all the way up until the musician’s strike in September. Our first tour of the year, this one to Japan and Hong Kong scheduled for January and for half of the month of February was spent in preparation for the tour. Among the works schedule for the tour were Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathusthra”as well as Weber’s Overture to “Oberon” and Mahler’s First Symphony.” In addition, our soloist was to be Midori, who was to perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto with us, and we also performed five of Grieg’s songs for voice and orchestra, plus the usual encores. This would be the longest trip the orchestra undertook up to this time. We were to be gone for nearly a month as I recall. Originally, the tour was only planned for Japan, with Hong Kong being added only six weeks before we actually left.
Preparations began right after the New Year with the usual rehearsals and concerts. Incidentally, 1993 was the year that Mariss Jansons celebrated his 50th birthday, and his birthday (January 14th) happened to be on one of concert nights. The program for that week included the Mahler 1st Symphony and for the occasion, the Friends of the Oslo Philharmonic surprised Mariss with a surprise lecture from Henri-Louis de la Grange, author of the monumental Mahler biography. They had him give a short one hour lecture before the concert. This was held in the Lille Sal (a small concert hall one floor below the main hall), and I remember being seated next to Mariss during the lecture. Both he and I were thoroughly engaged in what the author had to say. It was thoroughly engrossing. I had bought a copy of the first volume of the biography and I had Mr. de la Grange autograph it. He was actually surprised to see it, as he had since revised and published a newer version! Mariss and I later talked briefly about the lecture and agreed that it was amazing. So was the performance of the Mahler that night!
This tour was also special in that I was going to take calfskin on a long tour for the first time. One might say that I was getting brave as I got older, but I had actually taken calfskin on tour to France in 1990, but that was for a relatively short tour. What made the decision easier for me this time was that we’d be taking two sets of timpani on this tour (due to the fact the Mahler calls for a second set). This time, there was a difference. We would not be taking the Lights – instead I’d use the Hingers (which had been re-equipped with calfskin) and Trygve would play on the second set – we’d purchased an inside pair (sizes 25″ and 28″) of Hingers from John Wyre in the fall of 1992 -these had Remo hazy plastic heads on them, and he’d also the use the Light 31′ Continental chain drum. It turned out that, with the exception of one venue, the calfskin worked out very well. I’ll get to that story later in this blog post.
Like the last tour to Japan four and a half years previously, we would be going to Japan via SAS, using charter flights in country to Hong Kong, and then unlike the previous tour, we’d fly to Hong Kong, play our concerts, and return to Norway via London. That return journey would be the longest plane trip I have ever taken – a total of fourteen hours – and I’ll get to that return trip later in the blog. If memory serves, we left around the 22nd of January, and had two days off to get acclimated. The hotel room was so good after sitting on a plane for so many hours, and we sure needed that time to get acclimated. We started the tour with concerts in Nagano,Yokohama and Osaka. If I remember correctly, we played two concerts in Osaka. From there, we went on to Sendai, and that back to Tokyo, where we played our first concert, which was taken up by the NHK for subsequent broadcast. The program: Weber: “Oberon” overture; Grieg: Five Songs; Mahler: Symphony No. 1. It went off very well. The concert is now available on YouTube for those who would like to see and hear what the orchestra sounded like during the Jansons era.
Most of the tour was trouble-free. We had snow in Kanzanawa – we actually arrived there in a snowstorm. Nevertheless, the venue itself had proper conditioning, so there were no untoward incidents with the calf heads. From Kanzanaawa, we traveled to Fukouoka, where we had another successful concert, then on to Hiroshima, where we had another successful concert and a another free day. I used that day to visit Hiroshima Castle as well as the Peace Park. Several of us decided to go to different places as we had already visited the Peace Park during the 1988 tour. I found Hiroshima Castle fascinating. I have visited three of the castles all told – Nagoya, Osaka, as well as Hiroshima. All three are rebuilds of the originals – faithfully reconstructed and their architecture and design is interesting indeed. About the Peace Park – what can one say about it? It is a poignant reminder of the day the A-bomb was dropped, and this visit somehow meant more to me than the last visit. From Hiroshima, we traveled to Matsumaya, then Chiba, and then back to Tokyo for two final concerts before moving on to Hong Kong.
