On tour with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales - Part 1
Rob Gibbons, viola, arriving for a rehearsal looking very cool
BBC National Orchestra of Wales viola player Laura Sinnerton reports from the front line of concert halls and cake shops in North Wales
Thursday 17th March
Every year, as part of our role as Wales’s National Orchestra, we undertake a series of concert tours to the north of the country. It’s really lovely for us to be out of the studio (though the bright, natural light hurts the eyes for a little while) and it feels so important to be able to take good concerts to towns that are so far away from Cardiff. This time, along with conductor, Christophe Mangou and violin soloist, Jack Liebeck, we head off for four concerts with two different programmes to Aberystwyth, Bangor, Wrexham and Llandudno. In order to keep our travelling to a minimum, us girlies have rented a lovely cottage in Llandudno and I arrive at our meeting point armed with a vegetarian lasagna and a lemon meringue for dinner tonight as well as flapjacks for the journey (Sinnerton Home Industries was in full operation last night).
One of the major downsides to a North Wales Tour is the drive to the first venue. Not so much the length of drive, but rather the nature of it as while North Wales has some of the most stunning scenery in Britain, it also has some of the windiest roads! This is an issue, as despite trying (what feels like) every remedy known to man, I still suffer from travel sickness. My poor mother, in desperation, took me to our family doctor about this issue when I was still quite young, when even the shortest of journeys had become a distinct possibility for vomitus unexpectedus. Our GP said I would grow out of it, but now as a living, breathing and sadly still being forced on to various types of motorised vehicles, adult musician, I can confirm that he blatantly lied. Ensconced in the front passenger seat, cradling the lasagna for tonight’s dinner, staring straight ahead, I yearn for the day I master the use of the Force and can just BE there! We eventually stagger out of the car at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, feeling rather queasy.
Rehearsal is a short affair, mostly topping and tailing, reacquainting ourselves with the acoustics and sorting out space issues on the stage. Then it’s off to the Uni canteen, always a highlight on North Wales for the tasty food. Sometimes, it is difficult to fill the gap between rehearsal and concert in a venue outside a town centre, but Aberystwyth has a lovely little gift shop, a very comprehensive book shop (I can hear my mother reaching for the phone to remind me I’m saving for a new bow as I type the words ‘book shop’) and at present is hosting the BP Portrait Artists 2010 Tour. Thus, the time flies by and I solemnly swear to my mother that although I bought more than one book it was less than five and one was on sale so in a way I saved money.
Trumpeters Philippe Schartz and Rob Samuel before a rehearsal
Tonight’s programme starts with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, the highlight of which is obviously the viola melody and is well received by the audience (they liked all of it, not just the viola melody). This is followed by Chausson’s Poeme and Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with our soloist. After the interval, it’s Franck's Symphony in D Minor. This symphony is a good fun play for us violas; we get some more tunes (I believe that for a work to be considered a good work there should be at least one viola tune) and lots of good, meaty, middle of the harmony bits too. I find myself really getting into it and it's over all too soon. The audience is very appreciative and it's time to continue the journey to our cottage in Llandudno - another two-and-a-half hours of car journey torture!
About an hour into our journey we rather suddenly come across a Road Ahead Closed sign. Not really one of the ‘Top Ten Things I Like To See at 11.30 pm’ on a dark night, in the middle of nowhere, when the car thermometer is reading ... 2.5. We attempt to find an alternative route, but SatNav Lady continues to exhort us to turn around with what feels like ever-increasing irritation and intensity. This is, without a doubt, the oh-so-glamourous side of musical life the public never see. I really think the Associated Board should consider adding a map-reading element to their grade exams, or at least to Grades 6 - 8, as it becomes an integral part of your working life when you least expect it. We are by now on the unique type of country road that you only ever come across in the dead of night - no lighting, no signs, no boundaries and no other weary travelers. I’m deeply regretting having watched a Jeepers Creepers sequel a few nights previously when an owl suddenly swooshes across our path and the lasagna (still cradled on my knee) nearly ends up plastered over the front window. We do eventually arrive in Llandudno and our wonderful landlord, Mark, has left the heating on for us and we get settled in before finally eating the lasagna.
The second part of Laura's Blog will be published tomorrow.