It feels an age since I have penned a blog, and in fact it is a couple of months since we have been on tour. Much has happened in our LSO lives. The departing in a tragic accident of Principal Trumpet Rod Franks was a huge blow to the Orchestra musically and professionally, and most of all, we lost a friend. Rod had the most moving send-off at St Albans cathedral; I don’t think any of us will ever again hear Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and not remember the LSO brass playing their hearts out in that vast space. An Orchestra is like an ever-evolving creature and in recent weeks we have at least three new appointments across the strings, winds and brass. So many things change, be they happy or sad, but the ever-constant is the camaraderie and wonderful music-making.
This four-day trip is taking us up the Swiss mountains to Gstaad and then on to Grafenegg. I was pretty nervous packing my case this time, as for once I wasn’t on autopilot throwing in chargers and whatnot like a ninja with my eyes closed. As a consequence I managed to overpack. That said, I always get a good feeling here in Gstaad; whether it’s the clean mountain air, the fact my mother went to school here or the prospect of some very heavy meals laden with cheese. We are split into many small different hotels each with stunning views and amazing character. The proprietors are always friendly and know we are here for the Festival so it’s common for us to just ask in the hotel restaurant if they can stay open so that six of us can eat (they probably realise we’ll eat enough for the entire restaurant anyway…) on our return from the concert. We certainly got some looks from the locals last night as we trooped in as the best dressed patrons the place had seen.
For first timers to Gstaad the prospect of playing in “the tent” brings to mind some strange images. In fact the structure does resemble a big top and you almost expect to see a great sign out front announcing “Zippo’s circus!!” rather than the Menuhin Festival. Space is at a premium inside – the “hall” itself is large but “backstage” consists of a few tiny curtained off cubicles smaller than most shop dressing rooms and with less mirrors. But they serve the best coffee and cake we get to see on our world travels by very friendly staff.
Being in such a beautiful place people were hurriedly making plans to ride cable cars and hike up mountains. The clarinets even got caught in a cow traffic jam pre-concert. My desk partner Clare Duckworth had at least three maps spread out at her feet in the morning rehearsal. Can you guess which one of us walked over an hour down to the rehearsal and then spent the afternoon hiking up a mountain?? We were probably in a state of over-excitement – perhaps the giddiness of inhaling such fresh air and watching Dan Gobey busy using some highly specialised equipment to angle lights away from blinding the trombones that caused us to be noisy… we were informed by the Chairman that the rehearsal was about to start
There was some anxiety at the start of the concert. We had just heard our Transport Manager/roadie Alan Goode had been hospitalised and was to have his appendix removed that evening. I’m glad to say he’s well and recovering, although he told me off by text for making him laugh as it hurts! We wish Alan a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him back with us soon.
The first concert was an opera gala with Sir Antonio Pappano at the helm in music that surely is closest to his heart. We were treated to an incredible display from Diana Damrau, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson. We don’t play a massive amount of opera so it was a treat to enjoy some of the world’s finest onstage with us. The only downside being that singers liking the warm air for “la voce” meant it was absolutely roasting on stage! We return to “the tent” tonight with the wonderful violinist Janine Jansen in Bartok 1 and some balletic numbers from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, both of which we will be performing again with this fantastic pairing in London in October. Christmas has clearly come early to Gstaad, to which I say goodbye for now as I’ve got a hankering for some thick melted cheese!