Jubilee Tour in Asia
7 Concerts in Bejing, Shanghai, Taipeh and Seoul
Together with our designated Chief Conductor and Muscial Director, Paavo Järvi, our orchestra is setting off on a tour to Asia from October 21st to November 4th. You will be able to participate in this tour. Thanks to daily photos, videos and texts found on our media channels and website you will get a first-hand account of our concerts in China, Taiwan and South Korea and also have an insight into life on a tour.
And of course, Simon Styles, our solo tuba player, is going to report about the tour, the concerts and minor and major mishaps, as always in his tongue-in-cheek manner, with a necessary portion of self-irony.
The Jubilee Tour to Asia is sponsored by Clariant International Ltd., Patrons` Association, Max Kohler Stiftung, Pro Helvetia und die Georg und Bertha Schwyzer-Winiker-Stiftung as well as generous donations of two other foundations.
Simon Styles' Tourblog
Natürlich berichtet Simon Styles, Solo-Tuba, wie immer vom Tourleben, von den Konzerten, von kleineren und grösseren Problemen, aber immer mit einem Augenzwinkern und stets mit einer gehörigen Portion Selbstironie!
Zürich: A new era dawns? A new beginning?
It's Monday the 8th of October, and we are at the beginning of a pretty heavy patch of work, after what has been already a pretty heavy patch of work:
Haitink was here for Bruckner 7, there was last week's heavy dose of Film Music, Mahler 9 with Jukka-Pekka Saraste, replacing the indisposed Semyon Bychkov, not mention the Dîner Musical with a whole pad of orchestral showpieces. Talk about a fulminant beginning to the new season, it's been flat-out, no rest for the wicked as they say!
A new beginning? Well yes certainly, in 2 weeks we will have just landed in Beijing, the arrival time is down as being 05.15 local time. My usual method of dealing with jet lag is to stay up, wherever we land until it is night there. I think I am going to have to rethink that one... Well that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is Brahms 2 and Mahler 5. What matters even more is the fact that our designated Principal Conductor and Music Director, and the last Principal Conductor of my career, Paavo Järvi, is giving his first concerts since having been appointed to the position earlier this year. So there is palpable expectancy to be felt as the start of rehearsal approaches.
Paavo makes his entrance to warm applause from the orchestra, and after a few words from our Intendantin Ilona Schmiel, he greets us cordially and off we go with Brahms 2, read pretty much straight, top left to bottom right, so to speak. Not much is said, less is corrected. I wonder how long that will last? Obviously he is «sussing us out», just as much we are checking him over. It's a perfectly natural and normal sort of osmosis, which I am experiencing at the Tonhalle Orchestra probably for the 5th time, when a new Principal Conductor is placed before us for the very first time. Of course it isn't by quite a long way not the first time we have seen each other, but this is completely a different matter, as we want to assess not who is in front of us this week but for the next 5 years. And so we are very conscious of Paavo as I guess he is of us.
The first movement flows quite quickly, more quickly than maybe we are used to but it makes sense – there are just comments made I think, one a rhythmic figure and the other on balance, especially during the big horn solo at the end of the first movement. We, the trombones don't have an awful lot to do during the first movement, though in our defence I would add that what little we do have to is actually quite important – a couple of chorales, cold and at the beginning of the piece and in the middle of the movement and some padding at the high points, so we have time to look and listen to what is going on around and in front of us. Immediately obvious is the eye contact between conductor and musician, something which every musician appreciates above practically all else. We move with very little fuss into the 2nd movement, as I have said before Brahms is music that this orchestra has always played well, music which lies very close to its heart, so the demands and requests placed on us are easily translated into deeds. Personally I love the way Paavo gets the strings to play the moving triplets at the movements fortissimo («winds mf, maximum f please, not ff») climax incredibly broadly, big broad bow stokes which visually, as well audibly, give such a sense of collective elan. At the finish of the 4th movement there are a few comments mostly on balance, to the strings that when accompanying they should do exactly that and not cover the wind soloists, no matter how interesting and beautiful their line might be, and to the winds and brass to reduce the dynamic on long held notes, once played.
