The halfway, the Het and the hiccup: cellist Julia Janiszewski fills us in on the latest from abroad.

The plane whirs in activity and begins to make its steady way across the airstrip of Amsterdam’s international airport. A large number of young Australians sit with their seat belts at the ready, waiting to buckle them in sync with the safety demonstration video (the appropriately-named “seat belt game” – a sure mark of a touring group finding every little gimmick with which to pass travel time). The video, however, glitches for the merest fraction of a second at exactly the required moment, resulting in a entirely imprecise smattering of clasps coming together and a collective groan/chuckle. Next time, then. 

For there will be a next time. Despite feeling as if we’ve spent most of our lives enjoying Europe in its stunning summer splendour, the Australian Youth Orchestra has only just etched over the halfway mark in its month-long international tour, and has said goodbye to Amsterdam (and indeed Europe) after last night’s performance in the king of concert halls, Het Concertgebouw. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After four concerts, there is a great deal to talk about – and I’ll start by picking up where the previous Limelight blogger and AYO bassist Giovanni Vinci left off.

Julia (front row, second from right) with the rest of the cello section. All photos © Oliver Brighton

Our maiden appearance as the orchestra of AYO’s 22nd international tour was in Germany’s Bad Kissingen, presenting the Gala concert of the Kissinger Sommer Festival. By this stage, the orchestra had been rehearsing for just over a week, and there was a tremendous amount of excitement generated by the thought of finally donning the concert blacks and presenting Maestro Honeck’s extraordinary artistic vision to the people of this beautiful town. Additionally, we were joined by soloist Hélène Grimaud the day prior, whose stunning musicianship and pianistic ability left every member of the orchestra astounded. The audience too, as it turned out: thunderous applause and standing ovations followed her exceptional performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, a reception that (to our greatest enjoyment and privilege) was carried over after Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Initially I found myself wondering if we had lucked out with a disproportionate concentration of Europe’s most appreciative classical music listeners in Bad Kissingen, but the following evening’s concert, at the Rheingau Musik Festival in Wiesbaden, was met with the very same – this time featuring our second programme consisting of Carl Vine’s Celebrare Celeberrime, Ravel’s Piano Concerto and Mahler’s epic First Symphony. 

Two concerts in two entirely different cities back-to-back was exhausting enough, but the orchestra had to steel itself for the ultimate, nothing-can-possibly-go-wrong day that would begin the very next morning: a 5:30am check-out, a dash to the airport, a flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg, a three-hour coach to Redefin, a balance call in the new venue, dinner, then the third concert. But, as it transpired, this was not to be the case. One cancelled flight later, and we were left stranded in the lobby of our Wiesbaden hotel for most of the day, unable to reach Redefin in time for the performance. Not to be defeated so easily, Ms Grimaud, in a display of utter professionalism and good will, called in a favour from French cellist Jan Vogler and treated the sold-out hall to a cello and piano chamber recital – this, coupled with the phenomenal organisational prowess of the AYO’s tour coordinators, meant that disaster was averted and the orchestra could slot straight back into the schedule for (what should have been) concert number four. 

The AYO performs at the Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam

Every orchestral tour to Europe has an obligatory barn performance, and we were lucky that the barn in Stople was such a fantastic concert space, with a distinct lack of insects and questionable odours. Once again, the audience (this time of the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern variety) rose to their feet as we sounded out the last notes of the Mahler, a reception made all the sweeter when they formed an impromptu guard of honour as we made our way out of the venue. Next: a completely free day with which we could (and did) enjoy Europe’s largest indoor recreational ski slope at the Van der Valk Hotel Hamburg-Wittenburg. A couple of scrapes and bruises but no broken bones! This would be our last day in Germany: a coach ride over the border and we found ourselves in Amsterdam for the final European lap, ready to take on Het Concertgebouw. 

I will, for the rest of my life, remember the very first notes of the balance call: what an Olympic stadium is to the athlete, Het Concertgebouw is to the orchestral musician. It is considered one of the finest halls in the world, and rightly so – the perfect mix of resonance and space means that every musician feels completely comfortable in their own sound whilst being able to listen attentively and blend with the others on stage. Complimented by this phenomenal acoustic, the orchestra had an absolute blast (as did, yet again, the audience), and I know I’m not the only one for whom this experience will stand out as one of our most enjoyable concerts.

The AYO performs at the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

It seems structurally fitting to wrap-up this blog post on what I consider to be the absolute highlight of the tour so far. Where does that leave us now? On a plane to Shanghai via Singapore, with four more concerts to go (the two final concerts back home in Australia – Melbourne’s Hamer Hall on August 6th, and the Sydney Opera House on the 8th). I hope some of you can join us then, but for now, I’ve got a little bit of sleep to catch up on! 

Signing off,
Julia Janiszewski (cello)