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Andy Wood Andy Wood | 15:04 UK Time, Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Keith Lockhart


Blog editor Graeme Kay writes: The BBC Concert Orchestra is currently on a gruelling tour of the USA, with American conductor Keith Lockhart. Keith become the band's seventh principal conductor in August 2010; for the last 15 years he has also been the conductor of the renowned Boston Pops. As part of its annual programme, the BBC CO usually undertakes one extended tour: the current US tour was suggested by Keith Lockhart's US management company, Columbia Artists' Management Inc. (CAMI), but the length of it - 15 concerts over 20 days - is unusual. A number of factors brought this about: the Concert Orchestra is currently 'homeless', pending the refurbishment of its performing base at the Watford Colosseum; and the idea of an extended US tour of broadly 'core classical' concerts allowed CAMI to fulfil a need among promoters, with the added benefit that Keith Lockhart - who has a Boston Pops following - would be able to introduce a wider repertoire to his fans. As the BBC Concert Orchestra's general manager Andrew Connolly explains, 'The Concert Orchestra is slightly smaller than symphony orchestras, so we had to find repertoire that would be attractive to the US presenters as part of their 'serious' orchestral series - but also be achievable with an orchestra of around 60.  The two main programmes were reasonably easy to formulate - "The Firebird" actually working very well in the smaller version for us. More time was spent deciding the tour encores in fact!'

Andy Wood, a bass player in the Concert Orchestra, now continues his fascinating Blog chronicling life at the sharp end of the tour ...


Fair to say that we're pretty well immersed (submerged, sinking without trace) in local culture now. The limitless refill cokes, pizza slices, 15-egg omelettes, maple syrup and execrable beer are starting to take their toll. If only my mind were being expanded as much as my waistline.

While in polite conversation with the locals in a wee bar it took four of us numerous attempts to not answer the question 'So where are you guys headed next?' Er... Newport News... No, Fairfax. No – that's where we are now. No, it's not, that's where we were yesterday. Really? Half past two. Sorry, what was the question?

The only way of really knowing where you are is by reading the changing names on the t-shirts for sale in each gas station.


The familiar plaintive cry goes up. A moment's pause before the carefully considered response: comatose. This is definitely starting to feel a bit like hard work. Hope you're still making use of the interactive guide. If not, I'll help you catch up a bit. We've done a few more shows. Annapolis, Newport News and Danville are receding rapidly in the rear view mirror, or as rapidly as US speed limits and poxy buses allow. We even had a day off. Show 8 looms: Greenville, South Carolina – so now you know.

Alumni Hall, US Naval Academy

Alumni Hall, US Naval Academy

Annapolis was... interesting. We played the Alumni Hall at the US Naval Academy for an audience of baby American sailors... Now the Alumni Hall sounds reasonably plush so I feel obliged to point out that it wasn't. More particularly, what we played in was an acoustic shell set up on a basketball court. It was a bit like playing in a tupperware box, though our performance was not necessarily kept at its most crisp and fresh. Even so, solo pianist Ilya Yakushev did his stuff, winning round an initially lukewarm audience with his customary zeal. The conclusion: one of the warmer receptions for a Russian at an American military institution...

We rang the changes concerning travel arrangements the other day, just to keep everyone on their toes. Two flights in one day, which was... er... nice (?) That brought us as far as Lexington, Kentucky - a sixth state in seven days - where we more or less settled down: some 60 hours in the same place. I am reliably informed that a good time was had (and then mostly lost in a dim haze) by all. 

Just to prove we haven't gone soft on our day off we're warming up for this evening's gig in habitual style with another seven-hour bus journey – whoop di doo – and to cap it all, even the trees are starting to look a bit ropey.

Well, that was all very factual and not terribly interesting reading – er, sorry about that, but the tour has entered that 'daily grind' stage. Though obviously we are still enjoying ourselves. We're pros after all – we can make our own fun from all manner of unpromising situations – bit like being on stage really ...


