One of the biggest problems on tour is finding somewhere to practice. Basic maintenance is one issue and learning/perfecting little solos is another. Usually there are rules about entering the concert venues early and then even at appointed times they insist on silence for piano tuning etc. I have taken to using the next best thing to ‘live’ practice by carrying a mute everywhere in my case so I can do little stints fairly silently whenever I can. There is always something to improve and I prefer to do this prior to rehearsal if I can. I always do my basic twenty minute or so routine. Anytime left, I spend solely on getting the concert repertoire as good as I am able. Obviously, playing without the mute in a hotel room would get me into bother. Others do something similar; I was told that the great Maynard Ferguson used to simply play his trumpet into his clothes in the hotel room. Anyway, that is what I do. There is no point doing ‘too much’ practice with a mute in as a trumpeter will just end up with ‘sore chops’ for a couple of days, but a bit of quality work every now and then takes some of the stress out of the shows on tour and keeps my ‘game’ clean.
This afternoon’s RLPO rehearsal was set aside for Vasily to deal with those areas of Parsifal not already covered yesterday. As we had already completed Acts 1 & 2, this left 0nly Act 3. This is my favourite portion of the piece, followed closely by the Prelude to the opera and Kunduly’s ‘stuff’ at the latter end of Act 2. Act 3 is where the music is at its most intense and involves me personally a lot more than the previous two Acts. Vasily had asked me to make a ‘darker’ character in my trumpet sound in Parsifal, so I duly obliged by putting a bobble hat over my bell and covering that with a £5oo pound coin, cloth money bag. This seemed to do the job fine. I particularly enjoy the section in this work where all the knights are assembling for Titurel’s funeral. This is so dramatic and the church bells, played by Jenny & Steve, sound spectacular.
At lunch time Paul Marsden [2nd Trumpet] and I climbed the steep hill to the Cathedral. As stated elsewhere, I had already been up there the previous day. Paul was as impressed as I had been with the magnitude of the whole Santiago experience. The thousands of pilgrims, the sheer scale of the religious buildings. The huge cathedral, for instance seems all the more impressive next to all the little winding streets nearby. We had a spot of lunch at one of the tapas bars and took in the grand atmosphere:crowds of pilgrims, sight-seers, clergy and the dedication to strong beliefs and glorification of the Christian God etc. The ambience in the main square is really something, to see the inspiration people are receiving just by being in Santiago. Walking back, we passed other RLPO members enjoying lunch in the landscaped gardens by the lake outside the Auditorio de Galicia.
I am pleased that Liz Rossi, violin, is actually still speaking to me. During rehearsals for the tour at Philharmonic Hall, I crashed onto the stage at lunchtime with four instrument cases whilst laughing and shouting to someone behind me. The loud booming voice of James Clark, RLPO leader, said, “…Do you mind, we are trying to do an audition here!” Poor Liz was half way through her audition for the position of no.3, 1st violin. I was absolutely mortified. What if Liz didn’t get the job because of me? I dashed down the road bought a bunch of flowers, a card and apologised. Fortunately, Liz likes flowers and is now trialling for the vacant position within the RLPO. Phew!
Back at work, just a little over an hour later, everyone was getting ready for the dress rehearsal. A fuss was going on between the management and one of the soloists wanting the air conditioning turning off as it was affecting his voice; the sweltering heat would have meant performing Parsifal would have been unbearable for those of us sitting on stage for the duration. Nerves; par for the course on these occasions – sometimes pre-performance nerves mean that nothing feels comfortable for some performers, even though the conditions have been the same all week long and no complaints then. Anyway, rather than go through the ins and outs of the dress rehearsal I thought it would be better to tell the synopsis of Parsifal the Opera [with a little help from the New York Metropolitan Opera], for those who don’t know. Dress rehearsals are never the same as a real performance as there is always stopping for technical and musical stage matters.
Whatever has been said about Richard Wagner, he was certainly a larger than life character. Tales are many of his escapades as a philanderer and of his absconding from the authorities to avoid a life in prison for misdemeaners. His unsavoury views on people etc have no place here. His music however is on such a grand scale; EPIC proportions. One of my colleagues describes Wagner as being the Steven Spielberg of his day. Aside from building the theatre at Bayreuth, he did the sets, lyrics, music, everything. He was a colossal musical genius. His last Opera, Parsifal, is a much more reflective, introspective work than much of his output. Parsifal has been called an existential drama about the human existence.
