At the moment, I am sitting in your seat. That is to say that I am watching the rehearsal of the Brahms Violin Concerto seated in the stalls of Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. I don’t often get to watch my own orchestra, in fact, I don’t often get to watch any orchestra these days as we seem to be permanently on stage ourselves. I am seated about three quarters of the way back, in the darkness that engulfs the rear of the auditorium. It is like a private concert, just for me.
Except, of course, I know from experience that it is nothing like the real thing, the orchestra is rehearsing, relaxed, a little jet lagged at the moment, but come the evening, they will unleash everything they have left. During the concert, dressed in black and white and more than a few sparkles, the orchestra becomes one single force, no matter how tired or sad or unenthusiastic they feel, in the old fashioned uniform they wear, when the lights go down in the hall and up on stage, this group of people become the London Symphony Orchestra.
In the rehearsal today however, it is not the LSO that you know, that I see. I see Tom and Malcolm, Sarah, Sharon, Gillianne, Chi, Chris, Joost and Alastair and 85 others I could name. I see my friends, not the orchestra. There are some weeks where we spend so much time together, this disparate group of people become like a second family with all its ups and downs, triumphs and failures. This is especially important when we travel around the world spending long periods away from our families back in London, you rely on the friendships formed in far away places, on experiences shared both on and off the platform. When we welcome a new member, you can see them joining one of the many groups in the orchestra, they find their own way of doing things, they find their way to enjoy their time on tour, their way of coping with the madness of this lifestyle and eventually it feels like they have always been here. It takes a long time to find new members in this orchestra, we obviously want the best players, but it’s more than that, they have to be part of it, they have to fit with the people too and when they do and it all clicks into place, it is wonderful.
This inevitably comes to an end as players retire or move on to do other things. Recently though, the orchestra has had to say goodbye to the much missed Nigel Gomm who lost his battle with cancer late last year. This morning, once again, the orchestra is hurting, as news filtered through to us as we wandered around New York that our Principal Oboe player, Kieron Moore, had passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning. Kieron had been battling cancer for the last few years and hadn’t been able to play with the orchestra for some time – although we always kept his chair open for him to return whenever he could. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and the atmosphere on the stage is one of shock and profound sadness.
I sat next to him for the best part of a decade in the LSO and formed a musical partnership which I doubt I will find again. A gentle man with a ruthless sense of humour and a sparkle in his eye, he was one of the greatest musicians I have ever worked with. As an orchestral oboist in my opinion, he was without equal. He wasn’t a flashy player. After performing yet another stunning solo, when conductors stood him up to take a bow, he would reluctantly rise from his chair and groan very loudly, then promptly sit back down again as quickly as possible; he didn’t like a fuss. In an age of ever increasing noise, where it sometimes seems that the louder you become and the more fuss you make, the more you are heard, Kieron was exactly the opposite. On stage, he was quiet and contemplative with a sound that could melt the hardest of hearts and an inner musical core that was so intense it took my breath away. When he played the famous solo from the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto, he did it with such fragility in his sound that the audience seemed to stop breathing for a while; rather than outward showmanship, he could silence a room and draw you in to glimpse his musical soul. I can’t begin to describe what a hole he has left in the orchestra.
One of his favourite cities was New York and he left instructions for us all to enjoy ourselves and raise a glass to him, which of course, we have. But the rehearsal continues for tonight’s concert. The first movement is finished. There is a brief pause and then the familiar sound of the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto begins. I see my friends look anywhere but at each other, most people look at the floor, alone in their thoughts. And then the oboe melody starts. It is unbearable. I am glad to be sat in the darkness at the back of the hall.