Steven Mead Travelogue - July & August 2007 all below
This was a joint recital with the virtuoso French tubist Stephane Labyrie, at a most enjoyable annual brass festival in the historic town of Villars de Dombes, about 30 kms from Lyon. I was at this festival about 3 years ago and so couldn't wait to go back. They feature about seven concerts in each series over a week and each concert is in a different venue with several outside venues listed, historic castles, monasteries etc. In the UK such a series of concerts given the British summer would be a foolish gamble but here is the south east of France in the summer the weather is beautiful and so it was this time!
I flew to Lyon on the tuesday afternoon (24th July) even though the recital wasn't until the 26th, for two reasons. Firstly the rehearsal the day before would have had to have been later as the flight didn't arrive til late afternoon and I knew my pianist Tomoko Sawano was arriving Tuesday also, and secondly, its just a very very nice place to be in the summer with a huge bird park set in acres of lakes and trees just a few hundred metres from the hotel. Add to this some spectacular French cuisine and good wine and it was an easy choice. Of course the UK part of the journey was its usual miserable challenge, with an overcrowded 2 carriage train from Nuneaton all the way to Stansted , with no luggage space and paid nearly 40 quid one wayfor the privilege. Was almost on time too, for which he same could not be said for the Easyjet flight which took off about an hour late. That said the quick country drive from Lyon airport to Dombes was soothing and soon I could relax and check in the pleasant hotel /restaurant, the same as I stayed a coupel fo years ago. Tomoko arrived at the same time and so we decided we would have a little rehearsal that night after dinner. She is such a talented accompanist , so prepared and immaculate. Its as if you start to rehearse and then release that in fact you didn't really need to bother ! We carried on the next morning at the farmhouse studio on one of the festival helpers who was pianist and had a grand piano in his living room kitchen. We played with the doors wide open but we only one old farmer within a mile there was no reason to care for the volume. So we had fun, played, tried out a few different things to that we did on World of the Euphonium vol.5 on which our programme was to be based.
Visited the extraordinary birdpark in the afternoon and although the sun was baking hot there was enough under the trees to make it a perfect afternoon. It's a bird park without walls, the most exotic birds are there and choose to stay there..quite amazing. Listened to the first half of a brass quintet that evening and then Tomoko did a little more individual practice next to the church. Early night and then went for a run the next morning.
The concert day was great as I was really free all day. Got to the concert venue , a 600 year old castle, that's boasts that during its history it has never been sold. Its set with a huge and rather overgrown lake behind with high walls and virtually all original stone and woodwork ! They had build a stage and organised 500 seats , all of which we sold. We rehearsed at 2.30pm and found the acoustic to be very good even though we were 'outside'. Stephane arrived about 3.15 and we tried a couple of duets out for possible encores. He is a wonderfully talented musician, young and full of energy but plays with real wisdom, experience and it sounds so easy. We opted to do the piece Michelanglo which I had written out as a duet the evening before.
Time to pop back to the hotel, rest up for an hour, a little sleep and then back to the church only to discover that my black trousers were still in the hotel. Honestly I don't do this kind of thing too often but it might bit a sign of my age, now a massive 45 and counting that these stupid things happen. Fortunately my good friend Vero Lancien (who organises the brilliant FestiTuba festivals in France) was there and she kindly drove back at great speed to hide my embarrassment.
The atmosphere inside the castle from well before the recital was excellent. I think it helps a little when the audience, having arrived about 45 minutes before the concert are treated to a little wine and snacks outside the castle walls before they come in…so civilised ! The evening went extremely well and the audience seemd to appreciate the serious pieces as much as the fun stuff that finished off the recital. Stephane and I alternated pieces during the evening. The program was:
It was a great summer's evening which was then continued with a nice reception where I discovered the famous French trombonist Michel Becquet was in the audience and then onto dinner , around midnight for about 16 from the organization.
The next morning allowed a nice lie in, waking at 10am, incredible for me ! and then onto the airport for 3pm.