The Mahler, to which most of the rest of the rehearsals are devoted, is, of course, a different story. Here we really get down to work. Firstly movements are played through, but then the longer the rehearsals go, the more clear it is becoming what sort of conductor Paavo is. Mahler, ever the troubled, soul searching composer that he was, stops and starts. As does Paavo. At times in the first and especially the 2nd movements, it feels like the sea is boiling. The self doubt manifested in fits of sudden bursting ahead, only to come to an almost complete standstill, make this difficult music to make «hang together». More than once Paavo admonishes us for «playing vertically» – ie; organising too much rhythmically, rather than playing the line. The instructions we receive are clear and concise: «you are late, and because of that, they don't know where to play», «less here, we need to hear that», «I know it's against your nature, but this needs to sound horrible». Much trouble and attention is rightly given to dynamics, both soft as well as loud in Tonhalle Maag balance has been a largish issue, and for that we are all glad, it's good to know what is wanted of one. As musicians the world over say Beware the conductor who talks too much!!!"
In the larger picture, quite apart from a nice trip to the Far East, preceded by a few concerts in Zürich, what is the significance of this week?? A new beginning? Yes, but in so many different ways a new beginning. To see Paavo Järvi as the Messiah incarnate would be great mistake, and a very unjust expectation to place upon his shoulders. After 37 years with the Tonhalle Orchestra and 40 years in the «business», I have long grown to appreciate that an orchestra generally becomes as good as it wishes to become. The success we enjoyed under David Zinman was not solely and simply because David was standing in front of us for close to 20 years – that would be a grave injustice to both conductor and orchestra. David's success was at least in part due to a very large turnover of players shortly after commencement of his duties, and the ambition and will which was very strong in the orchestra at the time, also it was due in no small part to a management team that we should become the orchestra we became. The Berlin Philharmonic did not become the Berlin Philharmonic solely because of Furtwangler and Karajan, but because they wanted to become the Berlin Philharmonic. Sure a good conductor does help, but it is in the end a team effort.
Where will this new partnership lead? Well of course time alone will tell, but if these first 2 days are any indicator, then the partnership of Paavo Järvi and the Tonhalle Orchestra promises great things.
In short this is a decisive week in Tonhalle Maag, and let us hope the beginning of a new golden era.
As they used to say in the days of Rock and Roll: Be there or be square!
Beijing: A long first day
In the air
And so here we are, all strapped in to a nice shiny Swiss Airbus 330-300 LX0196 pointed at China, Beijing being the first port of call for our upcoming Far East tour. It is very tight in the plane and I'm not sure what nearly 10 hours of this is going to be like. I'm not the tallest, longest legged member of the band, so I do wonder how Robert Teutsch and Kamil Losiewicz are dealing with the lack of legroom, perhaps they got seats in front of the emergency doors.
Actually, it was impossible to write during the flight, it was that tight. The 10 hours in the air literally just flew by ... yawn. We were on the ground at 05.00, and as I write these words we are finally attempting to leave the airport and dive into the morning hell of Beijing rush hour, let's see how long this takes ...
It took 2 whole hours to exit through security and visa checks, milling in the arrivals hall with thousands of forlorn Johnny Foreigners. Finger printed, visas checked, temperature taken and baggage found in a completely separate terminal this has been trying in the extreme. We are promised that our rooms will be available on arrival at the hotel, when that might be is anyone's guess as, at 07.22 on the bus' clock, we are already sitting in an almighty traffic jam about 2 kilometres from the airport. Oh what bliss!
Illnesses and injuries
Apparently Charly Fässler, horn, has had to cancel at very short notice, something I think to do with falling off his bike and busting his lips, a brass player’s nightmare if ever there was one. Already in Zürich there has been a flu bug doing the rounds too. The symptoms being the familiar headaches, sore throats, tiredness and sweating bouts.
A long day
We trundle along, a light rain is falling, and ghostly out of the smog there appear the forms of ever taller buildings as we approach what must be the edge of the city. We finally seem to be off the motorway, and the teeming life of the metropolis opens its arms to suck us in. Children on their way to school, people in small parks doing their Tai-Chi exercises, bicycles weaving between the traffic queues. My goodness I'm hungry, though surprisingly not overly tired, I hope there is breakfast available when we get to the hotel. The question is what to do with the rest of the day ... As I said, my usual tactic is to stay up until it is dark wherever we might have landed, well I guess that means 12 hours to kill. I bet you there will be food involved. I lost track of my usual cohort, the Seths, Bill, Marco ages ago as I, as usual, emerged pretty much last from the terminal. Sayaka and Ivo are here already having been in Shanghai the last week with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra ... As I disembark the bus in front of the Asia Hotel, there is Nigel Downing waiting to greet me. Nigel fanatic about all things Eastern has been in Beijing since last Tuesday and so is I suppose well adjusted to the time and to being here, and probably has spent a small fortune on art and antiquities of, shall we say, dubious heritage. I'm pleased to see him, and we fix up to meet in an hour. I get to the room, perform the usual ablutions, get some breakfast and feeling quite lively we set off to meander through the "Temple of Heaven".
