When the Lucerne Festival Orchestra tours it is always a big event, both for the audience and for us, the musicians. Memorable trips in past years include Paris, London, Beijing, Rome, and Tokyo. Usually the program involves a Mahler Symphony or two, but this year, as in Rome and Tokyo, it was Bruckner, and I have often particularly enjoyed the Bruckner tours. I remember the tour with the seventh symphony and not wanting the piece ever to end, it was so beautiful.
This year, the journey began with a train trip from Paris to Baden-Baden. Aki and I were travelling together and we couldn't understand why the trains were so full until we heard that it was the end of a bank holiday weekend in Germany. People were headed home. We had seats until Strasbourg and after that it was standing room only. However, this turned out to be quite fortuitous because there, in between the train cars, we met a most interesting older gentleman also headed to Baden-Baden on his way to curate an upcoming show of French painting and sculpture at the Friedrich Burda Museum. Now I say we were lucky because a great exhibit of Anselm Keifer was about to open at the museum. However it didn't open until the day after we left. Well, our new friend came through and invited us to come for a private viewing! What an experience to see this exhibit; to experience these stunning works and we had the museum completely to ourselves in silence. The paintings are extraordinary. They are large, ambitious, complicated and beautiful, and I recommend this exhibition to everyone. It is well worth a detour to Baden-Baden, and will stay long in our memories. It inspired us for our Bruckner Fifth Symphony that evening.
After Baden-Baden, we travelled to Paris for a concert at the Salle Pleyel. As we made our way on stage for the sound check I sensed people looking around and remembering last years triumph with the Mahler Nine. This year's concert did not disappoint and I think was the musical highlight of the tour for me. The following morning it was the Gare du Nord to St Pancras, a mid-day Eurostar to London in first class. Smiles all around. The new hotel is at Westminster Bridge and you know you're in the heart of London when you can see Big Ben from the lobby. It is a busy day and will be a busy stay, four concerts in four days. After a quick lunch and a nap, I head over the Queen Elizabeth Hall where we have a chamber music concert with musicians from the LFO. To open the program, a few of us from the MCO join Kolya Blacher for the Strauss sextet from Capriccio. It was really nice to work with Kolya and feel his demanding intensity up close. The performance was a big pleasure, and our Strauss was followed by a really memorable performance of Verklarte Nacht, also led by Kolya. I loved Rafael Rosenfeld's noble playing of the difficult first cello part. The next two days continued to be full with rehearsals for an MCO chamber program in the afternoon and Bruckner in the evening. Both South Bank concerts were great and finished with rousing ovations from the public. You could feel the concentration of the audience and its appreciation of our exceptional orchestra.