The Year 1997
The Penultimate Year – Part One
I call 1997 the penultimate year for a very good reason – this was my next-to-last-season as timpanist of the Oslo Philharmonic. I had been in the position since September of 1983 and while we enjoyed our situation in Oslo – indeed it was and remained my dream job – certain events made us feel that we needed to be thinking of moving on – perhaps back to the USA. Our girls had been raised in Norway, and while they had been to the States several times since 1983, we were beginning to feel that they needed more contact with there extended family there. So, this was the year that we began actively looking for situations that would allow us to make the move. All this, while maintaining a busy schedule with the orchestra and my teaching.
In looking over my journal entries for the year 1997 (which, thankfully are fairly detailed), I note that we were quite busy on the “American” front. In April, my wife and I made a quick trip back to Illinois to check out the possibility of taking over her uncle’s store in Gardner, Illinois – he was very ill and needed to sell it. As it turned out, we looked into it and actually had discussions with the local bank, but in the end, decided it was not the right thing to do at that time. Events later confirmed us, as the person who took on the store sold it after a couple of years. What we ended up doing, after selling our apartment in Oslo, was moving Joy and the girls to Mazon, Illinois in mid-June 1997. I spent the summer with them getting them settled in and then went back to Oslo to play out the 1997-98 season. I had rented a room in the house of a good friend for the season, and it worked out pretty well, all things considered. More on all this in the next post.
While all of this was going on, the year 1997 was an interesting one musically, although it had its ups and downs. The season opened with the New Year’s program conducted by Ingar Bergby, with the soloist Akie Amou. It was a program devoted to a potpourri of light classics – music from Tales of Hoffman and the Polovstian Dances from Prince Igor as well as music of Bizet and Suppe were included on the program. These concert took place on the 9th and 10th of January, and in my opinion, were only partially successful. I felt that there was a lack of coordination between the conductor and the emcee – who didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Following these concerts, the next pair of concerts was conducted by Viktor Lieberman – then concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Two works were programmed: Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht, and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. I was only involved in the Shostakovich, and while I found it to be very good, it was not in the same league with Mariss Janson’s interpretation. I suppose this was unfair, as Mariss Jansons was always a hard act to follow, It was a good interpretation – it just did not have the extra “oomph” that we were used to from Mariss.
Highlights from Spring 1997
Rather than mention every concert series in the spring season, I’d best write about the ones that were memorable. Mariss Jansons conducted a pair of concerts that featured our solo oboist, Erik Niord Larsen in a performance of Egil Hovland’s Oboe Concerto, and concluded with one of Mariss Janson’s signature pieces – Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. We were to take this on tour in the fall season, and this was a way to “play it in” after a lapse of a few seasons. The performances were up to his usual high standards. Following those programs, we played a program devoted to most the works we were to play on our last EMI recording, called “World Encores”. You may remember that we were supposed to record this in April 1996, but Mariss Jansons health scare put paid to that. It was rescheduled for May 1997, and this program was designed to get us in shape for the recording sessions. It went well, as did the subsequent sessions for EMI, which were our last.
Vladimir Ashkenazy was back as guest conductor, conducting a pair of concerts devoted to Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. These concerts were block-busters! The Schoenberg is very difficult to bring off, as is the Rachmaninov, yet both came off very well, especially the latter, which was one of Askenazy’s specialties. I remember having a lot of fun with that program.
Herbert Blomstedt was back with more of his musical magic in May. His pair of concerts were devoted to Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony and Richard Strauss’ Symphonia Domestica. Needless to say, any time that Herbert Blomstedt conducted the orchestra was always an occasion, and this was no exception. There was a sort of quiet, slightly understated excitement when he conducted. Not a showy conductor, Blomstedt was, and is a very deep musician, an excellent teacher and leader who gets the most from his musicians. The Mozart I remember as being world-class, and the Strauss was also first-rate. Not everybody likes the Symphonia Domestica, but Blomstedt had the audience cheering the performance at the conclusion of the concert.
Following Herbert Blomstedt’s concert series, Elihu Inbal conducted an orchestral concert devoted to music of Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler. Webern’s Six Pieces for Large Orchestra, Op. 6 opened the concert program, and Mahler’s Sixth Symphony concluded the concert. The Webern is so short – even taken as a whole, that I do not think there was much of an intermission. The Mahler was exceptional – I still have a radio recording of the symphony. I had played it several times before, bit I really enjoyed this particular concert. I used the Hingers with my Leedy-Anheier 25 inch timpano for the top drum – it worked perfectly. Elihu Inbal was a frequent guest conductor, and the orchestra responded well to his direction.
Leif Segerstam conducted the 1997 Holmenkollen Sommerkonsert – it was the usual potpourri, but well conducted, and with Randi Stene as soloist, a good conclusion to the 1996-1997 concert season.
A Crazy Summer
Normally, the summer season would be a time of relaxation and renewal before the fall season of the Oslo Philharmonic. There would be hiking in the woods, picnicking, perhaps a short day trip or two, something to help us unwind from the previous season. Not this particular summer. During the last few weeks of the spring season, we sold out apartment in Oslo, and just after the Holmenkollen concert, I moved the family to the United States. We had previously decided to move back to the USA, and that we would settle in Mazon, Illinois to start off with, This was my wife’s home town, and she had family nearby. We were able to rent a duplex in Mazon, and after a hectic period which lasted several weeks – this included selling and moving from our apartment – getting much of our household belongings shipped – not to mention the actual flight to the United States and the drive from New York/New Jersey to Illinois, as well as various stops to see family along the way – finally arriving in Illinois on June 30th and settled into our half of the duplex. The rest of the summer was spent getting the apartment in order and getting the girls squared away. Joy’s brother sold us a 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass – practically gave it to us for a nominal fee – and Joy had transportation. I was only able to stay with the girls for about three and a half weeks, as I had to return to Norway for the beginning of the Oslo Philharmonic’s 1997-1998 season – my final season with the orchestra. This turned out to be sufficient to get them settled, but it was hard to leave them nonetheless. I had made arrangements with my close friends Geir and Edna Gylseth to rent a room in their house in Høvik just outside the city for the duration of my final season, and am so grateful to them for their hospitality. It will never be forgotten.
As I recount the evens of 1997, I note that this blog entry is getting quite long, and as the events of the fall of 1997 are jam-packed, I’d best leave that for the next installment.
Here is another installment from our “World Encores” recording from 1997 – the music of Dvorak!