I’m getting some new colleagues for Christmas! Well, not exactly for Christmas, but for the season to come. It’s exciting to experience the expansion of the orchestra’s borders to include four new nationalities: our new colleagues come from China, Israel, Turkey, and Slovenia. I still find it fascinating that one common goal, creating music, can be the common denominator for a peaceful professional coexistence. Never in my memory have there been personal conflicts within the orchestra deriving from nationality, race, or religion. Conflicts, to be sure, do exist, since we’re only human beings, but they are the exception among us and not the rule. Perhaps we should give the world musical instruments so that all can practice unity instead of division? The small world of our orchestra gives me hope that – with common values and guidelines – there can be room for all in equal measure, each one given a role to fulfill in dignity and solidarity. Yes, I’m a dreamer. But our world becomes smaller all the time, and to fill it with music would be a step toward a world of peace. Peace on earth, a timely message.
What is a tour blog without a tour? Yet, on a snowy afternoon in front of the fireplace, I notice that there are readers checking in every day to browse a past blog, or perhaps hoping for a new one? So I thought you might like to read about the ghosts of tours past, present, and to come. Touring really began for us in 2004, with the first concerts we ever played in China. Before that our tours were run-outs to neighboring Swiss cities. These weren’t without their charm, but never had the strong qualities of teamwork that longer tours (more than one day) bring forth. Since then, the orchestra has seen snowstorms and traffic jams in Moskow, swooning fans in Bregenz, a sumptuous banquet under starry skies in Beijing, and perfect pastries in Pavia. We’ve breakfasted in Besançon, enjoyed standing ovations in Cardiff, minimal music in Basingstoke, and outdoor illuminations in Guebwiller – and the list goes on. At present our touring is limited to pilgrimages between our rehearsal and concert venues. The holiday season calls for our continued presence in the Basel area because music makes the holidays even more magical, and we are primarily here to serve our loyal audiences at home. I wish I were at liberty to talk about the tours to come, but these are still under wraps. However, since I’m dreaming, perhaps I could slip in a wish or two to keep dreams alive? How would it be to steal off to Hamburg and play in the Elbphilharmonie? Or perhaps a hop over to Royal Albert Hall for a Prom with Ivor? What say you to a few days on the road with a gorgeous singer? Does that sound tempting? Even if my wishes aren’t fulfilled, I’m richer by having them: what would life be without our wishes and dreams?
After our successful concerts with Berlioz, we’ll soon be braving Beethoven with Bolton in Baden-Baden. I must say, though, that Berlioz has really left an imprint on me: the music is still spooking through my brain, it’s almost annoying. Berlioz’s music is taking unusually long to cede its place to the next occupant who, in this case, will be Elgar. I have yet to accompany Sir Edward Elgar’s violin concerto, although this music has a special place in my heart. We’ll be performing it with Daniel Hope, who could be said to have a close relationship with the piece. Daniel Hope’s teacher and mentor was Sir Yehudi Menuhin who, as a young boy, went to visit Sir Edward with the intention of playing his concerto for the composer. The story has it that Sir Edward, after listening to a few bars, excused himself to play a few holes of golf. It was clear to him that his piece was in good hands. I feel certain that we’ll be just as privileged with our soloist and can discover a work that is too rarely played in our region. The second piece on the program will be Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the last vestige of our UK tour. We’re riding the wave of energy and confidence that Ivor prepares for us, it feels like we rise to every new challenge with optimism and the joy of making music. Right now, I have the best job in the world.
In a few hours we’ll be piling into busses again, to bring „Roméo et Juliette“ to the Konzerthaus in Freiburg, Germany. The last days have been filled with rehearsals, recordings, and concerts in which some breathtaking musical experiences were sparked into life. It has been gratifying to make and hear music of such a high level. Yesterday, listening to the choir singing, I was reminded of the supple smoothness of fine silk draped over firm muscles. Their singing is unbelievably perfect and expressive, a moment to live -and not to die – for. I also learned a great deal about keeping an intense level of energy throughout a whole evening, as illustrated by our highly respected and well-loved conductor, Ivor. The orchestra, too, received a kind invitation to a reception after yesterday’s concert, given by our circle of friends. I went and met some very warm-hearted and generous people, people who we are lucky to have supporting and nurturing us. This is a very exciting time to be part of Sinfonieorchester Basel, I feel that our journey is taking us to heights that I’d never have thought possible. And we’re only just beginning! Today’s journey, in any case, will take us to Verona via Freiburg, where we will, for the last time, tell the tale of woe, of Juliet and her Romeo.
