NSO bassist Paul DeNola writes a guest blog, speaking about his past tours with the orchestra and shares what he looks forward to on the upcoming European tour with Maestro Noseda.
This is my 18th season with the National Symphony Orchestra and it’s incredible that I can say that I’ve performed in great halls, experienced amazing places, and explored the world—all with bass in hand! Next week, the NSO is traveling to Spain, Germany, and Italy on its first international tour with Music Director Gianandrea Noseda and I couldn’t be more excited to tell you a little bit about the experience.
One of the best parts of going on tour for me is a simple pleasure. While I love tourist attractions like museums, the most interesting thing for me is just walking out of the hotel and exploring the streets of the city. There’s a different energy—for example, German cities have some familiar trappings that you’re used to but there are subtle differences that you can feel; often buildings are older and the street food looks and smells different from what you’re used to here in the U.S. I remember, we had a day off in Luxembourg on a Sunday. Despite shops and businesses being closed, it was incredible to walk around admiring the beautiful architecture all day.
One of the most rewarding things is to experience these new discoveries with your colleagues, because even though we are friends—sometimes even very close friends!—when you're on the tour you definitely spend more time with people that you haven't spent time with before. It is a very morale boosting and bonding experience. To sit down at a restaurant with a member of the orchestra that you’ve played across from for 15 years and all of a sudden, you’re sharing this experience with them—breaking bread and enjoying a meal, not just at the canteen but in another country. There's a lot of connective tissue that's built throughout the orchestra when you're on an international tour.
It's a little bit ineffable, but when you get on stage it would be difficult to not to let that great experience influence your performance. You get a feeling of: “I just spent the last five hours with this wonderful person. I didn’t know they liked sushi so much!” It may sound simplistic, but it facilitates a deeper connection. Then, you're on stage and you can see them across the way—and we’re playing Shostakovich or Beethoven, we’re creating this music together. It makes the music that much more poignant, which I hope the audience can feel too!
I'm looking forward to playing these programs with our Music Director Gianandrea Noseda—in our first international tour together—in all these different places and halls. I’ve always loved getting to perform in a variety of halls, it’s one of my favorite things about tour! Being with Noseda and sharing that experience with him is going to be awesome. On tour, the orchestra and the conductor are sharing space together for a lot of time. I remember when we were on my first international tour to Asia with Iván Fischer, I ended up being his bridge partner in a hotel lobby one evening. I didn't even really know how to play bridge! That’s never going to happen in D.C., right? The tour creates those kinds of experiences. It bonds us as orchestra and music director.
Two things I’m looking forward to are playing at the Philharmonie in Berlin and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. I'm a bit of a Berlin Philharmonic fanboy. I’ve watched countless Digital Concert Hall concerts, even back in the DVD era! I remember getting the DVD of Simon Rattle in his first season with the Berlin Philharmonic conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. I popped it in to watch for a minute and then I ended up watching the whole thing. Now, that's nerdtastic! I get to go to the hall that I've been fanboying, about for, I don't know, 20 plus years in just a couple weeks. I remember the last time we played there, the Berlin Philharmonic was still rehearsing as we arrived. Their changeovers are tight. It was so cool, I was like “Oh my god, Simon Rattle is up there conducting!” After rehearsal was over, we got out of the way as the orchestra came off stage and the bass players just put their bases down. It was super cool, the stage crew takes the basses for them, and the whole bass section said: “Wow, that’s next level!”
I'm also really looking forward to playing in the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The last time we were there we played in a different, beautiful hall. But this time we will play in the newly built Elbphilharmonie, which I visited as a tourist a few years ago. It is super cool and modern. I'm super psyched to see that!
Paul DeNola is a bassist in the National Symphony Orchestra. He joined in 2006 and has gone on four international tours with the Orchestra.
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