1994 – Part Three
The Peace Concert, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, the USA Tour – and cable timpani?
As it turns out, the year 1994 turned out to be as much of a seminal year for the orchestra and myself as the year previous year was. The last two blog posts covered the first two thirds of 1994, and I am hoping that this present blog post will cover the last third of the year 1994. You may be wondering about the title of the post. The Schoenberg reference in the title refers to performances of his mammoth composition which the Oslo Philharmonic performed in September of 1994 as part of the orchestra’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The USA tour refers to the orchestra’s third American tour in seven years; this took place in November and December 1994. The cable timpani reference refers to a pair of Leedy pedal timpani which I purchased in late 1994, and over the course of the first several months of 1994 was having converted to cable-tuned timpani. Brian Stotz of Repaircussions was hired to perform the job of conversion from pedal tuning to the Anheier cable system. My good friend Dave Davenport was the go-between in getting this project underway as he was on the ground in the United States while I was living and working in Oslo. Once I bought the drums and paid the cash, he was good enough to take them to Rochester for the conversion. More on this later in the post. Yes, the months of September through December 1994 were indeed memorable, beginning with the Schoenberg/75th anniversary performances.
Oslo Peace Accord Concert and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder
In September of 1994, the orchestra was involved in a special “Concert for Peace” which was given in the recently opened large-scale venue called the Oslo Spektrum. The occasion for the event was the celebration of the first anniversary of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Accord, and the signing of a new “Oslo Accord”. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were present at the concert and actually signed the accord during the intermission. It was called the “Oslo Agreement”, and it consolidated the gains already made in the 1993 agreement. The concert was conducted by Zubin Mehta, and consisted of several orchestral numbers as well as accompanying several soloists. We concluded the concert with a performance of the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. It was a long evening. We started at eight o’clock p.m. and didn’t finish until eleven forty-five p.m, which made for a long evening. Also in attendance were members of the Norwegian government and Princess Martha, who represented the Norwegian Royal Family.Even though it was a long night, I was excited to be involved, even peripherally, in a bit of history. After the concert, on my way out, I had the opportunity to shake hands with both Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat!
Rehearsals for this concert were mixed in with the rehearsals for our regular concerts later in the week, which made for a few long days. For example, on Monday of the week, we had our normal rehearsal from ten o’clock in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon. This was followed by a one-hour break. We then rehearsed with Zubin Mehta from three o’clock until eight o’clock in the evening. Tuesday was even longer. We had our normal rehearsal from nine-thirty in the morning until one-thirty in the afternoon, after which there was a break of about ninety minutes. We moved from the Konserthus to the Oslo Spektrum for a four hour rehearsal from three o’clock until seven o’clock in the evening. There was a one hour break for dinner included. The concert followed at eight. Working under Zubin Mehta was a joy. He was and is a thorough professional, and was very efficient. He had no airs, and he accomplished what he needed to do with a minimum of fuss and the concert came off quite well. Sadly, that was the only time the Oslo Philharmonic played under his baton. But the impression he left on all of us was quite positive.
Counting all the rehearsals and the long concert, this was a very long day, as I alluded to earlier. The rest of the week was almost as busy. Mariss Jansons stood down from that week’s concert series due to a bout of flu, and was replaced by Ole Kristian Ruud. However, he was well enough by Wednesday to conduct a couple of extra rehearsals on Wednesday and Friday in preparation for the next week’s gala performances of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. With three conductors and three programs in one week, it made one’s head spin just a little! The following week was the gala concerts celebrating the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Mariss chose to program Arnold Schoenberg’s epic Gurrelieider, which is a work of vast proportions, both musically and logistically. In addition to the concerts, there was to be a reception given by the Ministry of Culture, and a buffet dinner at the Oslo Grand Hotel.
I was a bit apprehensive about actually playing the timpani part to Gurrelieder as all of the orchestra parts were full of mistakes, and the timpani parts were not clearly divided. As things turned out, it took only one rehearsal and an hour or so to go through the timpani part and make a clear division of responsibility. By Tuesday’s rehearsal, my assistant Trygve and I knew what we were playing, and where and why. The piece is mammoth – the orchestra alone numbers one hundred and forty-four musicians, and there is a chorus of two hundred and fifty, as well as the soloists. There are four harps, two sets of timpani and a large percussion section that includes chains! The concerts were a triumph! Orchestra, soloist and choirs buckled down to the task with great concentration, and the results exceeded everyone’s expectations. Mariss was especially concerned as the performances approached, due to the score’s complexity and the many printing errors. However, by the time the concerts took place, he was calm and a tower of strength. It was really a triumph, and I was happy for him. My wife Joy attended the Friday night concert and was completely bowled over.She was not the only one. Many of the musicians and audience members considered these performances as the most impressive concerts in the orchestra’s history as of 1994! Impressive as it was, personally I felt then, and still feel that our performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony for the orchestra’s seventieth anniversary in 1989 was the more inspiring of the two occasions.
