Europatournee

Konzerte in vier Ländern und acht Städten

Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal, San Sebastián (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos, Zaragoza (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos, Zaragoza (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Palacio de Congresos, Zaragoza (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Igor Levit (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Matthias Lehmann)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)
Konzert in der Elbphilharmonie (Foto: Priska Ketterer)

Auf der diesjährigen Europatournee gibt das Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich unter seinem Chefdirigenten Lionel Bringuier Konzerte in Wien, Essen, Hamburg, Paris, Heidelberg, Zaragoza, San Sebastian und Madrid.

Wie immer berichtet Simon Styles, Solo-Tuba, vom Tourleben, von den Konzerten, von kleinen und ärgeren Problemen, immer mit einem Augenzwinkern und stets mit einer gehörigen Portion Selbstironie!

Y viva España

I write this at the end of our tour, sitting in Madrid Barajas Airport, with two hours and more to call my own. The week has not rushed, but stampeded by. After Paris, we flew to Frankfurt, back to Germany again, on a hit and run, as it is known … The hotel was in the airport and we have a whole hour to call our before we set off to Heidelberg. Heidelberg is a cute little town, the weather is lovely, and people are out enjoying it! Like many great seats of learning – Göttingen, Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, it seems very self-contained being seemingly far removed from the rest of civilisation. Possibly for that reason it seems to have been unscathed, and must have escaped the attentions of the allied bombing forces during the Second World War.

We changed programmes in Heidelberg, and really, although we have a short rehearsal on Elgar’s «Enigma Variations», the concert is something of a dress rehearsal for the coming performances in Spain. We haven’t actually played it out for several months, and had only half a rehearsal on it in Zürich, so we are living on the edge somewhat … It went, thankfully, well if not always together, but there we are. The missus stays back in Frankfurt to avail herself of the spa facilities, and I avail myself of beer and chips, in the good company of my friends at the back of bus 3 …

Sunday was a travel day, a flight first to Barcelona, queen of Spanish cities, where, unfortunately, we won’t be playing this time, followed by a four hour bus journey. As none of the buses have toilets on them (do buses without toilets still exist??? Who let that one through??) there is a rush for lavatories, the women’s queue, as per usual snaking out of the door and across the hallway. As I leave the men’s toilets, I «quip» to my colleagues Haika Lübcke and Dorothee Eychmüller waiting their turn – «You know sometimes it’s really good to be a man» – I hope to be able to see out of both eyes quite soon again …

Zaragoza is the first stop on our Iberian jaunt, but tonight, having finally reached the hotel, which is some way from the old town but very close to the hall, we have a free evening. So on recommendation of friends in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Antonia has booked us into a local restaurant, El Cerdo – The Pig – how very appropriate!! All the usual suspects are there – the Seth’s, Billy Boy, Marco, Mike and Antonia, Sophie Speyer, Ulrike Schumann and Dorothee Eychmüller. I have been recommended a particular dish, by my close friend Lee Tsarmaklis, tubist of the London Philharmonic, callchots, which are leeks cooked in roof tiles, and they are absolutely delicious!!! Charred black on the outside, which is peeled away, they are wonderfully sweet and succulent and I can highly recommend them to you! It’s a jolly evening, well buoyed with Mauro red wine and a very reasonable bill at the end of the evening.

The following day we are free until relatively late in the afternoon, and so the missus and I trundle into town, walking in part and taking a tram to the Plaza d’España. Something that very pleasantly surprises me is the courteousness of Spanish drivers – nothing like the wild west of France or Italy, and indeed people are really just very nice all round. It’s not hot but pleasant enough not to have to wear a jacket, if you are, that is, English, the locals are still wearing their padded winter jackets, done up to the neck and thick scarves. We walk around the old town, just dawdling, stop for an early tapas brunch as we have skipped breakfast, and walk some more viewing the Cathedral and the narrow street and plazas around it, before heading back to the hotel for an hours sleep. The rehearsal is given largely to Beethoven 4, which hasn’t been played, certainly not with Lionel for some while, so again the Elgar comes a bit short I feel.

