19 December 2018

Europe Tour Diary 12: Aalborg

In our 2018 European Tour, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will perform 12 concerts in seven countries in some of the most magnificent halls in the world. Emma Dunch, CEO, is on the road with the orchestra and writes to us from our twelfth and final stop, Aalborg!

The final day of our tour dawned brightly as we took the bus to Baden-Baden airport for the final charter flight to Aalborg, Denmark, which included the obligatory Sydney Symphony Orchestra Selfie onboard — something of a tradition on our orchestral tours:

The traditional Sydney Symphony Orchestra selfie on the flight to Aalborg, Denmark

Aalborg is a small coastal town, in northern Jutland. It’s where Sydney Opera House architect Jørn Utzon was raised – our final tour performance would be the grand finale of Aalborg’s global Utzon Centennial celebrations.

Our first point of call upon arrival was a tour of the Utzon Center, the last building designed by the architect and now the worldwide museum and curatorial authority on his many works and broad legacy. Center Director Lasse Andersson gave us a VIP tour and it was fascinating to learn about the full scope of Utzon’s creativity beyond our Sydney Opera House. It was awe-inspiring to see his work beyond what we know in Australia, and to examine Utzon’s original drawings and models showing the decades-long genesis of the Sydney Opera House – from his first charcoal sketch to today’s finished product. Without a doubt, our visit to the Utzon Center was a highlight of the tour.

Next, we strolled further down the waterfront boulevard to the Aalborg Musikkens Hus, which was opened in 2014 and is an extraordinary facility – what a way to end our tour! This stunning building contains several theatres, a fantastic restaurant, sweeping lobby and backstage areas, and the concert hall where we performed. It features all of today’s cutting-edge acoustic design, as well as innovations like a soundproof window from the lobby down into the concert hall. We learned more as Musikkens Hus CEO Lasse Henningsen gave us a personal tour of the building.

Our Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert was the highlight of the concert calendar for the Aalborg locals and also the grand finale of the city’s year-long Utzon Centennial celebrations. It seemed to us as though every person in Northern Demark made a special trip to hear Jørn Utzon’s “home orchestra” – the venue was packed and the atmosphere celebratory. One person missing was Jørn Utzon’s son, Jan, who has been heavily involved in the renovations of the Sydney Opera House in recent years. As luck would have it, Jan had to host his firm’s Christmas party in Copenhagen on the same night as our concert, but he sent his best wishes:

I would have loved to experience the famous Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Denmark. This orchestra was the prime reason that we have the Sydney Opera House today, and we can thank the generations of fine musicians for inspiring politicians and architects to come up with the structure at Bennelong Point… The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has always been very present in our family and in the mind of my father, ever since he won the competition in 1957. I wish you all a very successful and wonderful evening in Aalborg.”

Our Danish hosts went all out to make our visit a truly unforgettable occasion. The chef curated a pre-concert dinner with an Australian menu of kangaroo tartare, roast lamb, Barramundi, and mango and passionfruit mousse – we couldn’t quite figure out how to get kangaroo meat in Northern Denmark in the middle of winter, but it tasted delicious, so we asked no questions! Fresh eucalyptus floral centrepieces, premium Australian wines and Opera House-folded table napkins made us all feel right at home.

Post-dinner, our final performance of the 2018 European Tour was among the strongest of all. Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson led a cracking pace for the overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein and I reflected once again on the strength of our woodwind section, who must perform musical miracles in this fast-moving composition. Leading the charge, it was the final performance for our long-serving Principal Piccolo, Rosamund Plummer. She played her solos, the Bernstein and then later, the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 with supreme expertise, musical sophistication, and a special farewell flourish. At the standing ovation after our performance, David Robertson acknowledged Rose and presented her with his floral bouquet. We were delighted that Rose’s husband, Chris Howes, could travel from Sydney to Aalborg to hear her final Sydney Symphony Orchestra performance.

Principal Piccolo Rosamund Plummer at her final performance for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Aalborg

At the conclusion of the concert, we received an extended standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience, with cheering and many curtain calls. As we realised that our tour was ending on a very high note, there were hugs all around, onstage and offstage. It takes a village, and we had managed it!

The Aalborg Musikkens Hus team mounted a wonderful post-concert tour party in the rooftop lobby and, after travelling Europe and performing 12 concerts in seven countries, we let our hair down with an energetic celebration of a job well done.

Here, I learned that Associate Principal Trombone Scott Kinmont has a second career as the poet laureate of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra when he offered a humorous farewell to Principal Piccolo Rosamund Plummer. A tradition at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Scott gathers anecdotes about retiring musicians from their colleagues and then weaves them into witty, amusing farewell tributes. He did a great job and presented Rose with an autographed copy of the poem for her later enjoyment. It was a wonderful moment.

Concertmaster Andrew Haveron and Chief Conductor David Robertson offered reflections before we all joined to thank our indefatigable tour team — the people whose work is little heralded, but without whom no tour is possible. Extra-special kudos went to Aernout Kerbert, our Director of Orchestra Management whose work with his staff team and with tour agents Opus 3 over the past several years brought this tour to fruition; Alanna Horadam, our tour doctor who kept our shared flus, sniffles and viruses at bay; David Peterson, our tour physiotherapist, who worked 24/7 backstage with his portable massage table to keep our musicians and crew in fighting form on the road; and all of our Sydney Symphony Orchestra staff, tour sponsors and Europe-based tour companies whose contributions made the tour a success. Thank you all who joined us and supported us on this incredible tour!

Europe Tour Diary 12: AalborgEurope Tour Diary 12: AalborgEurope Tour Diary 12: Aalborg