18 December 2018
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 eleventh stop, Baden-Baden.
A tour group of 126 people can prove an inadvertent challenge for those around us. On this morning, we boarded four large coaches and proceeded in convoy, driving through rain and icy winds towards the spa resort town of Baden-Baden on the border of Germany and France. As with all road trips, loo breaks are necessary and we found ourselves at a random truck stop in rural Germany, where the local staff were quite taken aback at the sudden influx of 126 wet and cold musicians requesting hot coffee and queuing for the one available toilet – we were quite the sight!
A few hours later, the rain abated and we discovered that Baden-Baden is a beautiful resort town. Our hotel was directly beside a picturesque outdoor Christmas market, filled with attractive, chalet-style wooden gift stalls selling everything from waffles to diamond rings. Being musicians, we are definitely on a “waffle budget” and so most of us settled for an inexpensive mug of spicy gluhwein as we strolled through the market on our way down the hill to the concert hall.
Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus is an excellent facility which is busy all year round with orchestras, operas, ballet and theatre productions. On this occasion, our huge backstage space was dominated by the ballet company’s Nutcracker Christmas tree, which was easily three storeys high — along with a larger-than-life-sized white elephant made of plaster, which we decided must be a leftover prop from a production of Verdi’s Aida. Sydney Symphony Orchestra Horn Fellow Aidan Gabriels was unfazed by “the elephant in the room.”
This was our percussion soloist Martin Grubinger’s final performance with us on the tour — and consequently, also the final appearance of his dedicated road crew, Bruno Kaut and Stefan Lindner. Bruno and Stefan drove Martin’s full truck of percussion from city to city ahead each of the orchestra’s stops along the tour, making sure that everything was set up and ready to go for each rehearsal and performance. They were terrific and at the tour thank-you dinner that night, we presented them with Sydney Symphony Orchestra 2019 Season “Thank you for the music” T-shirts.
Our concert opened with Brett Dean’s Engelsflügel and David Robertson offered some introductory remarks – in fluent German, of course! – about the music and Brett’s inspiration for the piece. It was well received, and the applause was hearty. Then, David brought on Martin Grubinger to chat a little about James Macmillan’s Percussion Concerto No. 2 before launching into our final tour performance of this extraordinary work. There were many young people in the audience with their parents and grandparents, and they went wild at the end. For the first time, Martin gave two encores because the crowd was so enthusiastic. He acknowledged and thanked the percussionists of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, his artistic partners in the piece, who received cheers and “bravos”, and later posed for a picture with him backstage.