It’s hard to imagine staying any length of time at the Festival and not booking passage on the Palace Luzern’s boat transfer to and from a concert at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern. Prior to departure, a cocktail in the Palace bar is a great way to relax and discuss the upcoming program without the worry of finding a taxi, bus or umbrella should the weather shift to rain.
In the era of Herbert von Karajan—the Austrian maestro took over the two-level Tower Suite when bringing the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras to the stage—in 1984, having one of his frequent tiffs with the Berliners, the VPO was only too happy to fill the gap (cross-reference below). What is now the hotel’s largest meeting room was where Karajan and his entourage prepared for the next program (the Solti and Bernstein suites are smaller).
On concert nights, the master of orchestral sound would don his cloak and be ferried across the harbour to his admiring patrons. Those with long memories recall one particular evening when the Maestro of Europe sat quietly in the spacious lobby adjacent to the bar. The hotel pianist, recognizing the famed musician saw his chance and began playing selections that had some relationship to the orchestral music about to be performed. Then, before you could say “lack of concentration,” Karajan stood and demanded the chagrined pianist cease and desist. To this day, there is no piano in the lobby; there is so much music ahead that management very wisely has supported the storied conductor’s command.
And that notion is at one with the orchestral concerts here. In North America, most orchestra players dribble onto the stage at their leisure. Some arrive (mostly wind players) as much as an hour ahead to fuss with reeds or work on a passage that’s of concern. The concert will begin only after the concertmaster takes stage, summons an A from the oboe before that evening’s conductor appears and the music begins. Here in Lucerne (and many other places), the seats on the stage remain unoccupied while the audience fills theirs. A minute or so before the start time, musicians flood the stage from both wings and quickly take their places. The concertmaster arrives last of all and begins the tuning process. The next thing heard is the first work on the program.
Comparing the two approaches, the European system is preferred. Many of us in the hall have an aural image in mind of the repertoire just about to be launched. Having selected excerpts tossed out at random before the whole only spoils our concentration. Unlike Karajan, we don’t have the power to turn off these unwanted sounds.
On my journey across the water—marvellously in the shadow of Mt. Pilatus—a rowing skiff obediently darted out of the way while the two dozen swans largely ignored the multi-national passengers in evening dress. With nothing but muted conversation while awaiting the ever-punctual 7:00 p.m. departure, the brief, smooth voyage was just long enough to focus on the art to come and exchange the smooth flow of our mode of transportation for an emotional rollercoaster along the carefully prepared route that tonight’s composers and performers had laboured so long to prepare. This relative quiet, wordlessly shared with others before the great storm of art to come, only added to the total experience. JWR