I was invited to conduct the European Philharmonic of Switzerland (EPOS) in February of 2017. EPOS is a festival orchestra, meeting two to three times every year for projects and tours. Its musicians are made up of ex-members of the world famous Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, who have already “grown up” and now play in international ensembles, such as the Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Gulbenkian, Deutsche Oper, Brussels Philharmonic and other world-renowned orchestras. We spent an intensive weekend together in the beautiful Swiss lakeside town, Montreux, performing works by Brahms, Liszt and Mendelssohn in front of a large audience at the Auditorium Stravinsky – home of both the Septembre Musical and the Montreux Jazz Festivals.
They played with the professionalism, technique and precision of any world-class orchestra. But there was something more – something one can only very rarely experience in a usual professional, full-time orchestra set-up. It is really hard to put my finger on it, describing the phenomenon that makes these moments so memorable to us for the rest of our lives: it has something to do with the collective energy, the inspiring spark that spreads like a virus from musician to musician, that endows every phrase with special meaning and a life of its own. Behind the euphoric experience there is obviously hard work – taking a long weekend off of daily job at our respective orchestras and opera houses, we travelled all day to Montreux from many different countries, and commenced our first rehearsal from our arrival until midnight.
Some musicians had just met for the very first time, and some were great friends who hadn’t seen each other for many years – since their last GMJO tour together, or since their last meeting at one of the world’s greatest festivals. In a huge hotel conference room with dimmed lights and dead acoustics, we started to play our first notes together – and within moments, harmony blossomed.We all quickly transformed back into eager, inspired and hungry young musicians, who found beauty in every passage we were playing, making music as if our lives depended on it.
Experiencing these moments and being a part of these encounters is a justification of what we, musicians and artists do, communicating the supernatural experience and beauty of harmony, collaboration, and like-mindedness, where age, nationality, skin colour, religion or language is not a barrier or even an issue. These are the moments when I realize I wouldn’t in a million years choose any other profession than the one I have, and also, that this profession is so much more than just a profession. I sincerely hope that we, musicians are able to channel some of these feelings and memorable moments to our audience, and that we are able to share and spread this enlightened energy further. If we achieve this as an artistic community, then we have achieved our mission.
Watch a short documentary video of the whole project here!