The orchestra sat in near silence on the train this morning. The tension rising with the outside temperature as we sped through the mountains. I haven’t felt this much pressure on a train since Sue Mallet was on a trip and was looking for volunteers for something or other. She is safely back in her cage in London, just out of arms reach. The reason for this state of affairs is that the orchestra as a giant living organism is very good at doing what it is told, we read the schedule and most of the time we manage to find ourselves in the right place at the right time. You would be surprised at how rare it is that someone is left behind and forced to awake from their robotic trance and find their own way to the venue. It is this reliance on the schedule and the total trust in it and the good people in LSO towers who work around the clock that has lead to the volatile situation in which we find ourselves. I shall explain. As you know this tour takes place in Switzerland except for the last day when we hop to Leipzig via Berlin and another long bus trip. It’s a relatively simple affair getting through customs into Zurich, but we have the added complication of the instruments which all have to be on a carnet, a sort of instrument passport. When the instruments go in or out of the country, only the instruments on the carnet must be in the boxes. Once we are in the country and moving within it, anything goes, which is why the woodwind box for example was almost empty on the way over however it is now brimming with instruments and tails and shoes etc etc. Except last night, we all had to empty it again as, although we are going to Lugano the route that the LSO van uses takes it out of Switzerland and into Italy before coming back in, therefore, the carnet once again came into force. As this was on the schedule it went without a hitch and the instruments will be waiting our arrival later. The fly in the ointment is that there was no mention of this in relation to our passports. Now normally this isn’t a problem as you keep your passport with you in your bag, coat pocket or something. Now unfortunately, because we only had one minute to get on the train (nearly 100 people), the powers that be very kindly provided us with a luggage truck so that we could skip happily onto the train unencumbered by heavy suitcases. Super Mario and the management though had to stay up until 5am to help load up whilst we were all in bed before we left at 8am. Since we left London, the temperature has been steadily increasing and so any coats people were wearing have been put in their cases along with in many cases, their passports. Whoops. Of the 10 people sat near me, at least four are trying really hard not to look shifty. This is harder for some people than others. Malcolm (passport in coat pocket, coat in case on luggage truck) was sat next to me, and his eyes were darting from side to side like a hunted man. The guards boarded the train. He put his sunglasses on thereby singling him out as the man least likely to have a passport in a spot the stowaway competition. The guard moved closer and perspiration appeared on Malcolm’s brow, but…wait…what’s this? The guard sees something even more suspicious looking further down the carriage. It is the leader, Gordan Nikolic who incidentally has his passport with him. The guard is very interested in his violin however and soon Gordan is opening the case and unwrapping it to show the guard. I think it may be an old Italian violin and the guard seems to think there should be some papers-Gordan has no papers-you don’t need papers, or at least not unless you are going to Russia, then you need lots of papers. He holds the violin and looks inside. Whispers go around the train, rumours circulate, Gordan has gut strings on his instrument, perhaps he is being investigated for illegal importation of animal products. Suddenly the guard is satisfied and returns the violin, the gut strings were unnoticed, the guard evidently not a John Eliot Gardiner fan. He walks back up the carriage past us, Malcolm behind his sunglasses remains still and unblinking.
Of course once we get off the train we have to get on a bus and go back into Switzerland and we still haven’t been reunited with our cases. Super Mario appears looking unruffled as usual. We express concern that we may get stopped on the way back into Switzerland as many of the players aren’t actually with their passports at the correct time.
“Oh don’t worry, it’s fine,” says Mario without a care in the world.
“I’ve got copies of all of your passports on my laptop if we get stopped, you’ve no need to worry.”
Malcolm takes his sunglasses off.