Chinese tour diary, part three
Monday dawned another travel day, but there was time for a little last minute sightseeing. First violin Sam Wickramasinghe and I headed to the Temple of Heaven, and after the swarming crowds outside the Forbidden City and in Tian'anmen Square, this proved an oasis of tranquility.
At lunchtime, we were coached to Beijing South Railway Station for our journey to Shanghai on the new bullet train. It has halved the journey time and got up to 304km an hour!
It is inevitable that in a country as vast as China, you get tour days like this. Days where nothing really happens, just horrible amounts of time sitting in one place waiting to arrive somewhere. I find days like this more tiring than days involving full rehearsal and concert. I hate that grubby, sticky, stuck in an airless space that doesn't have enough legroom feeling, and so, after another hour in a coach, I was very glad to reach our next hotel. Especially as it was a very nice hotel indeed. My room had more rooms than my flat in Cardiff!
As it would take 24 hours for the instruments to travel from Beijing to Shanghai, Tuesday was by necessity a free day. This mostly involved shopping, with Claire Dibble (bass) proving an expert haggler. I am rubbish at it.
A great privilege of touring is the opportunity to explore places you might otherwise never have the opportunity to visit, and for me, one of the highlights of the day was a river boat cruise along the Bund at dusk. The Shanghai skyline is quite a sight, with traditional Chinese, and old European style buildings, nestling alongside the most modern structures imaginable (one of which was designed by second violin, Katie Littlemore's father!). The lights of the city are spectacular, making London's Piccadilly Circus seem a little dimly lit.
BBC National Orchestra of Wales performing in Shanghai
I really enjoyed our Shanghai concerts. The auditorium was, if not noisy, certainly restless by Western concert hall standards. People walk around taking photos, people don't turn their mobiles off (apparently it is a tradition for a mobile to ring during the horn solo in Firebird), and there is no concept of waiting for the final chords to die away before applause begins. And yet, despite this, and I am sure many of my colleagues would agree, the sincerity and genuine excitement of the audience was both humbling and inspiring.
Bolero is a work that is perhaps overly-familiar to Western ears. However, never before have I heard an audience clap along to it, sing along - genuinely get proper carried away with it. In a country where the people are marked by their reserve and demureness, it is quite something to watch a middle aged man throw his inhibitions to the wind, and dance in the balcony like no one is watching him!
I really loved Shanghai as a city, and would love to come back again. However, it was soon time for the orchestra to roll on to the next city - Shenzen!