Classicic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall. It is a busy week for the orchestra, especially considering we were on tour the week before last and rehearsed and performed the monumental eigth symphony by Gustav Mahler last week. (This last one a rather prominent night for me!)
Not to forget the evening programme of music themed around birds, which included the big cornet solo Danse Napolitaine from Swan Lake. This week sees the welcome return of Czech Maestro, Libor Pesek, to conduct several concerts of French music by Debussy, Bizet and Francaix.
Today, we are all currently on a train to London, to perform an evening of perennial favourites for Classic fm at The Albert Hall. This programme has been sandwiched into Libor’s week, so we have rehearsed all yesterday with him on La Mer etc; we now head for the capital for this quick ‘commando raid’, with a different conductor, before getting back to Liverpool for Libor’s rehearsal and concert tomorrow.
I am currently about half way to London, enjoying ‘Virgin’s’ hospitality. Most of the train carriage is occupied by members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Some listening to music, some eating, sleeping, reading etc. I have a table seat, with electric sockets, so am able to spread out and avail myself of the rather expensive wi-fi: £6 for the two hour journey. This ‘gig’ was booked late by Classic fm, so we are to be ‘housed’ overnight in the Travelodge opposite Euston Station, rather than the four or five star hotels we are more familiar with. We will not have the time to check in on arrival in London at midday, as Travelodge can not have the rooms ready until three o’clock, and will not provide a left luggage facility. It also seems that they do not have a cafe/bar facility, so we will have to find entertainment elsewhere, after the performance. At least the hotel will be handy for the return journey tomorrow morning.
The orchestra will therefore have to traipse right across London with all the luggage, clothing and instruments etc and come back to the ‘lodge’ in between the rehearsal and concert, or after the show. What a pain, as many have arranged to meet people in the area around the concert, and will have to hope that the ‘hostel’ will check us in late at night. What a pain!
The Royal Albert Hall is the impressive Victorian arena in the heart of London’s grand South Kensington Borough. I always enjoy the RLPO trips there as the adjoining building is my Alma Mater, The Royal College of Music. This area is beautiful, the buildings are impressive and nearby Hyde Park is always a pleasure. The imposing Albert Memorial looks down majestically on proceedings.
The Albert Hall is the annual host for the famous BBC Proms. The Promenade concerts take place each summer and feature the world’s great orchestras, conductors and soloists. It is the biggest classical music festival in the world. This series of concerts, founded by Henry Wood, regularly features the RLPO. This year we did not feature as we had to fit in our contracted five week continuous holiday. We are entitled to this every two years; giving members valuable school holiday time with their families. Next year we will return to The Proms to perform the world premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ ninth symphony.
The prom season has finished now. It always concludes with the world wide televised event, ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ featuring Land of Hope & Glory etc played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. We are here to work for a different employer, on this occasion. Classic fm has become our nation’s favourite classical music radio station and one of the world’s most successful brands in this genre. It is actually one of the most popular and most listened to stations in the UK outright. There is also a popular television channel owned by the company.The relationship with the RLPO goes back about ten years when we were the first orchestra to enter into a branding association with Classic fm. The partnership has proved to be enormously successful, mutually and has resulted in our annual visit to perform to a packed Albert Hall.
The association with Classic fm has resulted in our twice weekly ‘Classic fm series’ in Liverpool. These are more popular classics and attract a lighter audience than our regular concert season programming. I enjoy seeing the marketing dotted all over Liverpool City Centre on hoardings, taxis etc. For example, Joanna Wesling’s face (viola section) was going round town on the back of bus for a year or two, advertising our branding with Classic fm.
On arrival at Euston, it was up to all to make their own way to the venue across London’s sprawling transport network. I still had my ‘Oyster card’ from previous visits and some remaining credit so I decided to get the tube down to Victoria, catch the 52 bus to Willedsden, outside the Apollo Victoria, head past Buckingham Palace, past Hyde Park Corner, through Knightsbridge along Hyde Park and hop off at The Royal Albert Hall. Precisely my route to college, all those years ago. I find bus travel, where one can see a bit of London, much more preferable to travel underground.
Once at the RAH, I had about an hour to have lunch and do a little practice. It was nice of the concert promoter to lay on some fruit and snacks in the dressing room. Tea and coffee was provided also. Often it is little gestures such as these which make these Today’s conductor is a young lady from Portugal who is based in the USA. The demonstrative and flamboyant Joana Carneiro is carving a name for herself on the international stage.
