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Germany Travelogue: Principal Oboe Philippe Tondre Shares His Adventures on His First Philadelphia Orchestra Tour

Posted by:  Philippe Tondre on September 08, 2022

Germany has a special place in my heart, life, history, and career. My grandma (Marlene Kallenbach) was German; she grew up in Lippstadt, next to Essen. And I started my first job in Germany, at the Stuttgart Radio Symphony and continued later at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In total I spent more than 12 years there, including my teaching activities at the University of Music Saar in Saarbrücken, where I currently still teach. Some of my family is still in Lippstadt and my sister lives in Frankfurt. This culture and country have played an important role in my development as a person as well as a musician.

Sunday, August 28: Edinburgh travel day to Hamburg

7:30 AM: Routine workout—always train and stretch before traveling! Planks, squats, burpees, etc. … 

8:15–9:00 AM: Finished packing. Never forget anything, especially the reed knives! 

9:00 AM–10:00 AM: Time to kill so went for a swim at the pool, 1 km, relaxing and disconnecting. I love swimming, it’s like being in a different world.

Philippe loves to swim

10:30 AM: Breakfast with my favorite person, Julia Choi, my girlfriend and a violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York who is playing on tour with us! We were joined by our fantastic principal librarian, Nicole Jordan, and horn player Ernie Tovar and his wife, Marde Meek.

11:30 AM: Departure for Glasgow Prestwick airport, with my favorite series on the iPad: Formula 1. 

1:00 PM: Arrival at the airport, time for some chatting with colleagues about our latest travel experiences. Take off right on time! Off to Germany. 

5:00 PM: Arrival at the hotel. Time to explore the city in the direction of the Aussenalster, the larger of two artificial lakes formed by the Alster River within the city limits of Hamburg.

The Aussenalster in Hamburg

The Aussenalster in Hamburg

7:00 PM: Lovely dinner on the west side of the little lake (Binnenalster)—Italian pasta and sole on the menu, no German food, yet. After fish and chips (“chippers”) we were craving something in the same vein! We really loved Edinburgh. 

Monday, August 29: Hamburg Concert No. 1

8:00 AM: Fitness with Ashley Berke (chief communications officer for the Orchestra); Julia Choi; and Co-Principal Trombone Matt Vaughn. On the agenda today: rowing, cardio, and yoga. The best combo to start a concert day. 

10:00 AM: Breakfast today with colleagues Daniel Matsukawa (principal bassoon) and David Nicastro (viola). Wonderful conversation about instruments and production (bassoons especially). We never get bored!

12:00 PM: The Elbphilharmonie finally! So excited to be back in this gorgeous hall. I had the chance to play with several European orchestras here (Gewandhaus Leipzig, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, SWR Stuttgart, Chamber Orchestra of Europe), but I am especially looking forward to being with The Philadelphia Orchestra here. I am sure the Orchestra will sound absolutely fantastic. Our precision, focus, and warmth in sound will match the crystal-clear acoustics perfectly. 

The interior of the Great Concert Hall at the Elbphilharmonie

The interior of the Great Concert Hall at the Elbphilharmonie

4:00 PM: End of rehearsal, fantastic feeling. I am amazed by the Orchestra’s ability to adapt on tour. It felt like we had been playing here every day. Chapeau, everyone!

5:00 PM: A well-deserved siesta. Sleep is the most important source of recovery. Never skip a little nap!

8:00 PM: Concert, standing ovation, goosebumps. We made it! Hamburg is usually quite reserved, but tonight we brought them to their feet! 

10:30 PM: Beer time! Meeting the associate principal oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra for the first time! They just arrived from the US. Fascinating evening, sharing experiences and learning a lot. Jeff Rathbun is a legend!

Philippe with Cleveland Orchestra Assistant Principal Oboe Jeff Rathbun

Philippe with Cleveland Orchestra Assistant Principal Oboe Jeff Rathbun

Tuesday, August 30: Reception at Consul General Jason Chue’s Residence, Hamburg Concert No. 2 

9:00 AM: Breakfast, no training today, lazy morning. Enjoying some chia pudding with Julia, and Associate Principal Flute Patrick Williams and his wife. Nice gathering.

10:30 AM: As we don’t have any rehearsal today, we headed out to discover more. The Brahms Museum was the perfect choice. Facsimiles from his First Symphony, letters to Robert and Clara Schumann, instruments he played on. The Museum had a lot to offer. The Komponisten Quartier is gorgeous and the Museum is the only house in the area that was preserved and spared from bombings during the war. Stunning! 

Philippe and Julia Choi at the Brahms Museum

Philippe and Julia Choi at the Brahms Museum

12:30 PM: Walked back through the city center. Surprisingly, Hamburg center is not that big. The walk was about 45 minutes long. The gorgeous townhouses, little cafés, and boutiques add to the charm of this “Venice of the North.” (Stockholm is actually the true Venice of the North, but Hamburg belongs there, too, in my opinion). 

