Oct 25 2012

Buenos Noches, Barcelona

Published by at 7:47 pm under PSO 2012 European Tour

The first concert of the 2012 European Residency tour is over. Mahler’s Second Symphony cast its spell of beauty and terror leading to a transformation and a choral resurrection. The two choirs from Spain were gorgeous: the Orfeó Català and the Cor Cambra del Palau de la Musica Catalana. We heard soprano soloist Laura Claycomb for the first time with contralto Gerhild Romberger.

The Palau was packed and hot with all 1800 seats filled. I sat next to Amanda Vosburgh and Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh. The century-old hall is amazing. Architect Lluis Domenech outdid himself in the whimsical style of Gaudí. Stone figures leap from the walls, Spanish tile depicts flowers and leaves, everywhere you look there is a new detail to admire. The names of composers are in tile in the ceiling with Mozart, Gluck, Beethoven, and Carissimi, the latter not on every hall of fame list.

Before the concert, lots of cameras were out to capture a bit of the exquisite design of the Palau. Principal tympanist Ed Stephan shined up his timpani with Windex. Backstage, I met hornist Tom Bacon, a recent retiree from the Houston Symphony. There are 115 players on tour, including “extras” needed in the Mahler and a few substitutes to cover for musicians who had family commitments or other needs to stay home.

It was  a long day with a full rehearsal of the Mahler with the chorus, and for tomorrow night’s concert in Madrid, Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Nikolai Znaider.

The offstage band and percussion for Mahler arrived early for a special session. It must have been challenging to readjust to the new acoustics with the choir high above the organ loft and spill into the second balcony.

There were notices of the concert with Manfred Honeck’s photo in El Pais and La Vanguardia, two of the national Spanish papers. Pop music nostalgia is just as powerful in Barcelona as at home. Doo Wop comes to the Palau de la Musica on November 18 when the Platters will sing “Only You” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” There were ads in today’s paper for Barry White and Whitney Houston tribute shows and a visit by the “Original Glen Miller Orchestra with the Andrews Sisters.” All that plus Handel’s Messiah, concerts by the Barcelona orchestras, and visits by ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin.

A TV documentary crew from the Anima network was interviewing the singers downstairs where there is a compact choir rehearsal room. The concert was recorded for broadcast on Radio Catalunya, which will share it with the European Broadcasting Union. We were promised a copy to share with you.

I enjoyed a few more tapas – a sort of egg omelet, and a bit of brie and red pepper in the backstage bar. There is a fabulous gift shop and café at the entrance. Manfred Honeck signed Mahler CDs after the concert.

CDs from Spanish superstar soprano Montserrat Caballe, 79, are featured in the gift shop. She was reported to have suffered a stroke just two days ago and is in a Madrid hospital. You may remember her big hit “Barcelona” with Freddie Mercury after he left Queen in 1987. It was heard often during the 1992 Olympics. Our hotel is in the former Olympic Village. Now, there’s a casino next door.

The bags are already on their way to Madrid. It’s a train ride to the Spanish capital for a 10:30 concert Friday night featuring Mozart’s Requiem as we heard it in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, but this time with the Spanish choirs we heard tonight.