Radial Night & Iceland Debut

3 July 2014
Michiel Commandeur

Michiel Commandeur



The tour started off in Berlin.

I think it was the first time we stayed in the west: the hotel was in Charlottenburg with rehearsals around the corner in the Deutsche Oper. It was actually two projects at the same time: one day we rehearsed with only strings the programme with the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, the next day we played with full orchestra a Wagner-Mahler-Schumann programme with Daniele Gatti (read the tour diary of Andreas Klein).

Pekka Kuusisto is a wonderful musician who has broken down the border of "just" classical music: he plays a lot of crossover projects and has a very relaxed way of looking at things. It is always nice to play projects without a conductor – this time, Pekka was leading from the concertmaster's chair (well, actually, we were mostly standing up!) – and the group was small, about 25 musicians in total. I felt there was a lot of contact and awareness during the playing – he really made us listen to and look at each other. Actually, it was chamber music: the core of music making!

The rehearsals in Berlin took place during a heatwave. It was about 35 degrees, very strange for a big city like Berlin at the beginning of June...

After playing the Gatti programme in Dresden, we headed to Budapest. What a beautiful city and a beautiful concert hall! The first concert was a big success; the audience just wouldn’t stop clapping at the end of it... (Maybe also because we tried something new with the dress code: the female players were allowed to put on something colourful, like a yellow top or pink tights for example. I thought this was a great idea; music making has changed over the years and I personally always have a bit of trouble with the fact that people still wear tails as if Mozart were still alive...)

After a wonderful dinner with all of us out on the terrace, we travelled back to Berlin the next morning to rehearse our Radial Night. I think it was the fourth time the MCO has organised this. It is always based in an old industrial building in the east, on the river Spree not far from the Ostbahnhof, which is now used as a big cultural complex. We play various small concerts in four different places within the building where people play chamber music and as a finale the whole orchestra performs in the big hall. This time, it was music by Steve Reich, John Adams, Bach, and others. This is always a big event, with an audience of about 500 people attending, and the after-parties are unforgettable...

This time, we included audience participation: we adapted Steve Reich's Clapping Music into a simpler version and several musicians took it upon themselves to teach the public in small groups. This was received very enthusiastically! Later in the evening, Pekka and Koen (one of our regular percussionists) got everybody together in the big hall to do this all together, it was lots of fun!

I had the opportunity to play in a string quartet alongside a DJ, Mister Georg Conrad. We played quartet music and he added beats and extra-terrestrial sounds, it was a fun experience and so nice to get to know this man, a great DJ and an inspiring person.
The next evening we flew to Reykjavik, our very first time in Iceland! Everybody was looking forward to going to the land of geysers, lagoons, whales and a sun that never sets...
Pekka and three other violinists had arrived already in the morning, so they could play the Violin Phase by Steve Reich in two different bars as a surprise, just like that. The guests had no idea and had a great experience!

On the first day, we went to a hospital to play in small groups for the patients, a touching experience, as some of them were seriously ill. Realising that this could be the last piece of music they hear live made it heart breaking.

After many of us had visited the Blue Lagoon or explored with a drive around or a boat trip, we played the concert in the great hall, built kind of IN the water, mostly made out of glass. We had a very nice audience and I found it a very interesting festival. I hope we get invited back!

After that concert many of us took the night flight home, but the DJ and quartet and the (always amazing and helpful) office ladies stayed for another remix event on the next night.

Finally, after a party in the house of the father of Vikingur (who is the festival's artistic director and a pianist), the rest of us headed home. (Well, nearly the rest of us... our stage manager Matthias and our Spanish viola player Anna, plus Maggie and Dani from the office stayed another four days to finish off this wonderful tour.)

Hopefully we get the chance to play more projects of this kind: small groups, no conductor and with chamber music involved. For me, it's the MCO at its best!