BFO on tour…..Amsterdam

20180819_163326     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.


There’s no such thing as bad weather…

I may have mentioned that it rains in Bergen. A lot. An average of 239 days per year, according to some sources. Rain is practically an art form here. It takes itself seriously. Illustrated perfectly by the many umbrella corpses sticking out of waste bins around the city. The ones that didn’t make it. Few umbrellas survive intact for long. Neither is it worth spending too much energy hunting for the perfect rain gear. This rain is going to find a way in. Up a sleeve, down a neck or – when it appears to rain horizontally – straight into your face. In winter this counts as a free dermabrasion.

There’s a saying: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. To get wet is a part of life here – so why not embrace it? Invite it into your life.  Show a little love. Celebrate with bright spotted wellies. Time to get in touch with your inner amphibian. Umbrellas become part of the decor here, hung en masse to provide a colourful canopy above a local restaurant in summer, or used as a kind of street art. The expression “it’s raining buckets” is used, but also, intriguingly, “det regner trollkjerringer” (it rains troll hags). Faintly disturbing. Then there’s the onomatopaeic rain that splashes down – “det plasker ned.” The landlady of a B and B where I was staying in Scotland was telling me of her day spent gardening in the rain – ” Oh but it wasn’t WET rain,” she charmingly protested. Bergen rain, on the contrary, is definitely the wet kind.

As this soggy climate has become my home, I have worked on finding the positive side to it. Bergensers (including this honorary one) are adept at making things “koselig” or cosy. Like the “hygge” made famous by the Danes. Norwegians just kept quiet about it. Simple candles transform an overcast or stormy breakfast, before splashing off to work and school. And we have an endless selection of cafés in which to take shelter and gently steam. Each with their own character and speciality. Unlike that speedy espresso consumed standing up that is so typical in Italy, I prefer the measured calm in my favourite haunts. There’s a reverence in the way my order is processed. The cup handled with precision, the frothy cappuccino delivered with pride. I occupy a window seat and savour. I also notice that the tourists are a particularly hardy bunch. Despite a particularly vehement deluge, a long group glides past on a Segway tour, apparently all enveloped in bin liners. I salute their determination from the depths of my coffee heaven.

Music can be enjoyed in any weather. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, or BFO, presents free outdoor concerts every August. Come rain or shine. Generally, it rains. It’s a kind of tradition. And then there’s the wind. For which we are issued clothes pegs, valiantly trying to control flapping music pages. At least usually the stage roof doesn’t leak. I once played open air opera in Trinidad. Bats swooped in at awkward moments, and a unique problem was caused by the oversized insects which decided our music was the perfect place to bask under the hot stand lights. There was much comical slashing with bows between notes to move them off that tricky section at bar 125. During a sudden torrent of rain, the timpani made an unscheduled entrance. An umbrella was hastily provided.

We will not be fighting off moths the size of dinner plates in Bergen – I hope. But we will be providing two rousing performances, hopefully to a sea of umbrellas. Every year, I’m impressed by the enthusiasm of our audiences out there, filling the plaza with a rainbow of wet weather gear. Musicians feed on such enthusiasm. It’s a two-way thing between us and the audience. And it’s addictive.

I’ve included in my Menu links to both BFO and our regular livestreams, Bergen Phil Live – which means we can be enjoyed even if you can’t visit us here in Bergen. We are currently preparing for another tour, including an appearance at the Proms. Meanwhile, for anyone in Bergen – come along to hear us this week on Thursday and Friday. Better bring that umbrella too!

Off the rails…..

20171009_090232.jpgSeeing as we finally got some rain back in Norway, I hunted out my rainproof bag. You have to be a resident of Bergen to fully appreciate the irony of the first part of that sentence. But I digress…

Red Bag and I took an inaugural trip together last October. Predominantly intended as an indirect  journey by rail from Copenhagen to Budapest. Trains tend to be writer friendly and, for someone like me, less stressful than flying. Besides, you get to see more than just clouds.