The concert at the Chiba venue was memorable in that it was here that I nearly came to to grief with calf heads on the tour. The venue was a brand new concert hall – what the promoters didn’t tell us was the the HVAC system was either not working or dysfunctional. Which mean that it was extremely damp, and as our alert stage manager, Atle Opem quickly deduced, the Hingers with calfskin would not work as they would not hold the pitch – it would just go down…down… – it was that damp! Our ace in the whole was that second set of Hinger timpani that we purchased the previous fall – they were equipped with Remo Hazy plastic heads, and Atle put those on stage along with the Light 31 inch – that had calf and he hoped that it would hold the pitch sufficiently to be used on the Bruch Violin Concerto. Alas, it did not – the pitch sunk like a stone – within ten minutes at the rehearsal in became unusable, the humidity was that bad. So, I put a muffler on it (for appearances sake) and used the Hingers for the whole concert – Weber: Oberon; Bruch: Violin Concerto and Beethoven Seventh Symphony. To this day, I bless Atle for his quick thinking. The concert went very well despite the humidity and if I remember correctly, it was a full house, and the concert took place in the early afternoon. After playing our final two concerts in Tokyo, it was off to Hong Kong!
We arrived in Hong Kong for a three-concert stint – two of them being at the International Arts Center on Kowloon Island, if I recall. Upon our arrival on the 12th of February, we checked into the hotel (also on Kowloon) and the 13th was our free day. The orchestra took a tour of Hong Kong Harbor. We departed is several boats – I happened to be on the one with Mariss and the other principals – we left from the pier near the Arts Center on Kowloon and went all over the harbor – all the way to Repulse Bay. It was a glorious day – clear and in the seventies – perfect weather. (NB! This was in 1993 – four years before the British turned the colony over to Chinese rule.) That afternoon, my colleagues Aline Nistad and Jan Fredrik Christiansen took from Hong Kong to Port Stanley – it was amazing. Hong Kong itself reminded me of New York City being “plopped down onto one island – all those skyscrapers!!
We played two concerts at the Arts Center on Kowloon Island which was an easy walk from the hotel. The hall was modern and the HVAC system was perfectly adjusted, so no problems with pitch there. Mahler, Weber, Grieg, Beethoven and Strauss were the main works for the concerts at the Art Center. We also played a concert at a venue in the outskirts of the colony – it was an older venue and it reminded me of going back in time to about 1960. The hall was drab and a bit dark, but the acoustics were good, and we were well received. I believe that we played Weber, Bruch and Beethoven on that concert, which happened to be our final concert of the tour. While in Hong Kong, I made several trips using the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, where the city center is. It was a nice ride on the bay, and the city center was quite beautiful. On one of my trips to the island, I went with some friends and had my first taste of Peking duck! Delicious!
We left for home on the evening of the 17th of February, and it was long, tough flight to London. Our plane could not fly higher than 12,000 feet for about four of the eleven hours as the the weather over the ocean was very bad. Turbulence was pretty rough. Let’s just say, we didn’t order any drinks or food during that time, and we didn’t get any sleep either. It had to one of the worst flights I had ever experienced. We were in a Boeing 747, yet we were tossed about as if we were in a much smaller plane. Finally, after about four hours, the pilot was able to get the plane to a higher altitude and we were able to settle into a relatively calm flight. We arrived home in Oslo safely late the next day and had a few days off before going back to work. It was a great trip.
More about the year 1993 in my next installment. Above, is the YouTube video of the Mahler First from our Suntory Hall concert in Tokyo! Enjoy!