An orchestra on the move is sometimes an amusing sight. Herd mentality reigns. We follow the tour leader’s instructions, which on some occasions change as new information comes to light. The check in desk may have been altered. Like sheep, we switch direction. Someone amongst us starts. To the bewilderment of fellow passengers. “Baaaaaaaa!” Much giggling. Grabbing some food is a priority. It’s not certain when the next meal may be squeezed in. Sometimes the available time is better used taking a nap and shower. Restaurant opening times do not always fit well with our schedule. It can be an obvious shock as an entire hungry orchestra descends on one bistro post concert. So we graze throughout the day where we can. Just like sheep.
Apropos sheep, the tiny puffs of cloud outside the aircraft window look decidedly ovine. I generally try not to look out. Or down. The combination of flying and heights makes me anxious. And there are five flights on this tour. All the same, I notice with interest how the field patterns vary from country to country. Here in Poland, they resemble long thin strips, longer than in the Netherlands. Whilst those in the UK are different again and far less linear. The plane smacks unforgivingly down on the runway, only slightly behind schedule. Which is already tight. The herd is on the move again – the same process as before, only this time in Polish.
Warsaw is experiencing 29 degrees and high humidity, and the orchestra steams on the waiting buses. To be enveloped and coccooned within the cool embrace of our rather lovely hotel is a blessed relief. Two hours until departure for rehearsal. We have to use it wisely. I opt for a salad and pot of tea before a rejuvenating shower in a bathroom large enough for the whole after party. No time for sight-seeing. What we do see from the bus is the usual mix of communist type linear blocks alongside ornate, older buildings cheek by jowl with contemporary shapes. The Teatr Wielki displays glimpses of character and elegance. The word Ballet is spelled out on a wall in used pink ballet slippers, underlining the dual use of the building.
The stage itself has a noticeable “give” to it, ensuring that footsteps anywhere on it produce small shockwaves. As the audience space has less depth than previous halls, it should feel even more intimate. Tonight, we have replaced the “Flying Dutchman” overture with one written by Paderewski, as a compliment to our hosts. Paderewski himself was that unusual combination of politician, pianist and composer, and the work opens with a poignant melody from our solo cellist, Rudi. The audience clearly appreciates this gesture – they are eager and ready to welcome Leif Ove Andsnes onto the stage with the Britten piano concerto.
As I take my turn to be rotated off the concerto, due to smaller ensemble requirements, I stow the cello and tiptoe off the backstage area, shoes in hand. Time to gather the considerable energy needed for the last Sibelius symphony of this tour. And maybe locate a coffee. A couple of us pad down the red plush carpeted stairs to the main entrance foyer, a grand affair, resplendent with intricate marbled floors and fine glass chandeliers. I’m still in stockinged feet. The marble is cool after the heat of the day and my elegant concert heels are not designed for more than entering and exiting the stage. My nose alerts me to the location of the hissing coffee machine. One cappuccino later and I’m good to go. I’m following the progress of the concerto over the sound system and I head back towards my cello case, passing a woman waiting to present the customary soloist’s bouquet, at present dangling casually from her fingers.
Our crew are on alert, ready for their next stage set-up and piano removal. I tease them about their earpieces and resulting FBI style.
I can feel a renewed surge of energy from my colleagues as I adjust my seat and the pages. We have arrived at the final performance of this tour and everyone is pulling the stops out. Ed Gardner, the conductor, practically fizzes onto the stage and the symphony surges into motion. I’m very much in the moment, feeling the vibrations through my chair, as though I’m a segment of some mighty beast. The themes get passed around between sections and we anticipate and respond to each other. All too soon the wall of crescendo reaches its pinnacle and the audience roars. We have given of our very best tonight. Standing to receive the applause together with my colleagues, I’m elated, relieved, proud. The audience has no intention of letting us go and we continue the compliment with an arrangement of Grand Valse by Chopin. The audience wants more. Everywhere we go, we include encores by our home-grown composer, Grieg. The announcement is always greeted with an appreciative sigh. Tonight’s audience is no different. The string sections melt into a melody from Peer Gynt.
As the final applause subsides, we thank each other for another great tour and good work together. Instruments and equipment are packed carefully for the journey back to Norway. Teams of drivers will get our instruments home overland within two days. Clothes stowed into the wardrobe cases, we trickle out of the building and down the road to the reception, where drinks and celebratory speeches await us. The celebrating continues well into the night back at our hotel. It feels fantastic to have achieved so much over just a few hectic days. We clink glasses and appreciate the experience. The bar staff are immensely patient – no mean feat in the face of a euphoric, thirsty orchestra.
It is a quieter orchestra come morning, gingerly stepping onto the buses, blinking in the strong sunlight. Our plane awaits, like an obedient pet – albeit at the furthest end of the airfield. Its bright colours look like the result of an enthusiastic child armed with school paint pots. By this time, everyone is eager to get home and catch up on some rest and regular meals. And I’m looking forward to being reunited with my faithful cat, Max. Serious tuna compensation will be expected from me.
The transition from 29 degrees and sun to 10 degrees and a downpour is brutal but not unexpected. And does nothing to dampen our enthusiasm as we touch down onto Bergen tarmac in the pilot’s best effort of the whole trip. Duly applauded. I’m happy to be safely on terra firma once again. Ahead of us lies our opening concert season of 2018/19 and millions of notes. But first …..a little bit of what Norwegians intriguingly call “slapping off.” Relaxation with a capital R.