Our outdoor concerts maintained the umbrella tradition. But what a welcome, multi-coloured sea of umbrellas it was – a brave sea! The truly biblical rainfall continued right up until two hours before our departure for Amsterdam. Noah would do well here. I’m pretty sure IKEA supplies flat-packed Arks….
A slightly soggy orchestra met up at Bergen Airport. The majority of our instruments had already begun their journey overland the previous evening in our rather handsome truck. I do enjoy the camaraderie that is particular to a tour, the chance to visit new places and check out some incredible concert halls across Europe. We are taking what we do best out into the world, as ambassadors for BFO, for Bergen and Norway. And we are proud to do so. In these financially challenged days where the arts can be considered by some to be a luxury, our efforts and success are more vital than ever. We have to show that what we do matters. And so far, judging by the response from our previous tours, we have done so.
It is hard to adequately convey that feeling of stepping out on stage, the prep and highly-charged atmosphere backstage – and the absolute electricity when it all meshes and a piece of magic is created. Being a musician means a constant striving to stay at the top of your game. It isn’t just there at the touch of a button – there are hours of individual practising, involving frustration, disillusionment, blisters, tired lips or aching shoulders – plus endless supplies of patience and quite a few pencils. But I cannot imagine not playing the cello.
That moment onstage, one person in the midst of many, with one common goal. You actually hear the intensity of audience concentration and participation like a force field. I focus on individual faces as we await the conductor. The lights then dim out the audience and we are literally in the spotlight, everything in sharp relief – luckily also the notes on the music. Pulse rate notches up a little. This is now. The moment you are mentally reviewing your prep and hoping you have solved every musical problem the composer may have thrown at you. Especially the one on page 15. When adrenaline kicks in things can happen. The sensible part of Jane’s brain steps in here to announce in yoga tones that yes, I do know what I’m doing, I can do this – let go and enjoy! Back home in the orchestra canteen, our much-loved Kari tells us we are like athletes, and that it is her responsibility to nurture us as we prepare for concerts, supplying endless vats of delicious and fortifying soups. She literally keeps our engines running.
It is always a pleasure to visit Amsterdam and perform at the Concertgebouw. Built in 1886, it is one of the greatest concert halls of the world. This time, our guest soloist was the amazing James Ehnes, whose fingers flew across the violin strings faster even than the resident fly. Said fly was clearly having its big “moment” and got very excited during the first half on stage. It even hitched a ride on a cellists hand for a few bars. Was it actually attracted by the music? Or rather by nearly a hundred musicians, gently sweating under the hot lights…. ?
Every concert hall has its own particular acoustic. And each variation has to be adjusted to. As a musician, your ears are literally almost flapping to catch the nuances. You may be sitting next to section colleagues but can actually hear someone behind you more clearly. We rehearse in an empty hall. And, come evening, it is packed with audience – rows of sound-absorbing bodies. But we must, by definition, be flexible. That’s a huge element of our work, not often fully understood by others.
Our symphony on the Amsterdam programme was the 5th by Sibelius. His imagery is deeply evocative – in this case one theme was inspired by seeing a flock of swans take flight over the lake at his Finnish home. And at this point, it always gets me. No matter how many times I have played it. The music becomes triumphant and a vast landscape as the horns soar like the swans. And I get goosebumps. Even writing about it. I can’t stop my smile breaking out. It is a supreme moment of composition…….that moment where once again I find myself thinking YES. Yes, THIS is what I’m meant to do.
The “high” is addictive. I look around at our orchestra spread out across this venerable stage. And hear the roar of applause like a rainstorm. I am so proud of what we are achieving. I am happy. And I have the best job in the world.
The resident fly meanwhile has buzzed off to await us backstage. We pack away the instruments and settle into celebratory post-concert downtime. Onwards. To London. And the Proms.