Chopin and Schubert

I am currently sitting in Warsaw Frederic Chopin International airport, which is closed because air traffic control is down. I wish they would pull themselves together and think happy thoughts as I’m feeling a little down myself now. I want to go home.

We made our debut in Poland last night in Warsaw where we were joined by Emanuel Ax for the second Chopin Piano concerto. The hall had lots of old posters from the Warsaw Philharmonic covering the walls backstage and I was happy to see one from their only appearance in Wales in 1964 at Brangwyn Hall in Swansea. Lovely. Anyway, it was a lovely hall to play in, particularly for Iwona, one of our violinists who is from Warsaw. She had earlier taken us out for lunch in the old town which was wonderful. I was completely unprepared for how beautiful the rebuilt old town is and it is definitely somewhere I would like to go back to – probably when it is warmer to be honest.

Emanuel played the music of Warsaw’s most famous son beautifully and it was no surprise when he had to play two encores before we were able to continue with Petrouska. At the end of the piece the audience leapt to their collective feet with huge cheers for all the individual soloists in the orchestra especially Phil and the trumpet boys who have really excelled themselves on this trip. I do hope we come back here again and that the air traffic controllers are feeling better.

I’ll leave you with another of those bizarre things that happens from time to time on tour. On the last night in Vienna we came off the stage after playing La Valse and I went down the long steep staircase to the dressing room. I was putting my flute away and Gemma our orchestral manager said,

“Gareth, there is a composer upstairs who has written a flute quartet and would like your professional advice if you could spare a minute.”

I finished putting my whistle back in its box and went back up the long steep staircase where I was greeted by a thin man with tied back hair and a pale suit clutching a folder. He thrust his hand out and shook mine.

“Good evening Mr Davies, thank you for giving your time.”

“That’s all right. How can I help you?” I asked.

“My name is Schubert and I am a composer.”

“Yes, I know!”

He didn’t laugh.

“I have written a flute quartet with some very tricky scale passages and I want you to tell me if they are impossible or not.”

“OK, show me which bits you are worried about.”

He then opened the file and showed me his manuscript which was written in very faint pencil. I quickly scanned it and to be honest, I couldn’t really see anything to worry about, so I thought I’d ask him to be more specific.

“Which scale passages are you worried about in particular?”

He turned the page where there were indeed about two bars of scales. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a tempo marking. “What kind of speed does it go?” I enquired.

“Oh, quite slow.” He then sang the tricky passage.

It was basically quite a slow scale, and I couldn’t help noticing that apart from one F sharp at the end, it was in fact a scale of C major. I looked at him just to check that he wasn’t joking, realised very quickly that he was deadly serious and said, “No, I think most players will be fine with that.”

“That you very much. I really appreciate your advice”

With that we shook hands and parted company.

Now such is the insecurity of my profession, my mind went into overdrive. Most normal people would laugh and forget, but not musicians. Oh no. Schubert had come to the concert; he had heard me play and suddenly something I had done had created a spark of doubt about the flutes ability to play scales. After all, Mozart said he didn’t like the sound of the flute after presumably hearing a bad player. Maybe I had put Schubert off. Oh dear me. Whilst I’m sitting here at the airport, I’m just going to check last night’s music for C major scales.

And maybe a few finger exercises.

About LSO

The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the world's top orchestras. Our home is at the Barbican Centre in the City of London where we play over 80 concerts every year, but we also spend quite a bit of time out on the road, touring all over the world. Recently we have toured to Germany, France, Russia, New York, Japan, Holland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Lithuania; and coming up this year are China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, Portugal, Florida, Romania and a return visit to New York, where we are resident at the Lincoln Center.
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