AAM in Australia – 18-24 February 2011

Bill Thorp, AAM violinist (and one of three current musicians who were on the AAM’s last trip to Australia – in 1988) writes:

Fri 18 Feb: We fly from Shanghai to Perth via Hong Kong, our fleeting dip into China’s fascinations rudely cut short: I can’t agree with Philip Larkin’s “I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back the same day”. Despite landing in Perth late at night, the dramatic change of season is immediately apparent and I feel a little overdressed in tweed jacket and cords…

Sat 19 Feb: A whole day off! (A rare event). Several of us head off to Fremantle, some by boat, some by train. Rebecca Livermore (violin) and David Blackadder (trumpet) swim in Bather’s Bay; Marina Ascherson (viola) spends time in the prison (a minor offence); I see an exhibition of large aerial photographs of Australian landscapes (almost like abstract paintings) by Dutch emigre Richard Woldendorp, and a fascinating memorial to the thousands of migrants who landed in Fremantle and some of their stories. On the way back to Perth I stop off at Cottesloe for a swim, beach walk at sunset, and fish-and-chip picnic watching the sky turn deep orange over the ocean…

Sun 20 Feb: Cloudy! (A rare event). After breakfast I climb Jacob’s Ladder to Mount Eliza and, besides admiring the view over the city and Swan River, spend some time at the memorials to the two world wars and the more recent Bali bombing: all suitably contemplative for a Sunday morning. At the afternoon Brandenburgs rehearsal it immediately becomes apparent that Perth’s is a very fine auditorium acoustically, and we carry our enjoyment of this into the concert, which the audience seem to sense and share in…

Mon 21 Feb: Sadly we say goodbye to Rodolfo Richter who joined the tour a day late in Shanghai due to ill-health and now is leaving early because of it. Rodolfo is a vital and versatile part of our Brandenburgs team, featuring on violin, viola and piccolo violin, all of which he still managed to play in both concerts with his customary finesse and virtuosity. Boa viagem, Rodolfo! In the afternoon we rehearse The Creation with St George’s Cathedral Consort, a fine Perth chamber choir, and the three soloists, local girl Sara Macliver plus British boys Timothy Robinson and Peter Harvey: altogether a splendid team. Later, fellow violinist Sijie Chen and I have a stroke of luck when, lured into Beck’s Music Box (one of the Festival venues) by the smell of cooking, we then find ourselves being invited by the venue manager to sit in on the Martha Wainwright concert about to begin, which includes several Edith Piaf songs touchingly delivered by a consummate performer with a great voice…

Tues 22 Feb: We finish rehearsing The Creation in the morning after which I head straight off to the WACA to watch a bit of cricket, part of a Sheffield Shield (inter-state) match between Western Australia and Tasmania, involving three players from the recent Ashes series. I’m amazed how they can play in such temperatures (mid 30s): it’s hot enough just watching from the shade. I then walk on to Heirisson Island to view the kangaroos, but either they’re shy, or have been scared away by the statue of Yagan (a 19th century Aboriginal leader) complete with spear, because I see none. Our last concert goes really well, after which I meet an old college acquaintance, Nicholas Bannan, now teaching at the university in Perth (where he taught some of the St George’s choir members): he, I and Richard Egarr were all at Clare College (Cambridge) in the mists of history. The post-concert drinks reception has a poignant moment when Rachel Brown (flute) presents Alastair Mitchell (bassoon) with a large card (which we’ve all signed) to mark his retirement from the AAM after 34 years, and also feeds him the line for the perfect riposte –
Rachel: “… and on all our tours together you’ve always been great, so dependable and so… so…”
Al: “…drunk?”…

Wed 23 Feb: Before we leave for the airport I visit the Bell Tower, a stunning example of contemporary Australian design, rapidly assuming iconic status. It was built as a millenium project to house the bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields which had been gifted to the city at the Australian bicentenary in 1988, the year of the AAM’s last visit to Perth. Remarkably, three players from that trip are here again: Tony Pay (clarinet), Guy Williams (flute) and myself. To make it even more memorable Tony celebrated his 65th birthday here on Monday! He and Guy were part of a top-notch wind section, heard to great effect in The Creation, and even included a player who’d made his own instrument: David Chatterton (contrabassoon). And so to the airport, and once again I find myself disagreeing with a British man of letters: when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…”, he was clearly not living in the age of the long-haul flight…

Thur 24 Feb: Heathrow at dawn; home at last; what a week…

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