For a tiny nation whose only discernible exports are red tape and Euro-babble, Luxembourg has a very healthy artistic life. Driving and energizing the Grand Duchy’s cultural program is the Philharmonie, a stunning concert venue which turns 10 years old this year. There is something of a 1960s space-age fantasy about Christian de Portzamparc’s design, with its immaculate, stark white exterior and smooth, sloping moulded concrete foyers. The Philharmonie’s chamber music hall is an exquisitely intimate space which brings audiences and performers into close proximity and the impact of the ACO’s muscular playing style sent visible waves through the rows of attentive Luxembourgers as soon as the concert started.
Nestled between the 18th century classics of Haydn and Mozart was Anton Webern’s 1909 Five pieces for string orchestra. It’s amazing that this music, which is now 105 years old, still manages to unsettle audiences who have been exposed to Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostakovich, Pärt and Rihm. Somehow, its concise strangeness sat comfortably in the Kubrickesque architecture of the Philharmonie.
Frankfurt has played host to a celebrated book fair for more than 500 years, and our concert there on Wednesday coincided with this huge international event, bringing the city to life, but making hotel rooms scarce. Our concert took place in the wonderfully grand Alte Oper, which these days is a large modern concert hall housed within the restored 1880 shell of the original Frankfurt opera house (badly damaged by allied bombing in 1944). This was our first collaboration with the wonderful American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, whose effortlessly broad tone filled the huge concert auditorium. Alisa’s 1723 Montagnana cello is a perfect instrument for her generous, big-hearted musicianship, while her flawless virtuosity threw to the musicians of the ACO a daring challenge to outpace each other in the breathlessly exciting last movement of Haydn’s C major cello concerto.
Opening with Haydn 83, followed by the Cello Concerto then continuing with two Mozart symphonies (29 and 40), this was a long and demanding program, but the enthusiastic public wouldn’t let Richard and the musicians go without an encore. Janacek’s sweetly touching “Goodnight” proved the perfect nightcap.
Onwards to Cologne and Vienna…
General Manager, ACO