Elgar’s «Enigma Variations», or rather «Variations on an Original Theme» to give it its correct title, is very well known and a very special piece to the British. It’s most famous variation, the ninth, Nimrod, which is dedicated to Elgar’s publicist and advisor, August Jaeger, hence its title Nimrod being the God of hunting, is a sort of second national anthem (mostly for the wrong reasons I might add) to the British. It is of course a truly heart felt piece of music and it is very moving, which I suppose is why it is played usually at funerals, or moments of national solemnity – as I said the wrong reasons for playing it. The piece means an awful amount to me. I discovered it at age of about 9, my father had a small collection of records (at least compared to my enormous collection!!) and what was then called a «Gramophone» housed in a cabinet, on which to play them. Among these records was a recording of «Enigma» played by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Barbirolli. I thought it the most wonderful thing I had ever heard, which I’m certain it was at the time, and actually, I still think it a marvellous piece of music. So, if I was ever alone at home, which did happen quite often during the school holidays I would play this recording over and over again, marvelling at the feelings it awoke in me. It still wakes similar feelings in me, feelings of a time which might, or might not, have been better, a time when people were more courteous and genteel and politer with one another. A time sadly long gone, so a time which I view with more than just a mild nostalgia, having grown up at a time where most of the adults with whom I came into contact would have been very familiar with the sentiments of which I write. The «female» variations numbers l, Vl,Vlll, X, and Xlll) are all as delicate as butterfly’s wings, the masculine at times very robust such as variation Vll (Troyte) a rather chaotic sounding architect and pianist of dubious talents, or variation Xl (G.R.S.) which is about George Robertson Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral – or rather it is about G.R.S’s bulldog Dan who, at the beginning of the variation tumbles down the banks of the river Severn, paddles furiously upstream, the frantic melody in cello’s and bassoon strongly suggestive (although Elgar himself denied that the variation had nothing to do with organs or cathedrals) of organ pedalling in a Bach Toccata, in bar 5, out of the river he climbs, the horns imitating his triumphant bark, the triangle the drops of water flying from his sodden coat as he shakes himself dry – the tune also comes in the tuba later in the variation and is great fun to play!! Elgar kept a notebook, entitled «The Moods of Dan» in which he recorded, musically, Dan in all sorts of ways, one, «Dan sleeping», later became the opening theme of Elgar’s great oratorio «The Dream of Gerontius»!! Nimrod about which I have expressed opinion is very deeply felt music as is my personal favourite variation B.G.N., Basil George Nevinson, a cello playing friend of Elgar, this is truly very deeply felt music, which moves me greatly, often to tears. The last variation, which is Elgar’s own variation, is the longest, and where much of the music has up until this point been shrouded in introspection and deep searching, the tone is now both opulent and optimistic, it is also a joy to play. On the suggestion of Jaeger, Elgar extended the finale by about 100 bars and added an «optional» organ part. For some reason we are playing it without organ, and thus without my dear friend, Peter Solomon. I have to say that I don’t care for it as much without the organ, the moment where the organ enters with a deep pedal G (I think … ) gives the sound and the orchestra such a lift – also it’s great to be cosseted by the deep vibrations of the organ pedals and makes my job a lot easier.

The following morning, up on time, after more pigging at «El Cerdo» – for some of us it was the second visit of the day, prizes to be awarded for guessing who the culprits were – and on the way to San Sebastien with the bus, another long drag over the hills … San Sebastien is just delightful, and as quickly as we can we, the Missus, Mike, Antonia, Rex and I, head down to the beach, to walk on the sands, and splash, like children, in the sea. Robert Teutsch even chooses to swim to the island off the beach of «El Corno» pre-concert!! Brrr, the Atlantic even that far south is still a cold sea!! The architecture along the front is, I suppose, best described as 19th century colonial, and it is a joy to behold. The old town with its narrow winding streets and many tapas bars, quite apart from a magnificent cathedral are absolutely charming, it is a shame that we are here for so short a time. After the requisite sleep, it’s off to work we go and a short rehearsal, which is mostly devoted to Liszt’s 2nd Piano Concerto with a new soloist joining us for the next couple of nights – Simon Trpceski, who is by the way a very nice man – and another outing for the Berlioz. The Kursaal is OK, there are better there are worse, quite large but with a very steep rake of seating – from where I sit it looks like a 45 degree angle sloping away from, which I can hardly imagine being conducive to a good acoustic … After the show, it is the ritual of tapas, in this wonderful city known as the capital of tapas. Looking for somewhere, we spot the entire percussion section in a restaurant, and knowing them all to be, like myself, foodies, in we go, the rest you can imagine …

