Archive for October, 2012

The Safe Haven of the Stage

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

I find increasingly that being on stage is like a sanctuary. It feels strange but is palpable. Last week I was playing with Julian Joseph at the Bonn BeethovenFest in one of the best chamber halls around – the BeethovenHaus (next to where  Ludwig was born). We played a programme of Brazilian songs peppered with Julian’s own classic compositions and some improvisations. And I felt so incredibly happy throughout – I wonder if it is simply the joy of being in the moment, which, if you’re playing music properly, is the only place you can be.

And this week I’ve been in Madrid playing Brett Dean’s extraordinary score to Jiri Kylian’s equally profound ballet, and as the first notes of the electronic accompaniment to my on-stage solo cello begin to sound it is as though I sink into a dream world, that is, I suppose, art. It is a world that gives such strength, meaning and beauty that is sustains you back into ‘real’ life. It truly inspires. All the problems of trying to get cellos on aeroplanes, of being given a hotel room smaller than a hamster cage with a window that doesn’t open looking out on to a concrete wall (managed to get upgraded to a suite! Joy!), and of having taxi drivers interrogate you (I must have answered the question about how long I’ve been playing the cello 1000s of times – I really understand why Van Morrison has on his rider that his driver must be able to speak English, but must not do so unless addressed!).

And this is why live performance is so wonderful – this kind of experience is so much harder to get with recorded music. It’s why we must always be working to get the message across that live music is a necessity, not a luxury.

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The life of a travelling musician

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Today I got up at 6 after 5 hrs sleep, and had decided that I was going to try taking the tube to City airport, as that journey by car at rush hour could be getting on for 2 hours, and was only an hour by tube. But my suitcase, with Ring Cycle scores (what an idiot) to study before I go to Covent Garden later this month weighed 28kg (more of that later), and it was raining heavily. I pondered walking to a black cab, or ordering Addison Lee, but decided to stick by my plan and hope for the best. I got soaked on the way to the tube, and the journey was exhausting, dragging everything up and down stairs with 2 changes, but I survived. But what was upsetting me was my phone (yes, you did read that – a grown man, upset by his phone). I decided to buy the iPhone 5 yesterday as my old one was totally wiped (I tried many things, but there was just no way to get the info back – even the Apple shop couldn’t help, as they were too busy being the largest company on the planet), so I went to the O2 shop, discovered that I can get one quite cheap as I’m due and upgrade, but they were sold out. Went to the Apple Shop, sold out. So I have to wait for 2 weeks while I’m on tour. But the real problem is the syncing. OK, I’ve lost all my music and texts, but the worst thing is that I simply cannot get any contacts on the phone at all! Unbelievable! So I have no phone numbers or anything, can’t go online (no email or safari). So I had to input by hand all the numbers for my daughter, her school and a couple of physios who I had to call to make an appointment for her etc. So I have all these ‘recently dialled numbers’ with no names by them to call, and have to try and remember which one belongs to whom. I got a text today ‘ so sorry not to get back to you, I’ll email later’; no idea who it’s from, as it is just a number. And they didn’t email back anyway.

Then at City Airport (8am, already need to lie down) they weigh my luggage and it’s too heavy so they want to charge £70 (there goes that cab fare I saved), and I ask them to be kind because my cello only weighs 6kg and doesn’t have a suitcase (a normal ticket easily creates a weight of 100kg: 80kg for a person + 20kg for the suitcase, and my cello ticket creates a weight of 6kg, saving them on fuel costs)….but can they? Of course they can’t! Even though they say they totally agree with me, the computer will say no…. So they offer that I can wait 30′ to speak to the supervisor, but it’s too late – I’ll miss the flight. So I take out the Siegfried score to make it a bit lighter (now my hand luggage is SO heavy), and pay £55 and off I go. Half way through the security queue and I suddenly realise that I’ve forgotten to ask them to check my luggage all the way to Madrid, with all the fuss about the overweight. So I have to struggle contraflow through the queue to the check-in desk, where, miraculously, my case is still on the carousel, and re-check it to Madrid. The supervisor then turns up, and even she doesn’t let me get a refund as she also has no power! Insects the lot of them. By this point my stomach is in knots, and I hate the world. At security they try and put my cello in one of the plastic trays. A 140cm cello in a 40cm tray? That’s not going to work. I complain, he insists threateningly, I stand back, satisfied, and watch him fail. Further down (and unrelated: she didn’t see my complaint and want revenge, it is simply my karma today), the dear lady decides to check my hand baggage for a random check on the laptop. Surprisingly they discover that it isn’t an atomic weapon.

So I wait for the flight feeling totally depressed, and bitterly regretting being so nice to Bonn festival as to offer to save them money and go via Frankfurt from City. Yes, I could have avoided all this by being tougher on a change of travel arrangements… What the fuck? I need help! Hopeless, hopeless idiot.

And guess what, the flight is delayed, and I have only 70′ to change flights in one of Europe’s biggest airport. Great. Finally we get going, and they tell me that we will make up time…but we don’t. I check my (unfriendly, ugly, impersonal – where’s my wallpaper gone?) iPhone as we get into the terminal building, and it’s 12.05. My flight is at 12.45 and the moronic aphids at City couldn’t check me in all the way to Madrid, so I even have to check-in. In a bit of a panic I go to the transit desk where a nice chap explains that it’s OK, I can just go straight to gate A30 and they’ll take care of me – I presume it’s a new efficient German way of doing things. Phew, I think, not remembering that the whole world is against me, and scurry off, cello banging on my back, Siegried jogging on my shoulder, sweating, wondering what is the meaning of life. I am stressed, but determined to get this flight: I go through passport control, run past all the shops selling essential travel accessories, and get to the security queue for the A part of the terminal. They tell me that the worm on the transit desk gave me the wrong information, that I do have to check-in, and it’s very unlikely I will make the flight. So I run to first class check in, and they check me in superfast telling me I should be OK. I reward the lady with my first smile of the day, and run off again. Manage to get through security (although apparently I stood too close to the man in front of me in my hurry: “Are you together?” me: “No” “Well stand back please” “I’m really late for my flight” “It’s not my problem” “That’s nice”.) and head down to A30, approximately 7km walk, to find a giant queue and total chaos – the Madrid flight is also delayed. At least that gives me time to make some phone calls, as my daughter has texted me, desperate to know if she is going to Totnes tomorrow for treatment. I call the physio, and he still has the 4pm slot. So I call school to make the appropriate arrangements for Nadia to travel (while I’m on the phone someone taps me on the shoulder – I’m about to turn around and glare, fiercely, and a nice man hands me my passport that had fallen on the floor. Well of course it would, wouldn’t it?), and he’s happy for Nadia to go tomorrow. I just need to make all the arrangements. I can’t book the tickets from my phone because I can’t get online, so it will have to wait until I get to the Madrid hotel. In order to buy the tickets that Nadia can pick up, I have had to leave my credit card at home on my desk, so Nadia will have to go home to pick that up first to use it to retrieve the tickets at Paddington, and then off she goes. That’s not at all complicated is it?

So now I’m on the flight to Madrid, just halfway through the day – oh, the glamour of international travel. Apart from all that, it’s been a lovely day so far.

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