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The last entry of Max Mandel’s tour diary from Brussels and Cologne on the Bach Christmas Oratorio tour.
Day 4-6 Brussels
The previous few times I’ve visited Brussels it’s only been for one night. Drop in, play a Bruckner symphony, crash for the night and head back out first thing the next morning. This trip we actually slept there for three nights. So this time I tried to go hard touristically. I’m proud of managing to tick most of the boxes: dinner with colleagues at Lola (partially to make former Principal Cellist of the OAE Richard Lester jealous because he loves that place. Good thinking Andrew Roberts!), drank very good coffee at OR Espresso, had waffles with unbelievably rich dark chocolate, ogled all the great stuff at Brüsel, one of the best comic book stores on earth (Hergé, creator of Tin Tin is Belgian), visited the Fine Arts Museum, drank Belgian beer at À la Mort Subite, slammed some late night frites at Chez Papy, and managed to squeeze in a couple of deeply satisfying concerts. Running all over town which is utterly confusing with stairs over motorways and under arches, constantly banging into people stuffing chocolate and cheese sandwiches into their faces I came to understand where Pieter Bruegel found his inspiration:
Day 7 bus to Cologne
I’m sitting on the bus thinking back over this tour, feeling nostalgic about it already, because the last concert is today. We’re playing the whole thing in one go for the first time which feels appropriate. Last night was the first show where I thought we felt totally free and loose so I think we’re ready to go out with a blast tonight. What’s the magic number of concerts in order to feel free? That was number 7 for us (although we’ve been playing two programs so that makes the calculation more complicated). As I was able to relax and look around more than usual, I caught so many twinkly eyes and little smiles. I think we all realized at the same moment how precious our time is together inhabiting Bach’s music. This project was also unique in that it was a particularly supportive group of musicians. I hope everyone in the group feels the same way, but I thought Masaaki’s dedication to squeezing so much joy out of the detail in the music, transmitted in such a considerate and sincere manner, really filtered out to all of us. We lucked out with shockingly un-diva-like soloists Anna Dennis, Robin Blaze, Jeremy Budd and Ashley Riches, who sang beautifully night after night. And guest leader Julia Wedman facilitated all of it with her deep grasp of the musical language and her relentlessly cheerful attitude.
There are so many gems from Maestro Suzuki but one of my favourite quotes came after he kept insisting on more character and affect in every bar in the soprano aria Nor ein Wink von seinen Händen. He wanted the upper strings to dare to be more extreme with our gesture and he said “Please make your life more interesting”.
It sure is now.