The following day we are off to Madrid, the last port of call before flying home. We are bussed to Bilbao and it is there that my good lady and I part ways, she heading back to Zürich and yoga teacher training. We have two concerts in the Auditorio Nacional de Musica, the first being Liszt and Berlioz, the second a purely orchestral programme of Beethoven 4, Peer Gynt and the Elgar, and both these concerts take place under bizarre circumstances. When we arrive, a little over an hour before the concert is due to start, the Orchestra Nacional de España is still rehearsing, which they do until 18.30. Okay, these things can and do happen, that two orchestras pass in the hallway, but, and this is a very large but, we are not actually allowed on stage until the concert – not even the basses, which is ridiculous. The stage crew are amongst the rudest, most cantankerous bunch of idiots I have ever come across, and that is my milder opinion, if you’d like to really know what I think, please e-mail me … Bill and Marco are both yelled at for daring to play in the hall, not on stage please note, by a Franco look alike. Thus, the fairly narrow corridors are filled with people trying to unpack their instruments, change and warm-up all at the same time – definitely not conducive to great music making. And so it is that we step on stage of this large space, with a most peculiar acoustic – not a bad sound actually but practically no reverberation, not knowing what is going to greet us. It does, and I don’t think I’m being unfair in writing this, take the orchestra a few minutes, the winds who open the piece definitely have my sympathies … The audience are very receptive, both of the soloist and it seems us, and as a nice gesture, his encore is not the usual glitzy Chopin or Liszt offering but a racy duet performed with Julia Becker – no idea what it was, sounded sort of Spanish with unusual time signatures, and the audience go nuts at the end. The last Berlioz goes fine but I would have appreciated a bit of a go with the bells – as the second movement starts, I wonder how the harps will work out, as the third starts, I’m even more concerned for Isaac Duarte standing somewhere off stage, of course they all sound marvellous, but still it is all a bit above and beyond the call of duty so to speak. On the recommendation of the tuba player of the orchestra we make our way to the oddly (for Spain) named «Madness Cooking» for Spanish gin, tapas and red wine.

The following evening is same story of rude stage crew – I am told they are notorious and that their behaviour is the same regardless of who the band might be, so with Berlin, Chicago and the London Symphony I suppose we are in select company – no rehearsal again, and straight into Beethoven, at least that means I can change in peace during the first half, kind of sight read through the Elgar and then it’s all over, another tour completed. Next month we are off again with Lionel but on a much more relaxed schedule, to Katowice for two concerts and Prague for one, Britten Piano Concerto, Rimsky-Korsakov «Scheherazade» and Dutilleux 1st Symphony being in the pad.

And thus, as we are bidden to «Go to Gate A61» it’s hasta la vista from me and hope to see you in the Tonhalle Maag very soon!!

Springtime à Paris

Oh joy, le soleil brille, oh joy pas de bus, no travel, pas de tout et rien a faire and nowhere to be all day!! We get up late and skip the hotel petit dejeuner choosing to have the French touch find a nearby brasserie for croissant et café au lait – oh the simple joy of simple things and time to enjoy them … I am a walker, and so the petit choux and I have decided to, given the glorious weather, «do» Paris à pied …
So what is the very premiere chose that we choisir à faire?? Mais oui, d’accord on va visiter la cemetiere!!! Of this isn’t any veiux cemetiere, but the vrais cemetiere where Hector Berlioz is buried!! La vieux cemetier de Montmartre…


We meander the rues of this ville des morts, me lightening the day with jokes such as «Well here we are at the dead centre of Paris!». No, I know it’s not very good joke, and it wasn’t very good when my father first told it to me some 50 years ago. 
Nous promenadons des rues de Montmartre looking in the magasins and avoiding stepping in the des cadeaux des chiens Parisien, hmm dubious fun this…The veille truit, veut chercher des jolie chaussettes francaise, mais everything is either trop cher, or the wrong couleur…Still passing through Montmartre we make our way gradually down hill towards the centre ville, Notre Dame, l’isle Saint Louis, past l’opera looking trés magnifique au soleil…Lunch we take prés des jardins du Luxembourg at a restaurant favorit de moi- the “Cremerie Polidor” sur la rue M. Le Prince.

