It still feels like the calm before the storm. We keep coming back to work after the summer holiday, do a few concerts and then have a few days off again. It’s quite nice really, I had a chance to put together some flat pack furniture from Sweden and go to the coast for some windsurfing – two things which normally render me incapable of playing for a day due to sore palms. However, I have had time to recover.
The calm has now finished and the storm has arrived. This time, as before , at the eye of the storm is Gergiev. After some recording sessions and a rehearsal at the weekend, yesterday found us flying off to Berlin. After playing in Salzburg last week, Berlin is another of those temples to music which always feels a little special. I remember reading James Galway’s autobiography which includes his time in the Berlin Phil, and I have to admit that walking into the Philharmonie is a little intimidating. I can imagine that the feeling of walking out onto the stage is not dissimilar to taking the final stroll into a roman Amphitheatre to face the Lions. It is a place where the giants of the musical world come to prove their worth and the corridors are full of ghosts of past masters, overshadowed by the biggest of them all, Karajan.
To be honest though, as we approached it on the bus in the September gloom, I had no idea that it was covered in gold paint like a Christmas Bauble from 1977. I was kind of expecting a grand statement like the Musikverein – now that is a hall, it looks and sounds fabulous from every angle. The Philharmonie looks more like its been moved from the set of Barbarella. Still, I’m sure they speak very highly of the Barbican…
Anyway, we couldn’t get into the hall until later in the afternoon, it gets quite busy in there. In its typical understated way, the LSO schedule said,
“Unable to load in before 15.30 due to rehearsal by local orchestra”
Wonder who that was?
Inside, it becomes clear why this is a great hall. It is a fabulous design for all concerned, not always a style I enjoy looking at, but then, that’s the point, you are there to listen not look at the walls. The orchestra is sort of perched on the stage in the round, and it is possible to see almost everyone from where I sit ,which makes communication very easy. From the audience point of view, it looks like you can see very well from wherever you sit. In short, it is designed to make music making and listening as easy as possible.
And so, the concert-Shostakovitch 11.
In the rehearsal, our newest member this week, Lorenzo on bass clarinet, made his presence felt at the climax of the finale. He came thundering in like a giant snake for his first concert as a member- he certainly made an impact and we hadn’t even got to the show! Lorenzo was appointed a few months ago but only started this week as he had to finish his job in Madrid. Its always a nervous moment when you join, but as Christine Pendrill said to me after the rehearsal,
“As soon as he started playing that bit at the end, I knew we’d made the right choice”
I quite agree and I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing and watching him play. He is Italian, looks like Tom Jones from 1965 and has a sidestep to outwit Barry John. You’ll know what I mean when you see him play!
Speaking of Christine, she was looking a little green around the gills before the concert. In fact, she had been sick several times before and after the rehearsal (I hope she doesn’t mind me telling you this!). It happens to us all from time to time, still at least there isn’t anything for the Cor anglais in Shos 11. Oh, except for that massive solo at the end. That was probably why John Lawley was looking sick too! Thank goodness Chris is such a pro and more importantly has excellent control of her stomach muscles, especially for the violas in front of her; I had thought that the screens behind them were to protect them from noisy trumpets, but perhaps not.
At 8pm , Valery came on stage and the storm began, quietly at first in the gentle first movement, but then movement two began and went at such a pace I really wasn’t sure whether we would make it in one piece. But we did. In fact, such was the level of concentration and fury, that when we reached the relative peace of the stunning violas in the third, I realised that I hadn’t had time to start sweating. On realising this, I started sweating.
Just after the loud bit of the last movement, I looked down the line to see a very green looking Christine preparing herself for one of the peaks of the repertoire-she looked like she was concentrating very hard. But remarkably as always, she put the reed to her lips and gave a performance of such beauty that it was difficult to believe she felt anything other than on top of the world. Momentarily stunned into silence, suddenly Valery looked across and gave the cue to Lorenzo who unleashed the most ferocious sound, gradually joined by the rest of the orchestra. It was a pure adrenaline ride to the shattering climax and the audience loved it-quite a relief in this cultured town. In fact after an encore, most of the band had left the stage when Valery came back on to take another bow on his own. I thought it best to leave him to it, he’d earned it, so I left in search of a beer.
Christine looked relieved but still green and headed off to bed before today’s long journey to Bonn. She plays so well even though she was feeling sick, its just not fair!
It makes me…er…sick.