I'm trying to sell a flat, you know. I only mention that as a little reminder that somewhere out there is a real world. A real world that none of us are having too many hands-on dealings with at the moment. The occasional phone call from reality: the boiler's broken; your mother's ill; hello, dear; the kids are missing you terribly...

And so... a moment's introspection, casting your mind back across the water. But you're powerless to do anything. You can't make the days go any faster or bring that reality any closer. All you can do is smile. Make the best of it. Shake yourself from that reverie. Just get used to your responsibility-free zone and put your feet up for a while. Perhaps another margarita. Cheers. It's not always as easy as it sounds.


Rumour has it that my relentless lightness of touch and joie de vivre can at times fall victim to misinterpretation. So much so that in some instances it has even been thought of as tinged with sarcasm.

Well let's step away from my writing for a bit and allow a couple of others a go. This idea, incidentally, became popular in 20th century literature. One of the best examples coming from John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, where in Chapter 18 (or 13, I forget) he steps out of the world of his characters and plot and starts to question as himself. This kinda mirrored the way society had gone. In the 19th century, the world was one of belief and acceptance, certainly compared to the 20th at any rate. By the time Fowles was writing, every answer merely gave rise to new questions and so the role of the omniscient author was anachronistic. A more fragmentary approach to writing seemed fitting.

Anyway, I digress – which seems unlike me. Some words from others, kicking off with Paul Hyde, arts writer for the Greenville News taken from the Sunday 14 November, 2010 edition:

'radiant performance' 
'an evening of world-class music making'
'power and precision that was often breathtaking'
'sheer beauty of tone'

Well, isn't that nice?


Ilya Yakushev

Ilya Yakushev

And our soloist? Ilya proved himself to be 'bold and nuanced' – something that was clear to us after just one evening in the pub. As for his 'marvellously sensitive and introspective' second movement – well, 'nuff said. Ackshuly, not quite. The review of our Danville concert made the observation that 'Usually, it is preferable to be seated where you can watch a piano soloist’s hands. But it was a pleasure to be facing Yakushev and witnessing how absorbed he was, not only in the piano challenge the composer presented him, but also in the work the orchestra was doing behind him. And this orchestra worked.'

And as for my own simpleton's understanding of music? That's coming on a treat: 'Hey Ilya, what was that encore you played that sounded a bit like Bach only better?' 'Hey man, it was the slow movement from Marcello's oboe concerto in d minor arranged by Earl Wild...' 'Course it was... 'course it was...'
More pertinently, what it was, was stunning.


After close discussion and debate with Maestro Keith, I feel obliged to pass on the following amendments (see previous blog for reference).

1. 'The house in Utah was gorgeous, and I never renovated the kitchen because, as you correctly surmised, I never sullied it by actually cooking in it. There was plenty of space, though, for a great renovation. So there.'

2. 'Execrable beer? The beer's good. I've seen you enjoying several beers...'  No, no, you've seen me painstakingly searching for a good one...

Jeez, everyone's a critic... It's not as if I've started making any suggestions on conducting....


D'you know, I think we've really broken the back of the tour now. All good from here. Gig 9 looms... that's past halfway. And we get the same hotel for two nights. The Ritz Carlton in Atlanta – v. swanky – there's even a chandelier in the elevator. And the towels? Huge, luxurious fluffy white things bearing the hotel crest... I can barely shut my suitcase ... (only kidding) ...


Athens... an apt name for the site of an event that will become the stuff of legend. Concert 9, Hugh Hodgson Hall, Performing Arts Centre, University of Georgia. The Russian Programme.

I don't need any graduates from the American School of Journalism and Excessive Eulogising to tell you about this one. I'll do it meself: Nailed it. Not just 'good' or 'average' - you know, the sort of thing that keeps the punters happy. But: nailed it. A rare thing that makes even an orchestra happy. By my reckoning that means I should get to keep half my record collection...


  • Comment number 1.

    Great news that the orchestra is surviving the mundanity of life on the road and receiving such favourable news for their performances. Even if the quality of local beverages falls short of Mr Wood's witty chronicle.


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