I mentioned before on our French tour of the Vespers how tour schedules can vary wildly in the luxury:austerity ratio. Performing in the U.K. is often comfortable for most players, as nearly everyone can get home to their own beds after a concert. However, most of us don’t live terribly near Inverness and thus an overnight stay was required at some point. The obvious choice is to travel on the morning of the concert, but in order to accommodate a pre-concert rehearsal and not cause too much stress for the organisers, that means an early departure. The flight left Gatwick at 9.30, which required an 8 AM check-in – and many players live 1-2 hours away from Gatwick, meaning a truly short night for many, although still mild compared to this morning’s departure; but more about that later.
I speak of “the flight” and “the group” because in fact I chose to make my own way up and back to Scotland. As a player based outside the U.K., it didn’t make sense for me to rush back to London when the Tetbury concert isn’t until Sunday. Why not stay in beautiful Scotland and enjoy my free days? So I traveled up on the Scottish “Sleeper” train; when they mention their “reclining seats,” be forewarned that their definition and my definition of reclining are not the same. Never mind, it was a quiet, empty car and I found two seats together and made my own version of reclining. And the views in the morning were stunning.
Less so the views in Inverness as we arrived. The Scottish weather was doing its best to live up to its reputation so I scurried through the rain as quickly as possible to the hotel, which fortunately had my room prepared. The rest of the group arrived about noon and everyone scattered for lunch and a rest. The travel was made even more comfortable by the fact that the large instrument players (myself included), didn’t need to schlep our beasts across the country as Malcolm Greenhalgh, our fearless tuner and technician, had driven up the night before with the organ, harpsichord, two cellos and a bass. Bless him.
Our rehearsal began at 4 in the Eden Court Theatre, which has a good reputation for interesting programming. However, it is a theatre and has therefore a drier acoustic than the churches where we often perform. These pre-concert rehearsals are so important, even on a multi-concert tour, because not only do you want to check some spots musically, everyone has to get used to the different acoustic. For instance, in this hall it sounded very dry to us, and yet the soloists in the front of the stage were very difficult to hear for the players behind them. That was a problem at first, but after 15 minutes of playing, you get used to how the sound works in that space and everyone adjusts accordingly; not without, of course, a few helpful pointers from Richard, who always bounds into the audience to listen himself.
We had two hours between the rehearsal and the concert; enough time for everyone to find a nice meal and for Richard to give a pre-concert talk, which he very often does. Several of us found a Rajasthani restaurant just five minutes away and despite some initial misgivings, had a wonderful meal. One of the major advantages of playing in a theatre is the facilities; after squeezing 18 players with all their accoutrements into a 4-square metre dressing room, you really appreciate having multiple dressing rooms with plenty of mirrors, lights, sinks and even showers if you expend too much energy in the concert.
The concert itself went really well. Richard had asked the bass section to be extra lively and we rose to the challenge, as did the violins who were taking care of the sound of each note. He changed the order of the two concertos and explained it to the audience: “The original instruments we are playing on this evening are extremely sensitive to heat and humidity. With you lot out there breathing, the harpsichord is already intonationally challenged, so we’ll play the harpsichord concerto after the break when it’s had a chance to be tuned.” This was also a nice musical decision, as the oboe/violin concerto is such an enthusiastic end to the first half and the harpsichord concerto is a rousing opening of the second half. The joyful cantata was the perfect way to end the program, with high C’s flying all over the room and an audience that went crazy over the final heraldic Allelujah.
Another perk of being on tour is that everyone is staying in the same place and doesn’t have to rush off home to catch a last train/bus/zeppelin. Added to that, our quaint hotel had a very typical pub downstairs and you can guess who the main customers were that night. Remember I said I’d get back to the departing flight? Sadly, it was scheduled for 7 AM the next morning, meaning a 5.30 AM departure. Not many people closed the pub down but it was a fine evening indeed.