The Sound of Magic

Cinderella finally danced with her Prince, he found her again, the glass slipper fitted and they all lived happily ever after, once they had completed Prokofiev’s numerous waltzes. As we all left the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday night, she in a vegetable-based carriage, me on the tube, I couldn’t help but think how much easier than mine her journey home would be, especially as the 7pm start had meant we were finished well before the midnight curfew. Phew. By the time she was drifting off to sleep, once she had removed the pea – or was that another princess? – I was in the early stages of packing panic, as after arriving home at 11.30pm I had a short space of time in which to pack a suitcase, repack my freshly worn tails and passport, before leaving the house at 6.15 am.

It would be an understatement to say that the LSO is a little weary; coming hard on the heels of the Edinburgh Festival, this schedule is tough for even the most hardened of professionals. When I bumped into a player from Vienna who had just been playing in the opera before our rehearsal tonight, he had a look of total shock on his face when I told him what we had been doing, how long we had been travelling for and what we were about to do. Walking into the hall in Salzburg, I saw a poster for the orchestra finale set of concerts that put it into perspective though; there were a handful of bands, but what a handful.

London Symphony Orchestra – Gergiev
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Rattle
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – Jansons
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra –  Haitink
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra – Chailly

I guess that’s what the Olympics of the orchestral world would look like right now. What was interesting was the way this poster was worded. No soloists, no repertoire, just the orchestra and the conductor; this makes a refreshing change, it’s just us and the music and in our case in particular, playing Cinderella, no staging or dancers (unless you count Valery). If you like, I could now give you a long description of his interpretation using stock phrases like ‘the music courses through his veins’, ‘man of the theatre’ etc, but what makes this performance that little bit different is the ability of my colleagues to perform day in and day out on the platform. The last week or so since we have returned from our short holiday has been a non-stop round of punishing music making – great fun, but hard work, and I mean physically demanding hard work. Playing for 4 days of performances that took in 4 Brahms symphonies, 4 Szymanowski symphonies, 2 concerti and a set of variations combined with long hours travelling and the sheer intensity of Gergiev’s performances can take its toll physically and mentally and then after stepping off the Edinburgh to London train, we went straight to LSO St Luke’s for a rehearsal for the Prom… well, a lesser set of players wouldn’t be able to cope.

What always amazes me about my friends in the band though, is that no matter how tired they are, no matter how far they have travelled, no matter how many times they have played the programme, once that first quivering downbeat hits the floor, eyes narrow, aching shoulders are ignored and they play as if guided by some unseen, unstoppable force. If there is one audience member attending their first concert, the orchestra demands their return. As Gergiev walks onto the stage, we stand and then returning to our seats to begin, you can see the tension of moment, like sprinters hunched over their blocks, coiled, waiting to strike. There are moments when the speed at which we are asked to play is almost impossible and yet, the astonishing dexterity of the first violin section crackles and fizzes along at such a rate, their hands, arms and bows become a flashing blur of speed. The majestic brass section and their regal fanfares one minute and laser guided accuracy picking biting chords out of nowhere never loses energy. The woodwind chorales and sinuous solo passages fly effortlessly over the heads of the strings and the delicate sparkle of magical percussion is the icing on the cake. Even sitting within the ranks, hearing this stuff every day, they still take my breath away with their daring.

Having dragged myself out of bed at 5.45am, the end of the show at 11.30pm in Salzburg is a welcome finale. A few drinks and a post-mortem in the hotel bar are short and swift as we have to leave for Lucerne at 7am. Another five hour train journey, an hour’s bus trip, a rehearsal and Cinderella before leaving at 6.30am tomorrow morning. The image of my Viennese friend looking in disbelief at our schedule pops momentarily in my head – and I only got as far as Salzburg before he threw his hands up in horror. By the end of next week, we will be on tour again with MTT travelling around most of Europe.

So next time you see an orchestra on tour, spare a thought. Conductors and soloists get driven from venue to venue as it should be, but we’ll still be on the scheduled flights at the back of the plane with you, the same trains as you and lugging our cases to and from stations in darkness. But somewhere in between, when we momentarily alight on a stage, there will be magic.

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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