1994 Part Two
To Scotland and England with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
In August of 1994, prior to the start of the orchestra season, I took part in rehearsals and a tour to England and Scotland with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Dame Iona Brown (1941-2004). She was a famed violin soloist and chamber music player who was also the director (chamber music) of the Academy of St. Martin’s-in-the Fields and was also in charge of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for some time in late 1980s. I had worked with the orchestra since 1988 when I performed a concert series that included the last three symphonies of Mozart and was played in Oslo and Bergen. In the Summer of1991 I took part in a tour to the BBC Proms in which I was asked to write and perform a timpani part for the main work on the concert, Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade. S Mozart wrote it, he di not add a timpani part as the work apparently was written to be played outdoors. Dame Iona specifically asked me to craft the part as she felt that timpani would add something special, and as the serenade did call for trumpets, it was not all that difficult to add timpani to the work. (My only regret is not keeping my manuscript – mainly as a curiosity). The concert was a success. I also played several concerts during their regular seasons from 1988 until 1998. This particular tour featured music of Michael Tippett, Arnold Schoenberg, Edward Grieg, Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. The only work that called for timpani was the Beethoven – his Symphony No. 1 in C minor. I was really excited to play the Beethoven on tour. That, and the usual encore – Mozart’s Overture to “Le Nozze di Figaro”. The tour included several venues: Edinburgh, Scotland, Harrogate, Salisbury (at the Cathedral) and London, England – the BBC Proms.
We left Oslo on the August 6th, and arrived in Scotland around 2:30 p.m. local time. Even though our concert was to take place in Edinburgh, we were put up at the Hydro Resort Hotel in a small Scottish town called Peebles. My first reaction was to say “Big deal!”, especially as Peebles was located about twenty miles from Edinburgh, and as a result, shopping in town would be most difficult. However, we were all pleasantly surprised as Peebles was a lovely town set in the countryside. The hills were so beautiful! The hotel itself was a luxury resort which dated back to before the turn of the century. It had nearly every imaginable pastime one could think off, including a fine swimming pool and spa/sauna. I made good use of it on Saturday afternoon. The countryside and town were beautiful, and I have never seen so many sheep and cattle! They literally covered the surrounding hillsides! (The trees and pastures were SO green!) From my room I could hear the ba-ahing of the sheep from a nearby hillside. The concert itself was played at the Edinburgh Festival Theater (not at the Usher Hall, where we in the Oslo Philharmonic were accustomed to play on three previous occasions). The acoustic was extremely dry, but the concert itself was a great success. Our next stop was Harrogate, England, located about twenty miles from Leeds in Yorkshire. We stayed at another lovely old-style hotel, called the Old Swan. The area around Harrogate is fairly flat, but it is a very historical area nonetheless. Walter Tulip, a friend of mine whose wife Geneveive Jones was a member of the Philharmonic Friends lived in Harrogate, and met me at the hotel as soon as we arrived. After getting my gear squared away, he took me on a lightning-fast trip to a couple of places that he thought might interest me. We drove to Ripley Castle, where we took a look at the inner courtyard, and also at the church where he and Genevieve were married. The church, known as the Parish Church of All Saints, Ripley, dated back to the time of Oliver Cromwell, and some of the bullet holes from that time of troubles can still be seen on the facade of the church. We then hurried off to Nidd Hall, where Walter treated me to a real British tea, complete with finger sandwiches and scones. I had never had scones before, and confess that I was a bit skeptical, as I am not a great cake-eater, but I must admit that the scones, with the proper amount of butter, cream, and jam, were scrumptious! I had a pot of the most delicious hot chocolate as well! Nidd Hall was formerly owned by the family of a Baron Mountgarrett, who sold it off to a hotel chain a few years previous to our visit. The hotel maintained the place, which was a large estate, just as he left it. As a matter of fact, at the time of our visit, the family still lived on a small corner of the estate. It was most impressive. (A bit reminiscent of Downton Abbey.) We had our tea in the library, which is as you’d expect, paneled in the most exquisite mahogany. I only regret the fact that I had less than two hours to be with Walter, as I had to be available for the rehearsal for the evening’s concert, which was held at the Royal Hall in Harrogate itself. The concert went well, and I went back to Walter’s apartment for a very relaxed chat and a couple of cups of hot chocolate (served in one of the biggest mugs that I ever saw!). Walter was a good host, and his company was a blessing! The next day, it was off to Salisbury, which was a six-hour bus trip from Harrogate. However, we accomplished the journey in good time, and arrived in time to walk about the town and have dinner before repairing to the cathedral for the rehearsal and concert. The cathedral and town are quite charming, especially the cathedral, which has one of the longest and most well-proportioned naves of any of the many I have seen. It also has the highest spire in England – about four hundred and four feet in height. It is a really beautiful cathedral, and it was very special to play in a building of that type. The concert went very well, although the occasion was made more poignant by the death of Iona Brown’s mother that very morning. She had been in failing health for years, and her death was not unexpected. The concert was not cancelled, however, Iona made it sort of a memorial to her mother, which was appropriate as the Brown family were all natives of Salisbury. That same evening we drove into London, and reached our hotel, the Kensington Palace Thistle at about one in the morning. My room was enormous! It was in fact a suite of sorts, with plenty of room! I felt a bit like a pasha!