Having featured in a recent Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris” I fear that it might have become un peu trop touristique, but thankfully it hasn’t. La cuisine isn’t Michelin standard, just good solid food, and ils sont fameux pour leure Boeuf Bourginon, which is what we both have. The décor of le restaurant is largely unchanged in a very longue temps, and I imagine who used the place in the past- most des ecrivants etranger such as Hemingway, Gertrud Stein, Henry Miller and James Joyce.
After dinner and some vin rouge et blanc trés refraichisant, we traverser sur la Boulvarde St. Michel, jusqu’ a l’Isle St. Louis, Notre Dame et la Mairie. But ma cherie is trés fatigué so we head back on le Metro a notre hotel pour un peu de dormir…
Waking towards 6 heure we leave once again for the river, as I have in mind an excursion trés romantique en bateau. 


Off nous allonsons dans le Metro once again to the Leaning Tour d’Eifel pour achter des tickets et a montre dans le jolie bateaux…It seems I’m pas seule avec des romantique ideas, as there are more or less 500 other people on le bateaux, however we find a jolie place pour nous, entre des Americannes, et Italiens, and as the sun starts to set so we set off to see the sights from a different perspective, and it is a trés bon moment, ma femme est trés content, so all is well. Some small food served by a rude (at first) waitress – I read recently of a French waiter in Canada, who successfully contested his sacking for being so impolite to the customers, and receiving so many complaints, on the grounds that rudeness was part of the genetic make-up of a French waiter- she later softens and gives us free wine and is actually quite talkative. And so to bed. J’ai une APP pour compter mes steps and aujourd’hui j’ai faire beaucoup de steps…

Hamburg – Paris


I’m writing today, as we prepare to leave Paris, about probably, Vienna included, the two most important dates of the tour. I write in one blog also because these have been two very tough days, really they are more one extremely long day. We chug our way from Essen to Hamburg, arriving on time in Hamburg to find the temperature quite cold, oh how clever am I for having taken a warm jacket with me? People occupy themselves with Jass, catching up with Netflix, and chess, I doze and read, annoyed at myself for having left my main book in Vienna – aarrrghhh must get that back if I can …

The doc, René Kofmehl and Oliver Corchia at chess

 

Marco Rodrigues in his own special compartment …

We are taken straight to the hall, basically to hang about until the rehearsal – note that I’ve said nothing about check-in our hotels, as that is all to come later, in Bremen, an hour and a half away. At least our luggage was transported separately …

The load-in hasn’t as yet happened and the stage is cluttered with stands and chairs, as yet to be set-up. Still we meander on stage, fascinated to see this grand new hall, by Herzog and de Meuron, about which so much – not least being very late and very over budget – has been reported. The reports that we have had from musicians about the hall’s acoustics have been, at best, mixed …

The place is certainly well furnished and many choose to lounge in the well appointed canteen. Rex and I opt for a stroll as a break from all this sitting around. We are just about frozen and blown off our feet by the blast coming from the North Sea, but intrepid to the end we plug on looking at the old warehouses many of which are in the process of gentrification. Lack of mobility on tours is one of my biggest problems, particularly as I get older, and my Ischias has been nagging me for days now. We did hope to find something to eat, but of course nothing is open at 16.00 so it is back to the canteen, and pretty good food once again subsidised by the German tax payer … The rehearsal is a full hour, so at least we get to play a bit, and, as if to emphasise the importance of the occasion, a large delegation from Zürich has also made the trip, including Corine Mauch, Martin Vollenwyder and Susanne Bernasconi, and a sizeable section of the Gönnerverein. The concert is a great success, the house completely sold out, as I understand pretty much every concert is in the foreseeable future … The acoustics? Well, we all seem to share the same feeling that one’s own sound feels very dominant, and hearing one’s neighbour isn’t easy. Apparently, the blend in the hall is good, although there does seem to be a bright front on every note, the echo sort of spitting back at you, as one of my colleagues put it.

