“Gareth! How does it sound?”
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is turning around on his rostrum and asking my opinion on the balance rehearsal in Hamburg. On stage are the vast forces needed for Beethoven’s 9th symphony, although with John Eliot they aren’t as vast as others. On this particular tour, the last of the year, Chris Richards and I are the only people who seem to be in in the 1st symphony in the first half and not in the 9th in the second half. You can imagine, as we disappear off into the night, how much that endears us to our colleagues. The balance or seating call is usually a short affair on tour as we have played the repertoire many times and so there is little need to play much, so it is used to play some loud bits, some soft bits which you can then balance to the particular hall. I suppose we also need to check that we have a seat too as I wouldn’t want to have to stand all through the 9th symphony, it goes on for ages.
I am waiting for John Eliot to get to the 1st symphony and so I decide to sit in the splendid auditorium and listen to the first part of the rehearsal – as well as reading the paper surreptitiously. Chris is doing the same thing about 25 seats to my right. They are rehearsing the last movement with the solo singers and fabulous Monteverdi choir and the acoustic in the hall without an audience is like a big bathroom making a lot of the detail in the orchestra disappear. Without stopping the music John Eliot turns around and peers out in to the hall to see who is there. If only he had turned to his right he would have seen Chris instead but the coin has fallen in my favour and so it is me that he shouts at. My peripheral vision had alerted me to the fact that he had turned around and I quickly raise my gaze from the book reviews I am reading and look meaningfully at the orchestra and place one hand on my chin to grow some instant gravitas. It doesn’t work.
“Gareth! How does it sound?”
I give him a thumbs up, but in truth it’s a bit like when you daydream during maths lessons only to be awoken by the teacher calling your name and asking for the answer to a question which you simply hadn’t heard. Fortunately I get away with it and manage to find my place in the newspaper again quite quickly. They carry on playing. Chris looks across at me from the other side of the hall and laughs.
A minute later John Eliot turns again. I stop reading.
“Gareth! Can you hear the singers?”
Another thumbs up. The Monteverdi Choir may be small but they reach the parts that other choir can’t reach. Their sound sails over the top of the LSO. The next bit they try is one of the sections where the four soloists do battle with the orchestra. This time I am ready for John Eliot’s enquiries and stop reading the paper. They sing and play for a bit and then stop as he whirls around again.
“Gareth! Can you hear the soloists?”
“Er…no, not really,” I shout back.
John Eliot turns around and tells the singers to move forward and sing up and then tells the orchestra to stop playing so loudly.
As the orchestra and soloists play the same bit again I can see them craning their necks to see who it is in the audience who is criticising their singing. I am also aware that the outside desks of the strings are now looking at me with various degrees of malice and hatred. They finish re rehearsing the fairly long patch again and this time when John Eliot turns to ask my opinion, most of the orchestra turn in my direction as well, many of whom are staring threateningly at me whilst slowly shaking their heads.
“Can you hear them now Gareth?”
“Er…yes, yes, it sounds wonderful.”
Chris is trying not to laugh to my right. The orchestra turn back to their music and any opinions I offer from this point on consist of a thumbs up and a smile.
Finally he finishes and moves onto symphony no 1. I walk up the aisle to the steps hoping I didn’t incur too much wrath from my colleagues. As I pass one of the violinists, she says,
“You know those questions he was asking you? They were pretty much rhetorical…”
The acoustic of the hall changes beyond recognition when it is full of people in the audience and all balance problems are forgotten as we whizz through an effervescent performance of the first symphony. As Chris and I change quickly afterwards, our colleagues watch in silence as they have to go back on stage and play the 9th whilst we will both be holed up in a warm bar somewhere. We both grab our stuff and make for the exit which turns out not be where we thought it was. We have to double back through the throngs of players with instruments and singers waiting to go back on for the second half. We of course stick out as we have suit carriers slung over our arms and are wearing coats, scarves and gloves. For the second time today I see the same looks on my colleagues faces as earlier on in the balance rehearsal. We both spy the exit and head for the door. Just as we reach for the handle a voice from behind pipes up.
“Oh are you two finished then? Hope you aren’t too tired after that, you go off and have a nice evening then…”
The bell sounds for the end of the interval.
We pause momentarily and then decide not to look back. We burst out form the door into the freezing night air and head for the nearest bar. Over the first of many beers I tell Chris that I think it is probably best if we sit backstage in the balance rehearsal tomorrow in Hannover…