We are Proms concert 52 this year. Inspiring to be back here – another venerable and world famous hall. I came to hear concerts at the Royal Albert Hall long before I played onstage myself. The highlighted purple and orange lighting enhances the vast circular space. And lo and behold, there’s a fly here too. There is a unique atmosphere at the Proms and we are greeted with notable enthusiasm by the packed audience. For trumpeter Martin Winter, this is, incredibly, his fiftieth Proms – three of which have been with us. What an impressive achievement!
The circular backstage area takes some getting used to every time. We have to locate dressing rooms and instruments – and then the correct entrance to the stage. It is buzzing with activity. Wind players warming up with a series of rude noises, cellists perched on packing cases working on a tricky phrase. A piccolo plays brilliant scales in the dressing room. And the harp needs another new string. The charged atmosphere goes up a gear. Each musician has their own individual routine or list of “flights checks” that they run through before a performance. And we all have to fit in some food – not so much as to induce the need for a nap, but just enough to sustain the huge amounts of energy we will use up.
We are all different, with varying requirements and habits. Some find a quiet corner with a book or for some yoga moves. Others practise feverishly in corridors. And for some of us, the mission includes finding a good cup of coffee. Many of my colleagues are clicking away with their knitting as I emerge owl-like into the glowing afternoon to cast an eye over the handsome red and ornately decorated Royal Albert Hall. From the open windows of the Royal College of Music behind me warbles an ambitious soprano. I pop into the shop and buy this year’s Proms tote bag – eco friendly and a useful momento from yet another visit.
Travelling with us is our eminently capable stage crew. They are making super human efforts setting up the stage for nearly 100 musicians, whilst simultaneously carrying out often bizarre rescue missions. This time, the humidity had affected my cello endpin, which stubbornly refused to move. Sverre had the solution with a careful application of oil. They are on hand for every eventuality along with our administration staff, currently ensuring there’s a healthy selection of fruit available for breaks.
Immediately following on from the Proms, the tour proceeded onwards to Hamburg. The new Elbphilharmonie is the talk of the musical world and an invitation to perform here is prestigious. Towering next to the water’s edge, the concert hall itself is actually on the 12th floor. With excellent acoustics and audience seating designed for optimal viewing, the interior resembles a somewhat Gaudi-esque spaceship, with corresponding textured design throughout.
Our stage crew, together with conductor Ed Gardner, had taken a scheduled flight ahead of the main group. An emergency landing back at Heathrow ten minutes after take-off created the drama of the day. Smoke in the cabin ensured an escort of fire trucks on return, and the knock-on effect meant that they missed the whole stage set-up. Fortunately, Andreas, who drives the instrument truck, saved the day and did such a brilliant job that we noticed no difference. On any tour, a host of incidents like this may pop up – passports mislaid in instrument cases or items forgotten on buses. Creative solutions are usually found.
A new concert, a new audience. Will tonight’s programme touch a chord with them? Or will they be a little reserved? These thoughts run through my head as I tune up and register the adrenaline building once again. A hush falls and the magic begins. The brilliant Leif Ove Andsnes joins us at this stage of the tour and he has as usual captivated the audience with his vision of the Britten piano concerto. They are totally on board. In fact, by the end of Sibelius’ 2nd symphony, the cheers are rewarded with not one but two encores. We are finally released from the stage in a thirsty euphoria. Early reviews in from the London performance are glowing and encouraging. Backstage bristles with instrument packing, clothes changing, remembering belongings and returning keycards. The temperature is perfect for an al fresco drink. We sit back on that happy feeling of a job well done. My colleague slaps at a cheeky mosquito. For once, they haven’t noticed me.