The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic puts on the most extensive concert series of any orchestra in the UK, each year at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall but we also travel widely over the world and throughout the UK. After two performances of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben over the last two days we are now travelling en masse to Reading by train. The last time I personally played in Berkshire with the orchestra was quite a few years ago. The well known lady conductor, Marin Alsop, was at the helm with a Beethoven programme. I played offstage in Leonore no. 3 that time. This time the RLPO will be offering a programme of Mozart, Don Giovanni Overture; Elgar, Enigma Variations and Symphony no. 3 by Brahms. Good solid fayre for any audience. Vasily Petrenko, the dynamic Chief Conductor of the orchestra, will be in charge on this occasion.
It is a requirement of a serious major symphony orchestra to travel, and although this may prove to be bad social hours for many family people etc. an orchestra’s members will make the most of visiting new places and venues by seeing what there is to see, eat and do whilst in the vicinity. Having a good sense of fun also helps greatly to while away the hours away from home.
We checked in to the pleasant PentaHotel, less than five minutes walk from The Hexagon, our concert venue for the evening and busied ourselves along for the afternoon rehearsal.
The programme was a composite of our previous weeks work at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. We had already rehearsed very hard for those concerts, so only a short revision session was required by the normally painstaking Vasily Petrenko. Just to balance up the acoustic and to check all the tempi etc.
The last time I visited Reading with the orchestra, I had ‘dinner’ in a rather remarkable pie shop called Sweeney & Todd ( known as Sweeney Todd’s locally) which was situated beside a barber shop. Fans of Stephen Sondheim will get the irony here. Between the rehearsal and concert I set off to grab a bite to eat and sure enough I found Sweeney & Todd, just nearby – business was thriving!
The photo looks like any traditional market town pie emporium, and it is but Sweeney & Todd is so much more. The quality of the pies is fabulous! The establishment also doubles up as a restaurant, wine bar and a pub, purveying many traditional British real ales.
That ‘growler’ above is bigger and thicker than it looks! Just around the corner from the pie shop, on the short circular route back to the hotel I was struck by the realisation that the local townsfolk must be a very musical lot. I had had my photo taken next to a pub called The Bugle earlier and now I was looking at a ‘boozer’ called The Horn.
Anyway, back to the hotel to get ready for the performance. Reading Hexagon is almost what is called ‘in the round’ with audience all the way around (as much as a hexagon can, that is!), circling the orchestra, including a couple of hundred behind. I quite like this arrangement as it makes for an intimate ambience, in my opinion.
The concert would be played to a full house. I find this remarkable as much of Berkshire is currently under water (as evidenced by our view on the train journey earlier) and the county is subject to yet more torrential rain and flooding. Nonetheless the house was packed and much appreciated under the circumstances. Being so unusually close to the audience meant that even the brass and percussion at the back could hear the ‘asides’ from the members of the audience to each other. It was nice to hear quiet mumblings of ‘very nice’, ‘bravo’ etc. The assemblage were rewarded for their enthusiasm with our chosen encore for the trip Brahms ‘Hungarian Dance no. 5’.
Since the appointed of our young maestro, Vasily Petrenko, our audiences have been full all over the world. The relationship between conductor and orchestra is strong and still working. Our recordings seem to constantly win international awards and our critical reviews remain outstanding. In fact the RLPO and Vasily have must must be a unique arrangement. We have fulfilled three whole contracts with Vasily as his reputation internationally has continued to grow. The next five years together looks ‘flush’ with international touring, more recording and the ongoing busy schedule of concerts. The relationship with Vasily is such that we no longer have a contract as such, but a mutual arrangement whereby either party merely has to give the other three years notice! I haven’t personally heard of this arrangement elsewhere.
The next section, apart from general interest is aimed at my friends from ‘CAMRA’ (Campaign For Real Ale), Merseyside branch. Simon Chappell, the RLPO Principal Bass Trombone, is celebrating his 38th birthday. Hooray!
So, by way of a celebration, we decided to head for what must be the best pub in Reading, The Nag’s Head. The Nag’s Head has won many CAMRA awards and features twelve hand pulls with ever changing beers and ales. This was a busy pub, and no wonder; with darts, board games, fantastic service and beer to die for. The return journey began by train at about 8.30am after a hearty breakfast in the hotel. Here’a snap of me trying to tidy up this blog post on a bumpy train, first thing in the morning.