For the past couple of years, the Lucerne Festival has been a musical highlight of my summer. It is an amazing place to host so many musicians, the lovely city with its colourful, fairytale-like houses with little turrets and the crystal clear, shimmering lake! Sitting down at my favorite open-air bar along the lake scrolling through the festival’s brochure, I was, once again, overwhelmed by the countless impressive programmes yet to come.
We started off the festival by rehearsing all the repertoire for the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. This dream-team orchestra gets together every summer to play a selection of the colossal orchestral repertoire that is most beautiful and precious to me. Some of the musicians have been part of the ensemble since Maestro Abbado founded the orchestra in its current structure.
Since I saw the Festival Orchestra perform Mahler’s Second Symphony back in 2003 with Abbado, I – a teenager at the time – was struck by the unity, sensitivity and expression the orchestra displayed so naturally.
The orchestra consists of musicians from all over Europe: orchestral members, soloists, professors, and luckily for us, also members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. This collaboration allows me to participate in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
It is an honour to participate for the third time now and to see all those wonderful musicians again.
Days of rehearsals passed and the first concert was approaching, with Stravinsky’s Firebird. For me – as one of eight horn players from the festival – we were only modest contributors to this concert as we were involved in playing the off-stage music. My fellow off-stage colleagues and I had some time to explore Lucerne. We went for a run in the midday sun through amazing scenery of villas, forest and of course the Vierwaldstättersee. And we played tennis fanatically!
The first concert was a success, I heard the orchestra from back stage, waiting for our entrance, the colours of the enchanting Firebird were breathtaking.
Days went past, two other programmes were still to come for the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. We rehearsed industriously and cooked together or went to one of many Lucerne’s “locally priced” restaurants. Musicians stayed either in hotels or apartments, evenings were often used to get together and have a drink, often close to the modern concert hall with state of the art acoustics, named KKL.
There was a free day after the first concert. The MCO was invited by friends of the orchestra to their house for a BBQ. I went there by bike, it was gorgeous drive that ended in an exhausting climb. So wonderful to see my colleagues there gathered in the garden and later inside for one of many cakes for dessert! Cycling back during the sunset was spectacular, but a little later the experience also became quite challenging as it was suddenly rather dark!
“Ravel pure” was the title of the next concert programme. This included Daphnis and Chloe, which is one of my favorite orchestral pieces by Ravel, since it is such a complete and refined way of story telling. The concert ended with Ravel’s famous Bolero.
We were very lucky with the weather this summer, with very little rain and a whole lot of sun, so we rented a boat, enjoyed the breeze and had a refreshing dive, all in all a pleasant change from the instrumental concentration indoors.
The final programme of the festival orchestra was very Germanic: Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Rienzi overtures and Bruckner’s Symphony no. 7 in E major. A tremendous joy for brass players because of the glorious climaxes, heroic melodies and majestic chorales. The orchestra’s rich and deep sound, combined with its energy, made it a highly memorable experience.
The festival slowly was coming to an end, most players went back home, but it wasn’t over for me before we played our concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
So the day after Bruckner and Wagner we went back in time, back to fewer players too, back to classical chamber orchestra repertoire. The MCO was sparkling and energetic, motivated to represent our orchestra in Lucerne’s big concert hall! Encouraged by conductor François-Xavier Roth we engaged in some vivid music making. The repertoire was directly linked to the theme of the festival “Childhood”: we performed Bizet’s Jeux Suite and Haydn’s symphony La Poule, as well as Martinů’s Cello Concerto (with the amazing cellist Sol Gabetta) and Bartók’s Divertimento for strings.
I think the MCO was in top shape (with a big compliment to the strings for the Bartók!) and ready to start another season: stay tuned!!
Photos: Geoffroy Schied / Martin Piechotta / LUCERNE FESTIVAL - Peter Fischli