My first date with Bruckner 2 comes late in my career. After decades of playing in professional orchestras, this piece is one that’s slipped through the cracks – until now. I have to admit to a certain nervousness because, frankly, I’m not a fan of Bruckner. Honestly, my attitude’s been that Bruckner symphonies are pieces that I listened to as a student while stoned, and it was okay but not mind-boggling. Maybe something’s wrong with me, because so many of my colleagues consider Bruckner to be the highest height. In any case, tomorrow I will play Bruckner. I’ve spent the last days preparing my part, first practicing it, then listening to a recording so I understand the tempi and the transitions. Then, practicing again and again and again, until the music is solidly positioned in my head. It’s only then, when I understand exactly where the music’s going, that my fingers feel securely in place, too. So tomorrow’s the big day, and I’m wondering if my reluctance will turn to joy, or maybe more. Because, at some point (and I know myself quite well in this regard), the music will invade and permeate my consciousness. Day and night, Herr Bruckner will be omnipresent in my thoughts, I’ll have no say in the matter. The question is, will the force of his music win me over and make me embrace it? Will it be like a drug that lets me step away from myself for an instant? I’m wondering how much I’ll be able to open myself to a music which is very foreign to me. But when it comes to the concerts, I know only one possibility exists: to play my heart out. I’m certain that there will be moments of exhaltation and passion, as well as introvertion and reflection, and all of this I will carry on into my life. If it touches the lives of a hearer in even the smallest way, then something truly great will have been achieved. What can be a better tribute to the immenseness of music than that it makes us more human and at the same time, more in touch with the divine?
Consulting my agenda recently, I saw that „Education Project“ is marked on my calendar for coming Tuesday. Since I was curious to know exactly what this entails, I did what I normally do: I asked. What I learned is amazing. For the past four years, Sinfonieorchester Basel has worked in close partnership with a public schoolhouse in Basel, the Insel Schoolhouse. The idea for this project is that every child who’s interested, regardless of social or financial situation, is given the chance to learn a stringed instrument. The kids are loaned an instrument and given instruction – all free of charge! This week’s concert will be the culmination of a year’s work for these young musicians, and an eagerly anticipated event in their lives. We professionals will be seated together with our young partners, supporting and encouraging them through a performance of music by Handel and Charpentier. I am truly looking forward to this event and know exactly what this feels like for our young friends, because this is not the first time that I’ve particiated in a similar project. More than fifty years ago, in my early life, two gentlemen appeared in a short concert for violin and piano during the first hour of the school day. The violinist spoke, saying that any of us who liked could have free lessons and instruments for the asking. From that moment on, my life was changed. The gentlemen were named Emil Cedarfeldt, who became my first music teacher and idol, and Thomas Bucci, who still asks about me when he sees my Mom. I will never stop being thankful for this unrivalled privilege and opportunity to enter the world of music. About a year after my first violin lesson, our school orchestra was invited to participate in a project with the city’s professional orchestra, a concerto grosso by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I was over the moon about this adventure, which was just like Christmas: I couldn’t sleep the night before the concert and even wore a special dress – it was that important to me. I have never regretted my choice of profession, indeed I never thought to pursue anything else. But if this unique opportunity had not presented itself, who knows where I’d be now? Perhaps, some years from now, another musician will look back on their beginnings with tenderness and gratitude, having been gifted with a life-changing encounter. It might not even be that dramatic: it could just be some kids having fun for a few hours. But it’s sure to have an impact, not only for the students involved. I am incredibly touched to have the chance to give back a little of what I’ve received. It’s going full circle.
For some years now the Sinfonieorchester Basel has been offering internships to students of Swiss music academies. With each new season we welcome young musicians who are interested in deepening and perfecting their orchestral playing skills. The internship starts out, as with every orchestral position, in an audition. Once that hurdle’s overcome, the interns participate in every aspect of the orchestra’s activities in a situation which is basically a fifty percent position. Besides playing in concerts, theater, education projects, and touring, our apprentices are also continuing their university studies. Having this opportunity is a real win/win situation for both sides: the orchestra benefits from lots of youthful energy, enthusiasm, and idealism, and the interns have full access to all the tricks of the trade, lessons from their Mentors and other players, and the challenge (as well as fulfillment) of taking part in the day-to-day life of a fine symphonic ensemble. My impression is that this program gives our interns a real and rare advantage in the employment market over those who haven’t had this privilege. I claim this because I know that many of our former apprentices have found jobs in leading orchestras in Switzerland and further afield. We have former interns in Bern, Zürich (Tonhalle, opera house, and ZKO), Lucerne, St. Gallen, and in Sinfonieorchester Basel, too. Some have wandered farther abroad, to places like Magdeburg, Cottbus, Paris, and Shanghai. But I can truthfully say that we’re proud to be a stepping stone and a building block for future generations. Our „PraktikantInnen“ are very special to us and a real source of pride and satisfaction. Here’s to you all: I wish for each and every one of you to hear the words, „you’re hired!“
It’s the last day of May, a fair and sunny day, the breeze carries a perfume of elderberry blossoms. We’re on our lunch break between two rehearsals, and we’re all searching for some relaxation, food, a breath of fresh air, and the energy to work well this afternoon. Behind me, on the shaded parking lot behind the rehearsal locale, a half dozen of my colleagues are enjoying a yoga lessson- we have a certified yoga instructor in our horn group! Each of us spends this hour differently. The fact that our rehearsal venues are now no longer in our main concert hall, which is under renovation, has changed the dynamics of our togetherness. New groups have formed: some go to a restaurant, some bring their own food, some draw up at tables in the lobby and have a chat. It seems to do us good to have a situation which demands flexibility, we develop new facets of our personalities. And now, at the end of our first year of three in which we’re travelling between different rehearsal and concert venues, it seems also to be the same for the orchestra as a creative entity. Wherever we work (play), there are new aspects to be considered: acoustics, lighting, infrastructures, to be tested and used to our best advantage. Although we have had reservations about these years as nomads, it’s turning out to be surprisingly good. Our administrative team, along with our logistics experts, have given us everything we need to be at home at every new hall – even our coffee machine is here. Behind me I can hear my colleague’s gentle voice, guiding through the exercises, and a few happy bursts of laughter. This first episode of our journey toward a beautiful new beginning is not just a stopgap measure. It’s bringing us closer together and giving us skills that we can use in the future whenever we encounter the unknown. The way is the means!
It’s a sure sign that the season is drawing to a close when the concerts of young soloists from the Musikhochschule appear on the agenda. For the first time in my memory, they won’t be played in the Musiksaal, but in the air-conditioned comfort (I hope) of the Musical Theater. Three cheers for air conditioning- it makes for better concentration and results, and nobody fainting in the audience. Our young solists come from all countries, play different instruments, and are at various stages of their development, but they all have one thing in common: their excellence. It’s a pleasure to accompany them: the rare cases when it’s more sensitive is when a concerto is chosen which we’ve never played. Since our rehearsal time’s limited, we can give our best to support our guest artists if their concertos are part of our normal repertory. On the other hand, it’s often fun to discover a previously unfamiliar work. And in any case, it’s gratifying to see and hear the energy and idealism of budding talents. These concerts round off the season and open a new opportunity to future stars. In fact, among us there are several soloists from earlier years (I can think of at least five) united in promoting a fulfilling and successful continuation of this fantastic tradition. This is Future Made in Basel, yet another reason to love this city.