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Musical tour

 

The telephone rings. It’s Doctor Rausch, the singers’ agent, calling from Vienna ..  We’re doing  Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 tonight which features that incredible choral finale with four soloists -- a soprano, a contralto, a tenor and a bass. Rausch has heard that his singers are not planning to attend the press conference at noon. They have made other plans, some to shop, others to lunch.  It was not on their schedule, they say, and besides, they claim, no one ever asks them questions at the press conferences. He’s furious.  

I calm him, then get on to the mobiles of the recalcitrant stars. Find the soprano. She’ll come. One of my staff sees the tenor in the hotel lobby. Some gentle persuasion makes him change his plans.  

The press conference goes well. Reuters is there, and the major Greek papers. A Russian correspondent badgers Vova (he left the Soviet Union in 1963). Why doesn’t he play (he’s a world-famous pianist, too) and conduct more in Russia? He is used to this and deftly side steps the attack with non-committal replies.  

 

Most of the questions are about the orchestra. Who plays in it, how are they chosen, who supports it, conductors who lead it. I explain: there are approximately 130 players, from 15 countries. The fifteen of the European Union. We conduct auditions each year to choose the best from each country. Most, age range 14 to 23, are studying at conservatories.  

Our lead violinist, Clare Duckworth, is British and studies at the Royal Academy of Music. Vova adores working with her. She is a major talent and has a delicious smile.  

We’ve toured extensively in Europe and have travelled to North and South America, India, Russia and China. We’re now officially the EU’s goodwill ambassador , but I still must raise private sector money. This is hardest part of my job. Raising money.  

But when I look at the young faces and listen to the outstanding quality of their music, I swell with pride. And then I see the enthusiasm of our renowned music directors, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado and guest conductors, who have included  Sir Colin Davis, Zubin Mehta,  Mistislav Rostropovich, Daniel Barenboim, Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, I know it’s worth it. 

The orchestra is considered to be one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras.

In my speeches I talk about what my husband Lionel and I, care most about. It is the reason we founded the EUYO close to 25 years ago. We wanted to demonstrate that through music, a universal language, you can build a bridge, between even the most diverse cultures, a harmony. We are incorrigible idealists.  

At rehearsals, the girl from Finland is laughing with the boy from Spain and the French and German boys are earnestly discussing the notes they are to play. During the day when they all eat together and lark about they are like teenagers everywhere. The main gripes from my players are the concerns about food. The logistics in feeding 130 young people three times a day are awesome. Many are vegetarian, some must follow wheat free diets, there are nut allergies now. The Greek restaurant chefs, though somewhat sceptical of these new-wave allergies, do their best.  

It is 3:30 pm. Time to go to rehearsal for tonight’s performance. We walk the five minutes in the blazing August sun up the dusty hill to the Herodes Atticus, an amphitheatre built 2,000 years ago by the Romans, under the brow of the Acropolis.  The rehearsal there takes about two hours. No fussing about the heat.  All respond to the gentle but firm commands from Vova, “Let’s try that passage again.”    

I trudge back to the hotel to a list of ‘phone messages. We leave tomorrow for Cyprus. I’ve been working hard to get the Turkish Cypriot government officials to allow their young players to join in our master classes with the Greek Cypriot players. This is, of course, politically sensitive in this divided island. It would be a major breakthrough. It  is what the orchestra is working for -- bringing harmony through music.  

It is 8:30 pm. I am wearing my red silk dress and gold Chanel jewellery. I take five minutes to relax with a whiskey (Johnny Walker black label )and then up the hill, this time in a car. The stadium is filled:  5,000 people up to the stars, it seems . The evening air is pleasantly cool. The orchestra files on stage to great applause and Vova comes on almost at a run up to the podium. Enthusiasm ripples through the audience.  

“…All men shall be brothers “ sing the soloists, that familiar invocation to universal fraternity in the choral finale, the music set to Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy.  The 9th has been adopted appropriately as the anthem of the European Union.    

We now face the accession of 10 more countries into the Union. It will double my work and efforts. I’m 72 years old and can’t stop now. Twenty-five countries working together from 2004.  

I fall into bed at midnight, pleased with the evening. But around the edges is the turmoil of worries about tomorrow’s journey. Will the charter plane flying 130 instruments and 130 musicians and divas arrive on schedule? The theatre I originally selected two months ago for the concerts has been closed for an archaeological dig.  Will the substitute venue have decent acoustics? The President’s wife is hosting a charity concert. Shall I try once again to persuade the powers that be to allow the Turkish and Greek young musicians to join in master classes?  

But somehow I do sleep.  My constitution has been adapting to the stress for 25 years now.`

 


 

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