Paris, Saturday, May 23, 2009. The alarm sounds at 6:15 and it's an early start to the new tour. The weather in Paris has been gorgeous and it feels hard to leave home again so soon. By 6:40 I'm in the taxi and the streets are mostly sleepy, aside from the Boulevard de Charonne where people are busy preparing the weekly farmer's market. The white facades of the buildings on the Boulevard Voltaire glow pink in the early morning sunlight. The city looks beautiful. I'm setting out so early because I decided to enjoy an extra night at home and leave on the first train in the morning - most musicians travelled the day before. The TGV leaves from the Gare de l'Est and certainly lives up to it's name “Tres Grande Vitesse”. It gets me to Baden-Baden in time for lunch and a warm up before our Freischutz rehearsal at two.
These days I really look forward to our tours in Baden-Baden. I've grown fond of the little spa town, and while it's population may be small, its stately homes and hotels certainly are not! It's actually quite a grand place, full of marvelous 19th century mansions, elegant hotels and manicured gardens. In May, the town is green, green, green, with trees and bushes in full bloom everywhere you look. A park and small river wind their way beside the old town, the riverbed paved in cobblestones. It evokes an old Roman road that could have been laid for the frightening Emperor Caracalla when he visited the springs in the 3rd century A.D.
The Festspielhaus is at one end of town and our hotel on the other, so twice a day we stroll through this long park, across the rose garden, past the clay courts of Germany's oldest tennis club (founded in 1881), past old ladies with small dogs, and young ladies with big ones, people chattering in German, French and Russian, past children learning to walk and young families picnicking in the grass, and past one of the most varied collection of trees imaginable - my favorites being a pair of Giant Sequoias that I wonder if my great grandmother admired when she visited Baden-Baden a century ago.
Taking the waters is a must for most in the orchestra. The hammams, saunas, and thermal baths work wonders on a poor musician's back – we string players should probably be doing this a few times a week! The only danger, however, is to stay in too long, and when you do, you feel as droopy as an overcooked fusilli trying to play your instrument later in the day.
Thomas Hengelbrock is conducting, and our work with him has been most interesting. His suggestions flow in an amusing mixture of English, French, German and Italian with outbursts like “no, no, again.... la meme chose, but al dente!” meaning let's play the same thing again, but with more bite. He is a conductor with a great knowledge of performance practice, quoting frequently from composers' letters and indications in their personal scores about what they thought was important in their music and in their own performances . For example, trying to get us to be more flexible, Thomas cajoles us with a tale where Schubert says he could have as many as ten different tempi in just one movement, and goes on to tell us about a letter from Mozart to his father where he says that best way to play an aria in The Abduction from the Seraglio is with a gradual accelerando from the first note of the aria to the last. These things are not written in any scores, and suggest that 18th and 19th century performances were more wild and unpredictable, with a far greater flexibility in tempo than we have today. Thomas also speaks continually about tempo rubato, the natural breathing and flow in music, never to play too regularly, and that we must always keep the audience on the edge of their seats. We must surprise them. And with our performances of Der Freischutz at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, I think we did just that!
Have I left things out? So many... the magnificent solos of Joel and Fitz in the opera, everybody's favorite number, the Jagerchor, with the Philharmonia choir dressed in white overall shorts, knee-high white socks and red patent leather shoes - so much fun we played it twice! Or was it that the set change was taking too long? Either way it didn't matter because the audience loved it, and clapped along. There was the orchestra/choir football game, great fun, but will probably be most remembered for the size of the mosquito bites left on everyone's legs. There were visits to the baths, my annual tennis with Fitz in our “whites” on the red clay, all those club sandwiches at Leo's, and, of course, the legendary Lumberjack Big Band at the opening night reception (the big band of Sinatra Tour fame!). I could go on, but will leave it there, and look forward to seeing everyone in Lucerne in August. Take care and be well!