As an international first, BCMG travelled to Washington in America in 2014 as part of Oliver Knussen’s residency to perform at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings and photographs in its collections. The tour consisted of two concerts including Knussen’s Ophelia Dances, one of his most popular works and is characterised by blends of wind, string and keyboard timbres. The piece was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation- an organisation that awards commissions for new music works to composers. Knussen was our Artist-in-Association and was known world-wide as a champion of contemporary music. We also performed compositions by Stravinsky and Shoenberg as part of our tour to Washington. 

This week we spoke to Ulrich Heinen- BCMG’s cellist about his experience whilst touring in America and performing at the Library of Congress.

If you could describe your experience of touring in Washington in one sentence, what would it be? 

It was a truly awesome experience I will never forget!

What would you say was the most memorable moment of the tour?  

Performing Arnold Schönberg’s ‘Suite’ conducted by Oliver Knussen (playing Frank Bridge’s second piano trio came as a close second).

 Did you encounter any challenges while touring or preparing for the concerts?

 Yes, my suitcase got lost on the way and I had to go on a hunt downtown DC for essential clothing, late at night. Surreal!

How did it feel to play one of the Library of Congress’ Stradivarius cellos for this occasion? Did it enhance the quality of sound? 

This cello (Castelbarco) is amazing. It’s got a huge sound, extremely powerful. For me it was sometimes impossible to play quiet enough. It was made in 1699 and is one of the best examples of Stradivari’s ‘golden period’. I spent two weeks practising and performing on it. Every morning they had to call the police first to unlock the safe which houses the keys to the bulletproof glass cupboard containing the cello. I found out it is actually not insured because it never leaves the building!

Is there anything else you can recall – any anecdotes that might interest our audiences for example? 

Elisabeth Coolidge was an incredible person, we found out. She was a pianist who loved chamber music. She inherited a considerable amount of money which she used to sponsor music events, ensembles and orchestras. She not only gave the Library of Congress enough money to start the biggest collection of music scores in the world, but also donated funds to build a concert hall within the Library building (a beautiful art-deco hall with echo chambers enhancing the acoustic) and: most importantly, commissioned a long list of American and European composers throughout the 20s, 30, and early 40s. Without her incredible energy, enthusiasm and generosity we would not have some of the best pieces of 20th century music. In fact all of the early 20th century music we played during this residency (Schönberg, Britten and Bridge) had been commissioned by her.