Following the successful inaugural concert in the new hall in Tianjin, the RLPO awoke to the above itinerary. Today, we were travelling to the north; Beijing, in fact. Although the first concert on this third leg of the tour would be in Tianjin, it was considered more convenient to remain in the same hotel for the final three days of this mammoth tour.
The RLPO had to be ready to leave to catch the bullet train up the East Coast at 9.30am. We boarded the three coaches to the train station and disembarked to wait for a while before our 11.09am train was due to depart. Only one member of the orchestra had to return to the hotel to collect a forgotten passport!
There were all manner of restaurants etc. in the station and we were advised to buy ‘supplies’ for the train journey as nothing would be available on the train.
The 656 mile journey only took three and a half hours and was extremely smooth and easy. We arrived in Beijing, at the Hotel Mercure about 15.45. Amazingly for some, we were reunited with our suitcases in the hotel lobby (followers of the previous blogs will know our suitcases were sent on ahead to Beijing prior to the RLPO travelling to Nanjing). The orchestra now had the evening free in Beijing and the following morning to lie in, go sight-seeing or shopping. The weather was as cool as Liverpool and felt like a home from home as it was raining!
There is an awful lot to do and see in Beijing but I didn’t want a late night as I had some well laid plans for the following night…
Today was the trumpet section leader, Rhys Owens’ birthday. Most of the brass players went for a meal with him. Rhys is almost as old as me now. I think we are still in our prime as we ever more increasingly approach middle age. What with Paul Marsden on second trumpet being even more mature, I wonder if we are the most senior trumpet section in the UK yet. I’ll have to figure that out some other time.
I wanted to take a nice, light, simple meal, so I ate in the hotel restaurant. It was just what I needed after a long day and a week and a half on foreign touring. I didn’t yet feel sleepy so I thought I would take a brief stroll around to see what was happening locally and settle my stomach down.
The huge shops on display included all the same shops we enjoy in Liverpool; the Apple Store etc but in much bigger buildings. All the buildings in Beijing appear to be huge. Another statement from the Chinese government perhaps. I managed to wander just a little off the high streets, in the rain and there were with little alleyways full of street vendors and street food stalls, as in the other cities we had visited.
One thing I did notice on many street corners around the hotel area were some very unusual art installations. These appeared to be on many corners of the huge main streets. I am not sure what the thinking behind them was but they were very cute all the same.
The coach journey to Tianjin the next day was good fun. Many had visited the various famous Beijing markets and had bartered for this and that. One of our ‘stellar’ bass players, Danny Hammerton, was especially proud of his purchase of an old fashioned school desk pencil sharpener and several packets of 6B pencils – particularly prized apparently!
On arrival at the Tianjin Grand Theatre we were at least as impressed as the other facilities we had already performed in elsewhere. This place really was fantastic. Once again, it was housed within a magnificent complex of theatres etc. but this hall stood out for me.
We were greeted by a poster for the concert that covered more than two storeys of the huge building!
The backstage hospitality in China is great and Tianjin was second to none. We were greeted with coffee, water, fruit and cake. Marvellous!
The hall was great. I don’t know what else to say really. It was a fantastic achievement, both acoustically and aesthetically. I think I still prefer playing in our wonderful acoustic at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall but I’m starting to wonder whether I am just used to it. Let’s see when they re-open Liverpool Philharmonic Hall next month. Challenge!
This concert venue was definitely my favourite so far, by a country mile. I liked Guangzhou, in particular, from the rest so far but frankly I have been spoilt for choice on this tour!
I really admired this place as a piece of architecture also.
The front of house even looks as if the only way of approaching it is by boat!
Our intrepid French horn section had been proving that the wearing of shoe leather was no issue to them. They had seemingly explored every inch of China available to them on this trip. Plus, they appeared fresher at this stage than many…
We found a good traditional Tianjin restaurant for our between rehearsal and concert meal nearby. It was great! Very tasty food at an affordable price too. Perfect!
The concert went very well. It was a full audience and appreciated even better than any of the previous successes. When we played our Chinese ‘banker’ as the encore the whole place erupted!
We returned back to the hotel in Beijing and had a couple of beers amongst ourselves. Some, as pictured below decided to try out some Chinese wines.
As I stated earlier, I had plans for this evening and had rested well the previous night especially. After a couple of beers, Jools Mottram and I decided to head for the famous nightspots in the Houhai region of Beijing. This is an area, in fairly central Beijing, consisting of loads of night time bars surrounding beautiful lakes in the city. It was late at night and the area had a slightly seedy reputation as a huge late night drinking and entertainment area.
Well, it sounded very exciting to us!
Off we went, with sincere best wishes for our futures from the hotel staff and concierge. In 2010 the RLPO had visited Beijing but I had gone through all the daytime delights (Forbidden City, Tianenmen Sq) etc so I thought I would write about some nighttime recollections this time.
We left our credit cards, wallets, etc in the hotel safe and took a walk on the Beijing feral side.
At first, we felt that we had entered a 1970s Fu Manchu film set for Hammer Horror based in the 19th century.we remarked that it was suddenly very foggy here. We could barely see in some areas around the lakes. At first, we felt that we had entered a 1970s Fu Manchu film set for Hammer Horror based in the 19th century. It was difficult to take great photos in these conditions so I pinched one or two pictures from some tourist sites to show here.
We needn’t have worried. It was one of the friendliest and accommodating places any tourist could wish to visit. I believe any tourist would love to see this place, especially at night. What great fun. As the sun began to rise we began to head back in the general direction of the hotel. Of course, we are in bodies which are used to a time zone seven hours behind so daylight appearing before bedtime didn’t turn us to ash or bother us at all.
A particularly special moment came at six in the morning as the ‘dirty stop outs’ were walking across the city back towards the hotel. Jools noticed a Chinese bakery. All the workers, in fact everyone, seemed to be headed for this simple traditional place. Well, what could we do but experience the same as everyone else locally
As we sat there an elderly Chinese man sat opposite me. I looked at him and he looked at me. I had my food and he had his. He looked rather confident and uttered a loud guttural groan to me and pushed a large bag of what looked liked crab apples towards me. I felt a little nervous in his arena. He he seemed to hold all the aces here!
Fortunately, a Chinese couple on our bench spoke good English and explained that the man liked to collect the ‘dates’ to give to tourists. I said surely they’re apples and the elderly man spoke sternly, “… No! Dates!” The couple explained that the fruit had one large stone inside, rather than pips like apples and this made them dates. I ate one but the elderly man persisted in offering his bag. The couple explained that an old Chinese proverb says that if a person eats three dates a day, they will live to be one hundred and ten years old. Therefore, I gratefully accepted. They were quite tasty and I noticed that several of the concert venues supplied large trays of dates backstage for the musicians.
Continuing our journey on foot, as we wended our way back to the hotel, we found ourselves along side the Forbidden City. There really are some beautiful buildings to admire here. It was beautiful weather at sunrise today, also.
Coincidentally, we walked past the National Centre for the arts. We would be performing here with two concerts over the next two days. Another stunning looking piece of architecture. The Chinese call it ‘The Egg’ apparently.
Just to save a little bit of time at the end of our excursion, we caught the underground ‘subway’ to the stop by our hotel. It was only one stop away. To be honest, I think we walked further in the huge impressive subway system than it would have been to have walked over ground on the last leg of our journey, but I wanted to see it.
Back at the hotel, it was still very early. I went straight into the breakfast room and so far there was only one other member of the orchestra up so far…