If an alien life form were to land unannounced backstage at a concert in 2012, they would make some basic assumptions about human behaviour which I once would have thought unfounded. Now I’m not so sure.
One of the many changes I have seen in my time on the world touring circuit is the ability to stay in contact with family back at home. When I joined the LSO in 2000, an extra terrestrial would have assumed that it was absolutely vital to human existence to form a snake like queue around the hotel foyers of Japan awaiting a turn to feed a pocketful of coins into the telephone on the wall. In many ways, being away from spouses and children, it was vital. However these days almost everybody has a smartphone of some description. As I walked through the door to the backstage area in Salle Pleyel in Paris, there was a sign stuck on it with the new holy grail for the touring musician – the free wifi access code. Much like the way cows low around feeding troughs in fields waiting for their next feed, orchestral musicians hover around wifi routers punching in the codes as quickly as possible to check emails, Twitter, Facebook and restaurant bookings before the system reaches capacity and prevents access. The site which would greet our visitor from outer space would be one of twenty humans dressed in retro clothes all seemingly controlled by a small glowing device in the palm of their hand which they occasionally jabbed at with an impatient digit, their faces illuminated with a deathly electronic pallor.
Yet today the wifi mistress is cruel and cold, she teases us with the magic numbers, we wait whilst her electronic doorman looks at our figures and then just as we are to feel her warm embrace, an exclamation mark drifts onto the screen, “Unable to connect to chosen network.” People stare at their screens in disbelief and then look around at everyone else, “Have you got on wifi?”
One solitary player in the corner with nimble fingers has entered the codes faster than the rest and is enjoying the wifi connection. He smiles, we all look mildly depressed.
Honestly though, it’s difficult to feel down having left a sodden London to arrive in a beautifully sunny Paris in springtime on the May day public holiday. The streets are filled with gorgeous Parisians lounging in parks, playing boule in the street and dipping their toes into the canal. The atmosphere is uniquely French, relaxed, informal but determination to enjoy themselves, difficult to describe but as we say in England, the French just have a certain je ne sais quoi. Chi, Lorenzo, Chris and I drift over to the canal near the hotel and find a little bistro we often go to. It is typical of the kind of place you find here, good, cheap food with white table cloths, mismatched crockery and a waistline destroying choice of courses and a poet at the end of the bar seducing roll ups. The waitress is a dead ringer for the actress Kelly McDonald except has alarmingly large tattoos of daggers on the inside of both forearms. She is very friendly though, the food is great but we tip her generously just in case.
At times like these with a double dip recession in progress and belt tightening at full restriction, you may think that it would be a good idea to play safe, literally, and put bums on seats (buns, if you’re an American reader). We could churn out surefire hall fillers from the vast canon of Tchaikovsky and his friends. Instead, we find ourselves in London, Paris and Brussels over 10 days with composer/conductor Peter Eötvös (replacing the indisposed Pierre Boulez) with repertoire from Scriabin, Szymanowski, Debussy and Bartok. Mr Eötvös hasn’t changed any of Boulez’s repertoire and I am pleased to say that his brilliance at programming shines through despite his absence. The romantic shimmer of the Scriabin and Szymanowski combined with the angular muscularity of Bartók and the impressionistic Debussy together form an impressive display of the orchestral colour spectrum.
I am happy to say that the hall in Paris last night was filled to capacity too, with violinist Christian Tetzlaff being called upon to play an encore after his brilliant performance of the Szymanowski. If you heard it (Bartók solo sonata, 2nd movt) in the Barbican last week, you’ll know just how pin droppingly quietly he played some of the phrases which cast an extraordinary spell over the audience and orchestra alike.
I’m enjoying working with Peter Eötvös. I hadn’t played for him before and he is a very nice man with more than a trace of the crystal clear Boulez beat. He has spent a long time clarifying textures and giving the music an ebb and flow. We were also joined by the lovely sirenes of the London Symphony Chorus (joined by the men this evening) who sat raised up behind the orchestra and floated their melody in the Debussy; always a treat playing this in Paris. The Poem of Ecstasy is an interesting piece for the second half, partly as it is only about 20 minutes long, but I must admit that at the end of a long day, and a long week ( I was in NYC last weekend and haven’t stopped since), I was grateful. I was sitting down the line playing third flute whilst Adam, making the most gorgeous sound in the opening was playing first. It’s a treat to hear such lovely playing at close quarters.
And then just as we reached the ecstatic heights, it was over for another evening. Packing my flute away and changing back into civilian clothes I went back up the stairs to give the wifi code one last go. I thought that as nobody else was up there I might have more success. I opened the door and saw at least ten people bathed in grey light all looking miserable. Still not working.
Miss Wifi is a fickle mistress. Ecstasy is also fleeting.