Rather than being "just" a temple, it is a large complex of buildings set in park lands. Constructed by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Building commenced in the early 15th century and it was used for the purpose of ceremonial prayer to heaven, with all the usual trappings of sacrifice and blood letting, for an abundant harvest. Now having long surpassed its original usage, and having fallen into disrepair through misuse and plundering, it has been painstakingly restored and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is well worth the visit, its white marble glistening in the autumnal sun is truly a joy to behold. All in all, it's a very pleasant and relaxing way of winding down.
We head back to the hotel mid-afternoon, and basically potter about, doing not very much at all. We are it seems away from the tourist areas, so life around the hotel is less international, and more local. So is the food and a big bowl of steaming spicy catfish stew just about finishes us both off, there is enough garlic in it to keep away a legion of Draculas but with no wives around to take offence we indulge ourselves greatly! A light sleep and we explore a little more, taking a Chinese massage which passes an, at times excruciating, hour, it’s interesting to find out which undiscovered or unexplored parts of my body can feel the most pain. Staggering slightly, we leave 128 Yuan Renminbi which is all of Fr. 18.50, the poorer an hour later. And that's about it for me for today, up to my room into bed not long after 21.00, quick call with the missus, there being no hotel bar there are no colleagues to be seen anywhere. I fall into a very deep sleep until 04.00 that being 22.00 back home when I jolt awake, can't sleep, read, lie with the lights off – it’s getting light when I finally fall asleep ...
A masterclass for not much money ...
I awake feeling ghastly, I can't actually put it any other way, breakfast has finished so apart from a coffee there is nothing to be had for me. I am supposed to be giving a masterclass at the Central Conservatory of Music, but I’m not sure at all if this is a wise course to follow. So I get the tour doctor Peter Kern to have a look at me. His diagnosis is a viral infection and there isn't much to be done about it. We discuss whether I should cancel but come to the conclusion that I could sit in my room and feel miserable or push through it, my thought being that I want to break the back of this illness before having to play tomorrow afternoon.
So at 12.30 I am collected from the hotel by Ching Tso Lee, to be taken to the Central Conservatory of Music. Ching Tso, having studied in Zürich, I know well, he has previously played with our orchestra, so I am very happy and flattered when, a few weeks previously, he asks me if I would be prepared to "Give a masterclass for not much money"! My reply being, "Sure, if I don't have to be any good"! Still I am always happy to help where and when I can and so 3 hours are allotted for the afternoon. Apparently, Paavo Järvi is giving a class too, so there is PR on hand to record the event for posterity. I introduce myself and talk a bit about longevity in the orchestra, how to do the job under difficult circumstances, which indeed these are such as being close to death, which is pretty much how I feel, full of Dafalgan as I am, my voice having become little more than a hoarse croak and not having had my instruments to hand for 4-5 days, well it all adds up to a convenient excuse if I'm not very good, isn't it?
Ching Tso translates for the 13 or so tuba students in the room, all of whom are very attentive, making notes and generally receiving my words of wisdom ... We finally move via some talk about do the job under difficult conditions.
