My Musical Career – Part Fifty-Six

The Year 1997 – the Penultimate Year – Part Two

Author’s note: I had intended to put all of this into one blog post, but in reviewing my journal entries for the year 1997, I realized that since that was an extremely eventful year, the post would have been very, very, long. So here is Part Two.

Fall 1997

Oslo to Trondheim

I returned to Norway on July 23rd, in good time for the opening of the fall season of the Oslo Philharmonic. I took a train from Chicago on the 20th. I was supposed to stay with a cousin, but due to locomotive malfunctions which lead to a four hour delay in Harrisburg, I wound up booking myself into the Hotel New Yorker where I stayed for the two days I had left before my flight to Oslo left. I spent some time with a cousin of my father’s in Riverdale, as well as taking in some of the sights. The time spent with my father’s cousin was well worth it. I arrived back in Norway on July 24th to find my room ready for me and a more than warm welcome from Geir and Edna and family. They were, and are, the best!
As had become the norm for members of the Oslo Philharmonic (especially when Mariss Jansons was in town), the season began with a bang. We played a concert in Oslo on July 31st, consisting of two works – music of Bartok and Dvorak. Both of these had been recorded by us, and these were considered “war horses” – The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the New World Symphony. We repeated the concert in Lillehammer, and again on August 1st in Trondheim. I enjoyed playing these works, even if they showed up frequently on our programs. The Bartok is always a fun to play, as well as being challenging, and that is putting it mildly.
We had played these the previous season under Manfred Honeck. I remember those concerts as being quite good, however, these concerts under Jansons had more weight to them. It was good that they did, because we were to be taking this program, along with one other, devoted to the music of Beethoven and Bruckner, to Salzburg, Hamburg and Kiel. It was also always fun to play a concert in Trondheim. I had visited the city once or twice before, when my friend and colleague Harry Teahan was timpanist of the Trondheim Symphony and loved visiting the Nidaros Dom (Trondheim Cathedral) on each visit. This visit was no exception, and this time I had my camera ready. I actually took some pictures from the tower overlooking the city and the roof of the cathedral. As I stated earlier, these concerts were in preparation for a tour to Salzburg, Kiel, and Hamburg,

