The tour concert at the Berlin Philharmonie was a special experience for me, a chance to welcome my friends in the Pittsburgh Symphony to my new home in Germany.
The orchestra traveled to Berlin from Hannover by train. Once we arrived at the Berlin Central Station, I left the group (who took buses to the hotel), and returned to my apartment. First order of business: a load of laundry. With only one day in Berlin for me between extended periods on the road, I had some serious organizing, cleaning and packing to do.
I invited some good friends in the Pittsburgh Symphony to join me for a late lunch in my neighborhood. We had a wonderful meal at a Russian restaurant near where I live. The weather was beautiful, the warmest day this year in Berlin so far, and all the cafes were full of people sitting outside and enjoying the Sunday sun.
After the meal, a warm-up and some quick work before the concert. I had a special task.
One of the encores that the Pittsburgh Symphony frequently plays on tour is the raucous Galop by Aram Khachaturian. In the middle of the piece there is a clarinet solo cadenza. Michael Rusinek has made a tradition of playing a different cadenza for each concert, and incorporating local tunes into it, as well as quotes from the pieces we just performed. For the Berlin concert, Michael suggested that I play for the cadenza as well. He would start and at some point I would take over. He said, “I’ll play a D major seven arpeggio, and then you take over.” Not too much for me to go on.
So I worked on my cadenza throughout the day on Sunday. I was still jotting the final bits down at intermission in the concert.
In the end, Michael quoted the Tchaikovsky 6th symphony and then went into the Mr. Rogers theme as a shout-out to the Pittsburgh audience watching the simulcast in Heinz Hall. I took over on the predetermined D (Michael feigning indignation that I was stealing his solo moment), and in my cadenza I worked my way through with quotes from Tchaikovsky 6, the Rachmaninov 2nd piano concerto, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and the well-known tune Berliner Luft by Paul Lincke. I was relieved when the audience broke into applause, recognizing the quote.
The concert was very exciting. The Philharmonie is a wonderful place to play. Acoustically, it has both clarity and warmth, and one can play comfortably throughout the whole dynamic spectrum. The stage is surrounded in 360 degrees by the audience, which gives a nice feeling for both the performers and listeners. The fact that the concert was livestreamed (using the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall system) gave everyone extra adrenaline and excitement, and it was wonderful to know that there was a large audience watching the concert simultaneously in Heinz Hall.
I just wish I could have seen the reaction in Pittsburgh when Misha Istomin handed Manfred Honeck a Terrible Towel before the final encore!
After the concert, I asked the orchestra to join me for drinks backstage at the Cantina. Another thing I love about the Philharmonie is that you can walk offstage after the concert and immediately grab a beer! It was wonderful to celebrate with my friends in the Pittsburgh Symphony after such an exciting and meaningful concert.
Then it was time for me to go back home for one night sleeping in my own bed and some last-minute packing before we hit the road again.