The reception given by the Ministry of Culture was nice, but consisted of the usual platitudes, plus some tasty canapes and delicious Freia chocolates. (Those of you who have lived in or visited Norway, will know what I mean by delicious Freia chocolates!) NB! Freia was a candy manufacturer based in Oslo and made the tastiest chocolate candies and treats. It still exists, although as a division of Philip Morris.
The buffet dinner at the Grand Hotel was more enjoyable. The food was delicious as was the company. Altogether, it was a fitting conclusion to a remarkable two week period.
The USA tour and the Anheier-Stotz cable timpani
The orchestra’s 1994 tour to the United States was my third (and as it turned out) my final one. I had participated in the previous two tours to the States in 1987, and 1991. Since 1994, the orchestra visited the United States in 1999 under Mariss Jansons, and in 2005 under Andre Previn. The programs for this tour were very ambitious. The first program featured the Leonore Overture No. 3 of Beethoven, always one of my favorite pieces. This was followed by the First Piano Concerto of Bela Bartok, with Yefim Bronfman. It is not an easy work to do, but it is fun. As a matter of fact, during the rehearsals, Mariss came up to me and asked if the soloist and I were related. “You could be brothers, the way you look like each other” was his comment. No, we are not related, but after looking closely at the soloist, I could see his point. We were about the same age and build, and olive-skinned with dark hair.
The final work on that first program was the Symphonie Fantastique of Hector Berlioz. Again, one of my favorite pieces. The second program included Arne Nordheim’s Nachruf for string orchestra, Richard Strauss’ Don Quioxte, with Truls Mork and Otto Berg as soloists; Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony and Ravel’s La Valse closed the program. As always with Mariss Jansons, the programs were ambitious.
Normally, would be bringing two sets of timpani on tour, but as we were to be picking up my newly refurbished Stotz-Leedy – Anheier cable timpani, plus a new Stotz-Anheier 23 inch timpano ordered by the orchestra, we took the Light Metropolitan B timpani and the 31 inch Light Continental chain. The cable drums and the chain timpano would be one set, and the Light Metropolitans would be the other.
The first stop on the tour was Ann Arbor,Michigan, where we gave our first tour concert. The venue was the excellent Hill Auditorium, and it was there that I had asked Brian to have them delivered.
Once the orchestra arrived in Ann Arbor, I arranged to meet up with Brian Stotz at noon the day after our arrival, which was a free day for the orchestra. I had not met with him before, and found him to be very personable and a man of his word, and we got on just fine. I found the instruments to be in excellent shape. All three had Premier hazy heads on them, and sounded wonderful. The workmanship was first -class, as I knew it would be. The third drum I mentioned was a 23 inch Stotz-Anheier, specially ordered by the orchestra as an auxiliary instrument to complement the Light 31 inch chain. The cable and chain drums complemented one another sonically and the two of us had a good hour or so on stage testing and checking them out. It turns out they were a pleasure to use on tour. I admit I was taking a bit of chance on playing on drums that I was not used to on a major tour.
The way we worked it out is that I used the cable drums and Light chain for the Beethoven and Berlioz – I played the Lights on the Bartok, Shostakovich and Ravel and Strauss, although when we paired up the Strauss and Berlioz, I used the cable drums for the Strauss as well, which was taking a chance, although the cables worked so easily, that it really wasn’t an issue in the end.
The following day, we had our morning rehearsal and our first tour concert. Both were a success. However, other than the new drums, the highlight of the day was lunch with with Sal Rabbio, then the principal timpanist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and a member the music faculty of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He met me after the morning rehearsal and looked over the drums. He thought that the drums were excellent and that Brian did first-rate work, and that I would be very satisfied. Our lunch was delightful, as I found Sal to be down-to-earth and straight-forward. Very intelligent and a great musician. I had long admired his playing, and still do. This was the start of our friendship, and I was to see him on many occasions over the next few years. A word about the concert. I played that concert on the Lights – the Berlioz was not on the program that night. We did play the Bartok, and it has some intricate moments, and fortunately it went off very well. The following day, we flew to Washington, D,C, The venue was the Kennedy Center and this would be the first chance to use my newly acquired drums in concert. The flight from Ann Arbor to Washington was uneventful and we arrived safely. Incidentally, we stayed at the Washington Hilton, the same hotel where the attempted assassination of President Reagan took place thirteen years previously.