Salzburg, Hamburg and Kiel

The concerts in Oslo, Lillehammer and Trondheim were, as I stated earlier, preparation for our next tour – which was to Salzburg, with concerts in Kiel and Hamburg as well. Salzburg had by this time become almost a regular summer festival stop for us. With visits in 1990, 1993, 1995 and again in August of 1997, one could make a good case for the aforementioned sentence. However, in retrospect, I can attribute this to Mariss Janson’s developing career. By this time had become a major player on the musical stage, and we in the orchestra considered ourselves fortunate to be participating in these tours under his direction.
There were two programs for this tour – the Bartok and Dvorak (preceded by Arne Nordheim’s Nachruf) made up the first program, and the second program featured just two works: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, with Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist, followed by Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major.
The first program in Salzburg was played in the Felesenreitschule on August 9, and the second program was played in the Grosses Festspielhaus. I enjoyed both concerts very much – I particularly enjoyed playing a concert on the same stage used in the movie “The Sound of Music”. I can still visualize the festival scene – where Maria, Georg and family perform and then leave the stage. When the winners of the Festival are announced – they get first prize – it is discovered that they have left the venue – one of the guards runs to the stage from the access hall and yells “They’re gone!” It was neat to play on that stage. NB! Here’s the link:
In checking my facts, I discover that we had played on that stage during our 1995 visit -both concerts, as a matter of fact. The Grosses Festspielhaus was not available for orchestral concerts during the period that we visited, so we were played at the Felsenreitschule. On this visit, we split the difference – the first concert was given at the Felsenreitschule, and the second concert at the Festspielhaus. Musically, both concerts were up to Maris’s usual high standards. We were again lucky with the weather for that first concert – like our 1995 concerts, the weather was clear and comfortable.
For the Asian tour in 1996, I had replaced the calfskin heads on the smaller Hingers with Premier heads – clear heads on the upper drums, and a clear Premier on the 31 inch. For this tour, I replaced the Premier head on the 31 inch with a calf head, and I found the result very satisfying. I may have mentioned this earlier, but I was quite taken with the sound of the Premier heads on the Hingers – we had put Premier hazies on the pair of Hingers that we purchased in 1992, and both my assistant and I were pleased with the result.
While it was fun to play in the Felsenreitschule, playing in the Grosses Festspielhaus was the real deal. It was, and is an acoustically good hall, and playing Beethoven and Bruckner in such a venue was a pleasure. Mariss had a way with Bruckner, and the Seventh Symphony in particular, The orchestra played their heart out, and the audience was most appreciative and reacted accordingly.
As this turned out to be my last Salzburg visit, I need to mention my visit to the salt mines in Berchtesgaden, which is just over the Austro-German border, not far from Salzburg. During a free day, I took a bus ride to Berchtesgaden and bought a ticket for a tour of the underground salt mine. I was given a set of loose miner’s clothes (worn over my street clothes) and we boarded a small train that took us underground. Once we arrived deeper into the mine, we transferred to boats which took us on the underground “river” which ran throughout the mine. It was quite the experience. After the visit to the mine, my historian’s instinct took over and I visited Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest”, which still exists. Berchtesgaden was where his villa was, and where he spent a lot of his time – it was the scene of many historic confrontations. The villa was destroyed by bombs in 1945, but the “Eagle’s Nest” and the elevator taking people up to the top still exists. It was a fascinating experience, and the view from the “nest” was, and is, breathtaking. One thing I regret – I didn’t take enough film with me. I expended it all on the salt mine, and had nothing for left for the “Eagle’s Nest”. Not to be too hard on myself, the visit to the mountain was a last minute decision, and I did buy a souvenir book as a memento.
The concerts in Hamburg and Kiel went off very well. I have no lasting memories of those concerts, except for a discussion of the Bartok with the timpanist of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. In the second movement, I used mufflers on my middle drums, and I think I may have had too much muffler on the high f. He mentioned that in our discussion, which was friendly and frank and I was grateful for the feedback. It is always good to get feedback on one’s playing, and this feedback regarding the Bartok was welcome as I rarely received feedback during the normal season. The Bartok work that I am referring to is the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, one of that composer’s masterworks. As I mentioned in previous posts, this happens to be one of my favorite pieces, and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play this work in concert at least ten times, as well as recording it. The work is full of challenges for the timpanist, which is typical of Bartok’s orchestral music in general. In one of my visits back to the States during this period, I discussed this work with Dan Hinger, my mentor and former timpanist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera. I was reminded again of my mentor’s humility in the face of great music when he asked me what the hardest part of playing the piece was. I told him that it was in the exact spot in the second movement that I discussed with my colleague in Hamburg – and the manner of muffling the passage. I was dumbfounded to hear Dan mention that he was never satisfied with how he managed that same spot. He told me that he never felt comfortable with the solutions he’d worked out when he was in Philadelphia. Even in his later years, he was seeking a better solution.

