Australian Youth Orchestra International Tour 2019
By Alex Allan
As I write this blog post, we are currently watching Montpellier disappear into the distance from a height of 38,000 feet. Spirits are high aboard the plane following two delightful days in Montpellier and with eager anticipation of our concert tomorrow evening at the Concertgebouw.
The Montpellier leg of the tour had been eagerly anticipated since our departure. Not only did it promise gastronomical splendour and the opportunity to put our variable French language skills to the test, but after two weeks of mild weather in the Netherlands and Germany, we were ready for some sun. This stop also represented our first immersion in the energetic bustle of a city in comparison to the blissful countryside we’ve been enjoying over our time in Ede and at the Festspiele Mecklenberg-Vorpommern in Germany.
In total we spent less than 48 hours on this leg, but we certainly made the most of our time as tourists. Montpellier is a charming, vibrant city featuring characteristic sandstone architecture with ornate façades, tree-lined cobblestone streets and cooling fountains. Some AYO tested and approved Montpellier activities include exploring the city’s narrow winding alleys, visiting the Place de la Comédie in the main square, enjoying panoramic views at the Arc de Triomphe and adjacent aqueducts, cycling to the beach, and marvelling at the beauty of the elaborate cathedrals. Naturally, such activities were balanced with frequent stops at cafés, restaurants, bars, crêperies, boulangeries and pâtisseries.
But of course we didn’t just come to France to eat. Our Festival Radio France Occitane performance took place at Opéra Berlioz, a 2000-seat concert hall near the city centre with a large stage for opera and salubrious audience boxes packed up to the ceiling. The program included Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto for the first time on tour, alongside Glinka’s overture to Russlan and Ludmilla and the goliath Symphony No.10 by Shostakovich. Piano soloist Jan Lisiecki entertained and enchanted. Even his impassioned encore of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# Minor couldn’t sate the cheering audience – (was it five bows?). Similarly, behind-the-scenes Jan has been charming the orchestra with chocolates and card games. The Shostakovich was energetic as ever, brimming with enthusiasm and zeal for the pursuit of thousands of notes in fiendish tempi. With each performance, Maestro Krzysztof Urbański takes more risks with the orchestra thus keeping us perpetually on our toes, which creates an excitingly volatile on-stage environment that incites a fresh interpretation each night. Post-concert, the Australian ambassador Brendan Berne offered kind words of praise, gratitude and encouragement backstage, a welcome voice from home.
Thus marks three concerts down and under two weeks to go. Montpellier, we’ll miss you, but the the Concertgebouw awaits!