Every year for the last few years now, I travel to Lucerne in early August, and the first thought that always comes to my mind is: has another year gone by already?!
I guess this happens because of the way the magnificence of the landscape is burned into my memory, and unlike other places I travel to, this impressive image gives me a more fixed reference point in time... I don't know how to explain it.
Anyway, Lucerne doesn't just mean the scenery: Lucerne is also about the Festival and the impact it has on the music world and in which, until last year, the main attraction was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with the figure of Claudio Abbado.
We all still have very fresh memories of the great farewell Claudio gave us on his final concert on 26th August last year with those two unforgettable and incomplete symphonies by Schubert and Bruckner. "Incomplete" means something without an end, something that is not determined by a conclusion, something that does not necessarily have to end, something open to the future...
Whether or not you consider it one of life's coincidences, the symbolism of his last concert could be interpreted as a message from Claudio: "I have to go now, but keep doing what you know how to do better than anybody else: fare musica insieme" ("make music together").
After the pain and sorrow of the death of our great mentor and all the subsequent tributes, the big question for all of us was to experience how the concerts would be without him. Fortunately, the festival organisers treated us by inviting one of the best young conductors out there at the moment: Andris Nelsons.
Andris was the perfect person to take over from Claudio, filling the vacuum with a big dose of positivity, a sense of humour and especially with a quality common to all the best conductors: putting his extraordinary sensitivity to the service of music. The programme which had been designed for Claudio also seemed perfect for Andris, and especially Brahms' second and third symphonies were extremely beautiful in his hands.
Everyone knows that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is the foundation on which the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is built, but we weren’t just there to play the concerts with Nelsons. As in every year, we were kept very busy…
Our Late Night concert with Barbara Hannigan was a great success. It involved Sir Simon Rattle jumping on stage in the middle of a performance of Mysteries of the Macabre by Ligeti screaming: "What the hell is this?! Can you please stop it?!" (This is scripted and is part of the piece, of course, but usually it is a musician who screams it!)
Our second concert with Daniel Harding was a truly emotional and physical journey with two masterpieces by Dvorak: The Wood Dove and his New World Symphony. We also presented the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, played by Stefan Dohr, a concerto whose extreme difficulty I can confirm!
A few days later we had a MCO Soloists chamber music concert at the Lukaskirche, with works by Janacek, Prokofiev and Rihm, where the woodwinds took the main role.
And finally, on the last day we played an "all-Mendelssohn" concert including the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Violin Concerto with Midori, and the Italian Symphony with our favourite Italian director, Daniele Gatti. For this concert, we all brought to our performance our last bouts of energy after twenty days of the Festival. The conductor's comments after the concert? "Ragazzi, mi state abbituando male" ("Guys, you are spoiling me!").
The next day, back at home in Barcelona, my first impulse was to watch the DVD of the last recording we did with Claudio and the LFO of Beethoven's Eroica. I watched the whole performance with a big smile on my face, thinking: this time, you weren’t among us but you were inside all of us… Thank you, Claudio, for your "incomplete" (infinite) legacy!