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BBC SO in Taiwan - It ain't half hot, mum!

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Phil Hall Phil Hall | 14:47 UK Time, Friday, 28 May 2010

BBC Symphony Orchestra sub-principal viola Phil Hall continues his blog from the orchestra's Far East tour

When the orchestra travels to the Far East we have a well-detailed tour schedule full of local background information courtesy of the mandarins (sorry) at the BBC and the Foreign Office. I notice that we are touring a part of the world frequently beset by national disasters: earthquakes in Japan, typhoons in Korea, mudslides in China and tropical storms in Taiwan. It can also get pretty bumpy flying around here too and we experience about 3 hours of bad turbulence between Beijing and Hong Kong, upsetting some of the passengers. We are in transit for a few hours before catching a shorter flight to Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second city and harbour.

taiwan1b.jpgThe heat and humidity is sauna-esque and I'd forgotten about the swarms of scooters that plague the country, sometimes three people to one bike. They do not believe in pavements in Taiwan we are forced into the road and frequently mown down.)

We go out into the night and dine on street food, some of which we cannot accurately identify. The pièce de resistance is one of nature's most malodorous fruits, the Durian, which, as a consequence, is banned in most public buildings. It smells putrid and tastes like a cross between stewed apple and diesel, but mainly diesel....

  taiwan2b.jpgThe next morning I head out on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to the Lotus Pond north of the city which is surrounded by Temples and gates. A peaceful contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city centre. At the MRT station I see the BBC SO playing on a TV screen - an advert for our evening concert which is also being shown outside the hall to 10,000 people.

The audience inside the hall is very warm. On stage it's even hotter.  There are reports of violin varnish melting and lots of players have sunburn, me included. We play Elgar's 'In the South' and I suppose it must be that time of the tour as I feel a twinge of homesickness at this little piece of England in Taiwan.

taiwan3b.jpgThat evaporates however when we play Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 as immediately I'm put in mind of the '70's sit-com,  It Ain't Half Hot Mum and I start chuckling to myself. Our newest recruit Joe Atkins (2nd Trumpet - pictured, left) already looks like he's been in a Burmese jungle for far too long.

The high speed train ride north to Taipei the next morning is accompanied by heavy rain (something we haven't had since Tokyo) and our randomly appointed seating allows me to catch-up with some people I haven't spent much time with thus far. Tours are useful for getting to know one's colleagues better or for clearing the air. On the other hand after 2 weeks of such close proximity - eating, playing and travelling next to one another- even one's closest friends can become trying...(or so my closest friends tell me).

The Chiang-Kai Shek concert hall is vast but with a good, lively acoustics. But during Prokofiev's 5th Symphony I hit a low. There is always one on a long tour and after all the late nights and early starts my body was running on empty and I have to fight to stay on my perch. The audience is very appreciative and upon leaving the stage door I notice a long line of people queueing for autographs in the rain. All I can think about however is the 6 am start tomorrow for Hong Kong and my bed. Well, ok, maybe ONE beer ...  

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