As I boarded the first of the three trains, I heard a distinct sigh. It could have been me. But Red Bag looked deflated. Easy enough to look like that when only half full. Into my head appeared the name Brian. Brian then took on a personality all of his own. (I had been working pretty full on up until then. Bear with me.) He seemed less than impressed by First Class.

“You can’t put me down here under the seat. I’ll suffo-CATE! And it’s thirty.”

It’s what?


Oh. Dirty. For some reason, Brian had acquired an Irish accent. In the end, he slumped on the table, looking as smug as a bag could manage.

The highlight of the Danish leg of my journey was the Vogelfluglinie or “bird flight line”, the crossing from Rødby to Puttgarden on the German mainland. As the name implies, this is also an important bird migration route between Central Europe and the far North. Yes, I remained on the train. And the train, amazingly, drove straight onto the ferry. With not much more than an inch to spare. That was certainly a first….crossing water in a train which is also on a boat. Even Brian had stopped muttering.

The ICE connection between Hamburg and Munich appeared overbooked, which provided entertainment in the form of increasingly hysterical announcements from the train conductor. It was an impressive display of verbal hand-wringing. My ear was clearly getting used to German again. Brian was reduced to sulking in a corner of the luggage rack. A certain territorial air hung over the limited table space, so I balanced my notebook on one knee.

The next morning, I was ready for one of the highlights of my trip. The Austrian Railjet service from Munich to Budapest. I had been assured that this was one of the finest rail experiences in Europe. It did not disappoint. I upgraded to Business and was instantly coccooned in a hushed, plush interior. A reclining leather seat with legrests, one of only three such seats in this compartment. No complaints from Brian either.  And waitress service straight to my seat! This was Something Else.

Predictably, the train oozed out of the station precisely on time, smooth and practically silent. As we passed into Austria, I celebrated the fact with a piece of Linzertorte. When in Rome…. Austrian countryside charmed me with its onion-domed churches and rich farmland. The cows looked faintly smug. As we shifted tracks, the train gasped out a hoarse sigh, sounding exactly like “whyyyYYYYYY???” This occupied the amusement centre of my brain for longer than it should.

Hungarian is a language that eludes me, but I didn’t need to read the signs to realise we were crossing the border. The landscape changed …. a curious mix of monotonous wasteland and a vast forest of wind turbines, more than I have seen even in Denmark or the Netherlands. The tracks became less smooth. More sighing from the train and a grunt from Brian. A glass of Hungarian wine went down well at this point. Research purposes.

From arrival at the impressive Keleti station, Budapest is definitely somewhere worth several visits. I found the atmosphere intriguing, a heady contrast of pitiless soviet-type structures and a glorious abundance of grand old buildings, decorated with unusual patterns and rich hues. The mild temperatures and vivid autumn leaves made a perfect frame for the cityscape.

Of course my visit had to include some serious coffeeing,  as I call it – visits to soak up the atmosphere, savour the beans and observe the locals. I picked out the Centrál Kávéház, a traditional café much frequented through the years by most of the Hungarian writers of note. Quite a history. My favourite kind of place. I hoped to absorb inspiration by osmosis. Well…..I absorbed plenty of caffeine. But there definitely was a special something about the place. Needless to say, I made several café explorations during my few days in Budapest. It was, literally, a taster. I will be back.

Having made such a leisurely journey by train, I had to opt to fly home. Brian, whose Budapest experience had been largely limited to a hotel room, perked up. He was clearly raring to face the rain we had been promised was awaiting us back home. To be labelled “rainproof” is probably the pinnacle of success for a bag in Bergen, where the rain makes it a mission to get through all defences. I was still thinking about the smooth Railjet as we lurched down through the rainclouds. From down beside my feet came another sigh and a plaintive voice.

“Are we there yet??”

