Do you leave a tip, or will the waiter come running after you insisting you take your change, as happens in Japan? Or will they come running after you, complaining that you haven’t left enough tip, as happens in New York? Do you take your shoes off to go in the restaurant, or leave them on? If it’s no smoking, then why is everyone smoking and does that mean that I can smoke (I don’t smoke)? If I don’t drink the free firewater my host has given me as it will push me over the precipice, will I be considered rude? Should I drink it and stagger home? Again.
Then there’s the kissing. In England one can never assume that a kiss is an appropriate greeting except amongst friends and even then, British reserve often dictates that a firm hand shake is more suitable to the occasion. Once in mainland Europe however, it all gets a little more complicated. In Guildford, my home town, when meeting a close personal friend, a quick peck on the cheek, (one cheek, one peck) is considered perfectly acceptable. If I was in a more sophisticated area, Islington for example, two kisses, one on each cheek would probably be more normal. It’s more continental and chic. But wait. What’s this? The other day in Paris, I saw a friend and as I was just pulling away from the second kiss, she surprised me with a third. Fortunately, musicians in general are blessed with lightning quick reactions and I managed to salvage the situation. But it made me nervous. A Russian acquaintance in St Petersburg (no, not that one) grabbed me tightly in a bear hug and kissed me at least five times like I was the prodigal son when I was last there. Fortunately I was prepared for this and no diplomatic incident occurred. And I drank the vodka. Again.
It can be tricky traveling around and not getting it wrong. In our home at the Barbican we have regular dressing rooms, but last night in Dortmund there was a special room for the woodwind to tune up. It was quite a surprise to be given special treatment and I searched for the equivalent brass and string rooms to no avail. I can only assume that we are supposed to confer at some point, maybe on stage at the start just to double check that we all tuned the same in our separate ivory towers. I did like the announcements though. At the Barbican, we get,
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the orchestra, please make your way onto the stage.”
Short and to the point. When we were in Frankfurt, I was a little disappointed that they no longer read the time out in 24 hour clock at 19.45. (See, The Show Must Go On for more details), but in Dortmund, I had my favourite announcer of all time. After leaving the special room, fully tuned up, an announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the London Symphony Orchestra, you have five minutes remaining before the start of your concert.”
So polite. We crowded around the doors which were held firmly shut by two stewards and waited. The clock ticked round to 8pm and slowly and a little theatrically, they opened the doors to reveal a packed auditorium. Another announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the London Symphony Orchestra? (pause) The stage, is yours…”
Scriabin 2 is at times a tour of all of his influences. It can be moving along quite nicely when all of a sudden, Ravel and his friends poke their heads out of the texture. The first movement moves along at quite a lick and is thick and loud, but then the second, with its horrendously tricky birdsong passages, changes sound-world completely. Valery had said in rehearsal that this movement was the least convincing of the symphony and certainly, it is quite elusive, but last night in the wonderful hall in Dortmund, I thought it was actually the most convincing movement of all. There was beautiful playing all round, not least from our gifted leader Roman Simovic and national treasure, Chris Richards. I’m not completely sold yet, but, I have to tell you that there were some sublime moments in the piece and I’m looking forward to playing it again this evening. The last movement is rather bizarre though. It’s a march that sound like it comes from the final scenes of a film about the Battle of Britain. If I heard it on the radio as a stand alone piece, I’d have guessed at the composer being Ron Goodwin. Or maybe Ron was a Scriabin fan. Whatever, this dose of Scriabin is beginning to have an effect on me.
It was all going well until the very end when Valery raised the orchestra to its feet again and a lady came on with flowers. It’s one of those moments where every hall has its own etiquette within each country. In Korea last week, we had baskets of flowers being brought on by 5 year olds in traditional costume which were placed on the rostrum; like a gift to the composer. Sometimes flowers are given to conductor and leader. Then there is the question of what to do with the flowers, do you keep them and give them to your wife/husband after the concert, or do you give them to one of the ladies of the orchestra in a chivalrous gesture. But then, giving away a gift mere seconds after receiving it is probably rude in some places. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about this stuff. But Valery does. And then there’s the kissing again. Do you? Don’t you? The thing is, the flower bearers are probably going through the same thing in their heads. “Hmmm. Well, we don’t usually kiss the conductors here in Dortmund, but…well, he’s Russian and so he might expect it. But how many kisses?” All of a sudden it’s a minefield. She came on with flowers. The tension increased. Valery turned around with the look of surprise that they get taught at conductor college (Module 4.2 Facial arrangement upon receipt of flowers in public arena – Advanced level). You know the one. “What? Flowers? For me? How thoughtful!” She gave him the flowers which he took and thanked her for and it was looking like no kiss was going to take place. Valery immediately decided that tonight was going to be a chivalrous-give-the-flowers-to-a-lady kind of evening. Minat was sat right next to where he was standing and so he leaned forward to give her the flowers. Unfortunately, the flower bearing lady thought that he had in fact changed his mind about the kiss and was making his move, leaning in to give one or possibly multiple kisses in the Russian style. He wasn’t. She moved forward to receive the kiss as Valery gave Minat the flowers and they almost had a Glasgow kiss instead. To prevent any further embarrassment, there was a kind of air kiss of the type popular in the fashion world and she made her exit probably making a mental note to always make it clear that she would shake hands in future instead.
We’re on a bus to Cologne this morning where we will catch a train to Freiburg arriving in time for lunch and Scriabin. I’ve put my jacket on, partly because it’s a little cooler but mainly because Freiburg is the twin town of Guildford. No doubt, having heard I’m coming there will be an official greeting party and bunting. Anyone know how many kisses they do there? Civic pride is at stake.