After arriving in Paris just over two hours late we were grateful to be staying in the Mercure Hotel right outside. It made the train journey the next morning to Lyon a little easier. All we had to do was listen to Sue Mallet and her instructions.
“Straight ahead to the end, turn left, out of the station and you’re there. OK?”
The thing is, after years of listening to her lists of instructions and assorted ramblings and you learn to filter it out, besides, we were all annoyed at having no time at all before the rehearsal and concert. All my brain processed was – straight ahead. As we snaked through the Gare de Lyon, all you need do is engage your brain long enough to keep someone else in front of you from the LSO in your sights. The sheep mentality has kept me on the right path in many foreign lands. Unfortunately on this occasion, I found myself at the front of the line, the head of the snake, and my list of instructions, those that I remembered at least, (straight ahead) were about to hit a brick wall. Literally. Now, was it left or right? As the queue backed up behind me I had to make a decision, left or right. Left seemed to go back into another part of the station whereas right took us out onto the streets of Paris.
It was at this moment that the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine descended from the clouds and alighted on the head of Sir John Eliot Gardiner who was striding purposefully out of the doors on the right. Being a tall man, he was easy to spot and so confidently, I strode off again out of the right hand side of the station, still trying to piece together Sue’s instructions whilst keeping an eye on John Eliot’s head. As we walked around the front of the station, I looked around and could see no sign of the Mercure hotel and so followed John Eliot across the road where he promptly stopped next to a car. A man got out and put his suitcase in the boot for him. John Eliot turned around, unaware that I was right behind him.
“Oh, hello Gareth. Are you coming with us?”
“Er, no we’re just looking for the hotel.”
“Where are you staying then?”
“The Mercure but we can’t seem to find it.”
From behind me there was a shout. I turned and Sue was standing over the other side of the road with half of the rest of the orchestra. She was shaking her head and pointing at the hotel which was straight ahead, turn left and you’re there.
“I think it’s over there,” said John Eliot as the door of his car closed taking him to the Hotel Trés Cher. I walked back across the road as nonchalantly as possible where Sue was waiting for me.
“Did I say cross the road Gareth? Did I? Straight ahead, turn left and you’re there. That’s what I said wasn’t it?”
“Er…yes Sue. I just wanted to talk to John Eliot about something…er…musical…a musical point that had to be made right there and then.”
“You were following him weren’t you? Well next time, you should listen to me.”
And with that we marched across the road, got my room key and then found myself at the back of the queue for the lift. That’s the last time I follow the conductor on this trip.
I wasn’t in my room for long as we had to speed across town to rehearse in the Salle Pleyel. As we had already played the programme twice, the rehearsal is just for trying a few corners and to check seating arrangements. Although in the Mendelssohn symphony, the violins and violas have no seats. This has caused a few problems. If you read Maxine’s blog, you’ll know her choice of shoes suitable to stand for 45 minutes in was reduced to a mere five pairs. It’s like desert island disks, for feet, but worse. However, for the woodwind at the back who are still sitting, albeit on very high risers, it causes a few problems. So that the strings are all on the same level, the cellos (who still sit, naturally) are also on high blocks which puts them at the same level as us. We can’t see, so we move a bit to the side, but Robert Turner in the violas, who when seated isn’t a problem, is now a problem. Until John Eliot took away his chair, I had no idea he was so tall and so Celine, our guest principal oboe can’t see past his head. I’m just glad he doesn’t share Maxine’s taste in footwear or all would be lost in many entirely unpredictable ways. To solve all these problems, we end up having to get Robert and Dick, his desk partner, to swap places as Dick is not quite as tall. We can all now see. Problems sorted and we go off and get ready for the concert.
Despite the fact that we have all been in transit since 9am, the orchestra pulls out the stops for the Paris audience and the clapping has started before we have finished the final chord of the symphony. John Eliot returns to the stage three times before the audience start clapping as one in a steady rhythm which would unnerve a stand up comedian in London, but here they are demanding an encore. We of course have one prepared and unfortunately for me, it’s about the last piece, as a flautist, you want after an exhausting concert. Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s very fast and the final section, the final breath of the concert is a lung-busting, fast tonguing, solo passage for the flute. To make matters worse, as John Eliot spins around and starts the piece in one theatrical movement, I don’t actually have the flute on my face and such is the speed of my recovery as the flute flies toward my mouth, that an emergency appointment with my dentist is narrowly avoided. After a few beers and some snails which my French oboe colleague insisted on, it’s time for bed after a very long day indeed.
We had an afternoon concert yesterday and so again we are up early at the Gare de Lyon going to…Lyon. It’s all a bit quiet on the train except for the bi-lingual announcements. We stop just a little too long in the middle of nowhere and inevitably jokes fly around after yesterday’s unreliable train service. As the guard made an announcement in French which I knew was bad news as the man sat behind me swore, we discover that someone has been tampering with the electrical supply and so we have to be diverted by a much longer route which means we’ll be two hours late – just in time for the rehearsal. This tour has been plagued with terrible travel and it’s not getting any better. About ten minutes later, Sue and Miriam have organised sandwiches and drinks for us when we reach the hall. I don’t know how they do it! As we walk from station to hall (approx 7 minutes it says on the schedule), I remain firmly in the middle of the group and keep my eyes peeled. We go through a shopping centre and then down various concrete staircases until we are greeted by a concrete hall which looks like a giant robotic egg from outer space. If you thought the Barbican looked a bit concretey then this will change your opinion.
Inside the auditorium itself though was fantastic. Wonderful acoustic, huge stage and a full house again. The concert is a huge success and as the rhythmic clapping begins again, I turn to Josh our guest second flute and we both place our flutes firmly on our faces, ready for the Scherzo this time. It’s faster than last night and by the end my hands are shaking with a mixture of nerves, adrenalin and oxygen deprivation, but we’ve finished the tour in one piece.
I’m pleased to say that the train back to Paris runs on time. As the guard enters the LSO carriage and is met with a party, she smiles and does one of the very French shoulder shrugging movements and doesn’t bother checking tickets. It was very rowdy on the way back as, professionals that we are, we had made sure we had enough provisions in case of delay and the wine in France is such good value you know.