Then comes the not fun bit … For reasons which I do not know, we are staying in Bremen overnight. For reasons I do not know, we didn’t stop in Bremen to check-in. What I do know is that we are flying from Bremen, on our own aircraft, which I suppose is a sweetener, and of course Bremen is a much smaller airport which will make check-in and boarding easier. Whatever we get to our hotels at about 01.00 and that is very late, check-in is relatively smooth, but still it isn’t until about 01.30 that I, and I suspect most, if not all my colleagues are in bed …

The following morning having shoved in a quick bowl of fruit salad and a coffee we are back in the buses – maybe it would have been better to have not got off at all?? We are on our way to Paris … Most of us looking like extras for a remake of «Night of the living dead» we shamble to the aircraft, at least Bremen isn’t terribly busy, and as we are on our own charter, we don’t have to mix with normal passengers … At least the cabin staff are a jolly bunch and the flight safety announcements are peppered by such one liners as «Pull the oxygen mask to cover your mouth and nose, the first minute of oxygen is free every further minute is charged for at 1.50 Euros!!» or «As is usual with all flights, please note that this is a non-smoking flight, however we will be opening our smokers terrace on the right wing shortly after take-off!!» oh my how we laughed!! At least the comedy act was included in the price of the ticket!! Down in Charles de Gaulle, we are, like lepers, segregated from the rest of travelling humanity, with our own baggage collection zone, maybe we should be carrying bells and walking through the terminal calling out «Unclean, unclean» as we go?? The hotel is rather grim, at least its décor is, reminding me of a huge bunker, but it is what it is and it’s not dirty just old. After food, steak just for a change, it’s back to the hotel for me, to await, somewhat nervously, the arrival of «She who must be obeyed». My wife’s sense of geography and spatial awareness is to be polite, God awful. Thus I am not in the least surprised to receive in the middle of the afternoon a text which says (I promise you) «I just got off because everyone else did, it says «Gare de Lyon» – am I in Lyon??». Before I left, the last thing I did was to write, meticulously, an itinerary, detailing every platform, angle of the sun’s alignment, phone numbers, astrological signs to ensure the possibility that she might actually make it to Paris rather than Timbuktu. Anyway, sadly, arrive she does, on the back of this :–

Ever the biker bride on the back of an Indian, a sort of overpriced Harley Davidson, apparently … So she is full of beans, and I’m as tired as a tired thing …

We are bussed, once again, to the hall, the famous «Thêatre des Champs-Elysées», where, just over a hundred years ago, the premiere for Stravinsky’s «Sacre» took place. Philippe Litzler is very familiar with this hall, his previous orchestra the Orchestre National de France being resident here. The acoustic, partly because it is a theatre and quite possibly because it is old, is quite different to all the halls we have played in up to now, fairly dry, no echo to speak of or to play with. I wonder why it is that all modern halls be it Hamburg or Luzern or Birmingham are apparently designed for brightness and analysis whereas the older halls, Zürich, Amsterdam, Vienna, or Boston are designed, so it seems to me, for richness and fullness of sound, for an opulent blend, there’s a lot to be said for the old shoe-box.

We have a short rehearsal then it’s down to the waiting game for those not playing the Brahms 1st Piano Concerto. People are just dead on their feet, fast asleep or just sitting listlessly waiting for the 2nd half to start, which when it does is pretty good. I do though feel as if I’m playing on empty, tiredness gripping the bottom of my stomach. So glad that tomorrow is a free day …

By the way, I have been corrected by Antonia Siegers, ever my orthography Walküre. Apparently I, several times, in my 2nd blog referred to the Musikvereinssaal as the Vereinsaal, I stand corrected, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…

Wien – Essen

At the moderately comfortable time of 10.00 we depart the hotel for the airport, later this morning we fly to Düsseldorf for this evening’s concert which is in Essen. When we get to the check in it seems that some other band is heading to Paris 2 days before us …

Don’t know who they are – never heard of them myself …

Nothing, of course in comparison to the world famous Toblerone Philharmoniker …

We get to Düsseldorf in fine fettle, take the inevitable bus to Essen where tonight we will be performing, check in, get to the room and agree to meet at 17.00 to go and practice … I sit down to finish and send yesterday’s blog and looking at the time notice it is already 16.15, oh God where has the time gone????