The following days I travelled to Salzburg for four days and three concerts with Sound Inn Brass. You may have seen on this site that I now conduct and was a play as soloist with Sound Inn Brass. For me I like this very much as they are a great group of guys, very talented and with whom I've had a really good time with various performing projects, for example, 2 cd recordings, concerts in Austria, Germany, twice to South Korea and more! Whilst we always got on great , they and I felt they had often under performed as an ensemble and when last summer they asked my about the possibility of conducting them came I jumped at the chance…I do a bit of this these days you know !! After a couple of fantastic concerts a few months ago I was looking forward to working with them on three essentially 'warm up concerts' for our visit to Lithuania the following week. They had been rehearsing the day I arrived and I went straight from Salzburg airport to meet them for a late night snack in near St.Martin, in Upper Austria where we were to based. They seemed in good spirits and we talked about the new pieces that we have put into the programme, including a great arrangement of the Overture to The Mastersingers and some new big band style pieces. The only cloud on our horizon was that all three of our concerts in the Austria that week were outdoor concerts and the forecast…rain, and cold evenings too, at least until the last evening near Salzburg. We rehearsed all the next day, at the music school in St.Martin and very quickly I realised they had raised their game, and there was some seriously good playing going on, especially from the trumpet section of Holger Becker, Johannes Bar, Manfred Schott and Gergely Gerhardt. The programmes were very physical for them but I sensed they were up to the challenge.
That evening, our barbeque was inside!! At the beautiful house of group manager Hubert Gurtner. We ate and drank well and the spirits of the ensemble were high.
The next day in the afternoon we learned the first outdoor concert was to be inside in the immaculate concert room at the music school in St.Martin. although it had stopped raining the evening temperature was plummeting and the organisers took no chances. The playing that evening was fantastic , showing me they could really pull it off at the top level. Unfortunately the same people who like to go to outdoor summer concerts do not seem to care for indoor concerts and despite the quality of the playing, audience didn't number more than 50 which was a real pity. Those that did come enjoyed a treat.
During the next afternoon I gave a low brass workshop for about 20 students and adults in Schildorn (Upper Austria). It ran from 2-6.30, quite long for the day of a concert but it seems afterwards there had a been a communication problem with the organisers and it was only supposed to have been 3 hours…too late now ! Anyway the local players were keen, and survived my appalling German, and did their best with all the exercises I threw at them and sounded pretty good in some of the ensemble pieces I tried with them at the end. The concert was moved to a long rectangular marquee-type hall with bad acoustics but it seems , with all the long tables, perfect for an evenings beer drinking !!! Our programme was mostly serious but we lightened it a little under the circumstances. My solos that night were: Euphony (Redhead), Carrickfergus, Rule Britannia (yes, with the flags!), Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair, and Hora Staccato. After the luxury of the concert hall the evening before this was harder work but I was still quite pleased. Post concert festivities went long (and I mean long) into the night and the irrepressible young trumpet star Johannes Bar who studies in Salzburg decided we needed some live music and so some impromptu jazz started. Oh my goodness, the next 2 hours were fun with local musicians joining in and all of use switching instruments. I sounded straight out of the 1930's with my terrible trumpet playing, tubist Roland Krem did marginally better on trumpet and had the energy to keep up the pretence for hours, so it seemed and what about Johannes…he was incredible. He played jazz tuba better than I've heard at many international tuba festivals !!!! Really, it was freaky. He is jazz trained too but still he knew so many funky tuba licks and got around the instrument unbelievably well. Fortunately proof consisting of video clips and photos survived the night.
The next day was…quieter! We made our way by cars to a delightful town called St.Viet, near Bischofschofen and the skies had now cleared and the combination of blue skies, warm sunshine and mountain scenery was spectacular. We set up on the stage half way down the main street and the concert begin at 7pm. A large crowd come to listen and it was a really good evening. The audience once again listened really well to the more serious pieces (Cibulka- Fanfare, the Wagner overture, some Mozart) as well as our new pieces such as Chic Corea's La Fiesta and Dizzy Gillespie's Night in Tunisia. Good playing again and the feeling was that the concerts in Lithuania, to which we were all looking forward, were going to be good.
Photo montage from Austria
I spend the night in Salzburg and took an early train journey the next morning to Munich airport (about 2 hours 20) and made it in plenty of time for the 1.25 flight to Vilnius. I was arriving there on the Monday and Sound Inn Brass would arrive Thursday (our concerts there were fri, sat,sun). I was going to do three of teaching before they arrived.
I have very special and emotional feelings about the country and the people in Lithuania. This was to be my fourth visit and on each of my previous visits, I'd left profoundly moved by the spirit of the people. They have strength, open hearted spirit, they are motivated, humourous and love the nature that is all around them. The Fanfare Week course, now in its 3rd year is the brainchild of Arvydas Miseikis, the godfather of wind education in this part of Lithuania and my old friend from Holland, Bert Langeler. Bert and I go back over 20 years now and in the 1980's our school bands exchanged visits. He is so active now as a conductor and does an amazing job in the Baltic countries setting up bands, organising festivals, conducting workshops etc He is total inspiration and extremely motivating for the young people.
