Salonen in Asia

30 October 2015
Christian Heubes

Christian Heubes



I arrived 3 days earlier in Macao with Martin, our timpani player, Yannick on the viola and Chiara playing the bassoon, to be part of our second Feel the Music project in Asia. Miriam from our office who initiated the whole education project was with us too.

I usually I have no problems with continental flights because I’m a good sleeper in the plane. This time the woman next to me started vomiting right after the lift off of the plane and she didn’t get to the bag in time. I felt sorry for her and for me too!

I was that much happier to escape from the plane, after 11 hours of flying, and was relieved when the warm humid air in Hong Kong embraced me. I forgot all about the flight and was happy to feel this exotic world, so different than where I come from. The last hour of my twenty hours trip to Macao was by ferry. To fall on my bed in the hotel felt like heaven!

My first day started with a walk through the city. Macao was a Portuguese colony from 1557 until 1999. All signs are still in Portuguese and Chinese. Many Portuguese restaurants and for example  Vasco da Gama Square in front of our hotel showed history and a mix of cultures in that city, in addition to the casinos on every corner. Gambling is apparently very popular in Macao.

Back at the hotel, I started practicing with a view of Macao from my hotel room. I love to practice violin in the new spots I travel to. It gives me the feeling of being at home and in the same moment of feeling the new environment.

The next day Yannick arranged one of the movements of Sibelius’ Pélleas et Mélisande to play in our Feel the Music workshop with violin, viola, bassoon and marimba! We had a lot of fun practicing this arrangement, especially Martin imitating the spinning wheel on his marimba!
The workshop didn’t start in time because a typhoon came through Macao. We felt like we were sitting in a car going through a car wash, so strong was the rain and wind! It took some time until all the kids arrived because of the storm.

Every Feel the Music Project changes with the different kids participating, but it is always a wonderful unique experience to explore how fast music can make connections between human beings.
The workshop was led again by Paul Whittaker, who has worked for over 20 years with hearing impaired children. I’m always impressed how in his brilliant, charming and funny way, he finds a connection and trust with the kids within a few minutes. The first thing I learned is that I play „see you tie come“ which is how the word for violin in Cantonese sound when spoken. It’s touching to see how the kids want to explore our instruments, and how we can connect through music even if we don’t speak a word of each other’s languages – music as a language makes it possible to share what it is about.

The kids from our workshop attended our concert in Macao after they had already visited one of our rehearsals where they learned from Esa-Pekka how to conduct and then got to do it themselves in front of the whole orchestra. It is moving to see how some of the kids express so well their feelings with their hands or what they want to create as a sound in the orchestra. This is exactly what a good conductor is able to do and it is nice to see when the kids can transpose a little bit of that.

The day after our workshop, the tutti rehearsals started already. Our Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen also wrote one of the pieces he conducted: Mania made some of us a bit maniac before the first rehearsal already. It is written to be very demanding for all different instruments. I liked it already in my practicing before the first tutti rehearsal. Esa-Pekka Salonen writes so brilliantly and knows so well what is possible on a violin and I guess for the other instruments as well. It was challenging and fun to learn this piece. Anssi Karttunen, who played the solo part in that composition, combined everything in his cello voice.

Our young impulsive soloist in Lindberg's  Violin Concerto, Leticia Moreno, inspired us in every concert with her performance of this very difficult solo part. At the end of our concerts we played Sibelius’ 7th symphony. I appreciated the simplicity of Salonen’s interpretation, which did not allow any overdramatic effects, just natural tempo relations within the different movements, which made the piece for me very strong and like one movement as Sibelius intended it. I enjoyed it a lot! The audiences in Shanghai and Beijing were very enthusiastic in their applause, which gave a good feeling after a programme that was challenging for us the musicians and also demanding for the audience.

The morning before our last concert in Beijing, I had a walk with Martin through some small streets in Beijing going toward the Forbidden City. Experiencing street-life with different kinds of restaurants and traditional shops and buildings and just observing people in their daily life is always a highlight on our tours for me. The Forbidden City was too crowded to get in, and I had seen it on a previous tour we had to Beijing, so we decided to take a motorized rickshaw ride back to the hotel, which was stinky and adventurous and for sure the fastest possibility to get some sleep before the concert!

We celebrated this wonderful tour with a last dinner in a delicious barbecue place with everybody. 

The taxi driver in the cab who took me back to the hotel after a joyful evening didn’t speak a word of English, just as I do not speak any Mandarin, but I showed him my hotel card and he gave the impression he knew where to go. After a long taxi ride in the night through empty big streets in Beijing, I reached a hotel which was also called Jianguo hotel but far away from the one where I wanted to be. Almost an hour later I was lying in my bed in the right hotel and thinking of a very adventurous 10 ten days in China with many wonderful moments I won’t forget!