On these occasions, there are only 3 hours to rehearse. It is not only the music however, but we have presenters between all the items (Nick Owen and Margherita Taylor on this occasion), lighting effects, amplification and the recording engineers to get the sound etc right for the broadcast over the national airwaves. Needless to say, we ran out of time with still at least a third of the music unplayed!!!
In the break before the show, the heavy brass decided to head for the student bar and social area for Imperial College for a bit to eat and some refreshment and to chill out. Whilst at the Royal College of Music I, along with many other music students, would make this trip to Imperial college a daily ritual, so it was nice to retrace my footsteps. The RCM building looked as impressive and imposing as ever. I felt a touch of poignancy staring at the ‘crotchet factory’ as I thought about my six years study with David Mason there, who passed away earlier this year. He taught me, and many others, everything I know: not just about trumpet technique but about how to behave in the profession. RIP Professor Mason; sadly missed.
Video – Professor David Mason
It was nice to see, despite all the ‘improvements’ to the Imperial College social area, the the famous ‘Old Bar’ has been left untouched. The engraved tankards remain. The yard of ale vessel is still hung above the bar. Students were still enthusiastically playing darts. Iremembered our RCM brass team beating the IC rugby team in a ‘boat race’. I won the yard of ale contest more than once and seemed to win the fastest time for drinking a pint on an annual basis there. Happy days!
Well, back to the hall, get changed, get warmed up and on stage for the concert. It can be fairly distracting trying to concentrate with flashing lights and amplification distorting your sound but you just need to get on with it. Especially when much of the music has not been rehearsed even! The first half was fairly standard fair: Capulets et Montagues, from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliette: the finale of Bruch violin concerto no.1, played majestically by Charlie Siem. There was a couple of string pieces, followed by Sibelius’s timeless tone poem Finlandia.
I had delegated the first trumpet part of Rhapsody in Blue to another trumpeter, so I had twenty minutes, plus the interval to kill, before the second half began; so I went outside for a bit of a wander round. I didn’t go far, regular readers will remember Paris! I wandered out of the stage door, down the steps to the Royal College of Music, past Imperial College, over Cromwell Rd to the Queen’s Arms. This pub served us well as students, tucked away amongst the mews cottages of South Kensington. It is known amongst the music students as the ’99’ because the RCM only had 98 rooms in the building at one time. It has become substantially bigger nowadays.
I then went back to the Imperial College bar to get some refreshment for the thirsty brass players at half time. Four blackcurrant juices and two lemonades. That should suffice!
Now back to the RAH for the second half. The first piece was Jupiter by Gustav Holst, from his suite The Planets. This started well enough, but I stick encountered the trumpeter’s worst nightmare, a ‘sticky valve!’ Bugger! This is where, no matter how many times the piston is polished and cleaned, it just sticks intermittently, causing annoying errors. There is really nothing to be done about it during performance, but to continue to do one’s best under the circumstances. Sometimes, the end result is not as bad as theperformer assumes. We shall see on the 14th of October when Classic fm broadcast the concert. maybe I won’t listen: I don’t want to hear myself sound bad, particularly, especially when it isn’t my fault. The trumpet in question was damaged in transit on the recent trip to Romania; the bell is bent like a banana and I suspect there is also a little remedial work required on the valve block. I shall just have to put up with it until I have the space in the busy RLPO schedule to rectify matters.
The rest of the concert passed off well. In fact, I had a few more numbers off in the middle of the second half and was able to leave the stage for a short while to completely clean the valves out again! I returned to the stage in time for Nimrod and the 1812 Overture; all fine and dandy. The 5000 or so packed auditorium erupted and gave Miss Carneiro and the RLPO a standing ovation. Apart from the sticking valve block, seemingly another resounding success.
I was meeting an old college friend after the show and noticed we had run over by about 20 minutes. I was already going to have precious little time, as it was. Damn, I wasn’t going to get out before about twenty five past ten! We met up and most of the brass got themselves over to the hotel to check in and meet up at a remarkable little pub by Euston station called the Bree Louise, regularly a CAMRA award winning pub. This award winning pub still draws the beers from gravity, has amazing real ciders and award winning pies too. Champion!
Tomorrow, Back on the train to Liverpool, afternoon rehearsal and evening concert on La Mer etc with Libor Pesek.
The RLPO’s Chairman Chris Morley at Classic FM – Live Video