04 Dec 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 fifth stop, Warsaw.
We awoke early for our charter flight from Berlin to Warsaw, Poland, and received a rude shock when we arrived – the temperature had dropped 20 degrees between Berlin and Warsaw, and was an icicle-friendly -9˚degrees Celsius when we landed! Several of us dashed straight to the local shopping centre close to the hotel for additional cold weather clothing. Suitably re-attired a little later in the afternoon, we arrived at the Warsaw Philharmonic in good spirits, ably hosted by long-time Sydney Symphony Orchestra Second Violin and Polish native, Stan W Kornel.
Every available wall of this venue is lined with historical concert posters and autographed artist photos. It was a delight to see a large poster advertising the Warsaw Philharmonic’s performances decades ago at the Sydney Town Hall as we trooped up the stairs from the stage door to the dressing rooms. Music truly is an international language!
We discovered another international music connection while at the Warsaw Philharmonic. Sitting quietly in at the back of the stalls during rehearsal was an elderly gentleman, listening intently. Not recognising him, we introduced ourselves and learned that he was Warsaw native, Kazimierz “Kaz” Machala, who served as our Sydney Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn in Australia from 1979-1986 under Chief Conductors Louis Frémaux and Sir Charles Mackerras. Retired from playing and now teaching and composing, Kaz regaled us with stories of our orchestra’s colourful past and was greeted warmly in the rehearsal break by our Principal Trombone Ron Prussing, who remembered him from the 1980s. We gifted Kaz with a set of Sydney Symphony Orchestra CD recordings and hosted him as our esteemed guest at the concert and reception that evening. Afterwards, he met with the next two generations of Sydney Symphony Orchestra horn players, current Sydney Symphony Orchestra Tutti Horn Euan Harvey and 2018 Sydney Symphony Orchestra Horn Fellow, Aidan Gabriels.
At this performance, Mahler’s epic fifth symphony soared all around us due to the ideal shoebox shape and rich wood panelling of this concert hall. Once again, the remarkable acoustics allowed the musicians to experiment and adjust during performance, making for thrilling listening. The capacity audience gave us a wildly enthusiastic reception and a standing ovation, demanding five curtain calls.
This was an important evening for the Australian Federal Government, with the Australian Ambassador to Poland, His Excellency Paul Wojciechowski, hosting five Polish Government Ministers and a host of dignitaries to our performance and to a special post-concert reception for the orchestra.
The following morning, we were all thankful to have a free day in Warsaw. Changing countries every day is gruelling and it was nice to be able to skip the 4:45am alarm and sleep in for a change. Later that morning, and fully rugged up to withstand the -11’C temperatures, orchestra members fanned out across Warsaw to visit museums, sightsee and shop for amber jewellery, a Baltic region specialty. Others opted to enjoy leisurely lunchtime feasts of Polish specialties including roast duck, cabbage, potatoes, apples and, of course, vodka.
Several musicians joined our patrons’ day trip to Frederic Chopin’s birthplace and museum in the countryside outside Warsaw. Chopin’s parents were servants in the manor estate of a wealthy Warsaw family and it was fascinating to learn more about the history and music of this composer. A delicious farmhouse lunch followed, featuring piping hot soup to warm our frozen feet from stomping the manor grounds and delicious roast duck, along with Chilean wine, since it was way too early in the day for Poland’s national drink, vodka. Even for us!