06 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 seventh stop, Hamburg.
Hamburg’s brand-new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, or “Elphi” for short, is a majestic silver tower soaring into the sky, a jewel on the Elbe River. Its imposing architecture on the outside is matched by the most extraordinary concert hall on the inside. We learned upon arrival that Hamburg’s city leaders had wanted to build a concert hall as iconic as our own Sydney Opera House – ten years and 789 million Euros later (a.k.a. “ten times over budget!”), they have succeeded!
There’s so much to be said about the beautiful building, but the highlight for us was the excellent acoustics. Our musicians could hear absolutely everything about their own and each other’s performances, and as rehearsal started, there were broad grins, astonished looks, and dropped jaws! Sydney Symphony Orchestra Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson, too, was delighted and the shared energy from the rehearsal set the stage for a knockout performance.
A few hours later, the hall was filled to capacity for our concert, and resembled something like a buzzing beehive as the audience members streamed into the multi-layered seating. We were honoured to be hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Germany, Her Excellency Ms Lynette Wood — a self-described “Sydney girl” whose diplomatic career has taken her around the world over the past 20 years. Among the Ambassador’s guests were important leaders from major German corporations with ties to Australia, along with cultural and diplomatic representatives from Hamburg and Berlin. We made many new friends and look forward to hosting them on their next visits Down Under.
Our Sydney Symphony Orchestra Artist in Residence, Brett Dean, travelled from his home in Berlin to participate in an onstage interview with the venue presenter about his composition, Engelsflügel, which was warmly received by the full house crowd. French violinist Renaud Capuçon gave a captivating performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto which was stylish, romantic and very popular with the audience.
In the interval, I went backstage to thank them both and was surprised to see Brett Dean changing into his concert tails. These days, Brett’s a world-renowned composer whose latest opera, Hamlet, will premiere with New York’s Metropolitan Opera— but in an earlier life, he was an orchestral violist in the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle for 14 years. “Brett, what are you doing?” I asked. “Well, I absolutely love Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and, you know, I’ve played it quite a lot with the Berlin Phil,” he said with dry understatement. “Tonight’s a special night, and I wanted to play it with all my Sydney Symphony Orchestra friends. David graciously invited me to make a guest appearance in the back of the viola section!” Those with eagle eyes or a camera zoom lens would have seen him sitting in a borrowed concert shirt beside Jane Hazelwood in the viola section, playing his heart out and never missing a note! We were thrilled to have him along.
After the Mahler, we were thrilled beyond measure to receive a wildly enthusiastic reception from the crowd, with a roaring standing ovation and seven curtain calls. Afterwards, in the elevator, an elderly couple saw our name badges and struck up a conversation with Director of External Affairs, Lizzi Nicoll, and myself. “We have been coming here 18 times since the Elbphilharmonie opened in 2017,” they declared emphatically. “But we never saw a standing ovation until this evening. Your orchestra is superb! You have conquered Hamburg! Congratulations!”