Renée Fleming was recently on a short tour of South Africa, and as luck would have it, I was in Johannesburg on the weekend she sang in Pretoria at the Opera House. The two cities are less than an hour apart by car, and I’m sure that at least half the audience drove from Johannesburg and its surroundings. She performed with the 71 piece Kwazulu Natal Orchestra, with William Eddins (currently Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony) at the helm. Both she and Maestro Eddins had appeared in Pretoria before in the early 1980’s when they entered the UNISA Competition. So this was a somewhat sentimental return.
Ms. Fleming looked and sounded radiant. She held her audience in thrall from beginning to end. The orchestra sounded really good, and she had a wonderful choir of local singers on stage with her. In the final of her four encores she introduced two young tenors who performed Verdi’s “drinking” song with her. The audience went nuts. She then moved on to Cape Town the next morning and I ended up sitting across the aisle from her in the plane. I gather that in each of the cities in which she performed she had a chorus of local singers, and she also told me that she had been enormously impressed with the four young students that she had heard in a Master Class in Pretoria.
I didn’t attend the Cape Town performance but the city was abuzz with talk of Renée Fleming. Apparently all three of her performances (one in Durban, one in Pretoria and one in Cape Town) all sold out within 24 hours of the tickets being put on sale.
When Javier Perianes dedicated his first encore to me (Chopin Nocturne in c sharp minor, Op. 20) at the Vancouver Playhouse I was rendered speechless for at least 20 minutes. What an extraordinarily wonderful thing to have happened.
There’s actually a story behind Perianes and that Nocturne. This goes back about three years. I had been dealing with a London Management to book a date for the young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen (on the recommendation of Andras Schiff). The particular manager with whom I was making the arrangements sent me an email telling me that he had just added another pianist to his roster and he thought that I would really like his playing. He asked “shall I send you a CD?”….to which I replied “no, not yet, as my season is already fully booked”. “Wait a couple of months” I said. He then sent me an email by return which said “oops, I already put it in the mail”.
Of course, I didn’t have the willpower not to open it when it arrived and I put it on. The Nocturne was the first piece on the CD, and it caused a major stir in the office. Next thing, before even listening to the rest of the CD, I was frantically trying to fit him in the series for the following year. I can’t remember displacing anyone, so maybe we just added another concert. Oh, and because all the literature on the CD was in Spanish I went over to CBC where Gloria Macarenko translated for me.
So now Javier has appeared twice, and hopefully before long, we’ll have him back.
See what you have to do to get a return engagement with the VRS?
In response to Deborah Hobson’s question as to what the artists like to do after a performance, I would have to say that, most often, they like to eat and unwind. Many musicians don’t eat very much before they go on stage, so if it’s an evening concert it means a late night supper for them (which can be challenging to find restaurants that stay open late) or, if it’s an afternoon concert, they generally eat a largish breakfast and then wait until dinner time. We’ve only ever presented one performer who expected supper before the concert (which was quite a shock, I can tell you. He was staying with me and my husband and kids, and I was completely unprepared, so he ended up making his own supper!). Sometimes musicians attend sponsor events following their performances and we always request that something fairly substantial is put in front of them. Most of our performers are very gracious that way.
Remember that iPod Touch that I confessed to stealing from my husband? Well, now that I’m back in the swing of things, I barely get time to listen to it…and in any case, I’ve been listening to Murray Perahia practising in my living room for the past few days. Murray and I have exchanged quite a few stories (I told him he should write a book when he retires) and one of the items of conversation that came up was concerts in Italy. So, I told him the story of an Italian pianist who played on our series a number of years ago. She is one of my favourites and I loaded this iPod with her recording of Scarlatti Sonatas, which is think is one of the very best. If you know your Scarlatti, you may know whom I’m talking about! In any case, she performed on our series at the Vancouver Playhouse, and she insisted on being paid in cash at intermission. This was generally the custom in the country from which she originated.
It was not an insignificant amount of cash, and I asked her manager from Columbia Artists, who was traveling with her, to come with me to the bank to collect the cash. At intermission, both of us went backstage at the Playhouse to deliver the money. I told her that I was very nervous about giving her the money, because even though we could lock the door to her dressing room, I felt that it still wasn’t safe to leave cash like that lying around. “Oh no”, she said “you don’t understand!” Pulling open the front of her blouse, she stuffed the money in her bra and played the second half of the concert with the money on her person, as it were.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at YVR waiting for a flight to Seattle – Frankfurt – Johannesburg – Cape Town for a reunion with my friends from the College of Music in Cape Town. My husband recently won an iPod Touch which I quickly appropriated, so now I have finally joined the iPod world, and I’m loving it. In any case, there I was at the airport listening to Mozart, having downloaded Murray Perahia’s complete recording of the concerti, and I was reminded of an incident on a trip to South Africa about 18 years ago involving Murray Perahia. Books and CDs cost an absolute fortune in South Africa, so I usually travel with CDs to give friends. I, and my then-teenage daughter, Sara, were driving from Cape Town to Hermanus (a coastal town about 80 miles from Cape Town) to spend a week with some friends.
The route winds over a very beautiful mountain pass with a lookout at the top. We parked the car and locked the doors…but forgot to close the rear window. There are signs all over the place warning of baboons and to keep car windows closed and food out of sight, but we hadn’t noticed that we had left the window open. So there we were, a few yards away from the car with our cameras in hand, when, all of a sudden a baboon entered the car through the open rear window. I watched in horror as it rummaged through my handbag which I had left in the back seat. Out came my wallet. He tasted it and threw it out of the window. Next, the passport, which couldn’t have tasted very nice either because it soon followed the wallet (thanks heavens!). I stood shrieking, much to my daughter’s embarrassment and drew a crowd of onlookers. Next, the baboon, getting fed up with the fact that he couldn’t find anything edible, seized a Murray Perahia CD, climbed out of the window and ran around the parking lot with it in his hands. I followed, shouting “oh what a publicity shot!” The baboon disappeared into the bushes and I’m sure that generations of baboons in the area of Sir Lowry’s pass have grown up listening to Mozart. My friends in Hermanus never got their gift.
And whilst on the subject of Murray Perahia, it is he who introduced me to YouTube on his last visit to Vancouver. He wanted me to see Dudley Moore doing an imitation of Peter Pears singing Benjamin Britten songs (if you haven’t seen it you really should check it out…you’ll find it under Benjamin Britten). I have to confess that after that introduction, I spent hours glued to my computer exploring the great musicians of the past and present on YouTube. And now I’ve even found another weakness of mine, Tony Hancock!