Salzburg has shaken off the snow clouds for now and basked under the sun. The temperature still requires the use of two scarves and two pairs of socks, but despite the stinging red face, I’m enjoying the reveal. Shortly after nine, the orchestra has begun to navigate the inner recesses of Haus für Mozart. The route to our dressing rooms takes us through an endless rabbit warren of a basement. We could be missing for days. It pays not to forget anything one needs on the journey.
Our soloist is the Swedish wizard of the trumpet, Håkan Hardenberger. His stamina is breathtaking – but luckily not literally for him. On our first programme is the concerto by Rolf Wallin, named “Fisher King” – a fiendish ask of any trumpeter, but this one takes it in his stride. It seems he is equally impressed with us. Contemporary composers tend to ask for multi-layered effects with exacting detail – and yet expect the accompaniment to be gossamer-fine in transparency. We must never swamp the solo voice. Taxing, but possible. The trick is to avoid getting carried away. Not too much fishing….
Maestro Mena is in good form, insisting on attention to detail but reminding us “I still love you all!” He hands over the baton for part of the first Brahms symphony to Nils Eirik, our assistant conductor. He travels with us and does a vital job of assessing balance and detail from the body of the hall. And he’s prepared to take over as needed. He is gaining experience and adding to his knowledge through working closely with our conductors. It is good to get the feel of the hall and iron out any remaining kinks in rehearsal. We have also been made welcome here – a small chocolate is left for each of us on the music stand.
The intense cold outside drives me back to Café Mozart where a Goulasch soup hits the spot and provides internal central heating. I wander a little further but decide a rest in the hotel room is a wise move. The adrenaline covers a lot at the time, but a full concert performance undoubtedly demands and extracts a considerable amount of energy. All is quiet next door – no practising. And I sleep. Much restored, I admire a pink and gold sunset on the walk back towards the old town. I believe a coffee is in order….
At the concert hall, I run into colleagues emerging bemused from the long hike along corridors to rescue their concert clothes. It’s not a trek I want to take more than twice. All the women are squished into two incredibly small rooms, so there is much jostling as we wobble on one leg and dive head first into evening gear. Backstage, violins occupy every spare chair, brass players warm up with a series of rude noises and reeds/strings/sticks are being checked. I find Gard Garshol checking his cymbals and I’m struck by the helpful reflected pool of light as I take his picture.
The hall is almost full and we are greeted with an enthusiasm that continues throughout the evening. Maestro Mena is so refreshed that the overture to The Flying Dutchman almost breaks land speed records. Or so it seems to us as our fingers indeed fly over the strings. I’m sure my eyes are wide and staring as I try to suck in all the information racing past. The Salzburgers are charmed by our glistening foreheads and superhuman efforts. We are but the warm up act for Håkan Hardenberger who puts his magical trumpets through their paces. As I tell him afterwards, his artistry almost makes me wish I played the trumpet. Almost. Wallin’s concerto is not the most easily digested work for an audience, but the reaction is such that an encore is demanded and delivered – an exquisite version of My Funny Valentine. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. The audience is totally on board. Our Brahms symphony turns into a lively, vibrant reading. I can feel hundreds of pairs of ears actively listening. Mena is in his element, creating and projecting his vision of the work. Always a pleasure to work with, he is unfailingly courteous, the perfect gentleman and a man of generosity and humility. I well remember one visit he made to Bergen when, come rehearsal break, he produced enough Spanish tortilla for the whole orchestra. He had made it himself at his hotel. A gesture we much appreciated.
The closing chords of the symphony bring cheers. It’s always a great feeling to stand and receive warm audience appreciation and look down at individual smiling faces. You make a connection from the stage and it is addictive. We serve up two Grieg encores from Peer Gynt and it seems that the applause will go on and on. Finally, the conductor leaves the stage arm in arm with the concert master. Now for the long walk back down all those corridors to change clothes. We find the traditional haunt of all musicians appearing at the hall – a cosy bar carved into the mountain rock. We are enjoying the well-earned post-concert glass when people from a nearby table approach. They have been in tonight’s audience, recognised us and want us to know how much they enjoyed our concert. It is fantastic to get such feedback and it warms us as we return to the hotel in a truly Siberian wind. A hot bath – the perfect end to the day.