Joann Vosburgh: Swiss Cheese and French Music in Lucerne

Following a rainy day yesterday, we awoke to a sunny morning in this picturesque town where the mountains separate the sky from the lake.

Even though the day soon turned cloudy, orchestra members reported a number of enjoyable activities between our morning rehearsal and evening concert: visits to the poignant Lion Monument (commemorating Swiss Guards massacred during the French Revolution), feeding swans on the lake, scenic boat rides and bike rides, and one veteran musician told me she always shops for socks in this town! Of course, there were the usual feasts of Swiss fondue, Swiss chocolate and other gastronomic delights.

I had a unique and memorable excursion yesterday, courtesy of my 16-year-old daughter, who is travelling with my husband, George, and me on this tour.

Amanda is an aspiring cellist who spent the summer learning, among other pieces, the Debussy Sonata for Cello and Piano, one of the composer’s final works. She quickly developed a special fascination and affinity for the piece. On discovering that Debussy’s original manuscript is located in a private collection housed in the Winterthurer Bibliotheken, a library near Zurich, she was determined to try to see it while in Switzerland. After a lengthy correspondence, we were granted permission and an appointment to view it.

We traveled by train through mountain and lake country, changing trains in Zurich, and disembarked at the station in Winterthur. It was only a short walk to the library. There, we were graciously welcomed and given the opportunity to examine the 1915 manuscript at our leisure. This is a first, working manuscript, full of changes, additions and scribbled deletions. Debussy’s writing is cramped and not always clear. The manuscript was written with a fine ink pen with some possibly later notations made in black and blue pencil. Considering the age of the paper, it is in good, although fragile, condition. What a fascinating insight into the composer’s original versus final thoughts!

Debussy later copied out a second manuscript for the publisher that is now located in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Unfortunately, that library was closed for its annual vacation when we were there last week. Maybe next time…..?

Tonight’s concert at the Lucerne Festival opened with the Corigliano Conjurer Concerto for Percussion. The Pittsburgh Symphony played the world premiere of this piece at Heinz Hall in 2008. It is fascinating to watch as well as to listen to, with the soloist moving between dozens of instruments as the piece progresses. The audience was spellbound by the dynamic playing of Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger and by the enormous variety of sounds produced.

The concert closed with Ravel Rapsodie espagnole and Bolero, perennial crowd-pleasers. Outstanding solos by many orchestra members, especially trombonist Pete Sullivan, elicited numerous curtain calls and two encores, closing our highly successful two-concert run here in Lucerne.

Tomorrow we travel to Bonn, the town where favorite son Ludwig van Beethoven has the status of a rock star. After two concerts there, we are homeward bound.

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