Archive for the ‘Oper’ Category

Tchaikovsky in the Desert: Abu Dhabi and Doha

Februar 1, 2011

The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi might best be described as a kind of gargantuan beached luxury cruise ship, a self-contained, environmentally disastrous playground for the absurdly rich. Its Web site unabashedly boasts that the hotel has a daily laundry capacity of six tons, that it possesses 102 elevators with a maximum capacity of 55 persons per elevator, and that 5 kilos of gold are consumed yearly by hotel guests in the form of dessert embellishments. The rumor that there was a gold automat in the main lobby of the hotel quickly spread throughout the Staatskapelle, and search parties were deployed before and after rehearsals in the hotel’s auditorium to find the fascinating device, whose existence we did indeed confirm. While our own hotel, located across the street and considerably less spectacular in every respect, served only water, juice, and ‘mocktails’ at the bar, the opulent lobby bar of the Emirates Palace displayed a remarkable number of birdbath-sized silver champagne coolers, many of them containing more than one bottle, some even toting magnums.

The Abu Dhabian audience was less than euphoric after the first half of our first concert, which consisted of Mozart’s D-Major Coronation Concerto, performed by our maestro Barenboim himself and conducted as usual from the keyboard with his inimitable mixture of batonless technique and coercive facial expressions. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, however, was received with sufficient enthusiasm to merit the encore we played afterwards, Glinka’s frenetically energetic Ruslan and Ludmila Overture.

Having attempted, unsuccessfully, to discover and explore a city center in the afternoon, a few of us decided to give in to the ubiquitous Gulf culture of luxury and decadence, and headed for the Intercontinental Hotel after the concert for some real cocktails at the Yacht Club. Sitting in pillow-laden rattan lounge chairs on the terrace facing the yacht harbor, we drank delicious ‘luxury mojitos’ (rum, lime juice, and champagne in huge glasses with precious little crushed ice) while attempting to converse over the deafening blare of beat-heavy music from speakers all around us.

Delicious as those cocktails were, they failed to ease the pain of getting up at 9:00 the next morning – 6:00 AM for us central Europeans – in order to have breakfast before the 11:00 children’s concert. It is a well-known fact that musicians are nocturnal creatures, and 8:00 AM is not exactly the time of day most of us long to play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The musician, however, is also by necessity a mobile creature, and jet-lagged concerts are par for the course. While my stand partner and I both inexplicably had difficulties focusing on the surprisingly numerous notes on the page, the young audience was appreciatively attentive and astonishingly quiet. The average age, excepting adult supervisors, seemed to be around seven, and Barenboim picked three lucky (or mortified, depending upon the point of view) children throughout the course of the concert and heaved them up onto the stage so as to better understand their questions, which ranged from “does anyone else here play the cello?” to “what is the highest instrument of the orchestra?” This last was illustrated by Simone van der Velde, our piccolo flutist, who at Barenboim’s request played a notoriously difficult run from the third movement of the symphony.

Between movements, Barenboim paced back and forth before the audience, introducing all the instruments of the orchestra and explaining various aspects of making and listening to music. By 1:00 PM, we were all back in the hotel, where most of us chose to recover from the short night by the pool or at the small strip of beach which afforded a view not of the horizon or distant islands but of a small mountain of reclaimed land directly across from us, a mammoth shopping mall including an Ikea to the right, and the small cluster of skyscrapers that constitute downtown Abu Dhabi to the left. A few of the more enterprising members of the orchestra rented a car and drove off into the desert. Photos of musicians leaving poetic trails of footsteps up the steep sides of dunes were later displayed proudly on mobile phones while waiting for the next plane to Doha that evening.