So I move the time to meet back, dive into bed and clock out very quickly, waking with difficulty 45 minutes later, feeling, as always at such moments, drugged … We walk to the hall to get some practice only to find the hall unready for our arrival, so we fill the time with delicious canteen food, another box ticked …

After a short rehearsal, and I mean short – we seem now to have only 30 minutes rehearsal time, which is nothing at all. Lionel touches the important, or should I say tricky, moments of the Berlioz – the offstage oboe and on stage cor anglais duet masterfully played by Martin Frutiger and Isaac Duarte, the harps in the second movement, Sarah’s big moment, what a great player she is, and the bells offstage which accompany our «Dies Irae». These are played by Andreas Berger, who doesn’t even have to change for the show and plays wearing noise cancelling headphones, it must be hellishly loud in the small space where he sits, in front of a monitor, all by himself. There have been timing problems at various points, none of which I hasten to add are to do with Andi’s ability to hit heavy lumps of metal against other heavy lumps of metal on time, but on the time delay of the music over Andi’s headphones.

During the rehearsal, we probably get to play for 45 seconds, maximum 2 minutes, of the 30 minutes we have, I would happily add on 15 minutes and get to play a bit more and feel the acoustic a bit better. The concert comes – the timpani sound amazing in the 3rd movement, who but Berlioz would have had the idea of having the timpani play in 4 part harmony?? I wonder, every time I play this piece, how it must come across at its premiere. Certainly there cannot have ever been, including even the infamous premiere of «Sacré» about 100 years later, a more tumultuous premiere. I am convinced the orchestra, the public, the press must have believed that Berlioz taken leave of his senses and should be committed to an asylum, there was nothing in the entire orchestral repertoire that precedes this piece, or predicts its arrival. And yet it is a work that is so ingrained in our collective consciences, that is so often played, that there is I think a real danger of the piece becoming somehow common place, a piece that is played not so much for its intellectual content as its ability to fill a hall.

Florian Walser’s E flat clarinet solo in the 5th movement of the Berlioz, «Songe d'une nuit du sabbat» is an amazingly grotesque caricature of distorted love, frenzy and passion – on a more practical note he really has his work cut out to get through the sound generated by the 4 bassoons who accompany him – I see him literally blowing himself red in the face, in his efforts to be heard above them.

Things feel a little bit more comfortable tonight, the audience receptive, the orchestra somewhat more at ease than last night maybe. As the second half starts thunder breaks out over Essen, it is quite audible at the beginning of Fantastique, and appropriately atmospheric …

There must be around 25 or more of us seated at one very long table. Tours are very good for binding and one thing I really enjoy about these moments is how one gets to spend time with members of other orchestral sections with whom one generally wouldn’t come into contact with. So I’m seated with Emily Hoile, the young 2nd harpist, «depping» with us for this trip, she 25’ish, me 61, she starting her career me approaching the end of mine. I muse on what the profession will be like when she is my age and has achieved 36 years as I have now done with the Tonhalle, sometimes I wonder if there will be orchestras at all, the financially constraints growing each and every year. Still here we are, here I am, I’m one of the lucky ones and feel I have had the tail end of the golden era of post war orchestral music making, an era in which the great maestri were still fairly abundant, when being a musician was a passport to certain sort of celebrity, all these things seemed so sure in my younger years, now in an age of anxiety, nothing seems at all certain, and the arts, partly because are such a disparate bunch, partly because they are generally seen as a financial burden, wrongly, in my eyes, as a plaything of the elite, an over-priced commodity which brings nothing (as ever the considerations are only ever financial, and have been proven untrue) to the larger public.