The Air Baltic flight was on time but due to the road construction all around the city's capital Vilnius, it took almost an hour to get the 24 kms to Trakai. My computer is full of images of this historic castle and I will never forget my first visit there 5 years ago when Arvydas met me whilst I was working in Vilnius and offered to show me his little town, and his young students stood on the little stage in the music school and played me a piece they'd been rehearsing. It was moving then and even more now to return and see how the town, with its location on the edge of several lakes and dominated by the famous old castle in the centre, slowly transforming itself, with new houses, or rather old houses tastefully refurbished, new restaurants new paths and new rental boat businesses around the lake. Things were happening in Trakai and the old part of the town was buzzing because of the Fanfare Week. My little hotel, 30 metres from the lake was a perfect example of the rebuilding of the area. It was a very old house , modernised inside now with lightwood flooring and walls, airconditioning and free wireless internet. The entire hotel seemed staffed by friendly attractive young women ( I didn't see one man working there). No I hadn't died and gone to heaven but it surely felt like it ! On arriving I met up with Bert and with Fritz Damrow , star solo trumpet with The Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. He is a great guy, a wonderful teacher and a quite brilliant and musical player. We were to be there all week together.
So here is my brief diary report of the week:
Arrived Vilnius 4.30pm and onto Trakai 5.45
Met all the other teachers and checked in. Practised…a little
Went to sauna/barbeque at a special little house by a lake about 5 kms from Trakai. Incredibly hot sauna, with heated hot stones, but made better by diving straight into the lake (see photos). Arvydas cut wood , made a fire and cooked a great dinner. Got attacked by billions of mosquitos but survived. Good long sleep!
I was free in the morning and so crossed the road to the music school , watched the student band rehearse and practiced.
Lunch then afternoon masterclass and low brass ensemble 2-6. I am lucky with my students who come from all over Lithuania, as well as from Slovenia and Latvia.
Mixed ability but all with a growing passion for music and a strong desire to learn. Evening concert was in a nearby church with Fritz Damrow and Vilnius based trombonist Marius Bal_ytis together with a talented young organist Dovile Savickaite.
It was a mainly baroque programme with the soloists in the organ loft at the back on the church and everyone else facing forwards. It was a really high quality concert and Fritz was in stunning form. Back to the hotel for dinner and liquid.
Got up early and walked around the lake, great start to the day, mosquitos were there to meet me! Breakfast and then practised and then played through with the band a new piece for euphonium called Sunset Song which we were to premiere in Saturday. Quite good but it seemed very thickly scored for band, we'd have to get Bert to work on the band parts.
Afternoon workshops and ensemble session as before. Wednesday evening we went to Trakai church to listen to a concert froma touring German youth wind band called Jugendkapelle der Stadt Aalen, from near Stuttgart. The programme was all baroque in mostly old transcription for wind band. The young people seemed very disciplined but due the lack of variety in the programme and the less than inspiring direction(!!) it was a little disappointing, in my humble opinion. Never mind , the packed church duly showed their warmth and appreciation , as the Lithuanians do, at the end of the concert. That night the party went on a little and our proposed early morning fishing trip seemed less and less appealing…however it was arranged so the alarm was set for 4.10am!!!
Arvydas and my old friend Jonas arrived at 4.30am with sax teacher Liudas Mockunas, straight from a party !! Of this was going to be a long day for them. With only small of daylight we drove 12 kms to another lake and met our fishing guide who was asleep, wrapped in a blanket in the back of his estate care..really quite surreal, with two sleepy fisherman, myself and Norbert (trombonist from S-I-B) two quite alcoholised companions, chain smoking Jonas and a sleeping boatman, and a billion mosquitos. WHY are we doing this ?? We launched the two rowing boats without incident and set off around the lake with Arvydas rowing my boat ! Very quickly I realized this man needed to sleep but being the perfect host he did his best to keep the boat moving while I cast my lure in and out of the slowing waking lake. He fell asleep 3 times, once whilst rowing, one of the funniest and scariest things ever. We almost capsized twice. Fish….no! The lake looked perfect but no fish for us, or the other boat. Jonas was going after the little ones from the bank, while we were after the monsters of the deep. Never mind. It was a tranquil morning and there were no signs of human life for miles around.
We drove back at 8.30am so I could do the camp warm-ups class/breathing for all at 9am!! I did manage a crafty hours sleep before lunch.