Of notebooks…

20180628_202006.jpgInspiration really is everywhere if you learn to be open to it. Through my subscription to Writers’ Forum, I came across the Ideas Store feature written by Paula Williams, and later, her blog. Check out

Hopefully this will appear in my links below. This inspired me to strengthen my observation technique and to see ideas in the smallest and most unlikely detail. Apropos detail, I never go anywhere without a notebook, however tiny. Of course I initially went into overdrive and spent precious writing time admiring and coveting notebooks. Thankfully, sense prevailed and I settled for three for two bargains. It is healthy to train yourself to observe in detail. Kind of daily brain workout. As if mine doesn’t get enough, chasing elusive fast notes in orchestra!

It took effort at first to pull my brain away from the customary post rehearsal fog, but after a while, I noticed that I became aware of everything around me in stereo. Snippets of conversation…in a variety of languages. The different styles of walking. Habits. Sensations. Of course, the caffeine also helped.

On my travels this summer, I had ample opportunity to indulge this habit further.  And I came across one description amongst the pages which took me right back to the glorious hills South of Naples, and a villa perched high above the sea.

“Evening, high up on a Neapolitan hillside, watching the sun subside over the sea and a distant Vesuvius.  I’m glad of the cool moisture running down the side of my glass. The heat is intense for a resident of the Scandinavian North. I’m also aware that the local mosquitos have provided a welcoming committee and are already feasting away on my ankles. This terrace is perfect for relaxing, and I take my cue from the resident cats who are decoratively sprawled under tables or in plant pots.  They’ve seen it all before. But I haven’t. The views, coupled with the nearby scent of jasmine, are almost too perfect to photograph. I could stare at that sea all evening. The dedication of the bugs sends me eventually to the shelter of my room.

After sampling as much of the homemade breakfast as I can fit in, I’m off to explore. The track from the back gate rambles ruggedly upwards and along towards a crumbly church, its bell sternly summoning the faithful to mass. On my way, I startle several basking lizards…..all of whom I christen Larry….and an elderly woman, expertly picking plums and peaches. We greet each other. Trees reveal heavy loads of pears, lemons and mandarins. From the road far below comes the waspish buzz of vespas, nearby a dog is barking its territorial warning….and all around me is a glorious chorus of clearly operatic Italian birds. Two young men on bikes hurtle past me on the narrow path, teeth flashing as one shouts the warning of my presence to the other behind. A tiny three-wheeled car rattles determinedly into view. I round the side doors of the church, which has shrubs growing out of the walls. Onwards past Italian grandmothers, adopting the sensible plod of hot countries, under the weight of early morning groceries. More greetings. I read the notices posted up on the wall, thanks given for sympathy shown at a recent bereavement. I find it best to keep close in to the buildings as I round the street bends. The fact that nearly every car proudly possesses several dents bears witness to the no holds barred style of driving. My nose tells me I’m approaching the fishmonger’s shop…..a vivid array of startled looking and often grotesque fishy heads. Now my nose is searching, once again, for my second delicious coffee of the day.”

An excerpt of what I wrote that day, in 35 degrees of heat! And so I have not only the photographs to remind me of the place, but also words. Maybe they will find themselves included in a short story one of these days…….



Hi there and welcome to my blog. Thanks for dropping by and I hope you will find something here to amuse or provoke thought whilst you wait for that coffee to cool. I’m a self-professed expert in coffeeing….yup, new word. Vb: to coffee. The art of frequenting and seeking out cafés and coffee experiences with atmosphere and flavour. Musicians are especially adept at this. Whether it is the pre rehearsal dose of caffeine to prepare the brain for hundreds of notes flying past (and hoping you might catch a percentage of them), or the rehearsal break cuppa we’ve all been visualising since page 2. Not forgetting the post rehearsal slump over the nutty brew as you mentally pick up the hurdles you metaphorically sent crashing to the ground.

Coffee is my moment, the time when I reflect and observe, especially when I’m travelling. And as I…..ahem….get older (slightly), I seem to be flooded with such observations, questions and curiosity. So, bear with me. I will be writing about life from my perspective within a busy, touring orchestra …..and as a British expat, citizen of Europe, with a fascination for language. Join me for the journey! Oh…and better make that coffee to go.