Prima Donna?

7 September 2016
Michiel Commandeur

Michiel Commandeur



This August the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was part of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra already for the 14th time (!).

It was the first year with Riccardo Chailly as the new Music Director of the orchestra. Nice to see how Lucerne keeps the Italian tradition (Toscanini, Abbado) alive.

With Chailly we played Mahler’s 8th symphony, the only one Abbado did not do....

Also called the Symphony of a Thousand because of so many musicians, we were on stage, not with a thousand but – including three choirs plus a boys’ choir, eight soloists and the 120 musicians of the LFO – with at least 370 people. You can call that a LOT!

The theme of this year’s festival was Prima Donna. To choose a piece like this on this theme seemed a bit awkward (the only reason I could think of was that Alma Mahler behaved like a prima donna and got more attention from other men, Mahler got jealous and tried to conquer his wife again with this majestic masterpiece).

It was nice to see Peter Mattei again as the solo baritone. As many of you know we played Don Giovanni in the beginning of our career from 1998 till 2000 for about 75 times with him in the title role.

The two concerts were a great success, finally the festival had a new face.

A nice little bonus was to play a jazz suite by Shostakovich on the day after the second performance of Mahler 8. This music is very light with a serious undertone. Riccardo Chailly can conduct this as no other; we played for the friends of the festival and the second waltz (in Holland very famous thanks to André Rieu) sounded more beautiful than André Rieu can only dream of.

After two lovely free days with nice weather we started the next program: Bruckner 8 with Bernard Haitink.

This was very special; I think when you ask a musician: "what would you still like to do before you die?", many would say to play this piece with Haitink.

It was him at his best; despite his age (87!) he was still completely capable to let the orchestra play this piece with so much love, warmth and precision. For me this part of the festival was one of the highlights of all years! Unforgettable...

After that the LFO members went home and it was time for the MCO to show its face. 

Finally the Prima Donna theme fell into place: Barbara Hannigan, the famous Canadian soprano, conducted the MCO with a beautiful and varied program.

The Lulu suite by Alban Berg, conducted AND sung by her, tells the sad story of the girl Lulu who, left alone by everybody, sells her body to Jack the Ripper, knowing he will kill her...

The absolute highlight of the evening (let alone Chiara Tonelli's gorgeous interpretation of Debussy's Syrinx for solo flute, thank you Chiara!) was a new arrangement of George Gershwin songs by Bill Elliot.

He wrote it especially for Barbara and after the first rehearsal we all knew why: what a perfect match that was!

It was nice to meet this genius arranger, I hope we get to play more of his little jewels.

In the next link you can still listen to our concert with Barbara online until 2/10:

Have a look, it is worth it!

So we ended again a successful and long period in Lucerne, looking forward to next year!

Photos: © Peter Fischli/LUCERNE FESTIVAL, Geoffroy Schied, © Prisca Ketterer/LUCERNE FESTIVAL, © Peter Fischli/LUCERNE FESTIVAL, Michiel Commandeur