I spent the following day relaxing, and had the opportunity to meet with John Chimes who was the timpanist of the BBC Symphony at the time (he retired in 2016) at the Maida Vale Studio. He showed me round the studio, and I got a glimpse of the many timpani which he owned. He had at least three sets of Ringer timpani (two complete sets of pedal timpani and a set of lever-operated timpani); a pair of Jahne and Boruvka which date back to the old Queen’s Hall Orchestra and the time of Sir Henry Wood; a pair of Adams Universal timpani with calf heads which he used for touring with the English Chamber Orchestra; at least three pairs of the old Parsons hand-screw timpani, the kind with very deep bowls; and a pair of baroque-style hand-tuned timpani which have v-shaped kettles. We had a nice three-hour chat in a nearby pub, and covered quite a lot of ground concerning timpani practices, and works such as Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder. John had just taken part in a Proms concert featuring that work, and we in the Oslo Philharmonic were scheduled to play the work in just a few weeks.
That same evening I attended a Prom concert with the BBC Symphony under Vernon Handley. John’s colleague, David Stirling, played the timpani that night as John was scheduled to be off. As a matter of fact, John was substituting for a percussionist in one of the local ballet companies, and it was a chance for him to earn a little extra money, as well as go home at the same time as his wife, who also played in the orchestra there. I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t scheduled to play, especially as David played on the normal Premier drums with plastic heads, but he did a very good job indeed. The concert opened with the “London Overture” of John Ireland, followed by “Four Poems of St. Teresa of Avila”, by Lennox Berkeley; Dame Moura Lympany was the soloist in the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. The second half opened with the tone poem “Til Eulenspiegel” of Richard Strauss, followed by the 5th Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was superb, particularly the Ireland, Strauss, and Vaughan Williams. Vernon Handley conducted brilliantly, and the audience was particularly moved by the symphony. The only thing is that as the symphony concluded in serenity, London was experiencing a cloudburst, and the rain could be heard drumming on the roof of the Albert Hall. Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience.
Our Proms performance took place the next evening and like all of our tour performances went extremely well. There were about five thousand in attendance, which was a pretty good turn out. A world about instruments and sticks for the Beethoven. The instruments that I used on this tour were rental. For all concerts except the final Proms concert, I played on a pair of Ludwig Professional Symphonic timpani – sizes 25 inch and 28 inch. The concerts in Edinburgh and Harrogate were played in what I would call acoustically normal venues, which means that they had the normal reverberation time (or in the case of the Edinburgh Festival Theater, less than normal. As I stated earlier, it was quite dry. However, the acoustics of the Cathedral in Salisbury and the Royal Albert Hall were in the opposite direction, meaning extremely “wet” or reverberant. I played the concert using two pairs of thin-shafted bamboo mallets – one with medium hard heads, and the other with harder small-headed felt mallets. Those worked well in Edinburgh and Harrogate. I had to get creative in Salisbury and London. In the cathedral we played on a platform set up before the main door (the doors were closed and we were facing looking towards the high altar, which was quite a ways away. I used the harder mallets at the Cathedral, and as a matter of fact, I played the scherzo with the butt ends of the sticks – being careful not to damage the heads. The result was actually better than I had anticipated. The entire concert was recorded live by Naim Records and released in 1995. In London for the Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall, I played on a pair of Adams Professional timpani and essentially played the Beethoven exactly the same way that I did in Salisbury. All in all, it was quite the experience.
Recording Sibelius and winning a Stipend
Getting back to the orchestra, one of the major recording projects of 1994 – the second such project – was the recording of the Sibelius Third and Fifth Symphonies for EMI with Mariss Jansons conducting. For the most part, these recording sessions and concerts went as planned, with the exception that we actually had to record the Fifth Symphony on a Sunday – August 14th to be precise, which was my thirteenth wedding anniversary. The reason for this was that the Konserthus was being used for something else on the thirteenth – the Saturday, so we voted to work on the Sunday as a one-time exception. My wife and I celebrated the anniversary on the 13th. We used the 14th and the 15th to record the Fifth Symphony and I used the Hingers for those sessions. We were able to get the symphony “in the can” to use an old recording industry term. (We had played the Fifth Symphony in concert the previous Thursday and Friday.) The Third was played in concert on the 18th and 19th and recorded on the morning of the 19th and Saturday the 20th. For those sessions and concert, I used the second set of Hingers and the 31 inch Continental chain drum. Those sessions went very well and when the recording came out early the next year, I was pleased with the results, although I thought the Third Symphony was more closely miked and the Fifth, while excellent, was little more distant.
During the dress rehearsal – just after the break, they had a drawing to see which of the musicians would be among the second group of recipients of the Maris Jansons Cultural Stipend. (Mariss had been awarded the Anders Jahre Cultural Prize of 600,000 NOK three years earlier and had it deposited in the bank to gain interest so he could fund a yearly stipend for practicing musicians to continue to study and develop their art. The drawing was, as I said, held just after the break, and as it turned out my name was called out as the fourth recipient of that stipend for the year 1994. It was quite an honor and I was “in the clouds” for a day or two. Lucky thing that I had and have a wife who knows how to help me “keep things in perspective”. I was able to use that money for the purpose intended, but that is story for another day! Below, enjoy the Beethoven 1st from the NCO’s live performance from Salisbury Cathedral!