We continue on our epic journey – can we make it to Paris and Berlin for the Bach Concerts and finally onto Amsterdam for Luciano Berio? (Click here to read part 2)
With my solo rehearsal finally under my belt, I was cooked some pasta by my lovely Italian Apprentice (How good is that? – he can go to the top of the class) and the next morning we set off for Hampstead Town Hall for the tutti rehearsal. The full Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists. It’s always my favourite rehearsal – when the music finally gets put together. For my duet, it meant the chance to pair up our voices with the baroque oboes. One of the oboe players is Michael Niesemann who is also a wonderful Jazz saxophonist and has a very fluid and expressive tone whilst retaining a certain masculine vigour that all good sax players have. (Think Charlie Parker meets Cantata). Here he is rehearsing Bach’s Concerto for violin and oboe, BWV1060 with our leader Kati Debretzeni.
I thought I’d also share a YouTube video of the orchestra playing the Brandenburg Concerto no.2 in F Major featuring Michael and our fantastic principal trumpeter Neil Brough. It was recorded at the 2010 BBC Proms. There is an interesting introduction with our conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner at the beginning too. We are so privileged to work with this fantastic group of musicians!
Back to Hampstead – when I said tutti that wasn’t quite true, as quite a few other people that lived out of London didn’t manage to make it in. There were still no trains from many of the worst hit regions. My friend who lives in Brighton tried to come up the day before the tutti rehearsal and arrived at the station just after my train went. She waited until they told her there would definitely be no more trains that day – I was on the only train that went to London that day!
It was still not certain that the Eurostar would go but our travel agent was telling us that it hadn’t been cancelled so we should all turn up at St Pancras station as planned the next morning. There was a concert on the Saturday night and then we had an afternoon concert of different music by Bach – both at the Cité de la Musique. We then had to catch the Eurostar back to London. The Brighton crowd had already booked a hotel at Heathrow on the Sunday night as it was impossible to get home and then back to Heathrow for the early morning flight to Berlin on the Monday morning. The management were already thinking about doing the same for the whole orchestra, to be on the safe side.
Saturday morning came and by some miracle our train did go – although very slowly. We were so late that we had no time to go to the hotel and freshen up, eat or have a nap (the last choice always being my priority). We were taken on a bus straight to the hall for our rehearsal and then had less than an hour before the concert started to eat and change. Miraculously it all went well – I didn’t forget my aria, so I was relieved. I always try to sing solos from memory as, if I have the copy, not only do I find it hard not to look down, but the folders with all the choir music in are quite heavy. I find it hard not to get tense in my shoulders. Much better to put the music on the chair and walk calmly to the front – actually what happens is that I look calm but I’m secretly trying to stop my heart beating out on a stalk like a cartoon character. I’m usually fine once I’ve sung the first phrase.
After the show I went with ‘oboes and trumpet’ for a kebab and Turkish beer – high Paris cuisine indeed – and went to bed. Unfortunately, the next morning I was called to the hall early to be measured for my opera costume. The choir would be performing Le Freishuetz (yes in French with recitatives by Berlioz) at the Opera Comique in April 2011. I was pleased when they didn’t measure my thighs and did carefully measure my hands, as I took that to be a good sign that we would have period costumes and would get to wear a pretty, long dress with gloves……we’ll see!
We rehearsed the alternate Sunday programme and went straight into the concert. Afterwards, we had to carry our luggage and instruments (thank heavens I’m a singer!) and dash to the Gare du Nord on the Paris metro. The heavy traffic meant that the bus hadn’t arrived and we would miss the train if we waited. Also our tour manager had got the whole band onto an earlier Eurostar. They were all delayed, so it was our best chance to get to London before midnight. Exhausted, we finally got the the airport hotel and grabbed a few precious hour’s sleep. The check in time for Berlin was 08.30 but the snow had now turned to freezing fog and as we all sat wearily in the terminal, we couldn’t even see any planes through the window – it was so thick.
Our tour manager kept giving us updates and we wandered around the shops trying to fill the time. John Eliot had gone straight to Berlin to do some interviews and was anxiously wondering if his choir and orchestra would arrive at all. Finally, at about midday, our gate appeared on the board and we boarded. We sat on the runway for another hour but eventually did take off with the miracle of computer navigation – the pilot explained that this was perfectly safe but the time in between take off and landing had to be increased as there was literally no vision for the pilots. Hence the long delays. Not scary at all!
When we arrived in Berlin we realized that our Continuo (chamber organ) player had missed the flight – he’d just hadn’t noticed it appearing on the departures board. This was a disaster, as he had to buy another ticket. He would miss the rehearsal but hopefully make the concert – the cost was about three concert fees apparently – a very expensive mistake, meaning he might as well have stayed at home for the tour, which would have been cheaper. We would have certainly missed his wonderful playing though.
Everybody was very tired at the rehearsal and time and tempers were short. Unfortunately for me, we launched straight into my solo aria. John Eliot was gesturing to me to move during the introduction and when I started to sing I completely forgot my words. I was so tired and flustered that I couldn’t get back in. I had to turn round and shout “help” to team alto, who all sang out my part loudly from their seats. There was no time to go over the bit I’d forgotten and I was left feeling terrified that I would do the same thing in the concert. The concert was at the famous Berlin concert hall, the Philharmonie. We were singing Bach in German to a very discerning audience. There was only one thing for it – I had to go to the dressing room and sing that aria silently to myself a hundred times in the half an hour left before the concert. Not talk to anyone until I nailed it. My mood was lightened slightly when the poor Continuo player arrived just in the nick of time. The walk from the choir to the front of the stage during the Bass recitative seemed a mile long. So many things were going through my head and I had to summon up every bit of my performing experience and concentrate everything I had on delivering this music to the audience. None of whom knew anything of the traveling nightmares that had gone before – it was now only about Johann Sebastian Bach.
Thank goodness I got through it ok and as I walked back and sat down, I could feel the blood pumping in my ears and my hands shaking – my lovely alto colleagues were all sending waves of support through the ether. Here’s a picture of the soloists, choir and orchestra taking our applause. It’s taken by one of our great German supporters of the group. I’m in the middle.
I had to leave at 5.30am the next morning to catch a flight to Amsterdam but we were invited to a reception and I was so relieved that I got through it that I decided to go and sample a glass of good German wine. It was a fun event with a buffet of hot casserole and dumpling noodles followed by apple strudel. I got to bed at one thirty. Madness – I know.
Amazingly, the flight almost went on time to Amsterdam (those Germans certainly know about travel). I arrived at the hotel near to the Concertgebouw where our concert was as my colleagues were finishing their breakfast. I quickly checked in to catch an hour’s sleep and was woken by a text saying that our tenors hadn’t arrived from London because of fog, so the rehearsal with the conductor was cancelled. I could go back to sleep for as long as I needed as I didn’t have to work that day.
It was the most delicious nap ever!
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to know when I write a new article, don’t forget to add your email address to one of the boxes on the top right hand of this page. Then click on the link in the email you get from Feedburner to confirm your interest. Your email address is completely confidential.