I remember walking down the Nanjing Road in Shanghai a couple of years ago and being offered goods aplenty. This week however it seems worse than ever. As I get further down the road, I can always see people suddenly step out from beside the shops and walk alongside me asking me if I’m shopping, do I want a watch, a bag, DVD, massage… I won’t carry on as the next things I’m offered aren’t suitable for this blog but are more lurid than I remember. A man walking on your own down the street can get predictably depressing. Maybe it’s the economic downturn, although I thought China was going the other way, or maybe I just look desperate – it is nearly the end of the tour after all. It is quite bizarre to see the shops in the main street stuffed with high end brands from across the world and in the side streets, shopkeepers selling cheap imitations of the same products which they will swear blind are the real thing, but just for me they will sell them cheaply. Just not quite sure why the cashmere sweater I’m being offered is giving me a static shock.
One thing that is no imitation is tonight’s concert. Gergiev, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovitch is about as authentic as it gets. At the side of the stage is a screen which helpfully tells the audience which movement we are playing, what piece we are playing and every now and then, that Valery will be signing CDs in the foyer after the concert. I spoke to a member of the audience who told me that he had never heard Shostakovich 5 before and found it overwhelming. It is quite refreshing to play a piece that we probably know by heart and yet many people at the concert are hearing for the first time. After the heart on sleeve angst of Romeo and Juliet, Denis Matsuev is again impressive in the Prokofiev and quite deservedly plays two encores, unlike many soloists, they are different from the two encores he has played every other night. It is unbelievable how much sound he manages to get out of the piano.
Speaking of encores, we have most nights ended up playing three encores after the symphony, quite often some of Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, followed by a Chinese piece called Good news from Beijing and then another piece which sends the audience into a frenzy. When I interviewed Valery for Chinese TV before we left he told them that if we played well and they enjoyed what they heard we would play some extras, some Chinese music and also a piece that was out of this world. As authentic performances go, the LSO playing the main theme from Star Wars is the Real McCoy, even with Valery at the helm. I’ll be honest, he looked a little perplexed when we rehearsed it as it isn’t in his normal repertoire, but of course the orchestra know it fairly well. In a country in which classical music is still making inroads, the promoters will always look for the familiar and so although Star Wars wasn’t on the menu as such, someone thought it would be a good idea to ‘suggest’ that we might be playing it. They made a poster which you can see below which features the orchestra and a familiar looking Jedi, or Valery Vader, whichever you prefer. I think this may well be a copyright infringement, although Valery did see the funny side when we showed him the picture. It is also the first time he has used a baton as long as that for about 30 years.
During the applause a man from the audience got out of his seat and took flowers towards Valery. Before he had taken ten paces, the ushers had stopped him, one grabbing his arm and the other an arm around the neck. He looked rather upset and when the orchestra started to leave he was sat dazed in his seat. A couple of the bass players jumped down into the hall, picked him up and took him backstage to see the maestro. As they did so the entire audience clapped and shouted bravo. Nothing is ever quite what it seems here.
Home tomorrow. Thanks for listening.