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On Tour with the BBC SSO

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Johnny Laville Johnny Laville | 12:58 UK time, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The BBC SSO and Donald Runnicles have recently returned from a six-concert tour of Austria and Germany. Principal Second Violinist Greg Lawson was there and has written this blog about his experiences...


cello case

Greg Lawson

I'm home from the BBCSSO tour to Germany and Austria and this blog is more of a memory than a day by day account from the places we visited because I didn't take my laptop with me. Laptops on tour just add another layer of stress and keypads on iphones are just too small for my fingers to write anything of length.


I was going to take notes in the old fashioned way with a pen and paper, but being dyslexic, writing on a keyboard with spell checks is the only way I can disguise my issue with writing. If I was writing with pen and paper, the blog would be reduced to "i went to jermany.i saw a dog. isaw some sosijes.itwas cold.iplayed my violin and icame home" There, now you know! As it turns out, all of those things did happen, in fact, it's not a bad summary, but I cant just leave it there.

The first and last thing that struck me about the places we visited, was how tidy everything was. Not just the urban areas but the countryside. Fields looked combed not ploughed, with borders clipped to precision by teams of rural hairdressers. You can imagine the conversation would be almost the same as anywhere you meet hairdressers...almost...

Hairdresser: "So are your growing anything nice this year?"
Field: "Well due to EU Agricultural Standards Report on Soil Management, I'm on rotation this year so am looking forward to a bit of a rest."
Hairdresser: "Oh that sounds nice"
Field: "Yea, those root vegetables can really take it out of you!"
Hairdresser: "Oh tell me about it! They do dreadful things to your borders!"

It's the only explanation I can think of. Farms look the way things look after the cleaners have been in. Untouched. There are no plastic bags caught forlornly flapping in trees and fences and in more than one field, all the cows were facing the same way!! Is that normal? And all of this can be observed from the comfortable spacious seat of a bus or train. You can gaze confidently out of the window, observing the world from a place that is safe, constantly level and bump free. It's like looking through a Steady-Cam. Unlike the UK!

On German trains, you can observe the world gently slipping by through the window of optimism without fear of the vehicle falling into the bump of misfortune that sends your face lurching into the window to squash against it, leaving a nose smudge on the glass whilst simultaneously spilling your coffee.

The cities are very different too. They all seem to have been built with a sense of grandeur that is missing from our Sceptred Isle. The streets are great sweeping statements full of trams, buses, cars and people. Cycle lanes are everywhere, full of cyclists shouting at you because you're reading a map on what appeared to be a very generous sized pavement but is in fact a cycle autobahn.

BBC SSO truck

Mostly though, the tour went by with out me having to think very much about what I had to do other than play the violin. I have become used to a very different kind of touring with a quintet I play with called Moishes Bagel. Touring to us involves hiring a large van, driving from one end of the country to the other, unloading all the instruments and PA, building the stage, wiring everything up, sound-checking, playing a two and a half our gig, selling cd's, taking everything down again, loading it all back into the van, driving to a b&b, drinking some beer, falling asleep then getting up and doing it all over again for a couple of weeks.

In the BBC SSO there is a team of wonderful people who do all of the above for you except the playing and beer part. With the orchestra on tour I became a bit sheep like, wandering around without thought and wearing a kind of simplistic grin. I just spent my time following people on and off buses, in and out of hotels, around airports and on one embarrassing occasion into the women's toilets.

That brought me to my senses for a moment until I saw the back of someone else familiar so I followed them instead. They went into a cafe so I had some cake. It was great!! All I had to do was concentrate on the concert and follow the right people.

Touring abroad is really about travel though. There is very little time to see any of the city you're visiting and mostly after years of touring, the places you visit kind of merge into one vaguely familiar city and concert hall that you're not sure that you remember. You have to absorb what you can in a limited time through a kind of touring osmosis. Unless of course you're in Vienna, in which case you absorb it through cake!

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