After a quick trip to my (amazingly beautiful, incredibly luxurious) room in the Grand Hyatt Doha to unpack and freshen up, I headed for the lobby, where I was met by Mohamed Saleh Ibrahim, an Egyptian oboist from the Qatar Symphony Orchestra and a good friend of mine from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. He took four of us out to an excellent Arabic restaurant in town where we stuffed ourselves with Middle Eastern meze and puffed on water pipes full of scented tobacco. Afterwards we proceeded to the home of Reham Fayed, an Egyptian flutist, also from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, who spent over a year in Berlin as a member of the Staatskapelle’s orchestral academy. She had invited several of her friends from the orchestra to a stunning array of delectable Arabic pastries. The television in the living room was tuned to Al Jazeera with breaking news of the protests in Egypt; Mohamed and Reham were both deeply concerned about their relatives back in Cairo, whom they were able to reach only intermittently on Egyptian landlines.

Qatar, more than any of the other Gulf countries striving for international recognition, has made a serious effort to create a living cultural center, as evidenced in its not-yet-completed Cultural Village. Its 99-hectare area includes a massive neo-Roman amphitheater, several galleries and an opera house, where we performed on the evening of the 30th. Great amounts of money have obviously been poured into the construction of the seaside complex, which in some ways resembles a computer animation in its too-perfect realization of quaint Middle Eastern details like the two cone-shaped pigeon houses that stand next to the beautiful mosaic-covered mosque near the stage entrance of the opera house. Less attention has been paid, apparently, to the education of the audience in classical concert hall etiquette, as we discovered during the Mozart piano concerto on the first half of the concert. If the noise had been limited to the people entering (and leaving) the hall through usher-manned doors throughout the duration of the piece, it might have been excusable; however, these noises were accompanied by constant conversation from various corners of the hall and regular beeps and rings from cell phones. During the cadenza in the third movement, the full-voiced conversation reached such a pitch that Barenboim turned halfway around on his piano stool with an upturned palm, right hand still on the keys, poised to continue when the noise died down.

Perhaps even more surprising than the level of ambient noise in the hall was the fact that the entire front row of seats remained unoccupied during the first half of the concert. The empty reclining plush seats with double armrests (and facing a row of tables sporting small flower vases and two bottles of mineral water each) could be attributed to the absence of the emir and his entourage. Given the unrest in Egypt, he had deemed it inappropriate to take part in an enjoyable cultural event.

Before playing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Barenboim turned to the audience from his podium and made a short speech (one that would have been superfluous at the children’s concert in Abu Dhabi) explaining the intensity of our concentration while playing and the importance of maintaining silence during the concert. “You will have more from us,” he said, “if we are able to concentrate properly.” This statement was met with hearty applause and was indeed followed by an impressive silence throughout the symphony.

The announcement had the desired effect: we concentrated, we played our hearts out, and the audience demanded an encore. Just as Barenboim was concluding his introduction of the piece we were about to play, “Melisande” from Sibelius’s “Pelleas et Melisande,” a lone cell phone sounded during a pause in his explanation of the era in which the work was composed. He continued, unruffled: “ – and there were no mobile phones at that time!”

Elena Cheah

Abu Dhabi – mit Burka und I-Phone

Januar 31, 2011

Kurz nach Mitternacht Ortszeit, Ankunft auf dem Flughafen Abu Dhabi: ein Gedränge wie zur Hauptverkehrszeit am Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, exotischste Mischung aus Burnus, Turbanen und westlichen Geschäftsanzügen. Nachtbaustellen mit Flutlicht lassen elegante Wolkenkratzer in atemberaubendem Tempo in den blauen Himmel wachsen – das würde man sich auch für die heimische Staatsopern-Baustelle Unter den Linden wünschen.

