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For whatever reason, so much seems larger-than-life on this tour, whether it's on a grand or intimate scale: The audiences, rapt with attention and then tumultuous with applause. And then a casual encounter with a concertgoer coming to the stage and welcoming me to town. Shopping in the endless, dizzying halls at Selfridges in London, and then happening upon a tiny icon sale at a Russian Orthodox church next door to our Paris concert hall. (It's not so easy understanding Russian spoken with a French accent.) Being overwhelmed by an enormous Giacometti show at the Pompidou and a few days later discovering the perfection of the small Courtauld gallery in London.
Everywhere the people are welcoming and enthusiastic, to the point where they've gone completely against type, as in the Parisian waiter who insisted on standing outside — for some time — on a cold night to hail us a taxi after a marvelous cassoulet meal.
So that does bring up the food. And this is not trivial. Great mussels and frittes at a Belgian restaurant in London. Incredible choucroute and oysters at a Paris brasserie. A cheese shop with miles of chËvre for sale. And then the prices. Also not trivial. Thirty dollars a day for hotel internet access, nine dollars for a room service pot of tea, fifty dollars for a yoga class.
But in the end — and even our heartiest and youngest orchestra members know this — we are not on vacation. The musical challenge of performing all seven Sibelius symphonies, plus thorny scores by Salonen, Stucky, and Sariaaho, is the largest larger-than-life experience on this tour. The orchestra has stepped up to the plate, and the audiences have literally roared their approval.