Daniel Harding and Yuja Wang travelled together on the flight over to Beijing. Needless to say, unlike the orchestra, when they board the plane, they turn left. Apparently when you sit in more important class, you not only get extra legroom, not that either of them particularly need it, but you also get a choice of meals. Dan told me of a conversation that occurred a few hours into the flight.
Flight attendant: Good morning sir, would you like some food?
Daniel Harding: Yes please, that would be lovely.
FA: As you are a very important person you have a choice of meals today.
DH: Yummy. What are the options?
FA: You can have some noodles or maybe you would just like a snake?
DH: Er…actually, I’m not hungry after all. Snakes on a plane doesn’t really appeal.
At this point, Daniel made a face to Yuja who laughed. The flight attendant proceeded to have a conversation in Chinese unsure as to why she seemed to have caused some offence.
DH: So what’s so funny?
YW: She asked you if you wanted noodles or if you just wanted a snack…
A couple of days ago found Lorenzo and Chi eating scorpions in Beijing. We have now moved a few hundred miles to the city of Guangzhou and the thing to eat here is snake. Naturally the second we arrive and step out onto the humid streets in time for dinner, Lorenzo is looking into every restaurant window looking for snakes.
“Come on guys, we ‘ave to try it. It makes you manly.”
I wasn’t feeling the need for a testosterone boost but I knew it would make a grand spectacle and so we ploughed into a restaurant, half of which was taken up by tanks containing eels, lobster, fish of all shapes and sizes, turtles and a writhing mass of snakes. Lorenzo smiled and I downed a beer in preparation for what we were about to receive. Now if you’ve never eaten snake before, and I’m guessing that the majority of you reading won’t have, the thing to do is drain the blood from the snake, cook it, chop it up and then serve it by drinking the blood as an aperitif and then eat the meat. We weren’t offered the option of drinking the blood I’m glad to say but the pot of meat and vegetables looked like a nice Lancashire hotpot. In fact, apart from the give away scaly skin, it could have been. What did it taste like? Well, it was a strongly flavoured meat but I can tell you that there is more meat on a model than a snake. I won’t bother again. After phoning home, despite the snake induced potency, I slept properly for the first time since arriving here last week.
Before the concert, I wandered around town on my own and dived into a small place where after perusing the menu for a while, the waiter pointed to a picture and told me I was going to have his choice of dish. I agreed as I wasn’t that sure about anything else and waited to see what would appear. The answer five minutes later was a steaming bowl of prawns, tiny fish and locusts all stir fried with some green vegetables. In for a penny, in for a yuan, I ate it all and it was very tasty. And very crunchy. After a quick turnaround we arrived at the hall here to play some Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov and Mahler 1. At the moment, Yuja is coming towards the end of the Rachmaninov as I write (Adam’s playing in it in case you thought my multitasking skills had improved).
Sitting on the stage awaiting Daniel, I noticed that there were electronic displays around the hall which said London Symphony Orchestra on them. At least I knew that I was in the right place. The door opened and Daniel walked out onto the stage, and as we rose from our seats, the displays suddenly said,
Daniel looked around at them and nodded approval. They flickered and changed.
Daniel produced his baton. At least he knew he was in the right place. He lifted the baton and the screen flickered again.
Mussorgsky – Night on a Bare Mountain.
Daniel opened the score and we began the famous opening. The notes roared out into the hall in a testosterone fuelled howl. It sounded like maybe Daniel changed his mind about his meal choice after all.