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Life after Cybermen with the National Orchestra of Wales

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 15:10 UK Time, Monday, 9 August 2010

From Daleks to Diamonds, viola player Laura Sinnerton spills the beans on what the National Orchestra of Wales have been up to since the Dr Who Prom in early August.




It's been a busy few months. Doctor Who Proms (Cybermen and Daleks in the flesh...um...metal - very exciting), regular Proms, a fantastic tour of Mid & North Wales for pupils from special schools and recording the amazing Nitin Sawhney's scores for the upcoming BBC series The Human Planet (can't wait to see it - looks fab).  Annual leave has been lingering like a mirage on the horizon, but now it's almost here!  Just a small matter of a few concerts in Amsterdam with our principal conductor, Thierry Fischer first...



Early on Tuesday evening we arrive at AmsterdamSchipolAirport.  The journey notable for its lack of eventfulness. After a quick freshen up in our hotel we head off to find a nice place to eat and relax. Amsterdam Tip No 1: if you like steak, you have to go to Cau on Damstraat! It's really lovely to get a chance to have a leisurely meal with colleagues, especially in such an eclectic group that crosses the string/brass divide. Eating together usually involves a certain degree of clock watching - there's nothing worse than being half way through a chicken biryani and realising you've only fifteen minutes to get on stage!




NOW_rehearsal2.jpgWEDNESDAY 4 AUGUST


We also have Wednesday morning free (spoilt rotten we felt!), so us girlies head to the Anne Frankhuis. What a humbling, thought provoking experience.  By the time we're leaving the Heavens open.  Now, don't judge us, but we end up sheltering from the torrential downpour in the Coster Diamond House.  Considered asking Byron, our Orchestral Manager, what the chances were for an advance.  Gwen (1st violin) had to be dragged kicking and screaming from a beautiful emerald surrounded by little diamonds. We eventually arrive at the Concertgebouw looking like drowned rats - oh the glamour!


I know everyone says it, but I have to say it again - the Concertgebouw is stunningly beautiful and it has such a warm, golden sound.  What a privilege to play here!  Rehearsal goes smoothly enough, although it takes a little while to get seated comfortably as it's quite cosy on the stage in the strings. My desk partner Jim (viola, obviously!) and I are up on a riser - note to self, do not mess up any bowings!


After a quick bite to eat (well, I say quick - I ordered a cheese panini and forty-five minutes later got a cheese ciabatta), it's back to the Concertgebouw to prepare for the concert. 


For me, there's always something very special about the moments before a performance that I love.  Putting on your concert dress, putting on your make up, warming up ... everyone has their own personal little way of preparing for the concert to come.  I really need my little bit of 'me' time before the concert as the last few hectic months in work have definitely caught up with me. You know when you're so tired you're not too sure if you can physically drag your own body to wherever you are supposed to be?



It's fantastic to have such a full audience (nothing worse than playing to a lot of empty seats, though that seems to be the case in a lot of cities now) and the concert has a lovely atmosphere.  Our Welsh soloists in the first half, Llyr Williams for Beethoven Piano Concerto No 3 and harpist Catrin Finch (great dress as usual) in Danses Sacree et Profane by Debussy, have a very warm reception. I feel the Debussy in particular has some really beautiful colours.  Quick interval and it's game on for Saint-Saëns No 3!  Huw Williams (organ) gives the Concertgebouw organ a good airing and in what feels like a very short period of time, concert number 1 is drawing to a close.  We get a standing ovation and Thierry has to make the long walk down the Concertgebouw stairs several times. Rather him than me, especially in the heels I had rather inadvisably decided to wear.




Thursday morning dawns wet and grey, but by the time we've sorted ourselves out it's shaping up into a rather beautiful day.  Thanks to a tip off from Vickie Ringguth (2nd violin) we've pre-booked tickets for the Van GoghMuseum. Which brings me to Amsterdam Tip No 2: Prebook tickets and feel exceptionally smug as you waltz to the front of the queue!  We enjoy a nice light lunch and head for the Concertgebouw.


Thursday's rehearsal is tinged with a little sadness as the evening concert is the last time Rob Goodhew (bass trombone) will play with the orchestra.  The rehearsal moves along fairly quickly, mostly balance checking for Bolero, topping and tailing the Brahms (Symphony No 4) and a quick tidy up of the seriously funky Flute Concerto by Ibert, with amazing soloist Emmanuel Pahud.


Concert time arrives and it's great seeing the hall so well filled.  We kick off with Ravel, with our percussionist Mark Walker taking the lead on the snare drum.  I don't always enjoy Bolero, but the Concertgebouw acoustic is so generous it really sounds fantastic - I get quite carried away with some of my pizzicato!  After that comes the Ibert Flute Concerto. I've secretly been dreading this because I've always found Ibert really tricky and in the rehearsals I had found it very difficult to feel settled in the work.  Somehow tonight I survive unscathed!  Mr Pahud plays fantastically (as always) and the audience reaction is a testimony to how wonderful a musician he is.  I really love his encore too, the Ballade by Frank Martin.  I'm quite partial to a bit of Frank Martin really. 


bass_box_phonepic.jpgInterval time and the talk backstage mostly circles around the topic of 'one more hour and we are on annual leave' as well as myself, Claire (bass), Gwen (1st Violin) and Arlene (Sub-Principal Trombone) taking photographs of ourselves emerging from Claire's bass box.  Very mature, I know, but also exceedingly funny!



Brahms' Fourth Symphony has my favourite Brahms' first movement and the strings are sounding really lush.  The rest of the work seems to pass really quickly and with the closing chords, that's it!  Once again, there's a wonderful audience reaction (Dutch audiences are so appreciative!) and we're done.  Concert clothes back into wardrobe boxes and instruments in instrument boxes ready for our amazing, tireless stage and transport managers, Andy Smith and Mark Terrell, to load onto the van and drive back to Cardiff.






This has been such a civilised tour, even our departure time is at a human hour for a change.  Again, a very easy journey and before we knew it, we're back in Heathrow waiting for the coaches to take us back to Cardiff.  It's been a lovely few days and a very nice way to round off the season.  We hit the ground running when the new season starts in September with another Prom quickly followed by Mahler 1 and 3 and a LOT of recording, so for now, I shall sign off.  Turn the kettle on and pass me my summer read novel - I'm on holiday now!




  • Comment number 1.

    A very entertaining account, Laura. You've reached some dizzying heights since ELLSO!

    Richard (one of your ex-pupils)

  • Comment number 2.

    Laura - delighted to read your lively, informative blog and to learn of the development of your career since your days as an undergraduate student at UUJ. There is a great sense of satisfaction and pride when I learn of your achievements as a viola player in the competitive world of professional orchestral playing.

    Every good wish for the future.

    (Retired lecturer, now living on the North Coast)


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