More news from the BBC Symphony Orchestra on tour, with sub-principal viola Phil Hall
Orchestral players are creatures of habit. It is probably why we sign up to a life of practising, repetition and rehearsal in the first place. The BBC Symphony Orchestra has been coming to the Bavarian Spa town of Bad Kissingen almost every year for over 10 years, and yet again I find myself sitting at the same table, outside the same restaurant, ordering the same food (Pfifferlinge mushrooms) and drinking Apfelschorle, an apple juice and mineral water cocktail. But then may be it's the nature of this pleasant, sleepy town, two hours East of Frankfurt, where change only happens slowly - and that's the way the visitors since the time of Otto von Bismark, like it.
I get to the concert hall (the elegantly wood-panelled Regentenbau, 1914) and take my viola out of the flight case. We load the instruments into these heavy metal boxes for touring which in turn go onto the orchestra's handsome lorry. Sometimes string instruments can suffer from the changes in temperature whilst in transit and as I draw my bow across the C string (which has dropped a tone to B flat since I last played it) I'm greeted with a sound more akin to a bass vuvuzela than a viola. I wonder if the wood has come unstuck. I worryingly check the instrument over until I find the culprit - a loose string adjuster... and I can relax...
We rehearse Dvorak's Cello Concerto with the young German cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker followed by Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Nikolaj Znaider. He has the priviledge of playing on Fritz Kreisler's Guarnerius and boy, does it sound good. That's not strictly a fair comment - HE sounds good. Heifetz was once told that his violin sounded amazing. He lifted it up, put it to his ear and said: 'I don't hear anything!'
The next morning we rehearse for the evening concert and afterwards Jiri Belohlavek wishes us good luck for the England v Slovenia match that afternoon (he's worried that it'll be a bad concert if we lose!). Fortunately our boys come good and I celebrate with a dip in the hotel pool. We always stay in the same spa hotel which is pretty much full of octogenarians and their walking frames. In fact for years I thought the orchestra were the only people in the town under 70.
There are a few empty seats in the hall and I realise that Germany are playing their crucial game at 8.30. We skip through Kodaly's Dances from Galanta, Nicolaj Znaider turns out a stunner of a Beethoven concerto and follows it with, as he says to the audience, the only composer who could possibly be played after that concerto - Bach, whose Sarabande he plays exquisitely.
In the interval I nip to the nearest cafe to find out the latest football score and discover that it's nil-nil, or nul-nul as they say here. By the end of the concert, however, it becomes clear to us onstage that Germany have triumphed as during our second encore, the blare of car horns and shouting mingles with the Pizzicato Polka. I wonder if Bavarian Radio (who are recording the concert) will broadcast that...
As I munch my late-night steak, I'm informed that we'll now have to play Germany in our next game. There is pessimistic talk of England once again losing on penalties...and a gloom descends... but Norbert, our German principal viola isn't worried, he has a foot in both camps.