We had been warned in the days before this tour that the smog in Beijing was at epic proportions and there were hurried emails from the LSO admin advising the players to equip themselves with masks, and not just any masks… I spent a good half an hour researching the matter, getting increasingly confused and worried that I would spend the weekend looking like Bane from Batman.. Mind you, I had gathered from Twitter that Gareth was going for a Hannibal Lecter look so I’d have been in good company.
After roping my Dad into helping me, he said he could provide me with a box of fifty HK hospital surgeons masks (I brought them all.. Overkill??) which, being a rather plain sickly green, were quickly customised in pure Maxine style. I think I am more at risk from glue poisoning and glitter lung than the hazardous orange smog. Armed with pink travel tweezers I will therefore be available this tour to perform minor surgery if needed.
We were very lucky though, as rain and wind the day before meant we touched down into a clear and sunny Beijing. Those who hadn’t visited before rushed out to see the incredible historical sights whilst you could still see the hand in front of your face. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a massage 20 minutes after leaving the airport and eating home cooked food with friends. A few of us had prepared for the “Great Firewall of China” so were luckily able to tweet and Facebook our adventures. Particular favourites include a video of Lorenzo eating a scorpion in the Forbidden City. It must have been tasty, he had two.
Approaching the National Centre for the Performing Arts is rather like returning to the mothership. The building is vast and should surely star in a JJ Abrams movie. The foyer areas are epic in proportion – huge windows highlighting stunning Chinese art and antiquities dotted around. Sadly the backstage area is bare, full of rather totalitarian, soulless seemingly endless corridors that wouldn’t be out of place at an airport.
The opening concert of our tour saw incredible pianist Yuja Wang, back in her home city (cutting a fine figure in red Herve Leger), in a stunning performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. The audience seemed a little unsure of the quiet ending to Stravinsky’s Petrushka, I guess a challenge for the most knowledgeable of audiences. However they clapped politely and a few people’s faces were lit up by the red laser beams the hall staff wave when people are taking photos. I don’t know if this ruins the photos or is a way to “name and shame” but it’s pretty fun to watch from the stage. The chosen encore for the opening night however had the effect of plugging the audience into the mains. Speaking from experience Chinese people love a bit of Star Wars (coming from a family containing at least three of the world’s top five biggest fans). A man in the balcony waved his lit mobile phone as if holding a light sabre aloft and I did wonder what phone he had as the battery life must’ve been pretty good.
The next night saw a somewhat livelier audience who clapped so hard for a sequin-clad Yuja after Prokoviev’s Second Piano Concerto that she graced them with two encores, in the second of which her hands were a complete blur. The Mahler 1 opening was rather marred by some rustling, dropped programmes and coughs but the audience went wild at the end. Hardly surprising; I always want to cheer when the brass stand for the last page. Hard to remember that most of the orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding (who arrived the day of the first concert as opposed to us landing the day before) were still suffering from jet lag, when we had played two fantastic concerts.
I noticed the hotel restaurant housed more orchestra folk than usual post-concert and then clocked there was a wine buffet. “Drink all you like” for about £8… I bet the hotel regretted putting that on when an orchestra were staying. Probably explains the peace and quiet on our flight to Guangzhou right now!