When the Race Marshal and I lived in Hong Kong, almost our only escape to anything resembling the wild was the Maipo marsh - a forbidden no-man's-land that separated the then colony from China. Nature rescued by hostility. And Germany has inherited the same. In the Cold War, there was a barrier 5 km wide, 1400 km long, of barbed wire fence, minefields, watchtowers and machine guns running around the the perimeter of the Soviet zone from the Baltic to the Czechoslovakian border. Our side was guarded by a thin line of soldiers. And often they found standing next to them, monoculars at the ready, a thin line of ornothologists. So when the watchtowers came down, there was a ready army of people determined that this demilitarised nature reserve should be preserved. The German branch of Friends of the Earth brought the army of conservationists from the West – and also those who had been trapped in the East – to call on the German government to preserve this "ecological backbone of Central Europe". They were mostly successful: the Green Belt, as it is known, now boasts 109 different types of habitats offering protection to 48% of endangered species - and they are working on even extending the concept along the whole 12,500 km of the former Iron Curtain, from the Arctic to the Adriatic. And, I am pleased to say, providing a cycle route along its length. So, as the Race Marshal roars off on tarmac roads to Goslar and the Harz Mountains, I am cycling in that direction along one of the most wonderful and liberating paths in Europe. After all these days focused on the urban, I feel like one of the prisoners in Fidelio emerging creakily into the light - “Oh what bliss, in the open air, to breathe freely again!”
As I sit with my lunch of smoked eel and listen to the birdsong, it seems that in this year of his 250th anniversary, Beethoven really is the composer of the outdoors – so I programme into my playlist for the next few days Fidelio, definitely, the Late Quartets, the Pastoral Symphony - and of course Piano Concerto No 1. This concerto I know well because there is a film of a live performance (link below) by one of the world's great pianists, Maria Prinz, under the baton of my father-in-law. Maria has very kindly sent us her thoughts and memories about the concert with Neville Marriner - and about Beethoven: “Let me share some very personal experiences, connected with the music of this genius. For all of us, even for those who are not especially interested in music, Beethoven is like Prometheus or Columbus, somebody who changed the world - in his case,the world of music. And he was quite a personality - not easy to deal with! Born in Bonn on 17 December 1770, he spent the most important part of his life in Vienna and is considered, together with Haydn and Mozart, as a leading representative of the Wiener Klassik. But he saw himself as Weltbürger – a citizen of the world. I would like to share three most significant moments of my life as a musician, connected with Beethoven. The first one was in 1970, when the world celebrated Beethoven’s 200th anniversary. I was thirteen and for the first time accompanying my father – the Bulgarian conductor Konstantin Iliev - on a concert tour.
Konstantin Iliev (c)musica bulgaria
We landed in East Berlin (it was my first trip to Germany) and went only hours later to a Beethoven celebration concert of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra under Kurt Sanderling, playing Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. I was enchanted, hearing Beethoven on my first night in Germany, and knew that same evening that my most ardent wish was to study music in Berlin. Five years later I started studying at the Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” and spent the five most important years of my life there. Now we have to jump in time to 2008, when I had my happiest Beethoven stage experience, because of the collaboration with Sir Neville Marriner, my guiding star in music and one of the most important human beings in my life. The concert was in Russe - a Bulgarian city on the Danube with a rich history and with the most important music festival in the country - March Music Days.
It was a special project called Let’s Play Orchestra involving young musicians from all the Balkan countries, not experienced in orchestra playing, but eager to learn and tremendously excited to play under the legendary conductor Neville Marriner. And how they played!! They adored him from the very first moment and in just a few days he made, out of a heterogeneous group of youngsters, a homogeneous-sounding ensemble. For me, working with Sir Neville Marriner was, as always, pure happiness. Heaven on earth! I was the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 and although I was lucky enough to have been a soloist for Sir Neville both before then and afterwards, in diverse repertoire, this concert remains a very special memory. It was also a Beethoven work - the 7th Symphony – which was on the programme of Sir Neville’s last concert in Vienna, in April 2016 (half a year before he passed away) with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. It was an incredibly electrifying performance, youthful and energetic, and the 92-year- old maestro was given a tumultuous reception from the audience. The honourable Viennese listeners behaved as if they were at a rock concert – whistling and shouting bravo.
I was there, moved, happy, not knowing that it would be the last time to see him in concert, but I knew that somewhere up in the gallery, Beethoven was listening to this performance and thinking: “Yes, it is exactly how I always wanted to hear this symphony. Well done, Neville!” Thank you, Maria. You can find out more about Maria and her recordings at www.mariaprinz.com Here is film of a live concert with Maria and Neville - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPlI64t6xQg&feature=youtu.be And here is the official website of the extraordinary Green Belt - http://www.erlebnisgruenesband.de/en/gruenes-band/deutschland/natur.html