For a really long time this project had been standing out in my diary.
I was really looking forward to it and the many new experiences I hoped it would give me. I had never worked with Gustavo Dudamel before, and was very eager to find out what that was like. Also, I had never been to Barcelona, and it was my first tour coming back to the orchestra after my maternity leave. This tour turned out to be my first week away from my now one-year-old son. That was tough, but the week turned out to be as exciting – full of adventures – as I had hoped for and I can’t wait for the next Dudamel project. Although I missed my family, being away on tour gave me a chance to recharge my batteries and to see the world through a different lens for a week.
Barcelona! What a town, buzzing with energy, crowded with people, colourful street art and houses everywhere you look. And the food – one night we went to a very popular fish market restaurant. We had to wait in line outside on the street for a good half hour before we were even let in. But it was all worth it. In this small, over-crowded and really quite smelly eatery you got to pick whatever you fancied from a mountain of fresh seafood: razor clams, scallops, squids, octopus – you name it. With bread, salad and a glass of house white the meal was complete. Simple yet so delicious.
The tour was divided into two parts. The first one was an education/outreach project, namely recording and filming the orchestra together with Dudamel: a Virtual Reality film to show what it is like to be playing inside an orchestra and what it is like to be a conductor. You’ll learn more about the ideas behind the project in the upcoming months, but what I can already say is that I think it’s an ingenious idea: using high-tech tools to shed light on old art forms to a new audience. A fantastic way to spread our love for music making and inspire the next generation of performers and listeners. But stay tuned, this one is taking it all even a step further into the land of Virtual Reality!
So for first three days we found ourselves working on what seemed to be a movie set at the Liceu Opera House in the centre of Barcelona. Very exciting and unlike anything I’d done before! I couldn’t help reflecting on how we are used to a certain way of working together. Normally, our working space, while rehearsing for a regular concert programme, is more or less silent when we don’t play. You can kind of hear the concentration in the room. We all listen to and watch the one conductor; consequently, the collective awareness and energy are directed toward that same point in the room. When we play – but also when we don’t play – we are all focused on the same task. However, on this film set there were so many more people in charge: a massive production team of make-up artists, camera men and women, producers, the executive director, stage managers etc. Everybody seemed to be giving us, and each other, instructions simultaneously in between takes! There were big cameras and recording equipment to our left, right and centre and no music stands since we were all playing from memory: yes, we had to learn all the music by heart. It was quite a lot of time waiting around between takes as the “other side” was checking and re-checking how the last take had gone. The energy seemed to be flying around the room in all sorts of directions until there was one clear miked up voice announcing “Silence! Lights! Camera rolling... y... ACTION!!” Then there was a sudden overwhelming focus from the whole team as we played our music... until “cut, cut, CUT, confirm camera not rolling... ” and the frenzy would start all over again! A high level of collaborating in a slightly chaotic environment I would say – I have no doubt the end result will be spectacular!
The second part of the tour consisted of rehearsing at the Palau de Música in Barcelona in order to play a concert at the Festival Castell de Peralada, held at a picturesque castle in remote, rural Catalonia. We were back in our normal working environment so to speak, and it was very inspiring indeed to work with Dudamel. Although his English is not the best, he knows exactly what to say to make the orchestra understand that there is absolutely no way around doing what he wants! Leadership at its best. He has dynamite determination, he is constructively authoritative, and it’s all for the love of music.
On the Friday evening, the viola group decided to go for a dinner together. We found a cute little restaurant near the Palau... near the main tourist area of La Ramblas... which is notorious for its pick-pockets... so I should have known better... ah well... it started off great with even more fabulous seafood dishes, local wine... and just as the mouth-watering chocolate dessert arrived, suddenly – to my despair – I noticed that my handbag that I had placed between my feet was no longer there. Oh no! Never, ever bring your passport to dinner!! I felt so stupid and helpless... but lo and behold, I have the best colleagues in the world. They all escorted me to the police station in the middle of the night and helped me to go through that painful and surreal process of trying to list all the things you had in the bag. What would I have done without them?! I owe them big time.
The following day was concert day. Smile – the show must go on, and of course it does even without a viola player’s purse and phone... we performed Mendelssohn’s magical fairy music, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was recited beautifully in Spanish by Dudamel’s wife María Valverde. Luckily the big birds – I think it was a kind of heron – that had accompanied the rehearsal really loudly had gone to sleep by the time the performance started. After the intermission the orchestra was enforced with internationally selected students and we performed Mahler’s First Symphony together. It seems to be one of Dudamel’s many honourable legacies to emphasise the importance of passing on our traditions to younger generations in the best possible way. This evening was a very memorable concert even though it was an open air event and situated a two-and-a-half-hour’s bus journey away from Barcelona. Concerts in southern Europe often, as did this one, don’t start until 10pm... this is a not-so-very-glamorous side of life on tour: getting back to the hotel after a concert at 3am and then having to be at the airport in time for a flight at 8am (in this instance without a passport)... but, you win some, you lose some in life (even handbags); in order to get to play amazing music with fantastic musicians and good friends, a lack of sleep is a price I’m willing to pay. To be continued on the next tour!