Composer: Richard Wagner
ACT I. Medieval Spain. In a forest near the castle of Monsalvat, Gurnemanz, knight of the Holy Grail, rises with two young Esquires from sleep. Two other Knights arrive to prepare a morning bath for their ailing leader, Amfortas, who suffers from an incurable wound. Kundry, an ageless woman of many guises, rushes in wildly with balsam for Amfortas. The king and his entourage enter, accept the gift and proceed to the nearby lake. As Gurnemanz bewails Amfortas’ wound, his companions ask him to tell about the sorcerer Klingsor, who once tried to join the knightly brotherhood. Denied because of his worldly lust, he tried to gain acceptance by castrating himself and again was rejected. Now an implacable foe, Klingsor entrapped Amfortas with a beautiful woman: while the king was lying in her arms, Klingsor snatched from him the holy spear (which had pierced Christ’s side) and stabbed Amfortas. The wound can be healed only by an innocent youth made wise through compassion. Suddenly a swan falls to the ground, struck by an arrow. The Knights drag in a youth, Parsifal, whom Gurnemanz rebukes for shooting the bird. The young man flings away his bow and arrows in shame. Kundry relates that his father, Gamuret, died in battle; his mother, Herzeleide, reared the boy in the forest, but now she too is dead. As the Knights carry Amfortas’ litter back, Gurnemanz leads Parsifal to the castle, wondering if he may be the prophecy’s fulfillment.
In the lofty Hall of the Grail, Amfortas and his Knights prepare to commemorate the Last Supper. The voice of the leader’s father, the aged Titurel, bids him uncover the holy vessel, but Amfortas hesitates, his anguish rising in the presence of the blood of Christ. At length Titurel orders the Esquires to uncover the chalice, which casts a glow about the hall. As bread and wine are offered, an invisible choir is heard from above. Parsifal understands nothing, though he clutches his heart when Amfortas cries out in pain. Gurnemanz angrily drives the uncomprehending youth away.
ACT II. Klingsor summons his thrall Kundry to seduce Parsifal. Having secured Amfortas’ spear, he now seeks to inherit the Grail by destroying Parsifal, whom he recognizes as the order’s salvation. Kundry, hoping for redemption, protests in vain.
In Klingsor’s magic garden, Flowermaidens beg for Parsifal’s embrace but disappear when Kundry, transformed into a siren, enters to woo him with tender memories of his childhood and mother. As she offers a passionate kiss, the youth recoils, understanding at last the mystery of Amfortas’ wound and his own mission. Kundry now tries to lure him through pity for the weary life she has been forced to lead ever since she laughed at Christ on the cross, but again she is repulsed. Cursing Parsifal to wander hopelessly in search of Monsalvat, she calls on Klingsor, who hurls the holy spear. The youth catches it and makes the sign of the cross, causing the castle to vanish.
ACT III. Gurnemanz, now an old hermit, finds the penitent Kundry exhausted in a thicket. As he revives her, a knight in armor approaches. Gurnemanz recognizes Parsifal and the spear. The knight describes years of trying to find his way back to Amfortas and the Grail. Gurnemanz removes Parsifal’s armor. Kundry washes his feet, drying them with her hair. In return, he baptizes her, then exclaims at the beauty of the spring fields. Distant bells announce the funeral of Titurel. They walk toward the castle. The Communion table has vanished from the Hall of the Grail. No longer able to uncover the chalice, Amfortas begs the Knights to end his anguish with death, but Parsifal touches him with the spear, which heals the wound. Raising the chalice, he accepts the homage of the Knights as their new leader. Kundry, released at last from her curse of wandering, falls dying.
This photo is of our Spanish Off Stage Band. A crack team of Spanish professionals has been assembled to play the off stage music during the first act of Parsifal. They hail from some of the best orchestras all over Spain. Nice guys, all of them, and great players too.
Big Jim Clark is the leader of the RLPO. We actually have two leaders, Jim and Thelma Handy. This tour is Jim’s ‘shift’. He is pictured above tuning up the orchestra prior to the dress rehearsal for Parsifal in Santiago. I first met Jim more than twenty years ago when he was leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and I was one of their regular extra players. Jim has since gone on to lead several other major British orchestras and our paths have once again crossed as members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Jim can be seen in the next photograph leading by example and showing his prowess on the ‘cello.
After an introductory course on the new RLPO job training scheme, Jim has decided that, rather than take the ‘A’ at the start of rehearsals, he will now be giving the ‘A’ himself on the oboe; thereby freeing up more time for Jonathan Small [Principal Oboe] to concentrate on his other interests.