The class is a joy, and although taxing I thrive in the environment, the students are good, some are very good, and they respond very quickly to my suggestions. We finish at 17.00 the usual round of photos are taken and off we go back to the hotel. Beijing is of course a diplomatic city, and, diplomats being diplomats, great are the privileges the comrades enjoy. All animals, as George Orwell wrote in "Animal Farm", are created equal, some though are more equal than others ... For instance, the car number plates - there are, and I think this is just in Beijing, blue number plates for the proletariat, and then there are black number plates. It seems to my untrained eye, that the drivers of black plated cars enjoy special privileges, such as I think, their own lanes in which to drive. If the car has black tinted windows and black plates then I assume the person sitting inside is very high up the food chain indeed ... And thus, it is we depart the Conservatory which had taken a little over 20 minutes to reach, only to come, fairly quickly, to a complete stand still. Our lane of the 6 lane highway past Tiananmen Square has a red light. Traffic in the opposite direction is whizzing along, traffic crossing in front is in motion but we are not. For nearly a full hour we are stuck, in front of an interminable red light. Not uncommon, says Ching Tso, it can even go for 2 hours or more. Apparently, some foreign dignitary or other might be passing. Finally, an hour and a half after setting off we reach the hotel. I get cleaned up and a merry bunch of us - the Seths, Bill, Marco, Monsieur Bruchez, Nigel, Ivo, Sayaka, Salome, our marvellous and long suffering "fixer", with of course Ching Tso and his lovely fiancé Yupin - set off for dinner, my stipulation having been that they, if I was to give a class "For not much money", show us a restaurant of their choice, somewhere more local than international. This they do and so we are taken maybe 1km from the hotel, and enter a busy and noisy restaurant specialising not only in Peking Duck, but all sorts of dishes indigenous to the region. Yupin does the ordering, and I am sure we get at least one of everything on the menu – delicious it is indeed and a lovely evening is spent by all. What I definitely did not stipulate is that they should pay for us, but that seems to have happened, and we're definitely not happy at the fact, that is way beyond the call of duty, it being our intention to invite them. But there is no discussing, oh so the matter is in the end left to rest ...
It’s great to see Ching Tso in his element, and it always gives me great pleasure to see a student, even if he was never my student, making his way in the world, and this he definitely is. I ask if he has any thoughts of coming back to Europe but his answer is decided negative, he feels he has found his mission in life, he has a professional playing job in one of Beijing's 10 (!!!) symphony orchestras, and sees it as his mission to raise the standards of performance on our instrument in China ... I wish him only the best in life, and if he has half the happiness that I have enjoyed in my now 39 years as a professional musician, then he will be a happy man!
Beijing: First Concert of the Tour
I sleep pretty much straight through after my day of teaching, and actually am down for breakfast though food isn't a priority really. A nice omelette fills me too the gills and beyond and I retire to my room where I spend the rest of the morning. Ching Tso contacts me to say he has Chinese medicine for me and really with the Neocitran, vitamins, Omega 3-6-9 and Berocca and turmeric pills I bought with me, the Doc's Dafalgan, Fluimucil, the Ibuprofen and Lysopain together with Ching Tso's Chinese stuff I will have enough stock to open an international pharmacy. Most important of all are my "Fisherman's Friends" highly charged menthol and eucalyptus lozenges for deep-sea fishermen, and strong enough to strip the paint off your car....
It's a terrible old joke, but because of it's terribleness worth repeating: "My father was a fisherman, my mother was a fisherman's friend!". There you are I told you it was dreadful, it's your own fault for reading this nonsense....
We have a rehearsal called for 14.30, at the first of our concert venues, the Poly Theater which is conveniently located about 10 minutes walk from the hotel above the subway. I stroll over with enough time to allow a leisurely 2 hours practice, and I make the best use of the time that I can. Goodness I feel weak, no breath, playing the large instrument feels physically very demanding and I can see a tough few hours facing me. The stage space is huge, and the term "poly" is entirely correct, it obviously being used for all sorts of productions, from symphony concerts through opera to theatre and ballet. The backstage area is cavernous, and the "shell", while being that, seems ok too. These venues are not usually optimum for sound though playing by myself it feels innocuous enough, ok I'm pointing at a wall, which I never like but I can turn at angle and so not play directly into it. However when rehearsal starts things do feel different, somehow, on stage, the sound is very fragmented, very bitty, and from a certain level it seems quite brash, apparently in the hall the sound is "incredibly dark", very strange. Paavo takes us through the Mahler basically touching the corners and a few tricky bits, like the start. I don't know how Phillipe Litzler does it – a nod from the conductor and he starts the whole damned thing, 70 minutes of tortuous, at times gut wrenching, at others soul searching and self doubting autobiographical music. Rather him than me....
