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Chinese tour diary, part two

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 11:00 UK time, Thursday, 12 July 2012

After a morning of haggling in the silk markets, finally finding a decent coffee, and negotiating the intricacies of the Beijing metro (remarkably like London Underground, though less creaky), our coaches departed for our next venue.

Our second and third concerts were held in the Opera House of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing. I'm not sure if I have the vocabulary to express quite how remarkable a building this is. The architecture is stunning, and the vast backstage areas are frankly labyrinthine. Along with the endless corridors of black marble front of house, the structure gives the impression that one could bump into a Minotaur, or some other mythical beast around any of the corners!

The exterior resembles some form of extra-terrestrial space hopper rising out of a lake of constantly moving water. Much of the theatre is subterranean, so in one of the (many) entrance halls, you look up to the sky lights, expecting to see the hazy Beijing firmament, but instead see the water of the lake flowing over the glass above your head.

As Saturday's programme was identical to the previous night's, rehearsal was a brief affair, giving us a nice long dinner break. Many of the orchestra are very committed to trying as much local cuisine as possible, and trips to McDonald's and Starbucks are met with a great deal of teasing! I had brought a packed dinner with me (or rather, I'd ended up with so much food at lunch time that I had to request a doggy bag) and so took the opportunity to have a little relax with a leisurely cup of jasmine tea and a crossword!

The auditorium of the opera house is cavernous, but again the audience turnout was remarkable, filling the tiers upon tiers of seats. It was quite exciting to know that we were live on Chinese television and radio, in addition to being streamed live on the internet!

p>Sunday's concert was the first outing of our second programme. It opened with the impossible not to sway along to overture to Strauss' Die Fledermaus (a real earworm for me), followed by Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. The soloist was our own Rob Plane, and his playing was as beautiful as it always is.

In this programme we also perform Wu Xing (The Five Elements) by Qigang Chen, one of China's foremost contemporary composers. Those who attended the 2012 Vale of Glamorgan Festival will already be familiar with his work. I really like his writing - it's exotic and suggestive music, subtly evocative of Eastern sounds whilst fully utilising the large Western symphonic orchestra.

For me the highlight of this concert was Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition. I've always loved this work and Ravel's orchestration renders the character of each movement in technicolour.

After that, it was back to the hotel to watch the Wimbledon final. There was a good bit of friendly banter between our Swiss principal conductor, Thierry and, well, everyone else regarding the match's outcome!


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