There was a distinctly end of term feeling in Munich last night. We may not have been playing any carols but the spirit was there, and it wasn’t just the Gluhwein from the snow covered Christmas market. The orchestra, as always, has been working incredibly hard and the break until the new year is an oasis of calm until it all starts again. It is a time to be with family and friends and put the instrument in the box. When I was in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra nearly 12 years ago, we used to do a regular series at Christmas time with the late and great Ron Goodwin where to get in the festive mood the stage was covered in tinsel and trees and we played some of Ron’s Christmas compositions such as 633 Squadron and Force 10 from Navarone. To this day, whenever I want to get into the festive spirit, I just have to put on my DVD of Where Eagles Dare.
I guess because of the current crisis in the Euro zone, John Eliot decided that a piece that has been appropriated as the european anthem in recent years would make a better and so Beethoven 9 is the final hurrah before Christmas.
As you already know, I was surplus to requirements for this piece, but having been drawn into the rehearsal in Hamburg, as well as being asked my opinion on singing balance, John Eliot also asked me if I could hear the piccolo. Now that really is a rhetorical question. I must admit that when the rehearsal was in progress, Sharon wasn’t in her normal seat, in fact I was considering texting her as she seemed to be about to miss her entry in the final straight of the last movement. I looked down at my phone when all of a sudden the unmistakeable sound came flying over the top of the orchestra. I looked but she still wasn’t where she normally sits, and it was only when John Eliot turned round to ask if I could hear her that I noticed she was sat on the other end of the section with Dominic on contra bassoon. I say sitting, but she was in fact standing up just in front of the bass section of the choir. It was a special request from the maestro that she stand there as it means that she is grouped with the other ‘Turkish’ instruments that Beethoven uses for a special effect. John Eliot has moved people around before in rehearsals, in fact, he always moves the horns and trumpets around in the rehearsal until he gets the balance right; last year he had the entire string section standing up for the whole of the Italian symphony…
The inspired thing about it was that Sharon sits quietly out of view for almost one hour. If you know Sharon, you’ll know that sitting quietly for one minute is a strain and so by the time she plays in the symphony she is like a coiled spring; exactly what John Eliot wanted. In concert, as the piece finally draws to its celebratory conclusion and after she has sat out of sight for almost an hour, up pops Sharon and her piccolo like a jack in the box from the Nutcracker and she proceeds to dance and sparkle for the rest of the piece like the sugar plum fairy on top the Christmas tree. I wasn’t the only one to notice:
As we stood at the airport on the way home for the holiday, incidentally Sharon’s 21st birthday, John Eliot, after a bit of persuasion, presented her with a bottle of champagne. I pointed out that we should have perhaps brought along a jack in the box for her to pop out of, it being Christmas and that. Sharon wanted to go one better and suggested a trapeze for next time. John Eliot suggested a cannon to fire her across stage…
I think it’s time for a holiday.
So from me and everyone at the LSO, have a very happy Christmas wherever you are in the world and we will see you somewhere around the globe next year, which, as LSO blog fan and captain of the Sharon Williams fan club, Norman Lebrecht, has pointed out is the Year of the Flute.