As a member of the Rayburn Ski team and a lover all things snow sport related…
The Austrian hills are alive
With the sound of snow fall
With flakes that have fall’n
For a thousand years
The hills fill my heart
With the sound of chairlifts
My heart wants to sing
Every piste that it sees!
…so when 6 months ago I was approached by the Rayburn Concert Tours department to accompany the Wessex Youth Orchestra to Austria, it was a little out of the norm for me. A summer trip to the Austrian hills with a youth orchestra from Poole, now there’s a challenge, I thought, but fortunately one I willingly took on, and boy am I happy I did!
I met the group down in Dover on Friday evening and was greeted by two friendly faces – Susanna Riddell and Beverley Williams. A long coach journey stretched out in front of us with an ETA of 3.30pm the next day so I was hoping for some good entertainment and the Wessex Youth Orchestra did not let me down. The Sound of Music was a personal favourite and an absolute must in preparation for the week ahead. Tired and weary, we arrived at the Gasthof Hutter, Hüttau, a little behind schedule and went straight in for our evening meal. Fed and watered, the rehearsal commenced and I got my first taste of the delightful sound of the Wessex Youth Orchestra; I went to bed looking forward to the next day and the first concert of the tour in Zell am See.
Waking up to grey skies, it seemed the gods were not in our favour, but we hit the road and headed straight to Zell am See, hoping for a change in conditions. It was touch and go whilst we were setting up, with the dark clouds threatening to dampen the occasion, but by 3pm the rain had run dry and the audiences were lured in by the rousing sound of Copland’s Fanfare. Passers by could not help but sit down and join the ever growing audience at this beautiful lakeside venue. There was a real mixture of locals and tourists united in their appreciation of the hour long concert, including works by Rogers, Strauss, Lehar, Holst and Elgar, to name but a few!
Following the concert, the group packed away whilst donations flooded in from the audience and the CDs positively flew off the music box (our somewhat improvised trade stand!!) After a few group photos and an ice cream or two, we loaded the bus and headed back to our hotel – time for a dip in the pool!! A feast was served at half past seven so it was a good job everyone had worked up an appetite. Although the staff members were served at the table, including some delicious antipasti, the children were able to choose from a wide-ranging buffet, suiting all tastes and dietary requirements. Brigitte, one of two sisters who run the hotel, is an accomplished cook and even baked fresh gluten and lactose free bread!
The next day we had an early departure at 8.45am. Our first stop was Hellbrunn Palace and the trick fountains, commissioned as a summer residence by Salzburg’s Prince and Archbishop, Markus Sittikus, in 1612, only a few months after ascending the throne. Archbishop Sittikus must have been a rather playful chap if the palace gardens and famous trick fountains are anything to go by! The guided tour starts at a table with a difference – the term “fed and watered” takes on a whole new meaning here, as our coach driver, Pete Jones, soon found out.
As we walked through the various grottos and past the wonderfully detailed mechanical theatre, we all resigned ourselves to our fate and started to enjoy the cooling effect of the hidden water spurts. Having seen the music pavilion from The Sound of Music, where young lovers, Franz and Liesl, sang the infamous I am sixteen, going on seventeen, and having sampled the Hellbrunn ice-cream, we boarded the coach and set off for Strobl, a new venue in the Rayburn Tours portfolio.
Strobl is quite simply one of the most beautiful locations I have ever visited and surely Austria’s answer to Lake Garda, especially in the 28 degree heat! Setting up for the concert was made easier by the great access for the instrument lorry and we were soon ready to go with the concert. What seemed like a quiet village turned into a hive of activity, as Copland’s Fanfare once again brought in the crowds!
Tuesday was our final concert day, and this time an indoor performance at the Bad Ischl Trinkhalle. Another hot day made setting up a sticky affair, but again the venue had access for the instrument lorry so we didn’t have far to carry the instruments. This was the most formal of the concerts so the orchestra were suited and booted, looking very elegant indeed. The audience grew steadily before the commencement of the concert and then continued to increase throughout.
Every piece went down a treat and the crowd was left wanting more after Stravinsky’s Berceuse and Finale drew to a close. Cue encore number one, an exhilarating arrangement of Lord of the Dance. Having heard this at the first two concerts, I filled with excitement again as the tempo rose and the momentum grew. The audience looked a little disconcerted as conductor, Susanna Riddell, departed the stage about halfway through the piece – had she had enough? Was she unwell? But alas, they soon realise that all is well! The children merrily continue on their own, enjoying the limelight and wowing the audience as they play faster and faster. At the end of the piece, there is a roar of applause and the audience still wants more! Cue encore number two, the final piece of the Austrian Tour 2012; I believe I was not alone in shedding a tear of sheer joy and amazement as the final note was played.
Once all the instruments were safely packed away, we walked to nearby Café Sissy for a three-course dinner by the River Traun. On the opposite side of the river, is the Lehar Villa. Having played Lehar’s Merry Widow at all three concerts, it seemed only fitting to have a group photo after dinner. Capturing all of the Wessex Youth Orchestra in one frame is no easy task, but here is my attempt:
Arriving back at the hotel, there is a buzz in the air – perhaps something to do with the cabaret evening scheduled for the following night. This was the last proper chance to prepare before the big event!
The next day was our only concert free day. In the morning we ventured over the border into Germany, visiting the Berchtesgaden Salt mines. The tour of the salt mines was great with a miniature train ride, wooden indoor slides, taking you from one level of the mine to the next, and a raft over the underground lake with an accompanying light show. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to keep the miner’s clothes, but we did all receive a free pot of salt – a taste of Germany to take home!
We spent the afternoon in magical Salzburg, visiting Mozart’s birthplace and the Mirabell Gardens, as well as fitting in some much needed shopping time. As the bus set off on the return journey to the hotel, the buzz of excitement felt even stronger, as the cabaret fast approached. After dinner, instruments were unloaded and the chairs set up for the audience. Having listened to the orchestra throughout the week, I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for me. I was entertained with singing, dancing and music making; every single act was spellbinding! The cabaret was well rounded off with a superb musical instrument themed pantomime in homage to The Sound of Music, written by the lyrically talented, Mrs Vera Riddell.
This was our last night in the Hotel Hutter and a real treat for Elisabeth, Brigitte’s sister and fellow hotel owner. After the award ceremony with paper plates and gifts handed out to the group and staff members, we retired to our beds for one last Austrian slumber.
Alas it was time to depart and following a morning at leisure in the hotel and a scrumptious lunch of traditional Wiener Schnitzel, we set off on our long journey home. Making good time, we caught an earlier ferry crossing and were back in Dover for half past eight the following day. Sadly, it was time for me to depart and I bid a fond farewell and hopeful “Auf Wiedersehen” to the Wessex Youth Orchestra.
So, as a dedicated skier, Austria still conjures images of snow covered slopes and chairlifts, but I have to say that from now on the hills will always be alive with the sound of the Wessex Youth Orchestra.
Thank you to you all!