We are lucky enough to be in New York for ten days, and the first night could hardly be bettered. It was Carnegie Hall and the first visit to New York of the great Boston Symphony under its new musical director Andris Nelsons, the young Latvian maestro who has taken the classical music world by storm. They played the Mahler 6 like inspired angels. Nelsons throws all his energy into making the performance thrilling, sometimes grasping the railing of the podium with one hand to stop himself falling into the middle of the audience! From then it has been museums like the Frick, Metropolitan, Tenement , MoMA, Whitney, Central Park and the HighLine. Everyone is entranced by New York, even those who have been here many times
I was unable to leave Australia to arrive before the group in Chicago so I walked straight from the long gruelling flight into the bar of the hotel to greet all our group well into their 2nd round of drinks. It’s remarkable how the buzz of meeting a whole group of new people can energise you, despite exhaustion. They were a wonderful group of people who themselves were energised by the prospect of a couple of weeks in the great cities of Chicago and New York.
While we were in Chicago only for three days, we had a terrific program including a fascinating cruise on the river, a walk in Millenium Park, a modernistic wonder on the lake in downtown Chicago and a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home. Our performances were:
- Roy Kinnear’s excellent family drama The Herd at the Steppenwolf, arguably the most highly regarded repertory theatre company in the US
- A magnificent concert at Symphony Center with the Chicago Symphony playing Shostakovich 8 and my first hearing of the phenomenal young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, playing Rach 1
We have just finished four days in Edinburgh at the Festival. It is HUGE! While there are about 60 events in the International festival – what people generally refer to as the Festival, there are nearly 3,000 events in the Fringe, the extraordinary plethora of theatrical, dance and musical activity, completely unselected, that comprises the largest festival event in the world. Highlights of the Festival included:
- Glorious performance of Monteverdi madrigals and Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda by the Concerto Italiano, simply the best ensemble in the world for the Italian baroque
- Wandering the crowded and historic precincts of Edinburgh, grey and gloomy, but chock full of atmosphere and excitement
- The wonderful Bernarda Fink singing Dvorak’s moving Biblical Songs with the Czech Philharmonic
- The Royal Military Tattoo – for the wrong reasons as we sat for nearly three hours in teeming rain while the stalward performers never batted an eyelid. Despite Edinburgh’s notoriously fickle weather, apparently no performance of the Tattoo has ever been cancelled in its 67 year history
We have been travelling for a week – first again to Stratford on Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances of Webster’s Elizabethan tragedy The White Devil in a dubious updating of this savage and bloodthirsty play, and then a charming production of his early comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Even more enjoyable was a few days spent in the Yorkshire moors for the North York Moors Music Festival set in lovely church venues in historic towns in the moors. We stayed in a comfortable boutique hotel outside Whitby and greatly enjoyed walking excursions both in the town of Whitby and on the fabulous beaches. Three concerts in the lovely churches were all delightful and infomal. We were thrilled when at my request the artistic director Jamie Walton consented to come to the hotel to be interviewed by me for the group, only for him to arrive with the Festival’s Patron Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, an unexpected honour, whch threw me, having to dredge up from my memory impromptu, enough facts about him to conduct a credible interview!
Yesterday was the incomparable Glyndebourne for La Traviata. We drove down and back for the night and again I interviewed Tim Walker of the London Philharmonic about the background to Glyndebourne and the orchestra which has played for Glyndebourne since 1953. So far on the tour we have enjoyed a lovely recital by violinist Janine Jansen where she played Schubert’s strange Fantasy in C and Prokofiev’s elegant Sonata for 2 violins at a Prom at the Cadogan Hall. The next day we went to a big scale Prom at the Albert Hall where Sibelius‘ 5th Symphony was played
Our first tour for Academy Travel ended today as we returned on a coach to London after two performances at incomparable Glyndebourne. We saw two operas: a sensitive production and performance of Eugene Onegin in the acoustically perfect newish theatre, and a controversial Rosenkavalier of Richard Strauss, directed by Richard Jones, set in the 1930s and designed in deliberately vulgar art deco style. In many ways it was deliberately over-the-top and very funny. But it was a travesty of the opera and roundly disapproved by both the critics and the public.
