The Year 1994
As I begin this latest blog post, I am suddenly reminded by the fact that the year 1994 was actually quite eventful for the Oslo Philharmonic and myself. In fact, it was almost as good as 1993 now that I have had time to reflect back. There was much more going on in 1994 than I had originally remembered. With regard to recordings, there were two for EMI – both with Mariss Jansons, and the first was of music of Saint-Saens – his Third Violin Concerto and the Third Symphony – the so-called “Organ Symphony”; the second was the Sibelius 3rd and 5th symphonies. We also did a movie soundtrack for the movie “Pakten” (called The Sunshine Boys in English).
With regard to touring , it was quite a busy year. In the late winter we undertook a five day tour to Spain and Portugal, and in the late spring, we undertook an more extensive tour to France and Italy. In the summer of 1994, I performed with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in Salisbury – at the Cathedral no less – and in the fall of that year, the Oslo Philharmonic undertook another USA tour. Also, there was our performance at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer under Giuseppe Sinopoli, as well as the orchestra’s 75th Anniversary concerts – Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” under Mariss Jansons in September. As I stated earlier, a far more eventful year than I initially remembered.
How to start? There is so much to report that this post will be the first of several dealing with a musically and personally rich year. Let’s start with the visit to Portugal..
Portugal /Spain Winter 1994
The tour to Portugal was the first of two tours that the orchestra undertook in the winter of 1994. It occurred at the end of a particularly busy January 1994 in which we were to perform and record the Saint-Saens’s Violin Concerto No. 3 and the Symphony No. 3 for EMI. As it turned out, the recordings took place, but not when they were supposed toand as a matter of fact, Mariss never did perform the symphony and violin concerto in concert, in Oslo at least. The normal procedure for making a recording for EMI was for Mariss and the orchestra to perform the works in concert – with the recording sessions scheduled around the concerts. For example, one of the rehearsals would usually be turned into a preliminary recording session, with follow-up sessions on the following Saturday and Monday. The soloist for the violin concerto was Frank Peter Zimmerman, and the organist for the symphony (the so-called “Organ” Symphony) was Wayne Marshall. The rehearsals went well at first and we recorded the violin concerto with Frank Peter Zimmerman before the scheduled concerts. Only the actual concerts and recording the symphony remained. However on the day of the first concert, Mariss looked terrible. It turned out that he was fighting off a bad case of bronchitis and was exhausted. He even made a point of asking the orchestra to get him through the concert as he needed to be “inspired” to get through it. This was most unlike him, as he was usually a “never-day-die” type, and when he asked this of the orchestra, it did not bode well. As it turned out, that night’s concert was cancelled (about an hour before it was scheduled to begin), and the next day’s concert was turned topsy-turvy as our violin soloist also took ill and canceled. A guest conductor, Lief Segerstam from the Danish Radio Symphony replaced Mariss on the podium, and the Sibelius First Symphony replaced the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto on the program. The Organ Symphony with Wayne Marshall was retained and was quite successful. One thing stands out from that concert- Lief Segerstam asked for a second timpanist for the concluding roll of the finale of the Sibelius First Symphony – he wanted it to be tremendously loud at the beginning of the roll, and fade away as written – and so my assistant (who played percussion in the symphony) walked over to a separate timpano and added to the final roll. In any case, we recorded the symphony with Mariss on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and we had to really to scramble to rehearse and perform the Brahms Third Symphony and Shostakovitch Tenth Symphony for the following week’s concerts and the tour to Portugal, so the pressure was on.
We left Oslo on January 31st and arrived in Lisbon about 6:00 pm that evening. The concert in Lisbon took place the next day, and we left for Spain where we played concerts in Valencia, Sevilla and Madrid. The tour was built around the Brahms Third and Shostakovitch Tenth Symphonies, with the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony replacing the Brahms in Madrid. I took the Hinger timpani on tour (with calfskin heads) and the result was all I could have hoped for. My assistant Trygve played the Brahms and I did the Shostakovitch and Saint-Saens plus the excerpts. A funny thing happened in Madrid. As I said, the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony replaced the Brahms on the program, which meant that it came first on the program, followed by the Shostakovitch after the intermission. The response to our performance of the Saint-Saens was enthusiastic in the extreme, almost ecstatic. Then came the Shostakovich, which we played very, very well. However the audience response was polite at best. Never had this happened anywhere on our tours during my tenure. The responses elsewhere where enthusiastic; it just seemed that Madrid didn’t like Shostakovitch. To be honest, the Saint-Saens should have been last on the program in terms of impact. While the Shostakovich has a block-buster of an ending, the Saint-Saens is just a that little bit more of a crowd-pleaser. I think we left the Madrid audience with too much of a good thing!
One thing that I remember about this tour (not musical) is our arrival in Valencia. As we got off the plane (we deplaned via stairs and were transported to the terminal by bus), we were greeted with the most delicious aroma of oranges. It turned out that Valenicia isthe “capital” of oranges in Spain, and we were smelling the many orange groves in the area. Once I got to the hotel, I ordered a tall glass of orange juice – boy was that delicious!
After we got home from the tour, the next big musical event of 1994 was our concert in Lillehammer, Norway. Lillehammer, a small city about 90 miles north of Oslo was the sight of the 1994 Winter Olympics, and it was decided by the authorities that Norway would but its best foot forward by showcasing some of their artistic organizations at the Games. We were invited to give a concert at the Maihaugen, as was the Bergen Philharmonic. (not on the same day, of course.) As Mariss Jansons was unavailable to conduct, several names were bruited about as a replacement. There were rumors that Sir George Solti was to conduct us, but that was just a rumor. As it turned out, Giuseppe Sinopoli (then conductor of the Philharmonia and Dresden State Orchestras) was chosen to conduct the concert. The program was notable for the fact that only one work on it included timpani and percussion, and that was Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. This was and still is one of my favorite works, and though a bit dry in rehearsal, Sinopoli had a clear beat and managed to bring to the music a musicality and spirituality (especially in the Adagio) most appropriate to the spirit of the work. This applied to both the concert in Oslo and the performance at the Maihaugen in Lillehammer. The Maihaugen is a lovely hall and it had been specially refurbished for the occasion. A successful event, all things considered.