Und auch tags darauf präsentiert sich das Reich des schwarzen Goldes als eine Welt der Gegensätze. Eine faszinierende Kunstwelt, der Wüste abgetrotzt, macht staunen – Bewunderung der Architektur und Großzügigkeit der Anlage mischt sich mit bedenklichen Tönen über den Preis: Bei Spritpreisen von 17 Cent und Öl als Basis eines unermesslichen Reichtums spielt Nachhaltigkeit und Umweltschutz eine eher untergeordnete Rolle….
Wir baden trotzdem im Meer, staunen über Badeburkas bei den Damen, (die aber auch einen eigenen abgeschotteten „Ladies Beach“ haben) und erkunden Abu Dhabis Innenstadt, deren älteste Gebäude aus den 70er Jahren stammen. Dann ruft der Muezzin zum Nachmittagsgebet und wir eilen zurück ins Hotel, noch ein paar Töne mit Hoteldämpfer spielen, letzten Schliff für den Abend. Dann das Konzert im Emirates Palace, dem als Tagungsort für den arabischen Staatenbund entworfenen Palast, der nun aber zum Luxushotel umfunktioniert worden ist. Begeisterung ob der überbordenden maurischen Verzierungen, der großzügigen Anlage und der palmengesäumten Terrasse am Meer – 1001 Nacht. Auch der Saal bleibt dem treu und präsentiert sich als ein Stilmix aus Walt Disney und Metropolis. Dafür, dass uns die Vorliebe der Orientalen für Teppiche akustisch nicht zum Verhängnis wird, hat ein alter Bekannter gesorgt: Die Einrichtung mit künstlichem Nachhall hat ein deutscher Akustiker „gezaubert“, der auch das heimische Schillertheater hörkosmetisch überarbeitet hat. Großes Hallo – die Welt ist doch klein….

Trotz Kinoambiente geht das Publikum mit und die Kapelle muss sich noch mit einer Zugabe bedanken. Am nächsten Vormittag dann ein völlig anderes Konzertgefühl: Beim Kinderkonzert erklärt Daniel Barenboim einfühlsam und anschaulich Orchester, Instrumente – und gleich zu Beginn, wer hier die Autorität ist: Jetzt sagt die rechte Hälfte „Good morning“, dann die Linke und am Schluss die Mitte – zum zwingenden Dirigat des Maestro! Eindrucksvoller geht es nicht.
Zwischen den Sätzen der „Vierten“ von Tschaikowsky bleibt Zeit für Fragen: Wie viel habt Ihr geprobt? Wer spielt am höchsten? Und Barenboim, Gründer des Musikkindergartens, ist um Antworten nicht verlegen. Dass manch kleines Geschwisterchen dazwischen quäkt, trägt eher zur guten Stimmung der Veranstaltung bei. Es bleibt noch Zeit für einen Kaffee am Hotelpool – auch hier neben leicht bekleideten Europäerinnen voll verschleierte Einheimische, die das Kunststück fertig bringen, ihr goldenes I-Phone zu bedienen, ohne auch nur Teile des Gesichts zu zeigen. Dann ist es Zeit, sich von diesem Ort der Gegensätze zu verabschieden und nach Qatar aufzubrechen.

Wolfgang Hinzpeter

4:30 pm LS6168 Berlin Tegel – Abu Dhabi

Januar 28, 2011

While I’m sitting on the plane next to Tibor Reman, the recently confirmed principal clarinetist of the Staatskapelle, his colleague Matthias Glander comes by to inform us that we are now flying over Rumania, Tibor’s birthplace and the source of countless jokes and innuendos during rehearsal about Rumanian rhapsodies, gypsy music and the like for our chief conductor Daniel Barenboim. We would have been much further by now, over Istanbul at least, had we taken off at the scheduled hour; yesterday evening while throwing un-ironed and probably inappropriate (for Abu Dhabi and Qatar) articles of clothing into my embarrassingly large suitcase, the phone call came from the orchestra office that our charter flight would be leaving three hours later than scheduled, something to do with landing permission and a replacement airplane. Check-in time was now 12:30 PM rather than 9:30 AM. As I wandered through the duty-free shop at Tegel that seems to have become a standard security procedure in all airports (distract the terrorists with perfume and alcohol!), I noticed several colleagues stocking up on certain fluids that would be unavailable in the hotel mini-bar or anywhere else, for that matter, in the alcohol-free United Arab Emirates. I spent a further hour of unannounced, unexplained delay pacing around the deserted wing of terminal C in Berlin Tegel airport and observing my colleagues’ last rites before passage: phone calls to spouses, emails on smartphones, beer out of the bottle.

