The train rain refrain

As an encore at the recital the other night, we played a little melancholy Welsh folk song. Simple but effective in its main aim of bringing a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. A member of the audience asked me at the reception afterwards if all Welsh folk songs were sad, to which I replied that they were almost exclusively pretty and pretty miserable. He asked my why that was the case and I told him that is was probably because it rained so much in Wales.

“Ha, you call that rain? Here in Luxembourg it rains 300 days a year. It’s always raining or snowing.”

To be honest I thought he was probably joking and as I didn’t have the appropriate precipitation data for either Luxembourg or Wales the argument was purely anecdotal, but I thought about all the times I have visited Luxembourg and it has indeed always rained, so maybe he was right.

Anyway, today we left the hotel – in the rain – and travelled on the TGV to Paris where we conveniently arrived at 10.30 on a Sunday morning, and as were travelling home after the concert we had no hotel to go to, everything was shut and it was…raining again. The lads and I decided to be French and have a coffee or two before we could reasonably sit down and have lunch before the rehearsal and concert. It turned out to be one coffee on account of the fact that as it was the last day of the tour, we didn’t have much money left and also, one coffee was 5 Euro. It did come with a free tiny Madeleine though.

On the way to the restaurant we saw quite a few people we knew which isn’t unusual in a major transport hub. The last time we were on the Eurostar we bumped into Alexandre Desplat, the composer of film music who we work with regularly, most recently the latest Harry Potter. However on this occasion it was the entire London Philharmonic Orchestra. They were supposed to be catching a train from Paris to Brussels but somebody had flooded Belgium. I suspect the guy from the reception had just had enough and diverted a river. And so they were having to go on a train somewhere else and then get a bus to Brussels. Presumably one that floats to some degree. They all looked a bit miserable to be honest, which was partly because they were on the last leg of a 2 week tour. I cheered them up by telling a couple of the guys I knew that it was probably just as well they weren’t going to Brussels on the train as in my experience the ticket inspectors down there weren’t very nice.

It didn’t seem to help so we went and had lunch.

I love playing in Paris. There is an atmosphere about the place that breathes music and Salle Pleyel where we have a residency is wonderful. The programme of the Mendelssohn and Brahms again was very well suited to the hall and of course Nikolaj Znaider played another blinder. I don’t think Elgar is particularly understood in France. Maybe its because of its Englishness or possibly the fact that it is spelt wrongly for Parisians, el-gar when it should be, la-gar. Elgar, to the French is a Spanish railway station. With nice ticket inspector. Probably.

I digress again. We gave the audience Brahms. I don’t think I have heard a more satisfying performance of this piece. The sound Nikolaj makes is so warm and sweet and full, it is like cuddling up in front of a fire with a blanket and a hot toddy. A piece as well known as this is very easy to take for granted, but the sign of a great artist is to be able to bring something new to the piece and polish it up like a prized piece of silver which suddenly shines brighter once again. He does this without gimmicks or extras. He doesn’t have a prefabricated stage persona, he isn’t flash and he doesn’t pull the music around to give his own special version that bears a passing resemblance to the score. In short, he plays all the right notes in the right order, but does it brilliantly. Colin and Nikolaj give the appearance that they simply walk on stage having not gone through the piece and simply play and see what happens. That is to say that it seems to happen totally naturally. It really is a privilege to be part of the performance.

The audience at the end of the show won’t let him go and he insists on bringing Colin back on time and time again, but there is no time for an encore, we have a train to catch back to London. It’s the end of one of the nicest tours in ages and all that is left is for Nikolaj to give Colin one last hug.

There are many hopeful looks from the ladies (and some gentlemen) of the orchestra.

Next stop Japan.

Annual precipitation for Tokyo, November – 97mm

Take that Luxembourg

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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