Italy and France 1994
Touring continued at the end of May 1994, with a nine-day visit to Italy and France. This was an eventful tour and we were to visit Italy for the second time (our last visit was in March 1987) and France for the fifth or six time, although we were visiting some venues that we hadn’t been to before. It was also a busy one and a full tour program, with the Sibelius Fifth, Shostakovich 9th, Tchaikovsky 4th and Mahler 5th Symphonies on the card, so to speak. In addition, Weber’s “Oberon” Overture and the Bruch Violin Concerto were on the program. I played all of the symphonies except for the Tchaikovsky, which Trygve played. It became my philosophy that in order to have a good associate timpanist, that associate needs to have a chance to play, and the Tchaikovsky offered him just that. Beside, I had enough to do with all of the other works. In Italy, we performed concerts in Florence, Milan and Rome, while in France we performed in Metz, Lille, Toulouse and Paris. The Tchaikovsky Fourth was the last work on the program both in Milan and Rome, and I had the chance to hear the orchestra on tour as a member of the audience. I had never up until this point had the chance to hear the OPO from that prospective, and I was floored by how well they played. It was quite the experience. In Italy, I had the chance to do some sight-seeing in Florence and Rome. In Florence, I visited the Duomo and climbed to the top of the campanile, with its 414 stairs! This was the equivalent to climbing a twenty-story building, and I felt completely exhausted when I got to the top. However, the view from the top was well worth the effort. The Duomo in Florence is gorgeous, with its colored marble exterior and immense dome. Florence is an old city and well worth visiting. NB!! The name of the Duomo in Florence is the Cattedrale diSanta Maria della Fiore.
In Rome, I finally had the chance to visit St. Peter’s Square and to into St. Peter’s Basilica. I have never seen anything so immense in my life as the facade of that basilica. The inside is equally immense, as it is one of the largest churches in the world. (However, standing on the steps outside the front facade is almost overwhelming. The only thing I can compare it to in scale is the Vertical Assembly Building at Cape Kennedy.) The dome is gorgeous, but I did not have the time to go up to the top of it, but the inside is beautiful! I was impressed with the beautiful “Pieta” of Michelangelo, which I had first seen in 1964 when it was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair. Seeing it again thirty years later in its home setting was most inspiring! It is my favorite work of Michelangelo, and one of the most beautiful pieces of sculpture in the world. It still amazes me that Michelangelo was only twenty-five when we undertook the project.
According to my sources, the Rome concert also featured the Tchaikovsky, so it was another early night for me, so after I was finished, several of my colleagues who were also free for the second half of the concert and I had dinner at a back-alley restaurant which featured some fantastic pizza! I had the “Margherita”, which is a thin crust cheese pizza with a tomato slice in the middle. The crust is so light it is almost crepe-like. Delicious! We then capped it off with a nocturnal visit to the Coliseum and Roman Forum. They were both impressive, especially the Coliseum, which has a timeless quality ti it.
Then, it was off to France. This part of the tour was a busy one for me, as I played the entire program for the concerts in France. The only free day we had was in Toulouse. I had a chance to walk about the seaport which is on the Mediterranean. This was my one and only glimpse of the Mediterranean and it was a beautiful day and the waters were quite calm. I also bought a ticket for a performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” at the theater later that evening. It was performed by the Orcheste National de Capitole de Toulouse under the direction of Maurizio Arena, and starred Adriana Morelli in the title role with Kieth Olsen as Cavaradossi and Jean-Philippe LaFont as Scarpia. It was superb! The weather was quite warm in Touluse and theater’s air conditioning was challenged that evening. But despite the heat, the performance was one of those happy occasions when everything went right! Tempi were just right, the singers and chorus and orchestra were in great form. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to our concert in Toulouse, it was played under trying circumstances. The venue where we played either had no air conditioning, or it was malfunctioning, as the temperature was very warm – at least 85 degrees – I believe it was closer to 90. The program included the Mahler Fifth, and at the sound-check rehearsal Mariss kindly (and practically) offered to let us play in shirtsleeves, but we thanked him as a group and played in full concert attire. The concert went very well despite the heat, with the result that when we rehearsed in Metz (which was the next venue on our itinerary), he took a moment to thank us for our efforts and said “You are a very strong orchestra! You can even play in Africa if you have to!” In Paris, I took my first ride on the Paris Metro, with which I was most impressed. All of the trains use rubber tires, which cut down immensely on the noise. The stations are well-lit, and it is a pleasant experience in comparison with some other subway systems with which I am acquainted. I managed to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was most impressive, despite the construction scaffolding on one of the towers. The inside of the church is extremely impressive, especially the rose windows. The last concert of the tour was held at the Theatre de la Champs Elysse, and although the hall’s acoustics are very dry, the concert was an artistic success. This theater, if I am not mistaken is the hall where Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” had its premiere in 1913. After the concert, it was back to Oslo!
More about the year 1994 in Part Two.
Here is the Saint-Saens “Organ” Symphony which we recorded in the late winter of 1994. NB!! The organ, played by Wayne Marshall, was dubbed in. It was recorded on the Cavaille-Coll organ at the Abbe Saint Ouen in Rouen!