We are now in the midst of our production of „Roméo et Juliette“ by Hector Berlioz, and it is an enormous undertaking. Shakespeare’s literary inspiration alone has filled many volumes of research and interpretation, but Berlioz’s music is a completely new library to be opened and relished. I’m continually struck by his radical thinking, the incredible discipline of his compository skills, and the sheer wealth of colors and textures he so boldly explores. Berlioz summons a vast congregation of musical resources to give life to his work: a large orchestra, soloists and three choirs. This is a scale which we rarely experience in our concerts, and it is a revelation. How can music be so pure and so discordant, so completely mad and at the same time, so full of humanity and humaneness? I would love to be able to meet Hector Berlioz and discover his way of thinking. His world was such that it wasn’t totally unheard of to fall in love at first sight – with his future wife, Harriet Smithson- when he saw her perform the role of Juliette in Paris. Was the extravagance of his life and actions enhanced by the use of laudanum, or other forms of opiates, as it seems to have been usual in his time? I haven’t done the research to know for sure, but this would certainly fit into the wild and voluptuous contours and configurations we hear in this and his other works. I have also asked myself if Wagner may have been inspired by the beginning of the second movement to write his „Tristan“ theme, another crazy, tragic, and musically groundbreaking, love story. Our rehearsals are gruelling, but filled with music-making. We aren’t just dissecting a work to reconstruct and put on display, we are breathing life into a new creation. I look forward to every rehearsal, to each new thought that Ivor reveals to us, to every second of heartbreak and reconciliation that this music contains. This is all I need to get high: music is my drug of choice.
The last concert of our UK tour took place just north of the Swiss border – in Lörrach, Germany. On the program were works of Busoni, Mozart, and Beethoven, in a last burst of brilliance like the autumn foliage. There was a difference, however: the concert was led by Erik Nielsen, principal conductor of the Basel opera, and a deeply respected colleague. It was interesting to observe the subtle alterations which manifested themselves during the course of the evening: here a slightly slower tempo, there a dynamic nuance. I think that, because we now know these works so well, there was an astonishing interaction between the orchestra and the conductor. Of course Erik made an imprint on our performance, which was a further heightening of those already achieved. But we, too, felt secure enough to continue to explore and exploit the written instructions on the pages, making the music alive with color and vitality. The concert at the Burghof was a compilation of experience and a deeply felt ambition. We are now used to playing well, then even better, and that feels great. My feeling is that our communal spirit received an enormous boost during the UK tour. We’ve deepened our capacity to adapt to new halls, acoustics, and infrastructures, and to make these factors work for us. The Sinfonieorchester Basel’s motivation is enormous – we want to play well and make music. This is the best souvenir I can think of. Our next concerts will take place in Basel, with Ivor leading us in Berlioz’s „Romeo et Juliette“, and later in Baden-Baden with works of Elgar and Beethoven. It will be exciting to explore our limits, and to possibly break through them with new achievements.
Our 2017 UK tour is now history. The orchestra returned safely, the truck with our instruments and clothing as well. Little is left to remind us of where we’ve spent the last week but the physical and emotional souvenirs of a time spent happily and busily together. And without missing a beat our musical lives in Basel go on: after our arrival at two in the afternoon, we didn’t have much time to waste before the seven-thirty rehearsal of „La Traviata.“ I believe one could say that we’ve earned our keep. In any case, we have rendered the reputation of Basel invaluable services. Reading the reviews and watching some of the video journals of this tour, I’ve observed that a commom thread is, „we’ve never heard of this orchestra before, but it is a wonderful surprise.“ Dear friends from our concerts, you are heartily encouraged to come to Basel and hear us in our multifacetted activities – I think you’ll be amazed at the beauty and and diversity of the city that is our home.
So now it’s time to close this magical map of an enchanted time. I’ve enjoyed sharing it and thank you for your support and continued interest in our endeavors. Mischief managed!