Concertos – as a musician you spend maybe a decade as a student honing your skills as a soloist playing endless concertos. Then reality hits and you spend the next 30-40 years hearing them played properly and familiarising yourself with the tutti parts. This tour we were due to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Lisa Batishvilli. Sadly she pulled out due to illness but we were fortunate to find worthy replacements in Christian Tetzlaff and Julia Fischer. The former we work with fairly often, although usually in 20th century repertoire. He’s always popular with the orchestra; for one he refuses to play on a silly money violin (you need a good 8-figure sum these days to buy a top class violin), choosing instead to play on a modern instrument, and not least, because he bears a striking resemblance to our section colleague Laurent! We suggested that Laurent go to the foyer in the interval to see how many autographs he was asked to sign.
Julia we haven’t seen so regularly; in fact the last time she was due to perform with us she withdrew owing to an unfortunate accident with a kitchen knife. I can safely say this is never going to be a problem for me unless my finger slips as I’m using the knife to start peeling the lid off a microwave meal… Julia certainly had all her fingers intact as she performed a flawless rendition for the Alte Oper audience in Frankfurt. With such differing violinists I won’t say who’s playing I preferred but you can bet I paid more attention to Julia’s footwear than Christian’s.
Another thing about concertos is that as a string player you generally have a chance to have a 30 minute break ahead of the rest of your section should you be rotated to the back desk. Maybe not in Brahms piano concertos but in the Tchaikovsky the 1st violins played one desk down. I have to say in my dozen years as a member I very rarely have been off a concerto performance, maybe the odd Mozart here and there. There’s always plenty of banter within our section over whether the people rota-ed off will play for someone else. Anyway it’s certainly good form if you have close friends in the section to have the interval drinks ready. My friend Sylvain has been on the 8th desk all week and when fellow violinists Phil and Gez arrived into the canteen we were greeted with… A drought. So let that be a lesson. If you are rota-ed off a concerto, don’t incur the wrath of colleagues (let’s call them former friends..) by forgetting it’s thirsty work doing all that accompanying!
Next stop on the whirlwind tour was Bonn on coaches that looked like they were designed by Darth Vader. I have been dreading this day for some months. Nothing against Germany/Beethoven/Germans in general, but it’s almost a year to the day when I had my handbag stolen from the lobby of the Bonn Hilton hotel. This made my life a misery for a month what with replacing two passports in time for a US visa etc and I’m still ever so grateful to the LSO admin on that tour who managed to get me into Switzerland that day and back home to London without any documentation. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t desperate for a repeat visit. As we arrived I kept a sharp eye out for suspicious characters and my personal belongings were pretty much superglued to my person. I did think that maybe the robbers were still recuperating in hospital, as one colleague pointed out, they probably sustained some serious shoulder injuries hefting my bag away.
Tonight’s concert was closing Bonn’s Beethovenfest. There was to be a secret encore to close the festival as a big thank you to the lady who has been running it so efficiently for a decade. The atmosphere was electric as the choir filed in after the Stravinsky. There were scarves that seemed especially knitted for the occasion being waved as if this was some kind of posh football match. Our conductor Daniel Harding walked on with one and promptly wrapped it around leader Roman’s neck. I didn’t see the expressions on their faces so I assume it was in good spirits and not over something that happened during the concert. We launched into a carve up of “bits you a actually came to hear” from Beethoven 9 to rapturous applause. I think Beethoven wouldn’t have been that knocked out by the copy and paste but I think even he would have been happy about the ovation afterwards.
Anyway, onto Baden Baden tomorrow for an afternoon concert which means we will get to sleep in our own beds tomorrow night! The Beethovenfest are at this moment throwing a lovely reception at the concert hall, but since tomorrow is a very long day, I have selflessly returned to the hotel to pen this for you lucky readers (are you feeling bad?). I’m also making a valid contribution to my forthcoming sure-fire best seller, “club sandwiches of the world”.