Previously to Glyndebourne we spent several days at the superb Aldeburgh Festival, one of the great music festivals in the world, of course created by and celebrating the music of Benjamin Britten, though these days the program is much more eclectic. We have:
- Walked through the marshes led by old friend Andrew Neill
- Staying in a comfortable but old fashioned waterfront hotel overlooking the endless shingle beach
- Marvellous recital in the superb Maltings concert hall with Ian Bostridge singing Schubert’s Winterreise with Thomas Ades
- Also at the Maltings, a semi-staged production of Brittens’ TV opera Owen Wingrave, based on the strange rather unconvincing ghost tale by Henry James
- Inspected the fascinating collection of Britten memorabilia at the Red House museum
At Stratford on Avon we saw two fabulous plays: Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2 and the anonymous Elizabethan thriller Arden of Faversham
At the magnificent private estate at Wormsley where the Garsington Opera now takes place in a splendid glass walled demountable opera theatre, we saw a terrific production of Fidelio, with a great coup de theatre of having the prisoners let out into the real garden where the audience could see them wandering around in amazement
In London we saw a new production of Berlioz’ early opera Benvenuto Cellini, a complex and riveting production by English National Opera directed by Terry Gilliam of Goon Show fame
Andrew and I decided a few months ago it would be a good idea to invite a group of friends to join us for a whistle stop tour through the music centres of Europe to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, especially since Andrew is the president of the Richard Strauss Society in the UK.
So this crazy journey started on 14 April in Dresden and coming together besides ourselves were a motley crew including Inese Curtois, Patrick Muhlen-Schulte, Simon Johnson, Leo Schofield, David Maloney, Erin Flaherty and Terry and Julie Clarke. Andrew organised the accommodation and the internal flights and I the performance itinerary and the tickets.
All told we attended thirteen performances in fifteen days in six cities, and Leo and I attended an extra performance in Vienna. Highlights (and lowlights) included:
- A charming modernistic Ariadne auf Naxos in Dresden
- A completely transforming performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on the Easter weekend in his own church the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. I had difficulty understanding the seating plan when I booked for us online and most of us had seats with no view of the performers – mine was sraight into a massive pillar about half a metre in front of me – but our concentration on the music in the rich acoustics of this large plain church gave us all an overwhelming experience
- At breakfast the next day after the Bach, Patrick said: “Hi guys, did you know there’s a performance of Parsifal here to night in the Opera House? Let’s get tickets!” I said remember we are going to Parsifal in Berlin in two days time – do you all want to go twice? Resoundingly YES was the answer, so we managed to get tickets in the second row of the stalls! It was a sober realistic production, very well sung and being so close, utterly absorbing. Three cheers for Patrick’s resourcefulness.
- Next on the whistle stop was fabulous Berlin and in my unbelievable booking coup some months earlier., I had tickets for what became the celebrity concert of the year at the Philharmonie, a piano duo recital by Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich. They are both 71, and studied together in Buenos Aires in their teens so are old friends but haven’t played together since. They played Mozart’s Blanc et Noir for four hands, Schubert’s Grand Duo for two pianos and after the interval Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in the two piano arrangement. What a program! In the Schubert, she seemed to lose a note at one point and during the applause, hung back, causing Barenboim to put his arm around her. They were marvellous, especially Barenboim, playing primo in magisterial fashion.
- The second Parsifal at Deutsche Oper was directed by Philipp Stoelzl and could not have been more different that the Leipzig production. To me it seemed to be conceived in a dystopian future with the story being acted out in some sort of warehouse, starting with an enactment of the Crucifixion during the the Prelude. What ever the case it was an extraordinarily effective and moving performance with Parsifal sung by the terrific Siegfried from the Melbourne Ring, Stefan Vinke
- At the Staatsoper at the Schiller Theater we saw a new production of Tannhauser conducted by Barenboim, only two nights after the fabulous recital wirh Argerich, and in between we saw a production of Le Vin herbe of Frank Martin, a wonderful oratorio/opera based on the ancient version of the Tristan legend. I have to say it was a very static and mysterious production in modern dress that left me cold
- Departing Berlin for Amsterdam was the ultimate lowlight as I had somehow managed to lose the jumbo train ticket for the whole party Andrew had bought in the UK and given me in Leipzig. After frantic searching overnight, there was no choice but to buy another ticket for the party of 11!
- In Amsterdam, we arrived in the morning, saw in the evening a charming modern production of Strauss’s Arabella which as usual never fails to delight, and then hopped on another train to Paris the next morning.
- In Paris we stayed in an apartment hotel for two nights near the Bastille where we saw Peter Sellars famous production of Tristan und Isolde with Bill Viola’s whole backdrop video projections throughout the entire opera. The experience of this production was deeply moving and in a way gave a totally different view of the opera based on ever changing and beautiflly imaginative visuals.
- We flew to Vienna and stayed in the elegant little Konig von Ungarn Hotel, for a very tired Rosenkavalier and on our last night a rousing Lohengrin in a new production in a Bavarian village setting, that worked very well I thought.
- But the most outstanding performance of the whole tour was at the Theater an der Wien. Leo Schofield had heard about the production by Claus Guth of Handel’s Messiah and had been given two tickets. The two of us went quietly off to see it and it was just about the most original thing I have ever seen. The music was wonderfully played by Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, who also acted out the choregraphed story of a family, friends and colleagues in a crisis after the suicide of the central character, played by a mute dancer. Leo was so impressed tht he has decided to try to bring it to Brisbane for his festival.