During November we visited both the Wien Modern Festival in Vienna, and the Melos-Ethos Festioval in Bratislava. London Sinfonietta Principal pianist John Constable kept a diary, and shared some of his reflections with us…
Sunday 30 October, Vienna
I had been looking forward to revisiting Vienna and going to Bratislava for a long time. It is always a very special occasion to play in Vienna, partly because you are treading the same streets trodden by the world’s greatest composers and also because of the many marvellous experiences I have had there. I first went to Vienna in 1969 at three hours notice to assist Sir Georg Solti in a Decca recording of The Magic Flute. In the cast were two of my singer friends from Covent Garden, Yvonne Minton and Stuart Burrows who I later accompanied in the Brahms Saal of the Musikverein many times. The Musikverein has one of the most important collections of original scores in the world and on several occasions I was allowed to see manuscripts of Mozart piano concertos, the Eroica Symphony, Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ Four Serious Songs and on one occasion a Beethoven song that I had performed the night before.
But enough of the past! We arrived at our hotel, which was near the Belvedere Garden which Mahler walked round at lunchtime, in good time to have dinner at an atmospheric beer house set in the Belvedere itself. After dinner my colleagues went back to the hotel but I had plenty of energy left to walk round the floodlit centre, past the opera to the Hofburg and round the Musikverein.
Monday 1 November, Vienna
It was a ten minute walk to the Konzerthaus in warm sun for our 11 o’clock rehearsal. I remembered as I walked in that it was here that the London Sinfonietta gave it’s first concert outside the UK with Luciano Berio, followed by concerts around Europe with Pierre Boulez and David Atherton. (Click here to view the programme for this first concert). This time we were not in the main hall where we gave a Steve Reich concert a few years ago but were in the very lovely Mozart Saal. Vienna has what, apart from the Wigmore Hall, I believe we don’t have in London, halls which not only have a rich and warm acoustic but also are beautiful and have an atmosphere that positively demands music. All this without lighting effects or an auditorium so dark that you can’t read the programme!
After lunch overlooking the Burggarten there was time to see the Gustav Klimt exhibition in the Belvedere and an afternoon sleep before the concert. We played an all British programme including works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Simon Holt, George Benjamin and Thomas Adès which we had (or most of us had ) played many times before, and the programme was very warmly received. At a reception after the concert Cathy Graham, our previous Cheif Executive, said it was a programme of “London Sinfonietta Greatest Hits”. She also said how lovely the magical chords near the end of Adès Living Toys sounded. We were all very excited that Christian Barraclough, our young trumpeter deputising for London Sinfonietta Principal Alistair Mackie, had played so superlatively well in both the Benjamin and the Adès. After the concert we all went to the beer house near the hotel taking up two large tables, hoping to play at the Wien Modern festival again soon.
Friday 11 and Saturday 12 November, Bratislava
We didn’t arrive at our hotel until after midnight so I went to bed straight away, however, we did have the next morning free so I explored the old town which most of us had not seen before. It was brilliantly sunny but much colder than Vienna had been, there were no cars in the old town and very few people either. I happened to find an exhibition of Picasso drawings and etchings in a baroque palace after visiting the cathedral and wandering along deserted cobbled streets. In the afternoon we presented a workshop of works by Slovakian composers plus Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Silbury Air to a public audience. It certainly enhances a visit when we can do something involving local composers as well as playing a concert.
In the evening we had to rehearse for our concert partly because we had a different first violin to the concert in Vienna, but also because we were playing a new work for wind quintet and piano which involved quite a lot of unusual techniques, by Slovakian composer Iris Szeghy.
Sunday 13 November, Bratislava
The coach took us over the Danube to the theatre where we were going to perform. It was immediately obvious that it was a typically dry theatre acoustic unlike the Konzerthaus. After the rehearsal we all walked back over the bridge, and, after listening to the Police Band play outside the National Theatre and watching a busker who appeared to be sitting suspended in mid-air, a group of us had a good Italian lunch before a sleep and then the coach back to the theatre. After the concert, there was a lovely reception with food, excellent Slovakian red wine and speeches as it was the end of the festival. Iris was delighted with the way her piece had been played, we all felt that it was the sort of music which has a lot of atmosphere and really comes off in performance. We met many interesting people, all of whom were very enthusiastic about the concert and we certainly hope we will be invited back very soon.
Monday 14 November, Bratislava
We drove to Vienna airport along country roads in, at times, quite thick fog, however, luckily we were not delayed very much and our last trip abroad in a very active 2011 was over.