My moments in comparison are a smaller, but still fraught with angst, for me anyway. There is one spot in the middle of the 1st movement for instance. Completely solo and after a lot of mostly quiet playing in mostly the low register, the Tuba is required to belt out sff (subito fortissimo) in the middle high register a little figure which comes throughout the movement, and is played by each of the brass register instruments in turn, this is always a moment where I am extremely focused! Or at the end of the 2nd movement where Mahler's world seems to be imploding, and fragments of motifs are are being stretched almost beyond recognition, there pp and morendo, the tuba is required to slur over a ninth, the last gasp of the death throes of the 2nd movement. Sounds easy enough put on paper, Paavo has asked me to stretch it and dimenuendo as far as possible, the catch being that it is already fiendishly quiet after several pages of fiendishly loud and acrobatic playing, so by this point one is physically quite tired. Don't start too quiet otherwise there will be a crescendo as the slur goes upwards, but don't start so quietly that the upper F dies before it falls to the E, oh and a rallentando with the diminuendo as well...
Then there is a fellow called Ivo Gass who happens to play Solo Horn in the Toblerone Philharmonic... He is usually to be found making a general nuisance of himself, well out of harms way on the other side of the stage. Well for the third movement, where he has a "Corno Obligato" solo part, Paavo has decided that it would be a good idea to place him next to the deafest member of the orchestra and finish the job completely. Thus he has a stand set up just in front of me and conveniently to my left so that his bell is in my face... If you don't actually know what the ancient practice of "Trepanning" is, might I suggest you look it up on "Google"? I don't believe that trepanning was originally practiced using a French Horn, but I might be wrong... Still I'm sure I have my moments of delightful and exquisite revenge as my bell is pointed somewhere in his direction and mine is definitely bigger than his, so there...
The rehearsal and the concert are all somewhat bizarre, at some point during the rehearsal somebody, somewhere decides that it would be an extremely good idea to commence drilling holes in concrete, it doesn't seem to stop and added to that there is somewhere a fan which whirrs constantly, even throughout the concert, so much so that at some point Paavo says, "Don't even try to play piano, nobody will hear you!" And so it is during the concert, well at least they have stopped drilling concrete, but the machinery above us whirrs ever on...
And then there is the television crew... Television is the bane of a musicians life, it always seeming that they assume the whole world revolves around them and their needs and desires, which must at every turn be both anticipated and immediately fulfilled. So in my immediate vicinity there are 3 large stand mounted cameras, one placed immediately to my left, which would have meant me not being able to put down my instrument for the duration of the entire concert – don't these people think that we have to perform? Don't they understand that our job is actually quite stressful? I tell him quite perfunctorally that this isn't going to work, no way is this happening and that he has to move. I don't discuss, I just don't feel like it. So he moves, and he moves all through the concert, mostly at the most inconvenient moments musically. For instance at the start of the 2nd movement of the Rachmaninoff with it's delicious flute solo followed by clarinet, just the perfect moment he decides to scrape the large box on which he has been standing across the stage and pick up his stand, this being about 2 meters tall. All in all it's a pretty bizarre evening.
Less bizarre is the reception after the concert, given by the Swiss Ambassador, wonderful finger food, and an unusual red wine from Döttingen AG an assemblage of Pinot Noir and Malbec I believe which certainly seems odd to me...
Yes it has been an unusual odd and at times bizarre day, but hey that's touring – so never say never!!
Travelling on tour
Part 1 – Trains
As we leave the reception after the first concert, Salome, ever reliable, ever on top of her game, is on hand to tell us that the coming morning's schedule is moved forward by an hour completely. Later that evening we receive a mail- this could be interesting, if some people don't get or read their mail … The reason once again being diplomatic, the Japanese Foreign Minister is in Beijing.
