The Year 1993 – Part Two
In my last blog post, I intended to discuss all of the year 1993, as that was one of the seminal years of my career with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. But, like many of my previous posts, so much happened during that year, that it was necessary to split it into several parts. Part One was all about the period of our Hong Kong tour, which was was fantastic (see My Musical Career-Part Forty Three). That was a tour for the ages and its memories will be with me for the rest of my life.
In May of 1993, we performed Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64 in concert in preparation for the forthcoming Festival tour in August. The orchestra had performed this on many occasions before this, and my first encounter with the work was in the fall of 1983, when we played it under the orchestra’s former chief conductor, Miltiades Caridis. It was an eye-opener for sure, and I loved it. Since then, we played it in December of 1985 with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos on the podium, and then in 1990 with Neeme Jarvi. This was to be our fourth sojourn with the Alpensinfonie, and the concerts went off fairly well, although the upcoming tour was of extreme importance to Mariss and the orchestra that I was sure that we would run it again in concert at least once before the tour (I was right – we played it again in concert just before we departed Oslo in the latter part of August).
The Alpensinfonie has become one of my very favorite works by Richard Strauss. It was completed in 1915 and utilizes a very large orchestra – including twelve off-stage horns, (in addition to the eight horns in the orchestra), four trumpets, four trombones, two tubas, two sets of timpani, cowbells, thunder sheet, wind machine, organ and in the woodwinds, a heckelphone. The timpani part is a lot of fun. While not the most difficult of the timpani parts that Strauss wrote, it has is challenges, and is not for the faint-hearted. Player One utilizes four timpani, and Player Two uses the three larger drums in his set for the storm sequence.
One of the things I liked about playing the Alpensinfonie (indeed playing any of Richard Strauss) is that it enabled me to use my Hinger and heavier bamboo shafted mallets – I could also play out more, although still being careful to play musically and not overshadow my colleagues. My favorite moments in the work are five: “Auf dem Gipfel” (On the Summit); “Vision”;”Gewitter und Sturm” (Thunder and Storm); “Sonnenuntergang” (Sunset); and “Ausklang” (Quiet Settles).
While this was the largest work to be performed on the tour, there were other challenging works as well: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Stravinsky’s Suite (1919) from “The Firebird”; Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, and with Midori as violin soloist, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto as well as the Bartok Viola Concerto with Yuri Bashmet as soloist. The usual encores were prepared and we all looked forward to the tour. Venues for this tour included Salzburg, London (two appearances at the BBC Proms), and Edinburgh. These were some of my favorite venues!
The Tour – or tours
Twenty seven years have passed since that epic concert season. I have had to rely on the Internet for some information regarding the actual tour. From what I gather from the archives of the Salzburg Festival, our concert there took place on Sunday, August 8th, 1993, and the concerts at the BBC Proms took place at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday, August 23rd and Tuesday, August 24th. It follows that the Festival Tour was actually two tours – one with the Salzburg Festival as its focal point in early August, and the “second half” – actually second tour occurring later in August. I don’t have the date for the Edinburgh concert, but assume that it took place after the BBC Proms.
The highlights of the tours for me were as I said earlier, the concert we played at the Grosser Festspielehaus in Salzburg on August 8th, and the concerts at the BBC Proms on the 23rd and 24th.
Salzburg has always been a special place for the members of the Oslo Philharmonic. During my tenure, I remember visiting Salzburg with the orchestra on three occasions – the firt time in August of 1990. This visit was the second, and perhaps the most memorable of the visits – as we left our mark on the Festival in an even bigger way than in 1990. The concert in 1990 was a good first step in getting our foot in the door on the Salzburg scene, but with this concert we succeeded in making a reputation as much more than a regional orchestra and this one lead to future invitations in 1995 and 1997. More on those visits in later posts. What was special about this concert was its timing. It took place at the Grosser Festspielehaus on Sunday morning, August 8th, 1993 at 11:30 in the morning! I don’t know what we were expecting with such a early concert time – we were used to playing in the evenings as the vast majority of our concerts, both at home in Oslo or on tour were in the evening, although our family series in Oslo took place at 1:00 pm. I personally expected a dreary turn-out with possibly a half-empty hall at best. After all, this was Austria, a Catholic country, and I figured most people would be at mass or at family dinner. How little did I reckon with the fact that this was a festival city, and an international one at that. I had not yet learned that the 11:30 am Sunday concert was quite the norm for the Festival. Our sound check rehearsal went very well, and the orchestra was quite happy to be in Salzburg and looking forward to the concert. What was our astonishment when we took the stage to find a completely sold-out house. Our program for the concert was : Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird” – version 1919; Bartok: Viola Concerto with Yuri Bashmet as soloist, and Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64.
It was a weird feeling to be playing a full-dress concert at 11:30 in the morning, starting with the intense Firebird Suite, but the orchestra gave its all, and the result was all that could have been hoped for. The Bartok Viola Concerto which, if memory serves me right was left uncompleted at his death and only later finished by Tibor Serly was next on the program and Yuri Bashmet gave a good account of it. I found it to be a strange work, not because of the fact that it was a viola concerto (I love the sound of the viola), but because it didn’t (and doesn’t) sound like Bartok. The fact that he left only sketches for it and what we were playing was and is a completion had a lot to do with this feeling. Nonetheless. it was a good performance.
As to the Alpensinfonie, we nailed it! Everyone was on top form and from my perspective, it was a performance for the ages. (No, I am not prejudiced. Can you tell?) The reason I say this is that during the performance, especially when we reached the summit (Auf dem Gipfel), we really reached it music. Everybody felt that Mariss had brought us to the top of mountain, and what a view…musically and metaphorically speaking.
