I can remember the first time I played Les nuits d’été. It was about, oh dear, 27 or so years ago. Like so many young musicians around the country, the bug of playing in an orchestra was started with a local youth group. For me it started with the Surrey Youth Orchestra and a concert in Guildford Cathedral. It feels like a very long time ago now. However, it has been an even longer 43 years since the LSO last visited Brno and our return as part of the festival got off to a great start when I arrived in my hotel room to find a complimentary bottle of local beer from the organisers.
I don’t speak Czech, but as the speeches unfolded at the start of the concert, I was struck by how beautiful it sounds when spoken, every syllable projected gently forward and caressed with the lips. Written down however, to a non speaker it forms long lines of impenetrable consonants. The name Brno looks like it may be missing a vowel, either that or it’s the inspiration for all those fashionable internet names that leave vowels out to look cool and hip, like Flikr, Tmblr and Grindr. The look of the language and the sound of it being spoken couldn’t seem more different to me, but then appearances can be deceptive.
That isn’t something that can be said of our soloist last night however. Singer Karen Cargill came on stage in a dress the colour of a Dairy Milk wrapper with a voice like chocolate. As autumn drifts into winter, it was lovely to be reminded of the heat of summer in Les nuits d’été by Berlioz. I adore these songs with their different moods and astonishing range of colours and textures and Karen really brings that out with ghostly, aching melody of ‘Le spectre de la rose’ or the plaintive heartbreak of ‘La cimetiere’. I was unsure about the third song as it seemed very sad and it wasn’t until I read the programme notes and the translation that I realised the copyist’s hand on the flute part was a little shaky; ‘Sur les lagunes’ was the actual title and not legumes as it appears in my part which needless to say, is a very different song indeed.
Being part of the festival, there were some spectacular flower arrangements at the front of the stage. Directly in front of Karen’s music stand was the tallest collection of orchids I’ve ever seen, so tall in fact, that during the concert, the first few rows must have been under the impression that she had stage fright and had elected to hide in the shrubbery. Whatever their view, the sounds she conjures are beautiful indeed and it’s so nice to share the stage with a soloist who is so lovely on and off stage. She even got on the bus with us this morning for the three hour journey to St Pölten, and there aren’t many soloist who would do that.
Fabulous as it was, as we come off stage the down side of touring so much came flooding back. 27 years ago, I was in Guildford Cathedral playing the same music, on the cusp, although I didn’t know it then, of a thrilling musical life. As I pack my flute away I read a text message from my son. He is in Guildford Cathedral being presented with his GCSE certificates and the music prize, no doubt at the start of his own musical journey. I am 800 miles away and can’t be there to see it. There are some moments when despite being playing the greatest music around the world, it’s not enough. Tonight, I don’t want to be Principal Flute, I just want to be home and I just want to be dad.