The Bach Festival in Leipzig

Bach’s Thomaskirche Leipzig  (Photo Ad Meskens, Wikimedia Commons, above)

Our group has just concluded six terrific days in Leipzig at the Bach Festival, one of the most inspiring festivals anywhere in the world. Here is our brochure for the whole tour: June 2016 Tour Brochure

But not only is Leipzig one of the most friendly and fascinating German cities, its musical heritage is second to none: Bach’s home for the greater part of his professional life, residence of one of the oldest and most famous orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the spiritual home of at least two other great composers, Mendelssohn and Schumann. During our stay, we:

  • Attended a performance of the St Matthew Passion directed by John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir – can’t get any better than that
  • The superb violinist Christian Tetzlaff playing Bach’s solo Partitas and Sonatas
  • The incoming Music Director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Andris Nelsons conducted the orchestra for the first time since his appointment, playing a stupendous performence of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, sounding glorious in the rich but clear acoustic of their great concert hall, the Gewandhaus (Cloth Hall)
  • Visited both the Schumann and Mendelssohn houses and museums
  • Last night, on the last day of the Festival, William Christie directed a wonderful performance by Les Arts Florissants of the Bach B minor Mass in Bach’s own church, the Thomaskirche. During the Agnus Dei at the end, the sun poured through the clouds and lit up the east end of the great church as if handed down from on high in honour of the sublime music

Julia meets William Christie after the B minor Mass

Four Days in Paris

Paris Opera, Palais Garnier (Photo: Eric Pouhier, Wikimedia Commons, above)

Four days in Paris! We are staying in a rather cramped hotel a few minutes away from L’Opera and the Galeries Lafayettes, but then eveywhere you stay in Paris is rather cramped unless it’s the Georges Cinq or its ilk. Paris is not so much for the music but for being here, window shopping and observing the ever-fascinating French. We saw Traviata at the Bastille with the stunning Sonja Yoncheva but the lighting was in such stygian darkness we could barely make out who was who. The designer seemed to want each scene to be a floating blob of light in the middle ot total blackness. Nice concept maybe but most of Traviata is in daylight or brilliant party scenes. In comparison, last night’s Lear by German composer Aribert Reimann, (commissioned in the 1970s for the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) was prison bars next to Traviata’s gilded cage. A fearsome opera by turns with discordantly shrieking orchestral paasages then groaning, moaning stasis. Depending completely on outstanding singing actors, it was well served and received tremendous applause from the remaining audience who had not left at the interval! Our group had very mixed responses, some loving it, some hating it, but all loved cruising around the magnificent foyers of the Opera’s Palais Garnier before the performance and during the interval.

But the highlight of our Paris visit has been the visit to the wonderful new Philharmonie de Paris designed by Jean Nouvel who designed the Central Park complex in Broadway Sydney. This hall is designed with the Berlin Philharmonie’s concept of ‘hanging vineyards’ with a huge inverted mushroom baffle over the auditorium giving magnificently even acoustics to all seats. We heard Richard Goode play the Emperor Concerto and Herbert Blomstedt conduct the Orchestra de Paris. After the interval they gave a superb performance of Mahler’s 1st Symphony.

Philharmonie de Paris (Photo: BastienM – Wikimedia Commons)

Opera Everywhere in Berlin

One of our group, Philip Levy recommended our hotel, the Camper Casa and it has proved to be a great success and its facilities much enjoyed by all. It is very simple with a plain foyer and front desk, large utilitarian guest rooms with every convenient facilty you could want. Best of all is a 24 hour cafeteria style lounge dining area on the top floor where you can have self serve food and drink on an honour system any time you want, ideal for a group like us when we come home after a concert at 11 pm wanting a drink or three, gossip and a snack. Berlin is such a wonderful varied city these days, a place where everything happems for whatever your taste is – at all times of the day or night. in nearly a week here, we have been to a performance at all three of the full time professional opera companies here. The Deutsche Oper, the Staatsoper Berlin, and the Komische Oper, the last run by the redoubtable Australian Barrie Kosky, once our-love-to-loathe director of horrible productions, now the poster boy of European high opera, soon to debut at Bayreuth. At the Deutsche Oper, we saw Graham Vick’s controversial production of Tristan and Isolde set in a retirement home with often inexplicable goings on. In many ways it seemed completely illogical, even incomprehensible, but there was a painful dreaminess and angst that gave it a powerful dimension. At the Schiller Theater, (while the Staatsoper Berlin is being endlessly renovated), altogether more entertaining was Martinu’s Juliette or the Key to Dreams, an absolutely wonderful staging and performance of this mysterious surrealistic opera about a man and his lover locked in some kind of separate time capsules. The director, Claus Guth, (who directed the sensational Messiah Leo Schofield and I saw in Vienna a couple of years ago) had a field day with a set of madly opening and closing sets of doors and windows plus extraordinary performances by Rolando Villazon, singing gloriously and looking and moving like a young Charlie Chaplin and the gorgeous Magdalena Kozcena. This was a completely memorable performance and production that you wait years to see. A mad Don Giovanni at Komische Oper like marionettes on speed completed our opera in Berlin