RIAS Jugendorchester (February 1983 to 1987)

Mark first visited Berlin in September 1979 for the Karajan Conducting Competition travelling with Jonathan del Mar in his car.  They both had a conversation with Karajan in his elegant and friendly English, however attendance at any of his rehearsals was strictly forbidden as they found out by experience.  This time in Berlin gave Mark essential knowledge for his return to conduct in 1983 – Berlin wall crossover points, East German marks as well as the music shops both East and West well stocked with full scores etc.   Mark’s first concert with the RIAS Jugendorchester was 2nd February 1983 in the Konzertsaal der Hochschule der Kunste (also temporary home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra after the war until their new hall was built).  His choice of programme was deliberate and caused a joyful stir for all, including newspapers:- Elgar Enigma Variations (the proud community isolated by a wall in the West which felt like an exclusive club) and Shostakovich Symphony No. 12 (the endless Soviet communities surrounding them).  Following the success of his first concert Mark was quickly asked to return and take over the first Filmharmonisches Konzert (27th February in the SFB Grossen Sendersaal) from his predecessor Caspar Richter who had just resigned and Mark was immediately appointed Artistic Director.  His time in Berlin was very productive covering a large and varied repertoire including German premières of works by Peter Maxwell Davies and John McCabe.  Soloists included Wolfram Christ (BPO principal viola), Radovan Vlatković (horn), as well as guest conductors Silvio Vaviso and Jesús López Cobos.   For the four ‘Filmharmonisches Konzert’s the artists included the RIAS Tanz Orchester and their pianist Kai Rautenberg as well as singers Jennifer Rush, Rosi Rohr and Bobbie Michaels. For the fourth concert (1993) the composer Michael J Lewis conducted his own film music for ‘Theatre of Blood’.

Most of the RJO players were closely connected with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  Some were part of the Karajan Academy (which involved them as extra players) or were children of members of the BPO (women players were excluded at that time until Karajan engaged Sabina Meyer as co-principal clarinet) and many who had lessons with BPO players.  Mark attended many BPO concerts seated in the choir seats behind the orchestra with a good view of many conductors, in particular Karajan and the leader Michael Schwalbé which was more than instructive. Unlike Karajan, other conductors were willing to give permission to attend rehearsals, in particular Václav Neumann (Martinů Symphony No. 6 which Mark was preparing for Swiss performances) and Daniel Barenboim (Schumann Symphony No. 2 also in preparation for Basel).  Karajan regularly borrowed the RJO to take the place of the BPO for planning his camera shots in preparation for his ‘live’ performance DVD recordings.  The BPO performances and sound quality were unique.  Mark soon got to know the librarian, Gabrielle Homeyer, who allowed him free access to their bowings (many from Schwalbé) and markings which was a major step to understanding more about their very special sound.  At that time for example they were still using Fürtwangler’s marked parts for Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

Mark managed to arrange for RJO to be the main orchestra at Montepulciano in the summer of 1986.  His main symphony concert was prepared and tried out in Berlin before leaving to give the players time to rehearse the other projects on arrival.  For the Bruch violin concerto the soloist was Kolja Blacher, (son of composer Boris Blacher and pianist Gerty Herzog), who was later to become leader of the BPO, not only a great musician but a wonderful person to have known.