The last concert in Seoul saw us enjoy music-making with pianist Sunwook Kim and a few commented on how much more they enjoyed Korea from the first times we visited. I think in those days Seoul seemed vastly unapproachable and we probably all expected to see pets smothered in kimchee on the menu. Now with the warmth of the audiences and the way we all flock to Korean barbeque post-concert, it’s a popular touring destination.
And so to Mumbai, the final stop on this Eastern tour. It was a shockingly turbulent nine-hour flight that had many bathed in sweat and gripping the arms of the seat or even their neighbour. I happened to reach the moment in the new Romeo and Juliet film where he finds her “dead”, kills himself one second before she wakes up and finds him dead, then promptly kills herself. (Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know the bit I mean.) All very emotionally turbulent and coupled with the physical lurching and hurling of a friend next to me chundering into the air sickness bag, really helped the ambience.
The 29 degree heat and tiredness hit us as we finally arrived at the hotel at 3am and queued for what seemed like the umpteenth time of the day through tiresome airport-like security procedures. Tempers were short as suitcases all had to be scanned but I knew I was only minutes from falling into bed so remained calm. Turns out people were in a rush to go out eating and drinking, so again as I craved to be completely horizontal, I realised I wasn’t a young chick on my first tour in 1999 anymore.
The “next day” was thankfully free and people busied themselves sightseeing. I saw the great sights of the hotel shops and spa and readied for the dinner being held at NCPA. What a fantastic affair! It was a treat to enter the concert from the paying public side and see the magnificent marble staircase that had been very generously donated. The Indian buffet was sublime and we felt very fortunate that our stomachs were being looked after with such care.
The next day I’m afraid my stomach wasn’t so grateful – after the rich food and spices it was a case of Indiarghhhh and so I was ensconced in the hotel, living the city through endless photos of friends and colleagues posted on Facebook. The accomodating room-service man offered to make me an off-menu chicken broth (they must be used to travellers falling foul of ‘Delhi Belly’). I certainly wasn’t alone as one friend, moving faster than I’ve seen him move in a long time, legged it from the stage mid-rehearsal.
At the concert hall we were greeted inside by a hundred or so schoolkids who had come for their first classical music experience. I went to speak to some of them and it was heart-warming to see their enthusiasm as they tried my violin, having never seen one before. Possibly they had never seen a Chinese person before as they exclaimed over my clothes and hair, or maybe they are style critics in the making. I felt like Heifetz as they asked for tune after tune and applauded wildly after basic nursery rhymes (I could get used to this). Their teacher told them we’d play through Star Wars for them which was met by blank stares, and I was reminded what a totally different part of the world we are in. When we came to perform it, the kids seemed most excited at the physicality of the percussion, miming the cymbals crashing together and straining in their seats to see the brass.
The penultimate concert saw principal cellist Tim Hugh take on the role of soloist in the Elgar concerto. It can’t have been ideal preparation, two weeks travelling around the Far East as an orchestral player, and what with the instruments being held to ransom at customs the moment we arrived in Mumbai, he didn’t have a cello from Tuesday night until Friday. But you would never had known, as Tim’s cool as a cucumber performance was, as always, stunningly faultless.
I had been hearing various refrains from the Tchaikovsky violin concerto the last two days and realised leader Roman was along the same hotel corridor. He had the unenviable position of taking on the mantle of soloist for the very last of our eleven concerts and he didn’t disappoint. An incredibly exciting rendition where the last movement was one of the fastest I’ve ever encountered. He often looked around at his friends, huge grin on his face during the tuttis. It’s really awe-inspiring to have heard these two fantastic LSO musicians and all round lovely guys pull out all the stops at such a point in the trip.
We had some great news today. Our transport manager had to hurriedly leave the tour last week due to complications with his wife’s (our librarian Iryna) pregnancy. Yesterday she gave birth to a baby boy and whilst both need to be nursed into health, we were all very happy and relieved at this good news.
Well we come to the end of a month-long project and a fascinating tour. We’ve worked with soloists from our own ranks – Adam Walker, (reincarnation of Gandi’s brother it seems, as spotted by Michael O’Donnell today) Tim Hugh and Roman Simovic and we were joined by pianists Yuja Wang and Sunwook Kim.
We’ve been through China, Macau, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, and now say goodbye in India. If anyone deserves a break it’s the ever energetic Daniel Harding, who doesn’t get a chance to go home quite yet, moving swiftly on to his next project in Europe. Hopefully he’s getting all those Tom Ford t-shirts laundered on the way. Some of the orchestra are staying on and making a holiday out of being in this part of the world, but most of us have a much needed two days free to recover from jetlag before we put on our classical hats, turn off our vibrato in readiness for a very full-on John Eliot Gardiner project from Wednesday. Let’s hope there’s no trouble with the instruments leaving Mumbai…
Safe onward travels everyone and thanks to the readers of this rather inane blog. Hope you enjoyed sharing our touring adventures around Asia!