A Portrait of an Artist

By | March 1, 2013 at 4:46 am | 8 comments | Korea & Japan Feb & Mar 2013, LSO On Tour | Tags: , , , , , ,

Somehow, it’s nearly Friday. Already. It was only Tuesday yesterday when I left home, but now it’s nearly Friday. And I’m in Seoul in Korea. Of course, it’s impossible to have been Tuesday yesterday as it’s nearly Friday because despite the good people of LSO Towers’ best efforts, they still haven’t invented time travel. My rational brain is at the moment doing battle with the part of my brain which is telling me to go to sleep, although the rational part is losing and slowly but surely becoming the irrational part of my brain which sees no problem whatsoever with having a short nap during the piano cadenza in the first concert. Are you with me? I’m not.

I think I may have jet lag.

I do remember that we all left home on Tuesday morning and took the lunchtime flight to Seoul. After watching several Oscar-winning films on board and not sleeping at all, we arrived shortly before 9am on Wednesday morning. My head was telling me it was still Tuesday. After a torturous journey to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Gangnam (No we didn’t), we arrived at 11.30am.

Gangnam Style in…er…Gangnam, Seoul.

Until this point in the journey, the difference between the members of the orchestra and a flock of sheep are negligible, and unfortunately at this crucial point in our day(s) we all had to make a choice:

Submit to the basic urge to crawl under a duvet and sleep; the risk being that the short nap planned becomes a long day of sleep followed by a long night of wakefulness.

Resist the urge to sleep. Drop the case off bypassing the very comfortable looking double bed and head straight back out for lunch and exploration of the area. Stay up as late as you can manage and then possibly sleep the sleep of the truly enlightened and experienced traveller.

The LSO, being a microcosm of society at large and there being only two real options, roughly 50% of people went for option 1 and the rest (me included) opted for option 2.
And so I met with my small band of friends in the foyer and we headed out into midday Seoul with a strange sensation that the ground was moving and the earth had somehow shifted on its axis.

I think I may have jet lag.

After a traditional local lunch of various vegetables and chicken all cooked on a central pan on the table and a couple of beers which promised a Dry Finish, we headed out onto the street. I was still congratulating myself on making the correct decision when I was alas presented with another choice of returning to the hotel for a “quick nap” or pressing further on into the centre. Joost promised temples and old streets and more importantly, coffee, and so, because I trust him and at this point had long discarded my subconscious, we descended into the subway.

The underground system here is the positive to London’s negative; it is large, uncrowded, clean, efficient and cheap, although people still don’t look at each other but choose the floor instead. To be honest, the five of us did turn heads as we stood swaying gently as we flew through the tunnels – but not in the way I would have hoped. After one change onto another line, we ended up in the North of the city and found our way out of the underground – well all of us except Chris whose travel card had stopped working. They have a system of plastic cards that can be recharged over here, much like London’s Oyster Card and for some reason, whilst the rest of us had touched the sensor and walked through, every time Chris touched his card, it bleeped and shut the gate. In our tired state we all helpfully just stood and looked at him, as did the line of locals behind him who were patiently waiting to get out. After four attempts with no success, he looked at his card, realised it was in fact his room key card for the hotel, got the travel card out and followed us out into the foggy morning.

I think we may have jet lag.

The old streets of Seoul with the modern city rising in the distance

We wandered round the old temple complex and through the old traditional streets which have been preserved with the modern landscape rising up behind it in a dreamlike state. It is one of the strangest things about touring, beginning the day having breakfast in your own kitchen and a few hours later walking round a city on the other side of the world marveling at the complexity of the language and wondering just what it is that you are about to eat. I guess it’s unfair to blame jet lag entirely for the disorientating feeling you get.

It wasn’t long before we stopped for coffee (hand dripped no less) and eventually made our way back to the hotel. Once again I resisted the come hither look of my bed, had a quick shower and headed back out to eat once more. We had a Korean barbecue which consisted of a table with a fire pit in the middle which then had a grill placed over it filled with various cuts of meat sizzling and spitting inches from our faces. It was delicious. The translation on the menu told us that it was a mixture of different types of meat, normally something to ring alarm bells and questions as to its provenance. But to be honest, these days, I’m a little more relaxed about things like that now; well… you have to be in Britain don’t you? When we were in Japan a few years ago, I had some horse sashimi. I’m sure some of you would find that repellant, but at least they told me that I was eating it…

At 11pm having been awake for around 32 hours, I slipped between the sheets of my bed and slept until 9am the next morning. Option 2 was the right choice.

