The Year 1997 – The Penultimate Year – Part Three
When I started this blog post, I anticipated one long post, but not overly long. As I wrote what turned out to be Part One, and checked my resources – journal entries and concert programs – I realized that there would have to be a Part Two, The same thing occurred when I wrote Part Two. I checked my resources again, and was surprised at just how eventful 1997 – that penultimate year – was. We had three mini-festival tours plus two residencies – one in Athens and one in Vienna- before the year wrapped up. The two earlier parts covered the interesting concerts of the spring portion of the season and the mini-festival tours. I had forgotten to include an engagement with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in mid- August which bears mentioning here – and with that exception, this post will cover the two residencies.
The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra – Hamar , Stavanger and the BBC Proms
For once, my journals have completely failed me! In trying to ascertain the exact time frame in which I participated in the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra engagement during the summer of 1997, I find that I had completely neglected to write down the experience! I know I played the engagement, which involved three concerts – one in Norway at Vang Kirke in Hamar, one in Stavanger and one at the Royal Albert Hall in London. These concerts occurred in the period covering the the concert in Hamar through the 17th of August. NB! In re-checking my files, I have discovered the exact date of the concert in Hamar (which was on August 13th) and in addition to the concert in Stavanger, I accompanied the orchestra to the BBC Proms for a concert we played on Saturday, August 16th. How I could have forgotten this is beyond me. I checked the BBC archives, and sure enough, we did play on that date. I had mentioned in earlier posts that I had been associated with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra as its “go-to” timpanist since 1988, and this season would be my last. The run-outs to Hamar, Stavanger,, and London for the BBC Prom concert would be my last trips with the orchestra, although I would play one more concert in Oslo in the spring of 1998.
The concert in Hamar took place, as I mentioned above, on August 13th. Our conductor for the entire period was, as usual, the orchestra’s artistic director, Dame Iona Brown, and the music for the programs centered around three works: Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, “Italian“. I was involved in only the Mendelssohn and the encore, which was the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” incidental music. For the concert in Hamar, I was able to use my Leedy-Anheier conversions – sizes 25 inch and 28 inch respectively. I had by this time equipped them with Premier clear heads, and the result was quite good. (When I ordered the conversion back in 1994, I had Brian Stotz equip them with Premier hazies and had been using them for the past two years, and thought that I’d try the clear. I wasn’t disappointed. (NB! in my last months in Oslo, I had equipped them with Remo Renaissance heads and was very satisfied with them as well, but didn’t get to use them with those heads much – I was compelled by my move to the USA to sell them. My assistant and good friend Trygve was the beneficiary of that deal.) The concert at Vang Kirke went very well, and it was a good thing as it was recorded live for a later release on CD. The acoustics were just right, and I enjoyed the chance to play on my Leedy-Anheiers in early romantic repertoire.
The next concert was to be played in Stavanger, at the main concert venue. The program was the same as in Hamar. Again, I was involved in just the Mendelssohn, and this time, I did not get to take my own drums. I was granted the use of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra’s drums. They were a pair of Adams Philharmonic Light timpani, with calf heads mounted without counter hoop. They were very well-constructed, and sounded good. I had no issues with weather that night for which I gave thanks. The concert was well-played and received, and then it was on to Royal Albert Hall for our Proms appearance. The orchestra was on top form, and I remember having to play the triangle for Grieg’s “Anitra’s Dance” from “Peer Gynt” – as a second encore. The knowledge this was my last BBC appearance with my orchestras was a little bittersweet, but offset by my fortune in having had the good fortune and honor to take part in as many as I did!
The Residencies First Athens, then Vienna
The highlight of all of our touring in 1997 took place in the fall of 1997 -during the last two weeks and extending into the first few days of November. These were the residencies – one week concert marathons – in our case, five different programs played one after another. The first residency was scheduled for Athens – and the second was scheduled for the following week in Vienna. While there were indeed five programs, If memory serves, I believe there was a rest day between some of the concerts. As a matter of fact, we played only four programs in Athens, playing all five in Vienna. The venues were the Athens Concert Hall in Athens, and the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. To see just how much of a marathon these residencies were, here is a list of the programs that we played on that tour.
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite
Honegger: Symphony nr. 3 “Liturgique”
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major
Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G major, “Surprise”
R. Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, op. 40
Verdi: Messa da Requiem
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”
NB!I am inserting here the comments I made in my journal at the time, as you may get more of the flavor of the experience a little better with something written down just after I experienced them. I’ll add comments at the tail end.
