Our indefatigable BBC Symphony Orchestra blogger Phil Hall takes us to the end of the Orchestra's Far East tour ... and home.
At Taipei airport I discover a new taste sensation: Bubble Tea. Basically iced tea with tea-flavoured tapioca pearls that you suck through a straw; truly a Taiwanese phenomenon. We land in Hong Kong and are held for 20 minutes while our visas for re-entry into China are obtained. The bus to Guangzhou takes over 4 hours and is driven by a frustrated rally driver. I notice upon leaving the Hong Kong/Chinese border that we go from driving on the left hand carriageway to driving on the right.
The hotel in Guangzhou is on a small island in the Pearl River - a romantic name for what is a wide, muddy and very busy waterway. It is also surrounded by old Colonial buildings most of which are in the process of being renovated and are mainly used now by Embassies. I walk down a side street and am surprised to hear Auld Lang Syne being hauntingly played on a Gourd Flute. I suppose that's quite appropriate for the end of a tour. The player segues effortlessly into a beautiful Chinese melody.
Our final concert takes place in the Xinghai concert hall which enjoys good acoustics (the halls in China have been uniformly excellent) although the extreme humidity outside mixed with the air conditioning plays havoc with oboe and bassoon reeds. After the short rehearsal there are speeches and votes of thanks by and to the management team and our superb crew of instrument handlers (who have seemingly limitless patience) and we are all invited for a drink after the concert near by the hotel. I do a short interview for Radio 3 to accompany the broadcasts of our tour concerts and head backstage for something to eat. An orchestra marches on its stomach and we all go bananas and crackers over an array of, er, bananas and crackers ...
Whenever we tour, our management travel early to the Hall and put up little notices to help us find our dressing rooms and stage entrances. This is incredibly useful as we have no time to get to know these frequently labyrinthine backstage areas. Often the signs are not without humour, such as the one on the left in the Chinese-style loos.
One of our clarinet player's mothers hails from the area and he warned us that the audience may be quite restless. He wasn't wrong. I don't think the talking actually ever stopped throughout the concert despite some shushing from other patrons.
Maybe they were discussing the discrepancy of our clarinet soloist Sabine Meyer's photo in the programme (which, weirdly, was in fact of one of her students!) But they are appreciative and after Brahms's Symphony No 4 we treat them to a Dvorak Slavonic Dance and a final Entry of the Gladiators by Fucik before Jiří (in a gesture I've never witnessed before), gives a flower from his bouquet to every female member of the orchestra. It takes him quite a few minutes to get round to everyone and the good people of Guangzhou are nearly clapped-out by the end!
The tour backs on to two weeks of annual leave for the orchestra which is fortunate in that it gives us time to recover from the jet lag. Like most people I personally suffer badly going East and inevitably find the first few concerts hard work. I remember floating through Strauss's Don Juan in the first concert of the tour in Korea a few years ago, a real out-of-body experience. I don't yet have a foolproof cure. Some drink whisky, others take sleeping pills. I try and adjust to the new time as soon as I'm on the plane. It's better going West but I still feel pity for our principal clarinet Richard Hosford, who upon landing at Heathrow at 5.30am goes straight to the Royal College of Music to do 8 hours' teaching. Rather him than me. I have the luxury of being met by my wife and driven home just in time to distribute presents, take my youngest to school and relax with a cuppa. It was a good trip but it's great to be back. I wouldn't swap that feeling for all the tea in China... Taiwan... Korea... or Japan.