At 3:00 we finally took off on the jet2 charter plane, a roomy Boeing 757, just four hours later than scheduled. The good news is that this new airplane (its procuring being the reason for our delay) is bigger than the one that had originally been ordered, which means we can all spread out for the six-hour flight to the Gulf. There are no larger instruments on board today; they are being shipped in crates on another cargo plane, which is bliss for us cellists and other players of XL-instruments. For the duration of the tour we can pretend to be ordinary human beings, unburdened by our alien-shaped, person-sized permanent accessories, unharrassed by the usual well-meaning “don’t you wish you played the piccolo flute, haha?” The unsung heroes of this procedure are the stage hands like Michael Frohloff who pack, heave, and take care of our precious cargo, ensuring that what gets locked into these crates in one concert hall magically materializes in the next. I’ve often wished for one of these ‘magic boxes’ in my private life: load it up with all the stuff you want to take with you, travel to your next destination, and pouf, there it is!


For the first half hour or so of the flight I sit next to Tibor, which is convenient because I want to congratulate him on passing his trial as principal clarinetist (the pre-verdict discussion took place last week and the last votes were tallied up just two days ago) and because I want to write something about his background. It turns out that all those Rumanian jokes are somewhat amiss: Tibor was indeed born in the Rumanian village of Vulcan, but is in fact of Hungarian descent, Vulcan being in that gray area that kept being annexed and re-annexed by Rumania and Hungary respectively over the previous century. His grandfather was born a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; without ever moving from his village, he became Rumanian, Hungarian, and once again Rumanian. Tibor’s parents, both teachers sent by the Communist regime to pursue their professions in a remote rural area, sent him to boarding school with a heavy emphasis on music at the age of eleven in order to protect him from the fate of a provincial education. From then on, he saw his parents rarely, once every three months or so at best.

Tibor’s lips were immediately pronounced unsuitable for producing sounds on a clarinet by the most renowned clarinet teacher at the school. Undaunted, he turned to his older brother, who was at the time already the principal clarinetist in the orchestra in Klausenburg (Rumanian: Cluj). After a few years of study with his brother (who, being fifteen years older, was more mentor than competitor) and with a few first prizes to show from national school competitions, Tibor made a second attempt and succeeded in convincing the teacher to revise his opinion of his lips.

After studying at the Liszt University in Budapest, where he sometimes substituted in the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Tibor went to Berlin to pursue his graduate studies at the Universität der Künste, where he studied with Francois Benda – playing on the French system. What, the French clarinet, in Germany?? Well, yes, for the first year. When it began to look like it would be nice to stay in Germany, to audition for some of the great jobs that were coming up, the switch to the German system became inevitable. Tibor had auditioned for the university with one of the most difficult clarinet concertos in the repertoire; a year later, after switching to the new instrument, he felt unable to play much simpler pieces, let alone to the standard he demanded of himself. For two years he was bad, he claims. Really, really bad. After two and a half years he auditioned for the academy of the Staatskapelle Berlin on the German clarinet and was accepted: this was the first proof of the rightness of his decision, the first hurdle he had successfully cleared. In the academy he was noticed immediately; Daniel Barenboim recognized him as an exceptional talent and asked him to come on tour with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra when a principal clarinetist from the Middle East was unavailable. After finishing in the academy, Tibor landed his first professional job as assistant principal clarinetist of the Hannover Opera Orchestra, where he remained for a year before auditioning for and winning the position of principal clarinet here in Berlin.

