The Boston Symphony Orchestra returned September 6th from its 18-day tour of European summer music festivals, the first tour with its new Music Director, Andris Nelsons.
The Barber/Strauss/and…Tour (say it fast), included the cities of London, Salzburg, Vienna, Lucerne, Milan, Paris, Cologne, and Berlin. Repertoire included Barber’s 2nd Essay, two Strauss tone poems (Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben), a brilliant new trumpet concerto for Håkan Hardenberger by Brett Dean, Haydn’s 90th, Mahler’s 6th, and Shostakovich’s 10th Symphonies.
The tour opened with two BBC Proms performances: Mahler 6 and Shostakovich 10. Royal Albert’s sonorous acoustic made it a pleasure to play these two masterworks on our first nights.
Yo Yo Ma’s dramatic Don Quixote travelled with us to Salzburg, Lucerne, and Paris, with our own Steve Ansell’s Sancho Panza providing a supportive shoulder to the old man (the Don, that is).
Dean’s Dramatis Personae sounded like a different piece in every venue, each one accentuating different frequencies and instrumental colors. I could barely hear the soloist in the Lucerne hall, which made playing the fiercely difficult orchestral accompaniment that much harder. Håkan is an astounding trumpet player, and gets more colors from the instrument than anyone has a right to be able to do. His touching encore of “My Funny Valentine” smoothed the feathers of those in the audience ruffled by that darned atonal stuff.
The new Philharmonie in Paris, described by one observer as a space-ship crash-landed in the XIXe Arrondissement, presented a pleasant surprise in its live and resonant acoustic; there is just some upper register harshness to tweak out of it. Nevertheless, it is now the best symphonic hall in this important musical capital—a fine hall in Paris…finally.
The Wolkenturm at Grafenegg, just outside of Vienna, proved the most curious and difficult acoustic of the tour. If the Paris Philharmonie was a crashed space ship, this was a piece of maritime wreckage upended in its final descent to the bottom of the sea. Made of stark irregular steel panels, and a concrete stage floor, the “shell” unevenly projected sound out into the open-air audience seating and made hearing across the stage problematic. Another acoustical oddity was the audience applause, which, although visibly enthusiastic, seemed to evaporate into the night air rather than reach the performers on the stage.
All in all a successful tour. We look forward to our next one with Andris coming up soon in April/May of 2016.