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Catherine Manoukian


2012 in Review: An Exciting and Eventful Year

I began 2012 by relearning how to eat, after a rather miserable first trimester. The first thing I managed to keep down was Cantonese Chow Mein, which, being impossible to find ready-made in Weimar, Stefan had to learn to make. I requested the very same dish every day for about three weeks - I’m pretty sure Stefan will never be able to look at Cantonese Chow Mein again.

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How 2011 ended. I joked that I was in rehab for “Involuntary Bulimia”. All for a good cause though.

The ability to keep food down allowed me to resume working, and much of February was spent preparing the Brahms Sonatas with Gunilla Süssmann, which we recorded at the Beethovensaal in Hannover at the end of the month. I’ve wanted to record these sonatas since I first learned them, in 1993, and it was extremely rewarding to finally have that opportunity. As with all of my recordings, I waited for circumstances that were perfect for the repertoire, including the ideal partner, the ideal location, and the ideal recording team.

Nilla is a relatively new colleague for me, but she has worked with Stefan for years, and he thinks very highly of her. After hearing her in concert a couple of times, getting together for some casual run-throughs (and enjoyable dinners), and on the assumption that musical chemistry may be transitive (Stefan and I have great chemistry, Stefan and Nilla have great chemistry, then surely Nilla and I must have great chemistry?) we decided to go ahead with the project. After the wonderful experience working with Christopher Alder on the Elgar in June 2011, I was eager for him to produce this recording as well, and he introduced me to the most amazing sound engineer, Wolf-Dieter Karwatky, who managed to achieve, on first try, exactly the sound conditions I’d imagined in my head.

The four of us had a fabulous time during these sessions, as well as during our breaks, since we appeared to share a common love for self-deprecating humour. Running gags of the week included my increasing hatred of the numerous stairs from the studio to the sound booth (which, at 27 weeks, I never failed to complain about), Chris’ broken leg in a gigantic cast, and Nilla’s pale green skin-tone, thanks to a recent bout of stomach flu - all of which, we decided, made us the lamest collection of people presently in a recording studio. Despite that, however, it was an absolute joy to work on this disc, and I’m very proud of what we achieved (I’ve recently had the pleasure of hearing the first draft).

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Left to Right: Wolf-Dieter Karwatky, Me, Gunilla Süssmann, and Christopher Alder. In the sound booth at the top of interminable staircases.

I spent my last few weeks as a non-parent frantically making preparations, because our living space so far had been not so much a family dwelling as storage for our many suitcases, our concert attire, our indispensable washer-dryer, and our replica Klingon Bat’Leth. I spent many hours reading on safe plastics and the best diaper disposal devices and turned our suitcase, ironing board, vacuum, and cardboard box storage room into a nursery (and found alternative solutions for the suitcases, ironing board, vacuum, and cardboard boxes). We took so many trips to the Erfurt Ikea that I’m sure Stefan, despite being Swedish, is even less keen on setting foot there than he is on tasting Cantonese Chow Mein again. I sewed storage bags and pillowcases and sheets, re-upholstered chairs, bought tablecloths and colourful bowls (!), and did and purchased all sorts of things I’d never imagined I’d ever be inclined to do or purchase. It’s a curious thing, nesting. I’ve since lost almost all of my interest in Stefan’s sewing machine, though I still enjoy playing with small power tools (Dremel, you’re awesome).

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The Nursery, formerly a storage room for countless suitcases, innumerable cardboard boxes, and several medium-sized appliances.

In April, Stefan and his orchestra, the Staatskapelle Weimar, went on several small tours, and, deciding that my nesting was progressing sufficiently on schedule, I joined them as a sort of groupie. We visited Stuttgart and Gütersloh, and, in between, Stefan and I took a day trip to Strasbourg. We went to Maribor in Slovenia, and to Villach and Salzburg in Austria. We celebrated Stefan’s birthday in Salzburg. On the drive from Slovenia to Austria, Stefan insisted on visiting Carlos Kleiber’s grave, which was in a location so remote our navigation hinted we just may be driving off a cliff. After several wrong turns, including right into someone’s driveway (boy, was that guy confused by the sight of a car with a Weimar license plate), we managed to fulfil Stefan’s wish.

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Stefan at Carlos Kleiber’s grave, someplace in Slovenia

When we returned to Weimar, the Staatskapelle’s next symphony concert was guest-conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, who, with his wife Lady Molly, came over for a delightful dinner (was I ever glad I’d recently bothered to buy a soup tureen). Serving homemade peach cobbler to Sir Neville Marriner was definitely a highlight that month, as was hearing his concert with the Staatskapelle (which included the Don Giovanni overture, an all-time favourite for me).

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Stefan and Me in Strasbourg

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With Sir Neville Marriner, after his concert

May was the most eventful month of our lives. Our son, Johannes Lucas, was born on the 24th, and, quite naturally, the significance of this event is indescribable. Over the next several months we started learning how to be parents, and had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with this little character. It’s amazing how clearly he already has likes (his father’s chicken soup, his sock monkey, fugues) and dislikes (mashed carrot, getting out of the bath, and the Brahms A major violin sonata – to which he protested even as a fetus). Adjusting to the demands of parenting in conjunction with the demands of working has, of course, been exhausting, but the rewards are incalculably greater.

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Johannes, minutes old, May 24, 2012

I spent August getting back into playing shape. I’d been expecting it to be similar to the times I’ve rebuilt after going on vacation for a while, but it was significantly tougher, as I was rather physically worn out by having made a human. With time and patience, however, my hands remembered, and I became comfortable again. My first concert back I played the Brahms Double, with the wonderful Marie-Elisabeth Hecker.

Our first extended concert trip with Johannes was in November. It included my debut with the Helsingborg Symphony (playing the Elgar) and two performances with the Norrköping Symphony of the Bartok second violin concerto, which we’ll be recording this year, in conjunction with the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

We spent December winding down, after what has to have been the most incredible year of our lives, and catching up on much-needed rest. 2013 starts with a quiet day of practising and playing with Johannes, and looking forward to all the exciting things that are coming up.

(And perhaps a resolution to blog more frequently.)

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Christmas 2012

updated: 4 years ago