When the concertmaster in Hannover heard of Tibor’s new job, he patted him on the back and said: “Well, my friend, from now on you have to show everyone how it’s supposed to sound.” This was not exactly reassuring, though it seems destined to become one of those quotes you never forget throughout your entire career, one of those quotes that prove annoyingly accurate, even prophetically so. Back at home in Rumania, his acquaintances were less impressed; opera orchestras in Tibor’s homeland do not enjoy the reputation of a Staatskapelle Berlin and tend to be seen more as downtrodden accompanists of Verdi’s and Donizetti’s greatest hits.

And how does he feel about passing his trial year? There are no traces of euphoria in his fatigued-looking eyes. This is not because he is not thrilled at having been confirmed in his dream job, but rather because, as he puts it, he feels he now carries an enormous responsibility. Most great gifts, whether spiritual, physical, or material, come with a price tag of responsibility, and this one is no exception. Tibor, an outsider, a Rumanian-born Hungarian who has been playing the German clarinet for all of five years (and is incidentally the orchestra’s first foreign principal clarinetist in its 400-year history), has been entrusted with the task of maintaining and propagating this great orchestra’s tradition, of showing them “how it’s supposed to sound.” Well, it seems he managed to do so convincingly over the last six months. Congratulations, Tibor!

After three hours of flying and a spectacular sunset off to the right shortly before we flew over Istanbul and the Black Sea, all is peaceful on flight LS6168. The fluorescent overhead lights are still glaringly white but most of the musicians have dozed off after dinner or are talking quietly in small groups in the aisles. We will most likely arrive at the Hotel Khalidiya Palace after midnight local time, and rehearsal is scheduled to begin tomorrow at noon local time, or 9:00 AM CET, a painfully early hour for most musicians. Tomorrow’s program: Mozart D-Major Coronation Concerto performed and conducted by Daniel Barenboim and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Elena Cheah

Vom Fußball- ins Reisefieber

Juli 8, 2010

Heute war Reisetag. Nach einer kurzen und lauten Nacht haben sich knapp 100 Musiker heute Morgen um 10 Uhr in die Busse manövriert, was durchaus eine gewisse Zeit beanspruchte. Gestern Nacht ist Madrid noch weniger zur Ruhe gekommen als sonst – die Spanier feierten lautstark ihren Sieg über Deutschland. Wir konnten nur noch die letzten Minuten mit langen Gesichtern verfolgen und uns dann bei einem Glas Wein oder Bier trösten.

Das Konzert gestern lief sehr gut, es war nur unglaublich heiß auf der Bühne – eigentlich denkt man, so kann man überhaupt nichts zustande bekommen. Wie Daniel Barenboim all das durchsteht, ist schon phänomenal.
Heute dann wie gesagt 450 km mit dem Bus nach Granada. Zug wäre noch umständlicher gewesen, und eigentlich ging es gut, außer dass in einem Bus kurz vor Granada die Klimaanlage ausfiel. Nach der Ankunft geht immer der Sturm auf die Zimmerschlüssel los und meistens finden sich nach kurzer Zeit wieder einige Kollegen in der Lobby ein, um ihre Zimmer zu tauschen. Bei den kleineren Hotels gibt es sehr verschiedene Zimmer, teilweise dunkel, laut, zu klein usw. und da möchte man einfach nicht bleiben. Zumal man doch einen großen Teil der Zeit auf dem Zimmer ist, weil es einfach zu warm (36 Grad) ist, um etwas zu unternehmen. Und üben möchte man ja auch in einigermaßen guter Atmosphäre. Heute ist ansonsten nichts mehr, wir haben einen freien Abend und viele Kollegen werden sich aufmachen in dieses Kleinod von Stadt. Granada ist den meisten von uns vertraut und wir kommen ausgesprochen gern hierher.
Ich werde mich jetzt auch wegbewegen, vorher aber noch mal in den Pool springen, da mir schon vom Schreiben viel zu heiß geworden ist.

Es grüßt ganz herzlich
Susanne Schergaut