Well, I'm having none of that nonsense, no way am I going to sit in a bus in a traffic jam while some politician mooches about town. So we, Bill, Nigel and I, having taken possession of our train tickets set off in the subway headed for Beijing South Station. The subway in Beijing is a dream, new, clean, trains every 4-5 minutes and as we English put it "As cheap as chips". I guess it must be a legacy of the Olympics. Of course, we are ludicrously early … Travelling in China is not necessarily as easy as travel in Europe, and there are varying degrees of security checks which are absolutely unavoidable. On entering the subway, all baggage is screened, and every passenger is frisked. I have heard a malicious rumour which claims that westerners are apparently much more likely to be more thoroughly searched. Something to do with carrying hidden assets – well I can assure you none of us are carrying the crown jewels, except well maybe the percussionists …
Once inside the system you are in until, obviously, you exit at some point. So having arrived at the South Station with ages to call our own, and feeling no desire to exit for fear of not being allowed back in, we first of all repair to Starbucks in search of something resembling decent coffee, well that gets rid of 20 minutes, still another hour and 45 to go … Stylesy needs the toilet, so there's that little diversion, oh they are Chinese toilets, I'm not stooping to that … We then examine with great devotion the many and varied fast food outlets, a veritable kingdom of carbohydrate. We reconnoiter how we will gain access to the platform as this is not immediately clear, but soon becomes apparent, the process will start with showing our passports and tickets, which must match, without one or the other then you aren't going anywhere … Right so that's now clear, so what now?? Oh yes more Starbucks – how much coffee can the human body take in one morning!! We're reaching saturation point, even the boys need the toilets, so things must be bad! With 20 minutes to go we join the queue for frisking etc. Baggage screened, intimate parts violated we make the platform only to find no colleagues. Schadenfreude is one of those German terms which has made it into the English language, there being no direct equivalent term in English and this is a Schadenfreude moment … It is 11.45 and ticking, at 11.50 the first of my fellows is seen on the escalator – I watch and wonder if they are all going to make it, in dribs and drabs they come – this is fun – will they all make it?? The train, one of the new super high speed Chinese "Bullet Trains" is hugely long – 16 carriages and about 1’000 metres in length. Logically the members of the Toblerone Philharmonic are located not in one carriage, but are placed sporadically from front to back in first and teeming second class. Only one player who shall remain nameless, by the name of Gilad Karni, has managed to lose his ticket …
I find my seat which is in 2nd class (well it damned well would be wouldn't it? I mean how could such a thing happen? I deserve better than this, I'm going to stamp my feet until someone does something about it …) next to the lovely Sayaka. Thinking I've hit the jackpot, even if she has pulled up the booby prize, up pops Lover Boy himself, in the form of Ivo Gass, to claim her all for his own and keep her safe and generally guard her honour against such unsavoury types as myself … The price of his ardour being a first class ticket … beautiful lady or first class, thanks very much, hand it over, I'm off to the exalted climes of first, well away from the proletariat, far away from the coughing, scratching, typhoid and spitting of cattle class … From that point, the journey is largely uneventful, one meets such a better class of traveller when traveling first don't you think? All the better when one's travel is paid for by the tour operator, gives one such a nice warm glow, don't you agree?? In a word, it is posh – now here's something you maybe didn't know, more garbage knowledge from the furthest recesses of Stylesy's so-called brain. POSH is actually an acronym for Port Out Starboard Home, dating back to the days of the cruise ships between Southampton and New York. Posh types like myself would always book posh, and so get the southern aspect, and the sun in both directions of travel. Don't tell me you didn't know that???
I sleep for stretches, the scenery being pretty bland, not much landscape to be seen, and everything covered in a mist which might or might not be natural, I really cannot tell. The lads have been complaining of sore throats, apparently 2 hours outside in Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 2 packets of cigarettes, damn it, a fine time to pack in the habit!!!! Well I have no idea as I can't smell anything and my throat feels as if it has been sandpapered in any case …
After close to 5 hours it is apparent that we must be approaching some sort of conurbation … A dystopia of poured, preformed concrete high-rise accommodation rises around us, and soon fills the vista as far as the eye can see, Shanghai awaits us. We arrive on time in Shangahai ??????? Station and are bussed to the middle of the high-risers, to the Hua Ting Towers (Haunting Towers??) Hotel which we will call home for the next 5 days. The formalities of check-in are formidable, individual check-in, photograph, passport copy – the queue is already so long that I repair straight to the bar and avail myself of a large and slightly belligerent beer, what a nuisance, we don't need this. Others follow my fine example, and join me there before we too relent and get ourselves checked in. The plan is hatched, we will meet at 19.00 and go and eat whatever, wherever, Japanese prompted by Bill. Off we go, and conveniently there is a restaurant, a very good Japanese restaurant maybe 200 metres from the hotel – who are we to argue?? Bill, David Bruchez, Marco, Klaidi, Sami Alcántara and Nigel form a happy and hybrid group of strings and brass, there are other colleagues in the restaurant too, I think most of us are still actually jet-legged, and there is a feeling of letting go somewhat, the bill is enormous for Shanghai, and I think the staff are considering early retirement as we finally leave – that was a jolly night!!!