I crawled out of bed. I didn’t want to but knew that if I was going to extinguish the tiredness, I had to and so with a head that felt like someone had spent the night resurfacing my brain with concrete, I headed out into town for a brisk walk to blow away the cobwebs. It didn’t work, despite my choice of option 2 and a long nights sleep, the body and mind aren’t easily fooled and my limbs and wit felt the same as a new father at 4am making sympathetic cups of tea. I met with Malcolm and Tomo for lunch at a sushi restaurant that had been designed by a friend of Tomo’s who is a photographer/designer/sculptor and general talented guy called Daekyoon Yoo.

Golden Lobsters. Even more expensive than normal ones.

We had lunch which was very nice. The restaurant was, I have to say, beautiful with a chandelier made from seashells and gold leaf brushed onto the ceiling and even some gold plated lobsters on the wall (and you thought boiling them alive was cruel). Another of Tomo’s friends was the waiter and so we were in the unique position of being in Korea in a Japanese restaurant being talked to in German. It kind of worked though.

After we had eaten we went next door to see his friend, the artist who was sat in a restaurant with a collection of artistic objects, sculptures, watches, paintings, antique cameras and a wall made of old leather trunks. Everywhere you looked there was something interesting to look at, an old harmonium, a grand piano, a pile of trumpets on a shelf, a chocolate statue of an angel…and all down one side were a number of bronzes of nudes, the head of Rodin and in every corner were hands. Bronze hands, plaster hands of different shapes and sizes but always in a state of movement, they were quite fascinating. As well as these were fantastic landscape photographs in high resolution prints on the wall. It was impressive anyway, but when it became clear that they were all the work of the same man sat before us, it was even more so.

We sat around a table as his own blend of tea (Trinitea, 3 blended together of course) was prepared for us and he talked about his concept of art and music when all of a sudden, an assistant appeared from behind a door and produced a piece of clay about the size of a fist. He absentmindedly squeezed and kneaded it in his hand and proceeded to make small animals which were all very charming, whilst continuing to talk about living in Korea and Paris and Vancouver…he gets around more than we do. He then gave us some clay to have a go too. Now I don’t mind telling you, I was pretty confident as I am expert with play dough. However I realised that I was in the presence of a real artist and so my postmodern interpretation of a sausage that I do for my daughter may not be enough; I was going to have to go further than I had ever gone before. I listened whilst kneading my clay and let my inner artist take control. I tried to find that internal spiritual area, the furnace of burning creativity all artists have and let the muse take my sculpting to as yet unexplored areas of innovation. Combining the inspiring man in front of me with my inner Rodin and jet lag, I breathed deeply, half closed my eyes and let my hands do the work. I felt at peace. I looked down to my open palms now covered with a light brown dusting of clay to see my first Korean sculpture. I had made a sausage. Embarrassed at my own inadequacy, I quickly converted it into something resembling a Brussel sprout and then made a face. Out of clay. I showed it to him and he smiled and looked approvingly at it. It is difficult traveling around the world, encountering different body language and expressions to see what people sometimes really mean, but I am confident that despite his smiles, he thought it was crap. It was. I should have stopped at the sausage. Nevertheless, he stopped talking and listened to the music which was playing in the background which was the Four Seasons on accordion.

I think I might be jet lagged.

No, it really was Vivaldi on the accordion, or Bayan specifically. He talked about the way the players hands would look and then as quick as a flash he sculpted a hand from the clay much like all the larger bronzes around the room. It was astonishing. I surreptitiously put my clay back on the table. Malcy looked forlornly at the dragon he had made, which I thought was rather good.

Daekyoon Yoo scuplts a hand

Daekyoon Yoo was very good indeed, not only as an artist but  as a cabaret entertainer, so much better than balloon animals. It was at this point that he wandered over to the pile of trumpets and began to serenade us with a short recital of some Scarlatti and then as Malcy is Scottish, he played him Danny Boy. After this he produced a pile of old pocket watches which he collects and then insisted that we all took one away as a gift. Being British we protested that we couldn’t possibly, but eventually relented and so after a fascinating afternoon, after signing his visitors book with the heaviest Cartier pen I’ve ever held in my life we left in a rush to get back for the rehearsal armed with a book each of his works, an old pocket watch …oh and small bag of salt from the salt farm he runs on an island. I’m really not making this up. On the way back to the hotel, I turned to Tom, “What just happened there?”
“I’ve absolutely no idea mate. I think I might be jet lagged.”

