11 December 2018

Europe Tour Diary 8: Paris

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 eighth stop, Paris.

We arrived in Paris on a sunny afternoon and the Brits among us immediately took advantage of Marks & Spencers’ Simply Food in the Gare de l’Est, the train station across the road from our hotel — proving that homesickness comes in many forms on tour. Others of us ventured out into the laneways of the local arrondissement to stretch our legs after several hours of travel.

Opened in 1995, the Cité de la Musique is an urban redevelopment project northeast of Paris, comprising several auditoriums, a museum, a media library, numerous learning spaces, and the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall in which we played. This rehearsal tested our flexibility, with acoustics quite different from the night before, and we adapted on the fly to Mahler’s musical demands within this distinctive concert hall.

The performance that night was a special occasion for many reasons: we were in violinist Renaud Capuçon’s home town and he played the jovial host; concertmaster Andrew Haveron’s mother Pam and brother Patrick travelled from England to see Andrew perform with us for the very first time, having never made it down to Australia to see him play in our home at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall; harpist Louise Johnson played her final Mahler Symphony No. 5 Adagietto in concert, prior to retiring soon from her career as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Harp; and we were joined by His Excellency Brendan Berne, Australia’s Ambassador to France, with several special guests.

The concert was again sold out and the audience response was strong. We knew it was a really special night when, following his spectacular performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto, Renaud Capuçon re-entered the stage for his encore, handed Andrew Haveron a sheet of music, and pulled him to his feet with his violin. Out in the auditorium, Andrew’s mother’s eyes lit up. “Andrew and I always competed against one another in violin competitions as young men,” Renaud told the rapt crowd. “And neither of us ever won first place! But our two careers haven’t turned out too badly, I think.” There was much laughter from the crowd. “So for my encore tonight, with Andrew’s mother and brother in the audience, I would like to perform a duet with my good friend and colleague, Andrew Haveron.” It was magical to hear the pair perform a beautiful rendition of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins Op. 56 composed in 1932, and even more special because a live concert recording with Radio France captured the moment.

After the break, the Mahler took flight in the extraordinary acoustic and with the musicians on a musical high after the recognition for Andrew in the first half. The fourth movement, the Adagietto, is rightly famous as Gustav Mahler’s love song to his wife, Alma, and we played it most recently at the Sydney Opera House as part of our tribute concert, Richard Gill AO – Celebration of a Life. On that occasion and again on this one, harpist Louise Johnson played the solo harp part with great artistry and sensitivity. It was her fitting farewell to us – she has played with distinction with us for over 50 years, and we all recognised that it was a special moment. Louise, we will miss you!

Standing Ovation in Paris

The next day, we were honoured to be hosted in the residence of His Excellency Brendan Berne, Australian Ambassador to France, for a Vin d’honneur champagne reception with business leaders from the Australian Business in Europe network. The Embassy and residence are located in a landmark Harry Seidler designed building with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. A quintet from the orchestra performed Piazzola tangos with one of France’s most iconic landmarks as their scenic backdrop, and Ambassador Berne spoke about the importance of international cultural ambassadorship, the diplomatic value of our European tour and invited us to return soon. Many “selfies” from the penthouse terrace followed. 

Photo credit: William Beaucardet

Europe Tour Diary 8: ParisEurope Tour Diary 8: ParisEurope Tour Diary 8: Paris