The end of our tour has arrived, and we are on our way home. Our last concert was in Madrid, Spain, at Teatro Zarzuela. The program consisted of three compositions by Sibelius, Pohjola's Daughter, Symphony No. 3, and Symphony No. 1. It is one of the trickiest programs of the tour, and it never got any easier. Because of the challenging acoustics and logistics of this particular hall, and because it was at the end of the tour, it might have been tempting to not put our hearts into this performance but that sort of thing is not in us. I have played in many different halls with this orchestra over the last 14 years, and we have made some less than perfect halls resonate beautifully. This turned out to be the case in Madrid. In my conversations with my colleagues following the concert, we shared the perception that Esa-Pekka, in spite of the hall, was digging in his heels and giving it his all. I found his passion very motivating and contagious, and that contagion extended to the audience. It was a great way, musically, to end the tour.
TheThe Los Angeles Philharmonic, while on tour, is subjected to less than ideal conditions because of the travel schedule, performing in a new hall with its own unique acoustical challenges in each city, adjusting to unfamiliar sleeping conditions, etc. But every effort is made to make us comfortable so that we can best represent our country and our fair city of Los Angeles. Sometimes the conditions are challenging, but more often they are favorable and even fun.
For the last hectic leg of our tour we are traveling on Swiss Air from London to Barcelona, finishing with Lisbon and Madrid. This is the toughest part of the tour because of the attrition alone, but it is also difficult because it is three concerts in three cities over three days. Ouch!
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.
My favorite part of this tour has to be the songs by Saariaho [Quatres instants], which were sung fantastically by Karita Mattila. It is both a musical moment and, oddly enough, a visual one too, that will live on in my memory.
These songs were new to us. We had a rehearsal in L.A. in October, then two weeks later, a rehearsal in Paris. To watch Karita and Esa-Pekka interact was delightful. They spoke Finnish to each other, laughing like two friends who just love the opportunity to work together.
The performance at the Barbican felt electric from the start - partly because of the two rehearsals weeks apart, and partly because of Karita: she looked stunning and has a presence on stage that takes your breath away.
One aspect of touring which I truly look forward to is sizing up the different exercise possibilities in each city we visit. I'm finding (as I advance in years!) that jogging not only helps me stay in shape, but actually keeps me alert for evening performances. I'm lucky that on this tour I've found the perfect running partner - my husband (and fellow Philharmonic violist) Mick! We staked out some pretty neat runs shortly after our arrival in London.
Our first was a brisk jog just around the corner from our hotel, down Kings Way and across Waterloo Bridge, our destination being the pedestrian path along the Thames River. The weather was quite crisp and, except for the mad rush of constant pedestrian traffic on our run back to the hotel, we enjoyed "ticking off" prominent landmarks as we jogged past them: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and 10 Downing Street being the highlights.
So far, we've been on this European tour for a little more than a week, and while the stellar level of music-making has been the main focus of my first tour with this orchestra, I've really grown to appreciate the determination and discipline required by members of a touring, first-class orchestra, especially given our challenging repertory. I didn't quite know what to expect from the whole tour experience, but I've learned that pacing oneself mentally and physically throughout the two-week journey is paramount. Many in this orchestra have become touring "veterans," but continue to practice and perform with tremendous intensity and integrity; one of our most vivacious members has been in this orchestra for more than 50 years! I respect him immensely.
I'm not one to wander far from the group or participate in high adventure, so when I found myself stranded at the Brussels train station by myself with no credit card and very little cash, I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. I was on my way back to Paris from visiting my sister, who lives near Mons, Belgium. I had had a lovely time visiting with my nieces and nephews the previous day, and I had to get back to Paris in time for the 8:00 concert that night. My sister and her husband had arranged for my trip and with ticket in hand I waved goodbye at the Mons train station. Everything was great until I got to Brussels.
It was a dark and stormy night. OK, so maybe it wasn't stormy or night, but it was dark. When my alarm clock shrieked to life at 6 a.m., playing some hip British cross between hard rock and ritual sacrifice, I glanced through heavy slits and knew there had been some kind of terrible mistake. Yes, I had intended to set the alarm for 6:00. No, I had not planned on staying up "bonding" with my colleagues the previous night until 1 a.m. Sleep had been fitful and intermittent, woefully inadequate for the day that lay in front of me.
It is a truly wonderful thing to play with the LA Phil, but playing with this orchestra on a European tour is even better, in my opinion. Musically, everything has been completely exciting and beautiful. The fact that before concerts I get to explore Europe's treasures means I am constantly full of inspiration before I even step on stage.