When I travel from my hometown Tromsø to a Mahler Chamber project it usually takes me at least half a day, at least two flights and sometimes also a lost luggage to get there.
This time though, coming to Bodø, I am more than happy that for once I am the one having the shortest way to travel: only a 40-minute flight! (After all it’s still 500 km to Tromsø…) The MCO is invited for the second time to play at the Nordland Musikkfestuke in Bodø, a huge one-week festival with many international artists and ensembles founded in 1980.
Sky in flames!
With the Arctic Philharmonic, where I usually play, we work regularly in Bodø. So as you can tell, I’m pretty familiar with the place – and now with the MCO we are even staying in the same hotel! And I must say that it feels a bit funny to come to the breakfast room and NOT speak Norwegian.
There are six of us (Henja, Tim, Joel, Michal, Micha and me) arriving a day ahead of the others to rehearse for an additional chamber music concert. On our menu is the 1st Brahms Sextet in B major, one of the milestones in string chamber music, often played, often at festivals, and often with limited rehearsal time... so we have no time to lose!
Despite the fact that this year’s heat wave didn’t stop at the polar circle and temperatures in Bodø are unusually high (31°C!), we gather in a rather hot room at the Stormen concert hall and delve into this masterpiece Brahms wrote at the age of 27. A first run-through gives us the chance to get to know each other. I always find it very interesting to hear other people’s thoughts and ideas, especially on pieces I have played quite often – there are still things to discover! The fine-tuning is intense and by the time we finish with the last movement there is no oxygen left in the room. We call it a day and head out for dinner. By the way, the festival provides full board for us, meaning we get all meals served at different selected restaurants which is a great treat!
We have the next morning off as we wait for the other musicians to arrive. With the sun shining brightly I am out for a small hike to Bodø’s local mountain ‘Keiservarden’, offering a great view over the city, the sea and even the Lofoten Islands in the distance.
View from top of Keiservarden
I’m ready and energized for the day, and I’m looking forward to the following: Mozart’s Adagio & Fugue and the Sinfonia Concertante for winds, Schubert songs with Anne Sophie von Otter and Beethoven’s 1st symphony. All without conductor!
As we had just recently played the Beethoven symphony, one has to reset the brain and literally erase all previous markings. Different people, different interpretation, it never gets boring! And it requires everybody’s eyes and ears to be wide open. Rehearsing Schubert’s songs our concertmaster Matthew focuses on bringing out the different characters of each song, balancing and creating the same intimacy as if it was a pianist playing with the singer.
The Sinfonia Concertante for wind quartet is not often programmed and with such fine and exquisite playing from Lucas, Guilhaume, José and Vicente, it’s pure joy to listen and play along our typically ‘Mozartesque’ accompaniment.
The MCO concert is the opening concert of the festival, and as we play standing up, the energy can flow freely and culminates in a sparkling Beethoven. The audience obviously feels our joy and energy, clapping enthusiastically even in between the movements – unusual for most of us who are used to traditional silence until the end. But I do find it quite refreshing. In Norway, people are also allowed to take their drinks into the hall... to more clapping and a more generous etiquette in concerts!
Speaking of drinks: this concert has to be celebrated! Many of us do so with a drink and spectacular 360° views at the rooftop bar of Bodø’s newest hotel. Even on a cloudy night (“night” still being quite bright) it’s atmospheric and one can easily get lost watching the light changing.
Sky + clouds + sunlight = one happy Julia
And while the orchestra slowly disperses the day after – some heading home, some starting their holidays by going to the nearby Lofoten Islands – our sextet meets again after three days. We are getting ready for the chamber concert which will take place in what turns out to be a cozy, intimate wooden church about a 45-minute scenic drive away.
On top of the sextet my colleagues are adding three Bach inventions for string trio alternating with two Berio Sequenzas for flute and clarinet. With the trio positioned on the gallery and Júlia and Vicente in the sanctuary (they do need space with five desks put up in a row!) this setting creates a beautiful interplay. I bet I’m not the only one being taken in by the abstract beauty of Berio followed by Bach’s tonal harmony. Bravi tutti!
Vicente testing the acoustics
Brahms is the last piece on the program and is fun to play. It’s almost a pity we get to perform it only once and all of a sudden this concert comes to an end.
I’m happy and – quite frankly – proud of my colleagues and their performances, of their spirit and enthusiasm but also of Bodø and the festival with the warm welcome we received of the people here.