Well, after the most substantial breakfast of the RLPO tour so far, Dave Pigott (Associate Principal French Horn and recording engineer for the orchestra’s own, in house recording company) and I, have decided to see Ceaucescu’s Folly today. This extra-ordinary building is reputedly the second largest building in the world; only The Pentagon is said to be bigger! This was one of the recommended ‘must sees’ on every tourist website and tour guidebook of Bucharest. The ‘Parliament Palace’ as it is now known. This enormous house was to be Ceaucescu’s house!!!
Anyway, Dave went off to shower etc, but I stayed talking to the guys and having a couple of cups of tea etc. I noticed a guy with a baseball cap drawn down over his face on the next table. He had a little white dog with him and a couple of lively people seeming to look after him. I recognised him straight away! He seems very shy, I thought. I went over and attracted his attention and said, “… Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you Mr. Van Damme. I wonder if it would be too much trouble to have me take a photograph of you to include on my blog about Bucharest?” Wow! Jean-Claude Van Damme, “The Muscles from Brussels!” Hollywood megastar! In my hotel; just near my table… Fantastic! He tipped the peak of his cap up, and said, very politely, “… Of course!” He took my iPhone 4, and passed it to the lady on his table, stood up and came round the table to speak to me. He held out his hand, I took it and he gave me what can only be described as a ‘man’s handshake!’ He introduced himself and I introduced myself. He started the conversation by asking what I was doing here. I explained that I played the trumpet and was on tour, in Europe with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He was very interested and asked lots of questions about trumpet playing and the orchestra. He enquired about the schedule, recording, free time in Bucharest etc. I managed to get a word in and asked him what brought him to Bucharest, vacation or was he working on a new blockbuster, Hollywood film. He replied to the latter, and proceeded to tell me about a new martial arts film he was filming, which he called “Rheinhold gets butchered!” I think this must be the pre-release name used on the set, unless the title conjours up something more evocative in Chinese or Korean. He duly posed for the picture with me. With hindsight, I wished I had breathed in and made my shoulders look wider somehow. Perhaps I could have stood on tiptoe even! He wished me good luck with the concert and the rest of the tour and I wished him all the success in the world with his latest film. What a nice guy. He was so friendly, obliging and down to earth. I have many of his films at home and my boys are martial arts fans too; wait ’til I tell them!
A little while later, Dave and I were walking through the Old Town down to Ceaucescu’s Palace. I had read up about this monument to megalomania. The centre piece of Ceausescu’s new Romania was built on the rubble of Bucharest’s old quarter; 26 churches, and over 7000 homes were destroyed to make way for the Civic centre known as the Ceausima. At its centre looms the Palatul Parliamentului, the Palace of Parliament, reputedly the second biggest building on earth after the Pentagon. Over 20,000 labourers and 600 architects toiled to build the Palace to Ceausescu’s exacting standards. as we rounded the corner to the palace, we had to stop and draw breath at the sight of it. The sheer scale is breathtaking; unbelievable almost. This dictator intended all this expanse and expense as his personal residence, with the government of his nation also to be housed within, where it would be convenient for him to have everything at his fingertips.
This trip proved to be something of a disaster apart from Dave and I seeing the outside of the building. We could not gain entry without booking. We could not gain entry without a passport. We could not enter without taking an official tour. The shortest tour appeared to be three hours long. We marvelled at the extent of Ceaucescu’s arrogance and the sheer audacity of the monument and decided to go back towards the hotel for lunch. We had a nice meal outside a very nice restaurant, called the Ateneul Mama, by the Ateneul Roman. Dave chose a goulash and I had fried chicken livers. Lovely.
It was now time for the rehearsal at the Sala Palatui. We commenced with Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 3 with Alexei Volodin as soloist. I was not doing the concerto today so I availed myself of the free backstage coffee and chatted to the two girls appointed as stewards for the RLPO at the hall during our stay. We put the world to rights and I learned a lot about this country from Cercel Diana and Andreea Negoita. Two very pleasant and helpful girls.
Next on the rehearsal schedule was a bit of work on The Symphony In Three Movements by Igor Stravinsky, followed with a sight read through the encore for tonight. That left about twenty minutes to pick out a few bits and pieces out of Symphony no. 3 by Rachmaninov.
We went back to the same area for our pre-concert dinner but chose yet another delightful restaurant, the Ateneul Bistro. Overlooking the Ateneul Roman concert hall, this little gem had adopted something of a musical style.
I ordered a vegetable soup with bread to start with. The main course was an entrecote steak, with roast potatoes cooked in lard with a cabbage side salad. John Hebbron (1st violins) had the same as me and the horns ordered salads.
It was now time to return to the Sala Palatui for the concert. We had to pose for pictures taken of us by our travelling supporters club, ‘The Friends of the Phil’ outside the artists’ entrance. These loyal supporters follow us en masse, all over the world. Next thing was to get changed into our established touring stage wear, an all black suit these days; and then to warm up our instruments prior to performance. I have mentioned the concerts being filmed by French TV and recorded by Romanian radio. The rehearsals are also being filmed for a couple of documentaries, as is the back stage area – we have to be careful where we change and what we say as a result. The hall was packed out again. Word seemed to have got round about the success of last night’s show, as there appeared to be some kind of an expectant buzz going around the audience in the auditorium.
The concert commenced with Stravinsky’s Symphony in three movements. This anti war statement was written at the end of world war two by a mature Stravinsky in his forties. A wonderful piece and a master composition. The work appeared to be well known to the audience and attracted warm applause. This discerning audience loved Prokofiev’s third piano concerto and the playing of Alexei Volodin. He returned to perform a much appreciated solo encore before the interval. After the interval, Petrenko had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand during Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony. You could have heard a pin drop during the beautiful, sweeping melodies and shameless romanticism. They loved it; another standing ovation. There was no chance of leaving this stage without giving the crowd more; I think they would have lynched us. Vasily had chosen the Danse de Neapolitana from Swan Lake. The audience loved it and clapped along enthusiastically during the fast section before breaking out into tumultuous applause at the end and deafening cheering. This tour is going very well.
After Petrenko had returned back to the stage several more times we were allowed to exit the stage finally. Tired but satisfied with a job well done!
There was nothing left for it but to get changed, get everything packed away and let the guys load the lorry and set off immediately for Prague. Now to let our hair down for some after concert fun, for what would be our last night in Bucharest. It was only a couple of hours until Tuba player, Robin Haggart was to celebrate his birthday!
A short walk back to the hotel to drop stuff off then down to the bar and the pool area to see what was going on. Most of the orchestra were congregated down there chilling out and relaxing after a couple of days’ hard work before having a wander around the many little bars nearby. Another lie in tomorrow before the check out of the hotel for the airport to travel to Prague, in the Czech Republic. I wandered out and passed a ‘cello and bass party’ in a nearby bar before joining the rest of the brass on the terrace of a nearby bar for a drink in the warm night air. Tomorrow… Prague!
This evening’s new player profile goes to Tom Verity. Tom has only just joined the RLPO; this is his first tour with the orchestra and he has taken up the previously vacant position of Principal Clarinet. Welcome on board Tom!