The ACO at Carnegie hall

This afternoon we visited Zankell Hall, the smaller hall in Carnegie Hall for the final concert in the tour, the ACO. It was wonderful seeing out own familiar musicians in this lovely place and the star turn was the brilliant clarinettist Sharon Kam playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Afterwards we were all invited to a great after party in their hotel, where we let our hair down with the musicians.

Twice at the Metropolitan Opera!

We have been to the Met twice in the last few days! First for a rather old and traditional procduction of Aida, and then an anything but traditional Don Carlo in a dark challenging new production directed by Nicholas Hytner. The Met is such an exciting place to visit, just walking into Lincoln Centre with the huge round arches of the Met facing you is almost overwhelming. The theatre with its lavish foyers, obviously truly rich patrons and the vast auditorium seating nearly 4,000 people is almost twice as big as most opera houses. Nevertheless it was so well designed when rebuilt in 1966, you can see and hear almost perfectly from anywhere.

Mahler 6 with the Boston Symphony

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

Chicago: the great city on the lake

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

The Edinburgh Festival

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

Whitby at the North York Moors Festival

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!

London and Glyndebourne

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

Incomparable Glyndebourne!

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.

Aldeburgh Festival – Europe’s most interesting music Festival?

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

Highlights of London and Stratford upon Avon

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