We have 3 concerts in and around the metropolis that is Shanghai, the first of which is in the beautiful Shanghai Symphony Hall. Acoustically designed by the same team which designed the Elb Philharmonie in Hamburg, and the hall in Katowice, both of which we played during last year's jaunt, this is by far the best hall in which we have performed, thus far, on this tour. It is light, gracious and elegant, all in all a joy. I make my way there a couple of hours early to get some oh so valuable practice time in. The tour is in so far, very much more easy going than, for instance, last year's European trip, where we had gruelling days of travel and concerts back to back for 5 days in a row I think. On the other hand, and because of the great distances involved we don't see our instruments for days on end - Friday to Monday between Zürich and Beijing, now Monday to Wednesday between Beijing and Shanghai, between China and Taipei and Taipei and South Korea it will be the same story. I have to say I feel quite rusty, and the last thing I want to feel with Mahler 5 is rusty. I enter the subway only to hear my name being called from behind, it seems Monsieur Bruchez is having similar thoughts and feelings ... The hall is, as I said, lovely, and is located in the so called "French Concession", a part of the city which was largely given over to the French (obviously ...) roughly from the middle of the 19th century until the mid 1930’s until they were turfed out by, I think, the Japanese. The reason for the presence of the French and the English being there was of course opium, the drug of choice, known as "Laudanum", of the better classes in the 19th century, and its trade obviously created great wealth. The area still retains an air of gentility and is slightly less frenetic than the rest of the city seems to be. So I have a good old blow, get the cobwebs out of my lungs, try to play without having coughing fits, by which I am plagued. I'm feeling much better now, thanks for asking, but am prone to violent coughing attacks, not something I need during the Mahler thank you very much, although one would liven the Adagietto up somewhat ... The others finally show up, and I give it all a rest to allow them do their thing without me spoiling it, and nip out for food, as ever a constant pre-occupation whilst on the road. Then a brief rehearsal, today's quote to cheer you all up from Paavo - at some point during the Rachmaninoff, there is a lone pizzicato, for the entire string section, which just isn't quite working, it always comes a bit late and not quite together - "Look I know what is happening, but if we're going to be not together, let's be not together, together!". If work is going to be like this I am going to enjoy the next 3-4 years!!
Zen and the art of missing the start of concerts ...
It is 19.25 we're all changed and already to go ... I always have my flight case complete with clothes and everything a gentleman could possibly, and possibly not, need as close to the stage as possible. I exchange a few words and I sit down ready to go on in a few minutes time. Computer to hand I type a few words, I hear the orchestra tune, there is silence or almost, applause and I expect to hear the joyful sounds of Brahms Hungarian Dance Number 10, which Paavo has just rehearsed. Except I don't. I hear piano, right hand chord, low left hand "C", then again I think, "Oh I guess that's her warming up" oh no it isn't!!!! The sound is getting louder and definitely coming from the stage. Oh no. Hell!! They've started without me!!! Well I've been in the business long enough to know when to panic and when not. So I panic!!!! I put down my computer, and get rid of my iPhone, step towards the stage door and thank God my instruments are both on stage - I would probably drop one ... The door opens towards back stage, so as I'm miles from the public I open it with a flourish and hope that no one in the audience will notice. I'm not going to miss this opportunity - my honoured and much respected colleagues of the brass and percussion are either a) grimacing at me or b) trying not to laugh or c) both. I stand and wait trying to look somehow dignified, failing miserably, until the soloist has finished her introduction, then I launch myself on stage as the orchestra starts the tutti. I don't think I've ever seen so many people playing whilst looking over their left shoulders in my life. I don't miss my first entrance, but this I don't want to repeat - in future I will look at the programme. Oh well, first time in 37 years.
Zen and the art of playing outdoors
The following morning we're in the buses at 09.30, heading for something called the "Urban Lawn Music Plaza". This is to be an open air concert given at lunchtime, Shanghai has been very warm, most of the time, and, although it is late October I've been in shorts, certainly during the daylight hours and today is no different. So we reach the venue in good time for an 11.00 sound check. It is already hot, and this is a cause of considerable concern, particularly among the strings, will they get sunburn? Will the glue holding their instruments together melt?? Will both happen??? Sunglasses are donned, Kilian Schneider wears a baseball cap back to front. It is decided that the men will play without jackets and open collars. It all helps a bit but doesn't alter the fact that it is very hot, and the sun is shining right at us. Big areas of space appear in the middle of the band as the violas slide ever further back. The Brahms comes to an end, Paavo comes to my end of the stage, bathed in sweat, his head bright red on the right hand side. I head straight for my room and some well deserved sleep. 36 hours now to call our own, before we leave Shanghai and head on to Taipei