And on a happier note at midnight we sing «Happy Birthday» to Ivo Gass our wonderful Solo Horn, whose birthday it suddenly is … What a marvellous end to a marvellous evening.

Zürich – Wien

Safely on board our aircraft, I find myself seated with two stalwart ladies and long supporters of the orchestra, Kathrin Rossetti and Marisa Roesle. To my great surprise as I set a game of Backgammon on my ageing iPad, Kathrin pulls out her super fast tablet and sets up a game of «Candy Crush»!! And there I was assuming that Candy Crush was entirely in the provenance of teenagers!! The flight is completely uneventful, I doze even, and soon enough we are snaking along the «Schöne blauer Donau» leading us to Vienna. The weather is delightful, an unseasonable 23 degrees, and quickly enough we are in the buses heading towards the «Konzerthaus Hotel». I guess this means we won’t be playing in the Musikvereinssaal this evening. That doesn’t matter a bit to me though – the Konzerthaus is equal to the Musikvereinssaal in my opinion, possibly larger, a slightly brighter acoustic maybe, but none the less worthy … Later as we take a circuitous route to the Konzerthaus, Rex and I muse on the fact that 2 such excellent concert halls are located within 5 minutes walk of each other. Would this be possible, even thinkable, in any other city than Vienna?? If so neither of us can think of one. As we pass the Musikvereinssaal we notice that tonight’s offering there is a choice of either «The Vienna Mozart Experience» in the Vereinssaal, or a Trombone quartet in the Kammermusiksaal … so there’s your choice, wigs and tights and candles and (dare I say it) kitsch in the Musikvereinssaal, a trombone quartet in the Kammermusiksaal or the Tonhalle 5 minutes away in the Konzerthaus. And of course the amazing thing is that all these concerts will be full, sold out, and the same thing will happen tomorrow night and the night after that and the night after that etc etc. I guess that music is the reason that many come to Vienna and I guess that a concert is part of the package, and why this can’t be at least similar in Zürich completely escapes me.

Still lunch now being a priority – I mean it’s at least 25 minutes since we had any form of nourishment – we are at critical mass, and if something isn’t done we will shortly implode on ourselves! So, along with most of the band, we head to the «Gmoakeller» for the ritual «Wienerschnitzel». As is to be expected the restaurant is full of orchestra members, and I imagine there must be a medium sized farmyard consumed during lunch … Myself, Bill, (of course) Rex, Nigel and Marco, who at 19 years of age is very much the new boy of the orchestra. If he stays the full course with the Tonhalle that will be at least 46 years of service. And here am I at 36 years of service, «Dienstälteste», though not the oldest in the orchestra, it doesn’t seem a month since I joined, and you know what … I would do it all again, with maybe one or two modifications, given the chance. But as I enter the last tenth of what will be 40 years with the band I do more often pause to reflect and balance what has changed what has stayed the same what has changed for the better, what for the worse … Still enough of philosophising, more in a later blog perhaps, food is to be ordered … We all order the same except for me, who, being the first to order, orders a Vorspeise of bone … marrow on toast with a salad. It is delicious and, realising that the main course for the rest of the boys won’t arrive until I have finished my starter, I eat especially slowly, telling them all the time about how good it is, about how I really don’t understand why they didn’t order a starter, and even allowing them to have a smell of my oh so delicious hors’ d’oeuvre. Just at the point where I am about to be stabbed to death with table knives by the others the main course arrives, and I am reprieved pending better behaviour during the rest of the trip, which, of course, is not likely to come to pass …

Back to the room for some much needed sleep I notice on the side table a plastic rubber duck, wearing a hard hat, and a couple of packets of earplugs … this bodes ill, as the hotel is being rebuilt and I am on the first floor just above the construction.

Also and I suppose helpfully (though I struggle to imagine who could helped by such a nihilistic message), there is a card with the sort of pseudo-philosophy I just can’t stand, and with which one is constantly bombarded by to day, whether buying soap, carrots or motor oil, or pretty much anything else for that matter …

Do they mean «Before you checked into our hotel»? Well for me that moment was the moment just before I got into bed, expecting a couple of hours shut-eye, where upon from underneath the Pressluft Hammer got going and on the other side of the wall some monkey started chiselling away concrete??? I curse them all, hope that their wives leave them, that it rains on all their holidays forever more, that their pension funds collapse 2 days before they retire, that someone steals their children’s bicycles, you know, all the rational things you would wish on anybody in the same position, wouldn’t you???

