Reconvening after a month-long break, the Emerson Quartet met in New York for its annual appearance at the Mostly Mozart festival, and then headed out a week later for another end-of-summer European tour. The proliferation of festivals in Europe during this period offers musicians not only numerous performing opportunities, but beautiful weather, great food, and chances to play in unusual settings and venues.
in David’s words…
July 27: Oslo
As I approach my 32nd season in the Emerson Quartet, it seems almost inconceivable that I should never have set foot in a country with as active a musical culture as Norway. But it was true: before this concert, the ESQ had never played a note in this beautiful place, the land of rain, Ibsen, the Nobel Peace Prize, Grieg, fish, and blond hair.
Oslo is the capital of Norway and was founded about a thousand years ago. It is now one of the most expensive cities in the world, although thankfully we didn’t feel it, as we were well taken care of. The amount of daylight varies greatly according to season, with only about 6 hours of sun in the dead of winter. The presence of rain, fog and cold was not unwelcome after the blistering heat of New York this summer, and the conditions, plus the architecture, added to the atmosphere of the place, which reminded us of Edinburgh.
We were presented by the Oslo Chamber Music Festival, which takes place for ten days every summer and was in its 21st season. We appeared in a converted Masonic temple called the Gamle Logen, which is only one of the festival’s many venues.
The acoustics were excellent and the crowd – which seemed to know us through our recordings – was as friendly and appreciative as any we have encountered. We made it, somehow, through our daunting new program for the tour: Haydn’s final quartet, Op. 103 (he only completed the middle two movements of a standard four-movement work), Berg’s early Op. 3 quartet and Webern’s hyper-romantic Langsamer Satz, and the enormous, semi-impossible Schubert G major.
The festival’s founding director, the distinguished violinist Arve Tellefsen, was our gracious host at a delicious dinner afterwards, where he treated us to stories of his days in New York as a student of Ivan Galamian. It was wonderful to re-connect with this marvelous musician, with whom we had toured in the 80’s in an ensemble that included soprano Barbara Hendricks and cellist Frans Helmerson.
August 27-29 Bad Reichenhall
The little town of Bad Reichenhall sits in the lower east corner of Germany, only a few kilometers from the Austrian border and the musical hotspot of Salzburg. Founded roughly a thousand years ago, Bad Reichenhall (like Salzburg) has been a producer of salt since the middle ages, pumping the brine out of the earth from many meters below. The waters and fumes are said to be medicinal, and people travel from all over to soak and breathe and reap whatever benefits the waters may offer.
The reason we come to Bad Reichenhall however, way beyond any other, is due to the beckoning of one of classical music’s greatest advocates and organizers: Klaus Lauer, the former director of the Musiktage concert series at the Hotel Roemerbad in Badenweiler. The only place in the world where we have performed the complete Beethoven cycle on three separate occasions, Badenweiler became a home-away-from-home for us all, not only because of the hospitality and generosity of the Lauers, but because of the inspired programming that was all Klaus’s, and the commitment and passion of the audience that he built over many years. Since selling the hotel (it was in his family since the 19th century) Klaus has moved on to presenting series in other venues, and he was recently invited to curate the chamber music concerts at Bad Reichenhall’s AlpenKLASSIK festival.
The concerts take place in the beautiful Kurhaus, only steps away from the luxurious hotel in which the musicians stay, the Radisson Blu Axelmannstein Resort.
The Dvorak Terzetto on stage at the Kurhaus
The main street is a charming pedestrian zone.
Our two programs included music by Dvorak, and for the second we were joined by cellist Roberta Cooper (wife of Gene Drucker), and Berlin Philharmonic violist Matthew Hunter for Schoenberg’s sextet Verklaerte Nacht.
Our concerts were part of a dual festival Klaus designed for this season, which included pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s “Carte Blanche” series, and a second part called Übergänge – letzte Romantik, which connected music of the Romantic era with music of 20th and 21st centuries. Also participating were the Pacifica Quartet (who played Carter), and the Kuss Quartet.
The ESQ with Klaus Lauer
September 2 and 3: Helsingør, Denmark
Flying into Copenhagen, we rented cars and drove about one hour north to the city of Helsingør, on the coast. Helsingør (the ø is pronounced something like eu in French) was a major strategic location in Danish history, being positioned at one of the narrowest points of the strait (Øresund) between Denmark and Sweden. In the 15th century the Danish kings began extracting “sound dues” or tolls from passing ships, and required boats to lower their sails out of respect for the king, otherwise they could be fired upon.
Around the same time the famous castle that would eventually be named Kronberg was built as a residence for the king and as a fortress that would control the strait and its traffic. It is within this castle that Shakespeare set his play Hamlet, making the castle world-famous.
The quartet’s presenter was the concert series at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The museum, situated on beautiful grounds right on the water, has an extensive collection of more than 3000 paintings, drawings and sculptures all created after 1945, by the leading artists of the time. The concert series is run single-handedly by Lars Fenger, who, through his own strong artistic opinions and presenting standards has created a unique and apparently very successful scenario. The Emerson Quartet considers itself fortunate to be to Lars’s liking and to be able to enjoy appearing in this extraordinary setting. The hospitality is second to none, and the audiences, which completely filled the hall for both concerts (same program), listened with intensity and responded with enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, Louisiana does not allow photography, so I have no pictures to include, but you can see the Museum on its spectacular web site which also includes information about the concert series: http://www.louisiana.dk
September 4 and 5: Schwarzenberg, Austria
Our final stop on this wonderful tour was the distinguished Schubertiade festival, which takes place in the Austrian Alps in the quaint, enormously picturesque village of Schwarzenberg.
The festival was founded by the tenor Hermann Prey in 1976 (the same year the Emerson Quartet was born). The Schubertiade festivals are attended by people religiously devoted to the music of Schubert, as were Schubert’s close friends in his own day (the term “Schubertiade” actually comes from Schubert’s time and was used to describe the famous gatherings of Schubert’s fans who enjoyed whole evenings of his music). The festival typically offers two to sometimes three concerts a day, and in between, the listeners (virtually all of whom travel in and jam the local hotels) sit outside enjoying good food or take easy walks in the surrounding fields and hillsides.
The concert hall, the Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal, was built in 2001 and is state-of-the-art, minus anything superfluous or glitzy.
Permanently-installed video cameras and microphones capture every performance, and the recordings – fully produced with cover photos, program notes etc. – are miraculously handed to the performers only minutes after the conclusion of the concert. This feature is due not only to the generosity of the festival (these recordings are not sold or broadcast) but also to the wizardry and dedication of engineer Joachim Schmid, who produces everything in real time during the performances, all by himself.
The intermissions, especially in the late afternoon, are reason enough to want to attend. Can you imagine a more beautiful setting to enjoy between two halves of an all-Schubert concert?
A horn duo, playing Schubert, announces the end of the intermission. As soon as they began, the surrounding crowd went totally silent, as though they were listening to Die Winterreise. Such is the reverence for Schubert and for classical music in general here.
This phenomenally successful festival is solely directed, since 1980, by Gerd Nachbauer, who attends every concert, hosts a meal after each as well, and is always there for his audience, staff and performers. I truly wonder when and if he ever sleeps. With venues in Schwarzenberg and nearby Hohenems, the Schubertiade presents 70 concerts per year for 30,000 listeners. The festival runs like clockwork: every detail is in place, the cracker-jack staff performs infallibly, nothing ever seems to go wrong. As a presenter, I cannot help but notice and admire, and as a performer, I am truly grateful and able to give my best on stage.
The Quartet and Gerd Nachbauer enjoy backstage beers, a tradition at the Schubertiade