4:00 PM: Nap time, only 30 minutes today. Last night’s reed died, unfortunately, so, nel nome del padre, del figlio, e dello spirito santo amen—RIP and let’s get on with the next one!

Hamburg’s City Hall

Hamburg’s City Hall

5:00 PM: Reception at Consul General Jason Chue’s residence. Such a wonderful gentleman. I had the chance to chat with him. We spoke in English, German, and French. Consul General Chue could have gone on and on with more languages, fascinating! Also, one of my hobbies: languages. 

8:00 PM: Second concert, Florence Price, the audience clapped … after … every … movement! Phenomenal! They loved it. Huge success, not that I was surprised, however, you never know, right? Angel Blue was standing and singing right next to us in the woodwinds (that position is the best for singers in the hall), absolutely fantastic, the vibrations and resonance in her voice were incredible. 

Wednesday, August 31: Travel from Hamburg to Berlin and Reception at Ambassador Amy Gutmann’s Residence

9:00 AM: Breakfast, this time with Steve Alston (artist liaison for the Orchestra), hilarious. Subject of the day: sneakers / Jordan’s, one of Steve’s biggest hobbies. He has a collection of over 3,000 pairs of shoes! I asked him to go shopping together in Paris. Deal.

10:30 AM: Last chance to go to the pool and spa, relaxing moments before heading to Berlin. 

12:00 PM: Travel to Berlin, I am so excited about this one. I will get the chance to play in one of the greatest halls in world again and meet for first time Ambassador Amy Gutmann. 

3:00 PM: Arrival in Berlin. Time to get ready for the reception. Unpacking is one of my favorite things on tour. Somehow it’s like opening presents at Christmas, you always find something new you forgot about after packing. 

6:00 PM: Reception time! Beautiful residence, many guests, incredible music played by our soloist, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, and her pianist. We also enjoyed a very special moment when a women’s choir from Ukraine took the stage. Lots of emotions. Ambassador Gutmann made an incredible speech, full of hope and love to the world. I really admire her humanity and profound respect for art and culture. She focused on the transatlantic alliance, insisting on the fact that “music is especially important today.”

Philippe with Concertmaster David Kim and United States Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann

Philippe with Concertmaster David Kim and United States Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

8:00 PM: Dinner at Brauhaus Lindenbräu Potsdamer Platz with Ashley Berke and Julia Choi. On the menu: sausage plate and beer. The beer was much appreciated! The food … another story. First “Bavarian, German style meal” for Julia. I think tomorrow we will eat Italian.

Thursday, September 1: Berlin Concert

9:00 AM: Speedy breakfast! 

10:00 AM: Visit to the Pierre Boulez Hall at the Said Barenboim Foundation. I was looking forward to visiting this concert hall so much! The concept (bird’s nest) assimilated to the modern wooden structure gives it a unique flair and acoustic.

The Pierre Boulez Hall

The Pierre Boulez Hall

12:00 PM: Spa and massage. We have the greatest music director ever! We get a free massage in the city of our choice. Julia and I love massages. Perfect timing also in the middle of the tour.

4:00 PM: Meeting with my best friend, Max Werner (solo English horn at the Deutsche Sinfonie Orchestra). We haven’t seen each other since the beginning of the pandemic, so we had a lot of things to share and talk about. Friendships are precious. 

8:00 PM: Concert. What an amazing one! My absolute favorite hall in the world with my Orchestra—a dream. The audience here also loved Florence Price’s music. It couldn’t have been better. 

Berlin’s Philharmonie

Berlin’s Philharmonie

Post concert: The best bus ride ever! Wine, beer, and pretzels with friends and colleagues on the way to Dresden. We managed a great progressive crescendo diminuendo!

Friday, September 2: Dresden Concert 

I have some good memories from Dresden. Guest concerts with my former orchestras and also a recital around 12 years ago.

9:00 AM: Sightseeing. This city is so beautiful, unique, and authentic. Dresden is a jewel, polished and so well preserved since the latest restorations. I am so impressed by the atmosphere. It has loosened up a lot and some parts of the city have become very cosmopolitan, including the food. 

11:00 AM: Albertinum. What a fantastic collection. The Albertinum showcases various sculptures and art collections from the Romantic period to the present day. Highlight for me was Otto Dix and two of his most famous paintings, The Old Woman and Her Child and The War. 

Otto Dix’s The War

Otto Dix’s The War

Afternoon: Rest, siesta, as usual.

8:00 PM: Concert in the Kulturpalast. Fantastic hall, great acoustic and wonderful audience. Dvořák Symphony No. 7 was very special tonight. 

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