BFO Spring Tour 2019

It is not only only (as the Norwegian saying goes) to get a whole orchestra mobilised and transported on tour. But the routines are efficient and we made it to Paris. Paris in the Spring. And the weather has obliged magnificently.

We left a damp Bergen (nothing new there) and arrived to a balmy evening of 19 degrees. After some unscheduled extra circuits of the Gare du Nord area whilst our coach driver tried to decide which hotel was ours, it was time for a meal. A charming local bistro provided beaucoup d’ambience and large helpings. Gradually, the dust began to fall off my French.

Sunday brought out the sunglasses and eagerness to try out the new concert hall. La Seine Musicale, at only two years old, has the appearance of a squat metallic dumpling. Shining tiles wink out from its perch on an island. Barges slide past accompanied by flying ducks. On such a day it attracts families mingling with concertgoers. The interior is spacious and well-planned. Something we musicians appreciate. Nobody wants to climb too many stairs in heels and carrying an instrument. A logical layout saves time and precious energy. So far, Salzburg takes the prize for the longest walk from stage to dressing room. So far….

Entering an unfamiliar concert hall is an interesting moment. We “feel” the acoustic and stage. And marvel at the design – in this case, a lace effect design to the ceiling which draws the eye. And, pre-performance, a multi-coloured lighting design which drew the eye a little too much from reading the music. I grimaced at my stand partner, then resplendantly bathed in red. The acoustic proved to be good. The onstage temperature rose. But it was worth it. A sell-out audience received us with evident enthusiasm as we delivered a first half of Grieg. They were charmed by the soloist, Alice Sara Ott, who practically skipped over to the piano in bare feet and a flowing yellow creation. I’m guessing that, like some drivers, she prefers the immediacy of contact with the pedals. And there are no heels to trip over. I noticed several French women observing this with an “ooh la la!” expression. I assume the elegant French would feel incomplete without their chaussures. Our Brahms 1st symphony was intense and exciting to play. When you are seated with a colleague who breathes and makes music naturally in sync, who is flexible to every nuance, it inspires. My buddy, Bodil, admitted that she regularly experiences that moment mid-performance when the thought “I love my job!” flashes through her mind. Exactly the same for me. Ed Gardner conducted without a score , and I think that made us all feel even more connected. The audience reaction was such that we served up two encores, introduced nimbly by Ed in French.

A late afternoon concert allowed for an excursion into the Latin Quarter for dinner. More delicious, simple French offerings accompanied by a mellow Côte du Rhone. The timetabling of our concerts allowed for a free Monday in Paris. Time to charge our inner batteries again. The rest of the tour will have a tight schedule.

I located Café de Flore, haunt of writers past and present. Hopefully the atmosphere and inspiration would rub off on me a little as I savoured my coffee and tarte au citron. I observed the true Parisian waiters, with proud bearing and formidable efficiency. They graciously allowed me to speak French without a hint of disdain for my efforts. I was content to sit a while and watch people milling by. Men with a noticeable air of “je ne sais quoi ” about them, wearing their sharp tailoring and natty shoes with nonchalance and exuding spicy cologne. The women either ooze Chanel, with flashy jewellery and bags worth a fortune, or achieve that deliberately casual look that is equally expensive. Above all, they are comfortable with themselves – Paris is in their blood. I was last here nine years ago. I forgot just how beautiful this city is. Stunning architecture, particularly for me the Art Nouveau on doorways and balconies. Spring is well underway. Cherry blossom and wisteria garnish areas bursting with that vivid first green of the year. A bit more wandering and I felt the need for some cheese. I notice that people move with purpose here, sure-footed even whilst glued to their phones. Everyone is listening to music through ear buds. Tourist groups blunder heavily towards The Sights. I avoid the overly loud voices and take the path beside the Seine for several miles. Here all seems serene. Couples enjoy le picnic , complete with real wine glasses (this IS France), dangling legs over the edge. An eager spaniel (what spaniel is not eager?) rockets down the Batobus ramp to cavort in the water, emerging to shake water all over its laughing owner. Again, I watch conversations. The gesticulating, the true Gallic shrug, the expressive faces. I love the tones of this language, the music in each word. I meet up with Bodil for a drink and the waiters are boisterous, teasing with laughter in their eyes. The air smells warm and promising. We are in summer tops. The Parisians still shiver in coats and scarves. To us Northerners, the return of al fresco dining is a welcome delight. People whizz past on electric scooters. There is so much I want to see, but my feet say non. I walked off all the calories I consumed yesterday. Not for long. Four of us discover a bistro in the Bastille district with lashings of charm. And of cream. On top of our crêpes flambés . Ah well. When in Rome…..

Paris, you beguiled me all over again. I will return soon. In my next post…..concert number two, in Utrecht.

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