Sorted of rested it’s hi-ho it’s of to work we go … In 2 hours early and with with plenty of practice time, I’m a happy chappy. The rehearsal is minimal, and I’m a bit on edge, as it’s quite a few days since we last played the Berlioz, but that’s the way it is, that’s part of being a grown up proper muso … And so we hang around, no chance of playing during the first half, we leave our instruments on stage and have a quick parp during the interval. The Berlioz is tricky music, in my case anyway … probably for everyone it’s the same story. It is high, it is exposed, it is technically demanding and it is quite solistic, not least of all in the famous «Dies Irae». The most difficult aspect for me anyway, is the long sit prior to actually doing anything at all. 35 minutes of the orchestra going full pelt, it’s rather like try jump onto a Carousel going at full speed. You have to stay focused, your lips develop a glaze rather like polyurethane varnish, and the orchestra’s intonation will drift, God alone knows where but definitely high, so that tuning at the beginning of the 2nd half doesn’t serve very much of a purpose … And all of sudden it’s there, the rubbling timpani at the beginning of the 4th movement sounding most ominous, get the instrument as warm as is possible and hope that I’m not flat. If I fear that I will be then push in my main tuning slide working on the premise that it is better to be sharp than out of tune … Everything seems to be going ok, watch the tempo change at the start of the march theme, and don’t meander, pace the crescendo through the middle section, really concentrate on the arpeggio which will definitely be noticed if we split anything as we are the only 2 moving … And all of a sudden the piece is finished, warm though not rapturous applause. Now it’s time to think of beer, a late night snack, bed before my carriage turns into a pumpkin … I pity anyone drinking pils out of my shoe though!!!

Abreise

Good morning dear readers!

So here I am at the airport, mildly perspiring, desperately tired, yes it’s tour time!! As seems to be my habit, both of age and touring, I was wide awake, having set the alarm for 06.00, at 04.00 and for fear of not waking didn’t really sleep thereafter … So ever the touring early bird I’m well on time to get checked in … On the way on the train, I get a message from my co-pilot Rex Martin to say that he has overslept, but will be on time. As he’s coming from Bern he’s completely stressed, he’ll be on time, I don’t fancy playing Fantastique on my own … Rex, one of my oldest friends – I met him first in January 1985, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were in Zürich with Solti playing two 9th symphonies, those of Shostakovich and Bruckner – has recently moved to Bern to become head of the Brass Faculty at the HKB, having been professor of Tuba at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for many years. I am very happy that he lives closer, and he can be sure that he will be asked to cover for me, whenever I might be off, or need a second player.

There is Ambros, and judging by the fist full of boarding passes he is holding I must be well towards the front of the queue. Marc Luisoni is ahead of me and Felix Naegeli, in the check-in queue, but apart from we three I see no one. The tour doctor joins behind us, René Kofmehl who is my «Hausarzt» and so to speak knows me inside and out, with his big bag of pills and potions, which hopefully won’t be needed. René is pretty much an honorary member of the band, I will be quite worried if once he is not on a tour, he has travelled so often with us. I make my way through the usual nonsense of security and passing through Duty-Free get the message from Bill Thomas that he is surprise, surprise having breakfast, while at the same time planning his first Wiener Schnitzel of the day. The last time we were in Vienna I nicknamed him «Billy 2 Schnitzels» that being his average daily consumption!

I order what will possibly be the last healthy thing I consume this week, in the form of fresh orange juice …

This is quickly followed by the first, and probably not the last, un-healthy thing I will consume during this tour in the form of Bacon and Eggs, thank heavens for René – quick, take my pulse doc, measure my blood pressure …

So hasta la vista dear amigos and off we go!!

In the meantime Mike and Antonia Read-Siegers joined us, as well Florian Walser, so I guess we are slowly becoming an orchestra.

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