Upon arrival in Washington, after settling in at the hotel, I met up with an old friend, Rich Hall, and we toured Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was shot and the Petersen House across the street, where he died. Quite interesting, and both sites were well maintained. I believe the theater is in use for special events as well as its role as a museum.
The following day, we had our rehearsal and second concert. There were only two works on the program – the Strauss and the Berlioz. I decided to go for broke and used the cable/chain combination for both works. My assistant used the Lights. The original plan was for me to use the Lights for the Strauss and the cable drums for the Berlioz, but the way they were set up on stage put the cable drums center stage and Lights off to one side of the orchestra. Rather than play “musical chairs”, I decided, as I wrote earlier, to go for broke. The Strauss went so well, that with the exception of concerts where the Strauss was paired with the Shostakovich and Ravel, I played the Strauss on the cable drums for the balance of the tour.
The concert was a success, and then from Washington, it was on to Boston, by train, no less! I had decided to spend the morning after the concert in Washington with my friend Rich Hall in order to do some more touring. (Right after the concert, he and I visited the Lincoln Memorial, which is especially beautiful at night.) Since it was a travel day, the orchestra flew by plane to Boston. I had opted to travel to Boston on the afternoon train after touring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with Rich and having lunch with him and his daughter. After lunch, they dropped me at Union Station, where I boarded the 2:20 pm train to Boston. I had purchased a first-class ticket, and it was worth it. Plane travel is okay, but if one has the time, I felt (and still feel) that train travel is the way to go.I arrived in Boston at 10:30 that evening, and after relaxing a bit with some of my colleagues, retired for the night.
Symphony Hall in Boston is one of the most interesting and acoustically sound venues in the United States, if not the world. I had watched the Boston Symphony and Pops on television many times, but this was the first time that I had ever entered the hall, much less performed there. This was also a first for the orchestra, as the city at the time was not known to host many foreign orchestras. The hall itself is an acoustic gem, accounted by many as one of the finest in the world, let alone the United States. It was a little disconcerting at first, as I found the acoustics to be a little on the bright side, at least on stage. However, my assistant sat out in the hall during the run-through of the Strauss and said that the timpani sounded really good in this hall (I was using the Light Metropolitans for this concert). The hall is beautiful, but at the time of our visit, they had some interesting customs which they strictly adhered to. During the dress or sound-check rehearsal, they lower a curtain in the auditorium about ten rows into the hall from the stage. This is to cut down on reverberation of the empty hall and to simulate the effect of an audience. Also, they have a rule that anyone who goes on the stage one hour before the start of the concert has to be dressed in concert attire. We had the same rule in Oslo, but that applied to the half-hour before the concert. I did not know of the rule, and got into a bit of a jam with the house staff, as I wasn’t fully attired when I went to check on the instruments about forty minutes before concert time. However, I managed to smooth over the incident, with the help of the courteous staff and the concert proceeded without incident. The concert was a success, and the audience was particularly enthusiastic. However, that enthusiasm didn’t carry over into the next day’s critiques. Richard Buell of the Boston Globe likened Mariss to a “Leningrad drillmaster” and the the violist was lacking in character. After those remarks, we wondered why we were even invited at all!
The day after the Boston concert was a free day and we were left to pursue our own agenda. The weather was absolutely lovely, and the percussion group joined Tom Julsen, owner of the Norwegian music shop Gulmoesn and Eng in a visit to the Sabian Cymbal Company’s warehouse just outside the city. Our host was Andy Zildjian, son of Sabian owner Robert Zildjian, and his warehouse manager whose name has unfortunately escaped me. The group tested out cymbals to their heart’s content, especially Christian, Bjorn, Einar, Trygve and Morten, and I even tested out a few pairs myself. I must admit that I came away a bit of Sabian fan. The sound of the cymbals was very good, with a bit more brilliance than the Paiste cymbals which we were used to. When we were finished, we were presented with our choice of a pair of cymbals with a cymbal bag thrown in: a t-shirt and sweatshirt included! How’s that for a Christmas present? I chose a pair of 20 inch Sabian Viennese concert cymbals, which had a sound that I really appreciated. After we were all done, we were treated to a pizza lunch by Andy Zildjian, and it was delicious! The rest of the day was up to us, and I spent some time shopping and going to the movies.
The nest day, it was on to Pittsburgh for a concert at Heinz Hall. The concert went very well, although I found the acoustic a bit dry. Anything would be a bit dry after Symphony Hall. The Pittsburgh visit was memorable in the sense that it introduced me to the mallets made by Ron Carlisle, who lived outside Pittsburgh in Carnegie, PA. He was a fellow timpanist – a student of William Schneidermann and an archeologist who happened to make superb timpani mallets. I didn’t actually meet him then. I had stepped off the stage for a moment, and he happened to drop by just before the sound check rehearsal when I was elsewhere, but when I got back on stage, I found a pair of Profession Model #7 mallets on the timpani, along with a note and his business card. I tried his mallets, and they have become my mallets of choice since then.
