Mark had a variety of functions to perform during his time as Assistant Conductor both at the Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Opera du Rhin. Amongst his duties Mark was to conduct regular ‘décentralisé’ concerts taking the orchestra to various local regions, which often involved a post-concert wine tasting. As assistant at the Opera House he often had to conduct at the production rehearsals (similar to the Rome Opera House, the chorus contracts did not oblige them to sing or rehearse music at a production rehearsal unless an orchestra was present). Mark supervised several projects with Mme Segard, Director of the Music Conservatoire. Large scorings were needed in order to do joint concerts with the Philharmonic Orchestra (most of whom were their teachers). On Mark’s arrival the Orchestra’s librarian was already away on permanent sick leave and Mark had to take on the library duties for some time, until the Bastille (Paris) Opera House librarian was able to move to Strasbourg to take up the position. Mark’s first commitment (Feb 1997) was to conduct production rehearsals of ‘Salome’ (Strauss). Fortunately he was already well prepared by his time in Vienna with copious practical information coming from Richard Strauss’s own personal score and orchestral parts.
Mark shared conducting at the Saint Sylvestre concert in 1997, and conducted a whole New Year’s Eve Hoffnung concert (with Annetta Hoffnung and her team) at the end of 2000. Other notable features during Mark’s Strasbourg period were his involvement in several Opera du Rhin great productions, in particular the 1999 performance of Poulenc’s ‘Dialogue des Carmélites’ with former Basel-Swiss actress, Marthe Keller, as director. After the run of performances in Strasbourg Mark continued his duties on the production’s tour to Savonlina (Finland) in July and a semi-staged performance at the BBC Royal Albert Hall prom on 4th August the same year. An award-winning ArtHaus DVD of the productions was released shortly afterwards. Another special achievement involving Mark was a production of Korngold’s ‘Die Totestadt’ directed by Inge Levant in 2001, also issued on an ArtHaus DVD.
The orchestra’s Poulenc concerts were attended by members of the composer’s family, in particular his niece and god-daughter, Rosine Seringe and her son, Benoit, who were a pleasure to meet. The Loriod sisters (Yvonne and Jeanne) performed several works with the orchestra at which Mark not only assisted the orchestra but also the sisters. The works played included Jolivet’s Ondes Martenot concerto giving Mark a valuable opportunity to start to understand how the instrument was played as he was asked to turn Jeanne’s pages for her, both her hands being continuously occupied. The concert also included Messaien’s ‘Trois Petites Liturgies’. On another visit both the sisters performed the ’Turangalila Symphony’. The pianist, Yvonne, played all her husband’s works from memory and never needed a score. Mark much enjoyed keeping their company at both a meal and a tea-cake session. They were interested to hear that Mark had been introduced to Messaien in Basel by Heinz Holliger (whose daughter was a member of the Basel Sinfonietta at the time and was a friend of Mark), when Mark attended Holliger’s rehearsal of ‘Des Canyons aux Étoiles’ at the Staat Casino. The Loriod sisters were a great joy to spend time with. Mark went on all the SPO tours as Assistant Conductor, in particular to Wrocław (Poland) Cantans Festival, which prepared him well for the regular conducting of concerts and recordings he was to do in the near future. Their first trip together there was in 1998. By chance, SPO stayed at the same hotel as the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, some of whose players Mark knew well from the years when they had been members of the Orquestra do Porto. In the same hotel Mark encountered Krysztof Penderecki. Unknown to either of them at that time Mark was to conduct some of Penderecki’s works over the next years. The SPO’s return to Wrocław in 2001 was a complete performance of Szymanowski’s opera ‘King Roger’. The experience of this piece was of great value for the major Szymanowski’s works Mark was to conduct in Poland in the following years.