Home time.

So that’s it, our final concert of the tour is done here in picturesque Heidelberg. It was a great place to end a tour; a beautiful setting under the castle, a sunny morning to enjoy the sights, and a very grand yet intimate concert hall with perhaps the most enthusiastic audience of the whole tour.

Our soloist Martin Grubinger seemed to summon up an extra bit of energy for the final night, he has really impressed everyone not just with his virtuosic playing but his friendliness in rehearsals and off the stage. He always has a smile and a few words to share when you bump into him. He obviously loves what he does and appreciates every bit of contact with the orchestra. I’m sure we will work together many times in the future and a tour is a great way to form a musical partnership.

We are leaving Germany at a horribly early hour, plus the clocks springing forward have deprived us of a precious hour of sleep! No doubt though that everyone is looking forward to getting back to loved ones and home comforts. Tours are such an exhausting undertaking that one invariably feels very emotional at the end. We’ve managed to climb the mountain together, it’s physically and emotionally draining by the time you reach the summit.

I’d like to thank you for reading this blog, please stay tuned for future events - our next tour to Spain is only a little more than a month away. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write on behalf of the orchestra, it has been a nice diversion from the daily monotony of such a repetitive existence that is touring. I have toured with several other orchestras before I started this job, but I have to say that the BBC Phil is the most enjoyable and that has been backed up to me by a few of our extra players who are new to us, which is really nice to hear. We always give absolutely everything in the performances and I particularly like that during the weeks away you will find yourself having a chat with absolutely everyone at some point. This band also has a knack of congregating in the same bar for a massed post concert drink when frankly some other orchestras I know would actively break off into separate groups.

When we get back to Manchester we have a few days to recover before we tackle a fantastic program of Birtwistle, McCabe and Holst’s The Planets with principal guest conductor John StorgĂ„rds which will be a fantastic concert. A tour like this can have a galvanising effect that hopefully we will take into our next projects.

Thanks for following us on this tour, I hope it has been interesting. Get in touch with any questions or suggestions of what you’d like to know about the orchestra.


The Crew.

It’s long overdue that we mention our crew for this tour. They have worked their socks off getting the masses of equipment required halfway around Europe and back. Not all the performances we have given were recorded but when they were, hoards of cables, mixing desks, microphones and much more were supplemented to the trunkers of instruments, music stands, stools, podiums etc. This is a seriously sizeable operation.

The truck is over 16 metres long and has two drivers, Bob & Peter, who left Mediacity two days ahead of us. The heavy lifting is done by Thomas, Will & Eric, I really don’t know how they keep their stamina going for a whole tour, and remain without fail the most cheerful of all of us. It’s not just a case of them simply packing and unpacking, each venue is different and provides new logistical problems which they without fail overcome. For example the stages have hugely varied in size so the layout of the orchestra is slightly different every day. Everyone needs to be able to see the conductor and Yuri - our leader - and the soloist. They need their own individual space to perform comfortably and to not have too much sound in their ears from whoever is sitting around them (usually us noisy brass players are the problem.. Sorry!). By the time we players take to the stage this is already 95% sorted because Thomas and co. really know what works best, then before we can start rehearsing they will have any number of musicians asking for something to be tweaked. It is a credit to them how smoothly this has all run, especially considering the vast collection of percussion instruments Martin Grubinger uses for his concerto.

Then we have Mark (whose brilliant photography has also featured on this blog), Stephen and Mike who between them record the concerts and get the best sound possible from the very varied concert halls so that it can be broadcast back home on Radio 3.

As one of them pointed out to me, they are the first in and the last out of each venue so hats off and big thanks!

Time warp.

It hasn’t even been two weeks since we left the UK, but time doesn’t seem to adhere to the normal rules when on tour. It feels like we’ve been travelling for at least twice that long now, particularly as some of the orchestra and production team have returned home before the last few concerts.
Hotels, cities and even venues begin to blur into one and hotels corridors are lined with musicians double checking they don’t attempt to let themselves into yesterday’s hotel room number in today’s hotel.

This morning was a chance to enjoy Budapest after last night’s concert in the Bela Bartok concert hall situated on the banks of the Danube. It was a lovely morning and a nice chance to explore the famous spas and beautiful buildings of the Hungarian capital. We are now travelling back to Germany for the final leg of the tour. During the safety announcements on flights we like to play along with the stewards, providing the appropriate sound effects to their monologue. They unwittingly become the conductor of a perfectly choreographed bit of silliness. This has been known to provoke a mixture of reactions (!) but rather brilliantly today we managed to get the Lufthansa crew to get a severe case of the giggles.. It’s the little pleasures on tour!

A day off in Vienna

Today has been a free day for the orchestra, apart from a few who head home as we won’t be requiring the extra percussion forces for the Hartl concerto again on this tour. We are still in Vienna, staying in the rather bizarrely named Trend Ananas Hotel (trendy pineapple..!?) which is only a couple of stops on the U-bahn from the city centre. It always feels like such a privilege to have time to explore such a wonderful city while technically we are at work.
I suppose it is one of the perks of the job, however this rest day felt very much needed.

I will never really understand why it is so exhausting simply travelling and playing our instruments as we do every day. Perhaps it’s the culmination of so many concerts, perhaps the adrenalin of performing in world renowned venues, but today everything feels tired and aches. It probably doesn’t fit with the outside perception of the life of a classical musician.. On one hand we often get asked if we really do this for a living or do we have a ‘proper’ job as well?On the other the stereotypical depiction of a classical musician is someone suave playing the violin or cello with a facial expression as if they have transcended to some other plane not accessible to mere mortals. The reality however, is hours and hours of gritty practice, making and choosing reeds, warming up, warming down, going over that tricky passage that still doesn’t sit well under the fingers, stretching sore shoulders and clicking neck and wrist joints.. It can be a bizarre existence.

So a day off in such a great city is a chance to recuperate both physically and mentally. Many of us will have spent some time today practicing, in the same way that cyclists in the Tour de France go for a ride on their days off otherwise everything would seize up and stop working. But there has also been time for sightseeing in museums, galleries, trips to Schönbrunn palace and Stephansdom, replacing that area of the brain that has been overloaded by Bruckner and Mendelssohn with other art genres so you can return to them afresh tomorrow. Also, I haven’t yet met a musician who doesn’t appreciate a good restaurant, so tonight has been a chance to relax and take time over dinner instead of eating in the nearest restaurant with one eye on the clock to make sure you won’t be late for the concert.

Tomorrow we travel to another wonderful European capital Budapest. With only three concerts to go we are rounding the bend to the home straight of the tour!

Highs and lows

After last night’s concert in the fantastic Lisinki concert hall in Zagreb, we had an early start today and a long coach journey to Vienna. Some days are tougher than others on tour and this one is certainly challenging but the light at the end of the tunnel is playing in the Konzerthaus tonight. One of the hardest aspects of touring is producing the same level of performance on days like this as we do when we have a 5 minute stroll to the hall. The fatigue is certainly being felt but we will give it our all tonight and the prospect of a day off tomorrow in Vienna is welcome relief!

Yesterday saw our first performance of Bruno Hartl’s Concerto for percussion and orchestra, a large scale and complex piece that has required a lot of work to slot in halfway through the tour. Hartl is a member of the percussion section of the Vienna Philharmonic and will be present to hear his piece tonight. We will also be welcoming our Viennese composer/conductor HK Gruber who lead us in our last concert in this great hall. No doubt the Austrians will be cheering on their compatriot Martin Grubinger who continues to dazzle us with his virtuoso percussion playing.