Our next stop was Toronto for another one- concert stop, and despite the relatively small audience, the concert was a success. The Berlioz went over quite well. I remember writing in my journal that it was perhaps the best performance of the tour to date. Toronto struck me as a clean city, and I enjoyed its combination of old and new. We had played there in 1991 and this was also a successful visit. I liked the acoustics of the Thomson Center.
From Toronto it was on to New York, the “Big Apple” – and always one of the high points of our tours. The orchestra was split up into two groups as we were traveling commercial and flew on different planes, I was assigned to the first group which arrived in New York earlier in the day. Since the day was a travel day and no concert was scheduled, I took a “bus-man’s holiday” and attended a concert of the New York Philharmonic. Kurt Masur was then the music director and the program featured the Walton Viola Concerto, and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3. The late Arnie Lang was still the assistant timpanist of the orchestra and played the Walton, and the late Roland Kohloff, then the principal timpanist, played the Bruckner. It was an excellent concert. I found the orchestra in good form. I did not agree with all of Masur’s tempi, but he had the orchestra sounding quite beautiful. Roland turned in a solid performance as usual and played with taste and discretion. Arnie did a nice job as well, and it was good to see him play. All in all it was well worth attending.
The next morning was devoted to our dress rehearsal at Carnegie Hall, and it was an open-rehearsal. Skitch Henderson, noted musician and conductor of the New York Pops, treated the orchestra to coffee and doughnuts, as he had promised he would when he last visited us a few months back. His visits to Oslo were always enjoyable.
The evening’s program consisted of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3; Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Yefim Bronfmann, and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. I played the Beethoven and Berlioz on the cable and chain drums, and Bartok on the Light Metropolitans. I was a bit apprehensive (one always wants to up one’s game so to speak when at Carnegie Hall as the setup had me at some distance from the piano and percussion and there is an interplay between piano and timpani and percussion in the Bartok, but as it turned out, I need not have worried. It went splendidly. The concert was a success and the members of my family who were present and I had a post-concert dinner at the New York Deli.
The next day, we had the morning off and I did what I usually did in New York when I had some down time – browsed the New York bookstores, with a short stop at Rockefeller Center. The concert that evening was our Program No. 2 – Nordheim: Nachruf; Richard Strauss: Don Quixote; Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 and Ravel’s La Valse. I used the Lights and the Stotz-Anheier 23 inch cable drum, and was pleased that the concert went off as well as it did. The next day was a free day for the orchestra, but not for us percussionists and timpanists. I had previously been in contact with my old teacher Jim Preiss who was still on the faculty of my alma mater, the Manhattan School of Music. I had given a master class there in October of 1993, and arranged for a repeat, this time with my assistant Trygve Wefring and percussionists Christian Berg and Bjorn Loken. ( My apologies to Bjorn for not having the Norwegian keyboard while typing this.)
The class was divided into two parts: Trygve and I would devote the first hour to a discussion and demonstration of the Berlioz Symphonie Fanatastique, and Christian and Bjorn would devote their hour to a discussion of and demonstration of “Norske Trommesletter”. This is a style of drumming similar to that of the Basel style of drumming. Attendance was light as it was a busy time at school – there were only fifteen or so in attendance. However, they seemed to enjoy it and asked many valid questions. It was good to share the experience with my colleagues at my old stomping ground and college.
There were only two concerts left on tour. One was in Wilmington, Delaware and we closed out the tour in Chicago at Orchestra Hall. We played our second program – Nordheim, Strauss, Shostakovich and Ravel for both concerts and I particularly enjoyed playing Orchestra Hall again.
Note: my daughter Maureen accompanied me to the US to spend time with her grandparents while I was on tour. At the beginning of the tour, my in-laws met us in Ann Arbor and after a short visit, took Maureen back to Illinois while I worked the tour. We were reunited at the Chicago concert, and i think Maureen enjoyed listening to the orchestra in Orchestra Hall. My brother-in law took her to the concert and we were reunited. Also, my old friend from the Milwaukee Symphony, Tom Wetzel attended the concert and we had a bit of reunion before and after the concert. The next day, the orchestra departed for Norway. Mo and I parted ways with the orchestra at Newark Airport. The orchestra flew home and Mo and I spend a week in the States visiting family. A good way to end 1994!
Here is a link to the Shostakovich Symphony No. 9 – Mvt. 1 – which was part of this tour.
To have an idea of how the Leedy Anheier drums sounded, here is a link to the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony – movement four. I ,played this with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra on tour, and this was from the live recording of the concert.