I had the four Hinger timpani with calfskin, and Trygve had the two Hingers that the orchestra had purchased from John Wyre back in the fall of 1992 and the 31 inch Light Met B. The drums sounded glorious – we had that big Strauss sound – and the storm was most impressive. One thing about the storm section that bothers me a little. It is the thunder sheet – actually a large sheet of metal suspended from the ceiling and to be shaken at the storm’s climax. It never in my opinion seems to work. It sounds just like what it is – a metal sheet being shaken hard. The fact that two sets of timpani, bass drum, wind machine, organ and an orchestra are playing full volume….it seems to me that the thunder sheet is just a bit like putting too much chocolate sauce on the sundae. That is my only criticism, as I love the piece!
The audience loved it too, and we were given the best ovation from a Salzburg audience that we ever received up to that point. It went on for at least fifteen minutes. We of course added the usual encores. The orchestra was a little stunned at the tremendous reception. Upon later reflection, much of that was for Mariss as he became a Salzburg favorite later on both with the Oslo Philharmonic and with other ensembles, but he was pleased with us and showed it and acknowledged our efforts handsomely.
The rest of the day was ours and I remember being on an emotional high was I traipsed the streets of Salzburg and environs. I walked up one the hills overlooking the city and remember passing a tavern which was serving newly pressed table wine – and felt that I was in a bit of a time machine and transported back in time to a simpler time. In my walks about the city I came upon an outdoor concert given by an orchestra and chorus in the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral – it was well attended and I watched and listened from a distance. The music was beautiful, but I cannot remember what I heard – twenty-right years is just too long a time.
While we were in the Salzburg area, we had an extra free day, so many of us took a trip to the Wolfgangsee and traveled on the ferry to St. Wolfgang. That was an experience I will remember fo a very long time. The mountains and the lake were glorious and the weather cooperated for the most part. I can see why Mahler loved the lakes and the mountains of Austria. The lake was so green, and the mountains were glorious. The houses on the sure were very much like those in Mahler’s time. St. Wolfgang was charming and some of us enjoyed a delightful lunch at a cafe overlooking the lake. St. Wolfgang (like many other Austrian villages) is dominated by the local church which was quite charming. I love those bell towers! We spent the whole of the day in the area just relaxing and taking walks in the lower hills. Just a wonderful time!
NB!! Now that I think of it, this part of the tour was a three day event – a travel day, a free day and the concert day.
Edinburgh and the BBC Proms
Our 1993 visits to the Edinburgh Festival and the BBC Proms took place as a “Festival Tour – Part B” about ten days or so after returning from “Part A” – the Salzburg Festival visit. We played the other works – Alfred Schnittke’s (K)ein Sommernachtstraum, Ragnar Soderlind’s Trauermusik and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony in preparatory concerts in Oslo before departing for the UK. We departed Oslo on the 21st of August and the first stop on our “Part B” was Edinburgh. We arrived late in the afternoon of the 21st and settled into the hotel and had the afternoon and evening to ourselves. I usually took long walks – mainly in the downtown – looking for CDs and books. That, and the nearest McDonalds or Subway. I was never one for eating food with which I was not familiar. The 22nd was concert day – sitzproben in the morning and concert in the evening. The venue for the concert was the Usher Hall, a venerable old hall of some distinction and with excellent acoustics. The stage was and is a typical old terraced type dating back to the Victorian era with choral seating behind the orchestra and a large pipe organ dominating the stage.
The sitzproben or sound check rehearsal, to be more accurate, went well and the concert took place at 8:00 pm. Yuri Bashmet was again the soloist in the Bartok Viola Concerto, which was framed by Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite to begin the concert, and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony to conclude the proceedings. It was always fun to play at the Usher Hall, even if my vantage point had me looking down towards the podium and Mariss due to the terraced stage. I was at the topmost tier – next to the organ console. As I said earlier, the acoustics were excellent, and we were well received. The Dvorak and Stravinsky were always fun to play and we all gave a good account of ourselves. The next day it was on to London for two concerts at the BBC Proms. This was our third visit as an ensemble to the BBC Proms, the first being in 1987 and the second in 1989. Travel day and the first concert were on the same day as the flight from Edinburgh to London was relatively short. We checked into the hotel and then it was off to the Royal Albert Hall for the sound check and concert. The program for that night consisted of Alfred Schnittke’s (K)ein Sommernachtstraum; Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Midori as soloist, and Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie. The BBC were going to take it up for a TV broadcast as well as for the radio on BBC3. All of us were on our best behavior and the concert turned out to be another feather in our caps, so to speak. Everything went swimmingly. Playing on stage at the Albert Hall can be a bit of a challenge, as it is huge – and seats 6,000. The open area in front of the stage is for standees, of which there were probably several hundred. The reception from the audience was enthusiastic, as it was for the next night’s program which consisted of the Soderlind Trauermusik, the Bartok Viola Concerto with Yuri Bashmet, and the Stravinsky “Firebird” Suite and Dvorak 8th Symphony.
The tours were a great artistic success and we returned to Oslo having accomplished much to establish our reputation and Mariss’s as an orchestra and conductor of international status. Actually we reconfirmed this as these were repeat visits to festivals in which we had already made a good name for ourselves. This was the high point of 1993. Little did we know when we were flying back to Oslo that we were headed for some stormy weather on the labor front which would take some of the air out of “balloon”, so to speak. I speak of upcoming musician’s strike which was waiting for us on our return. More on that in Part Three.
Enjoy these few minutes “At the summit” with Mariss and the Bavarian Radio Symphony!