Each time I go on tour I am reminded of the unsung heroes of travelling orchestras. They don’t take a bow, but behind every successful tour is a slick operation that happens as if by magic. It begins days before the musicians have even boarded the plane, when thousands of pounds worth of precious instruments, music and music stands are carefully packed into reinforced trunkers, loaded onto a lorry, ferry or plane, and finally driven hundreds of miles, across borders, through the night, and intostrange cities.
The drivers of these lorries are the linchpins of an orchestral tour. As well as being HGV drivers, Stage Managers of orchestras have to negotiate unfamiliar laws which prevent lorries from driving on foreign motorways or cities on Sundays, because concerts happen on Sundays too. They check the trunkers to make sure they only contain what they are supposed to, and not stray books, clothes, shoes or even wine (yes that did happen once) which might cause them delays at borders. Sometimes they don a smart DJ to move a piano mid-concert, and they probably know how many cello desks there are in a Beethoven piano concerto and how many trumpets in Strauss’s Til Eulenspiegel.
Touring is a fantastic experience for musicians, and the excitement of playing in foreign concert halls is exhilarating. However, once we leave a concert platform most of us don’t spare a thought for what happens next, but, working when the orchestra rests, Stage Managers are always one step ahead of us in our schedule. As we hunt out a “tour bar”, their workday is recommencing on stage, starting with dismantling the magnificent orchestral set. The lorry is carefully reloaded, driven through the night and, hours before the orchestra arrives, unloaded again and a new stage set, ready for another concert in another hall, and so the cycle starts again.
It’s been a heavy couple of weeks on the back shelf at the world famous symphony orchestra that I am privileged to play with. We opened the season last Thursday with a fabulous performance of ‘Daphnis and Cloe’ by Ravel, full forces and the angelic voices of the chorus to spurn us on to fantastic heights (Go here for an interview about the piece with our principal flute). Viktoria Mullova outplayed us all in Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto. The concert was well received with a lot of students and new faces in the very appreciative audience. Thank you, Siemens, for supporting us!
We took the Shostakovich (and Ms Mullova) to Leeds on Saturday, padded it out with Wagner’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ Overture and substituted Daphnis with Sibelius 5th Symphony, a staple in our repertoire. We will be taking “Den Fliegenden Holländer” to Germany on tour next March. The Maestro seems very excited about this; we think he likes taking German music to Germany on tour. He also likes taking English music to Germany on tour, but for some reason, until quite recently, the German audiences didn’t seem to be too keen on it. In March we will be taking the Enigma Variations, Elgar’s absolute blockbuster. The Germans love this one. Even my father.
We did work on Monday this week, which is rare. Monday is our Sunday, normally. Which is great for shopping. Not so good for going out for a meal. The reason for the rehearsal day was that we needed yet another symphony for the Manchester concerts this week and yet another concerto for Nottingham on Tuesday.
What a reception we had in Nottingham! The hall was sold out (or at least it looked it, from the back shelf) and the audience loved it. Paul Lewis performed a wonderful Brahms 1st Piano Concerto (and will continue to do so tonight and Sunday), the Dutchman appeared again and we gave another smashing performance of Sibelius 5, judging by the reaction of the audience. What a treat to play to such a full hall!
Yesterday afternoon we opened this season’s the Opus One Series with the Brahms and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. Fantastic to see that the matinee audiences are growing!
With regards from the back shelf, come and see us some time!