I gave a clinic 2-3 on the fashion show music I played last September in Milan and played through the whole show for them which they seemed to enjoy very much. Fritz came to listen to which I was delighted about. Sound Inn Brass all arrived safely late afternoon.
Masterclass and low brass ensemble followed. The students are starting to sound really good now, and they forget nothing from the day before.
Evening barbeque at the big house of a local publisher and keen hunter, with about 10 guests and his family. One of the funniest evenings of my life, laughed so hard. Had late evening sauna and swim in the lake 3 times. Really good company and side splitting humour. Walked the 2 kms back to the hotel at 1am. What a long day!
Slept a little longer ! Meeting at 10 with the major of Trakai in the town hall, important to keep the politicians happy here. Then 1.5 hour rehearsal with Sound Inn Brass in the church. Rather spacious acoustic here when empty but should be fine come Sunday when it'll be full.
Taught till 5pm and then got driven to Vilnius for the first Sound Inn Brass concert, outside but in a great central location in the quadrant of three historic buildings. The group did well but we have some problems with the wind, if you know what I mean. Clothes pegs did their best but a combination of a stage that was too small , non adjustable and mostly faulty music stands and occasional large gusts of wind meant it was tricky. No PA system for announcing for the lovely Justina (Arvydas' daughter) or myself so we went to the audience and lifted our voices. The playing was very good but not the top level we had in Austria but it was tough to play. The audience were great, loved in and really got into the spirit of the final encore, Hey Jude!
Back to Trakai by bus for late evening supper.
Can it really be Saturday already?
Morning masterclasses and low brass and now Trakai is buzzing with the weekend trippers and the market stalls and boat rental are doing great business. Students are tired but happy. It's their big concert that night. Bert is pleased with the band too.
I go off with the group but bus to Kaunas about 80kms away for a 5pm concert then have to come back for the 8pm concert in Trakai with band and the world premiere.
Today is perfect for the group - big stage, wonderful monastery location, huge audience of 500, great weather and spectacularly good playing from Sound Inn Brass, the best they ever did for me. Audience was amazing, cheering at the end , several standing ovations and tears from many. Very emotional. We made it back to Trakai with 10 minutes to spare.
Student concert was top quality top, with Bert working wonders with the 70 piece band. Sunset Song went well, we had fixed the balance issues and the composer was there too. I didn't party as long as many that night as I was so determined to be ready for the final concert in the church with Sound Inn Brass on the Sunday evening.
Another glorious day weather wise and we were free all day til the rehearsal at 4. Took time to have really good conversations, walked with all the tourist around the lake, practised a little and started to think about packing as I was bound for the airport the next morning and a long series of plane flights to South Korea.
At the 4pm rehearsal I knew the group was peaking at the right time. After a good concert the day before in Kaunas the chops were strong and spirits good but I tried to keep them all focussed. By 6 pm the church was packed and we were ready to go. This was the evening I have been building for and the moment was now.
The started brilliantly with the Cibulka 'Fanfare' then the Mozart Marriage of Figaro overture, really perfect , the best they ever played it. I played the 1st movement of the Bassoon Concerto (Mozart) and then we moved onto the Bist Du Bei Mir (Bach) which filled the church with sublime melody and harmony. Wonderful moments. After a nice Carrickfergus the first part ended with a full blooded Mastersingers which rang and rang in the church, spine tingling stuff. The audience reaction was great and even better was to come . In the second part I did Pantomime and the group turned to its considerable light music talents, and brought the house down, tumultuous applause for La Fiesta, A Londoner in New York. Send in the Clowns (Sondheim) really hit the emotional spot with Johannes and Manfred outstanding on flugel. The audience wanted more and we gave it, three encores culminating with the super arrangement we had of Hey Jude, with people singing, clapping in the church. I will never forget the faces of those people, so vibrant, so alive, so happy, so fresh. I don't think they will ever forget that concert either, it was memorable in so many ways. The group played the best it has ever done with a quality that made me proud, the course students had been part of the whole week were given a treat to remember and the lovely people of Trakai and the surrounding towns had motivated us all to give a but more. Arvydas was emotional too. It was his event, his ideas, his dream to make all this happen. He works 52 weeks of the year for this festival. The man deserves a medal.
Needless to say the celebrations did not end that night. After two different parties, we had more impromptu jazz including a repeat of the trumpet star turned tuba God, Johannes Bar once again amazing us at 3am. To keep alive the traditions of the festival , at some time during the last night we swim from the shore to the castle, about 400 metres. This year we did it at 5am, with the sun already rising above the trees. Oh what a night, what a week. By 9am I was on my way to the airport. I cannot wait to return.