Malcolm enjoys the trumpet recital

We arrived at the rehearsal with a tale to tell (although I left the bit about the sausage out) and settled in to rehearse with Bernard for the first of the concerts. The two programmes we played at the Barbican last week are being repeated and last night was the Sea Interludes, Mozart Piano concerto and Beethoven 7. The stage for an orchestral player is a funny place. You’d think that it would be scary and lonely and in many ways it is, but its also where we spend a lot of time, it’s work and I feel strangely comfortable in the warm comforting lights, centre stage. Unfortunately, the tiredness which had been kept at bay throughout the day returned as I settled into my warm cosy seat in the orchestra. The first concert is always the hardest on trips like this and so after the rehearsal I looked for coffee. British people are famous for always talking about the weather, but as I queued for stimulants there was only one topic of conversation and that was about how much or little sleep we had all had and the various theories on jet lag coping strategies. It seems that there is no perfect way of dealing with it but it doesn’t half make you concentrate on stage.

Dan and Tom tense up before the concert

During the cadenza in the concerto as Maria João Pires played I could feel my mind wandering off into thoughts of watches and hands and sausages. As Bernard raised his arms to bring the orchestra back in as the cadenza reached its conclusion, my mind snapped back into focus. I was glad that in the concert I never had more than a handful of bars rest. We did make it unscathed and it was a joy to play in the hall in Seoul with its lovely acoustic and packed, enthusiastic audience. We return this evening for Bruckner 9 before leaving for Japan in the morning, Saturday I think, but I’m not sure. I’m still not quite sure how it came to be nearly Friday…hang on, it is Friday now, and the surreal qualities of my day have only enhanced my out of body experience kind of sensation.


I think I might be jet lagged.

I’ll probably start trailing off in the middle of sente


  1. bethanne (1 year ago)

    Goodness, what a blog to read considering it’s Friday evening here in the UK. It has made me feel shattered just reading it. By the way it’ill be worse jet lag coming back so good luck with that. Safe journey home!

    • Gareth Davies (1 year ago)

      Its Saturday morning here in Seoul and we are just leaving for Japan. Unfortunately you are right, the jet lag gets you at both ends of the trip!

  2. Kris helsen (1 year ago)

    Neat blog. Btw, loved the performance on thu last week, I presume it’s the same program as the Seoul one. Hope the lso visits Hong Kong soon. Cheers, Kristiaan

    • Gareth Davies (1 year ago)

      Thank you! Yes, the programmes from London last week (Britten/Mozart/Beethoven and Beethoven/Bruckner) are the two programmes we are playing on tour. I’m glad you enjoyed both the concert and the blog.

  3. Maggie Z (1 year ago)

    goodness, yes, I need a nap now but it’s always great to read about your adventures and musical escapades..See ya in April, in Brussels, jet lag not included :)

  4. Patrick Buckingham (1 year ago)

    Thank you so much for your blog which I found hilarious in parts and ever so slightly surreal. I attended both concerts at the Barbican and enjoyed each enormously. Question 1: do the pieces sound better when you play them repeatedly over a short period of time? Question 2: are you and Adam now routinely splitting principal flute duties within particular concerts? Question 3: do you find the Bruckner emotionally exhausting? It knocks me out so I can’t imagine what it’s like to play. Do keep on blogging. All the best for a safe journey home.

    • Gareth Davies (1 year ago)

      Thank you, just as I’d hoped! Here are your answers.
      1.I feel more comfortable sometimes playing a piece more than once, but it can go the other way! Whether they sound better or not, I couldn’t say.
      2.We have a dual principal system in the LSO. In the woodwind and brass, when we go on tour we usually take two principals to share the workload. We only share concerts in London if we are taking them on tour. So if you see us both on stage playing principal in the Barbican, it means we are about to go on tour with the programme (or have just come back!) We don’t split normal programmes in the Barbican if not tied to a tour.
      3.I don’t find 9 as emotionally exhausting as 7 or 4 personally but it is certainly an incredible experience, especially with Bernard. You can read about it in the next blog which is going up in about 2 minutes! So, yes, I will keep blogging – there’s a book coming out soon too. Stay tuned.

  5. Jolanta Modelska (1 year ago)

    Thank you for writing this. I love the way you write. The element of humour within the blog…. the repeat tag line.. Brilliant – thoroughly enjoying reading them. Safe journey


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