Edinburgh, Ludwigsburg, and Lucerne

As you, the reader, have gathered by now, the fall 1997 season turned out to be a mix of concerts and three mini-festival tours, before the residencies in Athens and Vienna, which took place later in the fall. The third of the “mini-festival tours” would encompass three cities – Edinburgh Scotland; Ludwigsburg, Germany; and Lucerne, Switzerland. These concerts took place at the end of August and into early September. There were two programs: The first program was devoted to three works: Beethoven’s Second Symphony; Bartok’s Suite from the Miraculous Mandarin, and Richard Strauss’s Suite from Der Rosenkavalier. I had my assistant play the Beethoven, and I played the Bartok and Strauss works. The second program was devoted to one work: Mahler’s Second Symphony, the “Resurrection.” The Oslo Philharmonic Choir provided the choral work for Oslo concerts, while the Edinburgh Festival Chorus would do the honors when we visited the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The Beethoven, Bartok and Strauss would make up the programs for Ludwigsburg and Lucerne.
Incidentally, during the week of the rehearsals and concerts for first program, a film company taped our rehearsals of the Bartok for an eventual release of a DVD called “Mariss Jansons – In Rehearsal.” I was a little skeptical about the project, but they managed to be as unobtrusive as possible and the result turned out quite well. Both my assistant timpanist, Trygve Wefring and myself would be required for the Mahler, so a second set of timpani would be required for Trygve to play on. I had the 23 inch Stotz-Anheier cable timpano with the larger three Hingers – the cable and two middle Hinger timpani were equipped with Premier clear heads, with calfskin on the 31 inch drum. Trygve’s set included the 23 inch Hinger (with Premier clear head), the two middle Hingers purchased in 1992, equipped with Premier hazy heads, and the 31 inch Light Met B, with a regular Remo hazy head. I remember that Trygve asked for an extra drum – a 31 inch, so we rented a Premier 31 inch for him.
The concerts in Oslo went quite well, with the orchestra and choir in excellent shape. In retrospect, I wish we had taken the choir with us to Edinburgh, but more on that in just a bit. Our first concert was in Edinburgh and the flight over was uneventful. We had plenty of time to stretch our legs and walk about town. I visited my usual haunts – the HMV shop and bookstores and just enjoyed the atmosphere of Edinburgh and its High Street. (I was watching the original version of the move” Journey to the Center of the Earth” with James Mason, and in one of the opening scenes, it shows his character reading a newspaper while walking through a marching band on the High Street. Watching that scene brought back all the memories of all my visits to Edinburgh.) NB: You can watch that particular scene on YouTube – here is the link:

The dress rehearsal and concert took place in the Usher Hall, and the timpani were up in front of the organ and choral area. This time, I was surrounded by members of the Edinburgh Festival Choir, and I remember chatting with them pleasantly. They were a nice group of people and a generally good choir. The rehearsal went better than the concert. When the time came for the first choral entry in the final movement, the choir was about a half-tone plat, and stayed that way for some seconds. Having to sit there for over an hour and to have to come in pianissimo was difficult enough, but to come in half a tone flat was excruciating, to say the least. It took some of the wind out our sails, to put it mildly. They managed to recover in time to provide the usual glorious finish, but we were less than satisfied. We were, however, given a good reception from the audience.
The next morning, I decided to have breakfast in my hotel room, which is something that I rarely did on tour. Usually, I’d join my colleagues in the hotel restaurant. However, I decided to enjoy my morning meal in my room. The server who brought me my breakfast was unusually subdued, and it prompted me to ask her what was wrong. She replied that Princess Diana had been in a car accident in Paris during the night, and she had just died. There were tears in her eyes, and I expressed my condolences and turned on the television. It was confirmed, and I had just tuned to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s comments on “The People’s Princess.” I’ll never forget that morning.
The concerts in Ludwigsburg and Lucerne went off quite well. It was a particular pleasure to play in Lucerne this trip as it was the first time that we played in a new temporary concert venue which had better acoustics than the previous venue we used in times past. It was with the knowledge that this would be my last appearance with the orchestra on tour at these festivals that I made a farewell walking tour of the bridge and downtown area. I enjoyed Lucerne, and am glad the concert there was a triumph. I just missed playing the new venue by a year. The new hall opened in August 1998.

Author’s Note: This blog post is still longer than I anticipated; I still haven’t gotten around to the “big” event of late fall 1997 – the residencies in Athens and Vienna, which took place in October and November. I have decided to write about that in the next blog post.

Here is the second movement from the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which we took to Salzburg, Hamburg, and Kiel.

Here is a short clip from the video of the Miraculous Mandarin Suite that was made before our visits to Lucerne and Ludwigsburg.