On tour in Aberystwyth, Bangor and Wrexham

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The BBC National Orchestra of Wales' autumn/winter North Wales Tour (visiting Aberystwyth, Bangor and Wrexham), took place slightly later this year, taking us into the beginning of December.

During rehearsals for the tour, our office were manically checking the weather forecast; the torrential rainfall at the end of November that overtook much of north Wales threatened to make some areas unpassable or unreachable.

However, a drier patch of crisp, wintery weather enveloped the country, and we made our way north with a programme encompassing Grace Williams, Tailleferre, Ravel, and Vaughan Williams.

As ever, our first stop on the tour was Aberystwyth Arts Centre. In previous North Wales Tour blogs I have no doubt mentioned the fabulous gift shop, and the very comprehensive university bookshop that are in close proximity to the hall, and on this occasion it did not let me down as I managed to find the last bits and pieces for my goddaughter's Christmas box.

Opening the concert with Grace Williams' Sea Sketches allowed our strings to take centre stage. A four movement work, it gives the listener exactly what it suggests - a series of sketches of the sea in all its moods. The work is quite challenging ensemble wise, especially in the fast movements as it is texturally thick, and there is such juxtaposition between duple and compound rhythms that without due care it can become quite 'muddy' in sound.

We were then joined by harpist, Catrin Finch, for Tailleferre's Concertino for Harp. Scored for small orchestra and solo harp, it is very pretty and quite quirky in places.

Sitting back stage during the interval, most of the orchestra were bundled up in big coats and scarves, clutching cups of tea and coffee, and huddling together for warmth. Only much later did I discover that lovely, spicy, warming mulled wine was being served in the Arts Centre foyer!

The audience was treated to Ravel's gorgeous Introduction and Allegro after the interval, and then it was on to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony.

As the full orchestra took to the stage, it was with a pang of sadness that I realised this would - hopefully - be the last time, this year anyway, that we would see so many of our boys with such incredibly dodgy facial hair. A number of our men, led by horn player, health freak, and fitness masochist, Neil Shewan, have spent November sacrificing their dignity, and normally clean cut looks, in order to take part in Movember. Mighty have been their 'tasches, and great has been their cause!

It was only a short drive to the hotel, and it was lovely to have the opportunity to relax and catch up with colleagues over a glass of wine as between Children in Need, the Wales Millennium Centre open weekend, contemporary music weeks, and recordings, it has been quite a relentless few weeks. The following day would bring the drive to Bangor - beautiful scenery, terrible roads for bad travellers, and our second concert in the lovely Prichard-Jones Hall.

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