From my journal: Athens as a city was not showing its best side when we arrived, due to the fact that it is a heavily polluted city. Cars and trucks abound, and it appears that they do not use catalytic converters. The air is unhealthy, and when it rains, you can see the carbon monoxide dust on the streets, and when it mixes with water, makes it quite sticky.
The Acropolis is incredible. Built on the highest point in Athens, it has a commanding view of the city. There the temples to Athena and the Parthenon lie, and they are impressive indeed! The Athens Concert Hall is modern and contains all the necessary amenities. Once we got used to the acoustic, it became fairly comfortable to perform there. The hotel Divani Caravel was of a decent standard, and we were fairly comfortable. We had a day free on the first Wednesday, and that was the day we went to the Acropolis, and later to Piraeus, which is the local seaport. There, we had a lovely lunch of vegetables and the local seafood. In this case, it was cooked swordfish. It was the first time I had tasted it, and I must admit that it was delicious. Despite this, I was anxious to get to Vienna. We finished our Athens stint on the 25th, and on the 26th, we took a plane for Vienna. We arrived safely, and were put up in the Hotel de France. My room was huge and most comfortable, except for the fact that the pillows were too small, and my nasal drip (I came down with a cold on tour) kept me awake nights. However, I was able to nap well before the concerts, and had my full concentration. In Vienna, we played all five programs. To play Bruckner and Mahler in the hall where these composers performed and worked was a very special and moving experience. Mariss Jansons described the Musikverein as a hall that has almost a magnetic, metaphysical effect on musicians. It seems, to him, at least, to bring out the best in performers, and judging by the results, I would have to agree with him. For me personally, much as I love the Mahler, I felt that the Bruckner and Verdi were the high points of the Vienna Residency in terms of playing, and in terms of sound. I felt that the orchestra really played their hearts out. The first program also was excellent. However, there was so much music on this tour, that it was easy to become emotionally exhausted. By week’s end, that is the condition I found myself in. We had played so much, and given our all, that for a while, there was not much else to give.
In thinking over what I had written in November of 1997, I would not change a word of it. Despite the unhealthy air in Athens, I did enjoy the residency there, and especially the trip to Piraeus. The food was indeed exquisite, and once our buses left Athens, the sun came out and it was excellent weather all the way to Piraeus. The visit to the Acropolis and to one of the original stadiums dating back to ancient times was amazing. Musically, this residency was a warm-up for the Vienna residency. I don’t have to say what an honor it was to be invited to have a whole week’s residency in a hall like the Musikverein. The residency in Athens went very well, and we were thoroughly “tuned up” for Vienna.
While in Athens, we played only four of the five programs (we didn’t play the Beethoven/Bruckner program – which is probably the reason that we had the free day to tour and travel as a group to Piraeus for that swordfish dinner. I am glad that we had that free day. Vienna, was, well Vienna! I had been to Vienna in 1985, 1989, 1992, 1995, and now it was 1997. The Musikverein was almost like a second home to us. I secretly wished we could clone the hall some how and take it with us back to Oslo. I mentioned in my journal that my favorite concerts of the residency were the Bruckner and Verdi concerts. I felt that Mariss and the Orchestra were at white heat, and the sound was glorious. The Verdi Requiem is one of my favorite pieces. It has been said that it is Verdi’s best opera, and I can understand why. The Mahler was excellent as well,and Vienna Singverien sang extremely well, as they did in the Verdi the night before. Perhaps doing the Mahler after the Verdi was a bit of overkill. I know I was emotionally drained after this tour, and I am pretty sure that many of my colleagues would have agreed. We were extremely well received at all of our concerts. I also enjoyed playing Dvorak, Haydn, and Strauss on the programs, and I grew to really like the Honegger . All in all, a great way to end that year’s touring.
Upon returning to Oslo, the orchestra and I played three weeks of concerts including Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique under Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie under Ulf Schirmer, and Scriabin’s Divine Poem under the direction of Arild Remmereit. Then it was off to Illinois to spend the holidays with the Joy and the girls. I left my assistant Trygve “minding the store” until my return in January,
Here are some links to the NCO’s recording of the Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4. It was recorded at the Vang Kirke in Hamar (live) on August 13, 1997. Enjoy!