The Tonhalle Düsseldorf is intriguingly if puzzlingly designed. From an outer ring of dressing rooms and backstage spaces, various narrow catwalks lead across yawning spaces to the stage. Adds a little fear of heights to the stage fright.
The stage and auditorium are gorgeous: the high, domed ceiling is a vivid midnight blue and sparkles with lights like stars. Again, there is that feeling present in other European halls of being intimately near the musicians; the seats circle the stage eagerly, and the audience can see every performer.
Tonight, instead of the “Yankee Doodle” variations, Bell plays a movement from the second sonata for solo violin, “The Obsession” by Eugene Ysaye. The reaction of the audience is the same, just minus the chuckles of recognition over “Yankee Doodle”: applause and more applause.
The Tonhalle has no café or deli backstage, so at intermission, the musicians fall on free bottles of Evian as if they were champagne. There also are few open seats out front, so I’m ensconced at a little table with the Evian. Figuring that tired musicians could use a sugar rush, my husband, who is acting associate principal bass, upends a bag of Easter-colored M&Ms onto a brown paper towel and opens a plastic sack of Kowalski’s dark chocolate malted milk balls, without which, he rarely travels. Suddenly we have a crowd. It looks like I am hosting a bake sale.
Reviews of the Minnesota Orchestra by European papers are posted on a nearby bulletin board and chocolate-eating musicians cluster around to read them.
The Guardian, London: “As one would expect from the imaginative Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota programme was exceptionally well-constructed.”
The Daily Telegraph, London: “What a marvellous [sic, it’s the Brits] sound the orchestra makes! …The Minnesota sound is magnificently ‘up-front’ and vivid throughout….We knew what kind of performance we were in for when Vänskä leapt on to the podium and began before most of us had stopped clapping. From then on it was sheer adrenal excitement all the way. The opening movement was thrilling.”
Classical Source.com, London: “Superbly as Joshua Bell dispatched the solo part, it was Vänskä’s handling of the orchestral writing that really commanded attention—bringing a clarity and harmonic astringency.”
Berliner Zeitung, Berlin: “Der große Streicherapparat überzeugte mit äußerst plastischer Dynamik und die Holzbläser mit solch individuell feinen Farben, die bei einem amerikanischen Orchestern eher überraschen.”
Filed for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from Düsseldorf on February 27, 2009