If it’s Saturday it must be…

With the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra currently undertaking it’s longest ever European tour, Fellowship Conductor Alpesh Chauhan presents the second part of his tour diary.

Day 4 – Sunday, March 23rd (Heidelberg)

A nice few free hours today to do a bit of study and then discover the sights of this beautiful town. Mention also of the amazing beers Germany has to offer (although the orchestra must of course wait until after the concerts to sample these, but sometime after 10pm most of the players normally migrate to a local brewery to enjoy the local beverages).

Last night the orchestra played their first concert (of two) as part of the Heidelberg Festival. The programme was the same as in Freiburg with the addition of Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture. Rehearsal began with tiny moments of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet (including notes that our Musical Director Andris Nelsons had remembered from the previous night) followed by equally fleeting moments of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 (which features soloist Hélène Grimaud). The Beethoven needed a little more time as it was the first occasion that the orchestra had played it on this tour, or indeed for a while. The overture is very short (around five minutes) but it is extremely difficult and flies at quite a speed. I conducted very briefly in the rehearsal – this was so that Andris could go out and listen to the ensemble in the transition between the slow introduction to the fast Allegro.

Over a very nice meal (at German chain Nordsee) some of the players were telling me to never underestimate the difficulty of the Beethoven piece; so short but so difficult. Last night’s concert, at the Heidelberg Kongresshaus Stadthalle, was very interesting. Of course a concert hall’s acoustic changes with a full audience of bodies soaking up the sound, becoming drier. This hall was the starkest example I have encountered of this trait and the change between the rehearsal and concert was very noticeable.

The Beethoven opened the festival with real energy and warmed the orchestra up for the Brahms, which seemed to have a lot more flow to it (especially the first movement) from Friday night. The interval lasted over thirty minutes due to pianist Hélène Grimaud having to sign programmes for what seemed like the whole audience! Andris really went all out to make the Prokofiev fun tonight – he was in his element; the last movement especially flew full steam ahead to the end. No encore as the concert was a late start (8pm) and with the long interval too. An interesting fact I learned – for these concerts Hélène Grimaud had been playing her own Steinway; it’s her personal instrument which she transports between her concerto engagements – real commitment.

Tonight’s concert is in the same venue as yesterday. However, the repertoire changes from Brahms’ first concerto to his second – still with Hélène Grimaud – and the orchestra get a break from the Prokofiev to the other second-half piece they have brought on tour: Stravinsky – Petrouchka.

The rehearsal is only an hour-long again; the bulk of it given over to the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, which left only four minutes at the end to rehearse the whole of Petrouchka! The concert was even better received than Saturday’s. The Brahms went down incredibly well with many shouts of ‘bravo’ at the end. Naturally I very much enjoyed the slow movement, which features a great cello solo throughout played by my old teacher Eduardo Vassallo. Hélène Grimaud received much applause. It’s a great concert culture here, the audiences truly love the experience and something quite new to me is that the audiences clap in time (almost like at a sport stadium) at the end in the hope of an encore.

After the interval, Petrouchka was an injection of fun from Andris. He brought great humour and inspiration (and slightly quicker tempi than the orchestra have played before) to the concert, making a great performance of something that we had been unable to fully rehearse. Afterwards Andris explained that he took some of the tempi quicker due to the hall’s acoustic. This approach kept the sound alive and worked really well.

So now it’s time to relax, and time for more of those local beers…


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