Friday, 2 October 2015

Summer summary...

We had a great trip to Brazil (via Madrid for a concert in lovely El Escorial and back to the airport in time for a night flight to Sao Paolo!) for a great week's teaching and performing with the students of the Campos de Jordao Festival. It's a truly astonishing achievement to have created such a diverse and thriving all-embracing festival - great to hear that it is COMPULSORY to study music in Brazilian schools. Couldn't the rest of the world learn something from that? And that amazing converted train station which houses a most beautiful new concert hall, seemingly dropped in by a genius architect to work in harmony with the majestic old marble building.

Adorable baby owl somehow found its way to the motorway services on way to Campos...

Then in August we had a similar 2-centre tour, though not over two continents this time. Oslo Chamber Music Festival was great - lovely people, working with the amazing David Hansen (countertenor extraordinaire) and the sun come to Oslo for the first time that summer - what views over the harbour watching a mega cruise liner leaving port for a trip up the fjords. Waking at 3.30 am to catch the early flight to northern Spain wasn't so much fun, but the lovely Santander Festival was as vibrant as ever. Shame to be there for such a short visit, but a great tapas bar with those incredibly soft-headed foamy cervesas made up for it. And the legendary Teresa Berganza was at our concert and took the trouble to come and see us back stage afterwards, full of lovely compliments and friendly banter. I wished I'd thought to tell her that our paths had crossed previously at Sutton Place in the '80s and at Granada Festival in '90. Both memorable performances by her.

September began with a return to the lovely Nourish Festival in Devon, where you are literally 'nourished' with food and music! Then we were immersed in Brahms for a few days, recording at Potton Hall again, this time the C Minor Quartet and the Piano Quintet with the fabulous Natasha Kudritskaya. That's a momentous thing to have in the catalogue finally - we've been playing both works since we were youngsters…
 Bovey Tracey church and little gate-crasher outside the artists' door...

Recording at Potton Hall with Jeremy Hayes, producer.

Finally, to round off the summer, we visited Dubrovnik - all of us for the very first time - and were blown away by its beauty. Having always heard about it, you are kind of ready for something special, but it's even more stunning than one can imagine. The light…the white stone … and it was especially great to be there to perform our Trees, Walls and Cities piece, this time with mezzo Clare McCaldin, who was simply brilliant. We had lots of fun out and about with Nigel Osborne, Ian Richie, Isadora Zebeljan (who celebrated her birthday on the concert night). Lovely festival, lovely people. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the Blood Moon that night as it was cloudy… Would've been a great place to see it. We'll have to try again in 30 years' time!!

Tip me for more alcohol - that's fab!

Here's a snap of me taking a nap in the back-stage trolleys….joined by Paul. Jet-lag and too many miles covered.

A well-earned beer in departures. Cheers!
Back home again for a bit of a holiday.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

An eclectic few weeks.

Just had a great couple of weeks - the kind of diversity that makes this job such fun.
First we spent a couple of days in an amazing new (at least to me) studio in Chiswick, Metropolis, recording music for a new film by the brilliant Andrew Steggall. So nice when a film has a particular sound - this one will be so well suited to just the quartet soundtrack as it's so intimate. Can't wait to see the finished product.
A few days later we were in Durham University in the hallowed Cathedral Green music school, where we go once a year to workshop and perform string quartets written by the second year music students. It was a really impressive selection and, I'm happy to say, most of the composers were young women!
Back in London we had our crazy Zemlinsky Day at Kings Place, performing all the string quartets including the early recently-discovered E Minor and accompanied by a talk/discussion session with BBC presenter and musicologist Stephen Johnson. What a fabulous collection of pieces and really powerful to hear them all side by side. That day ended with some well-deserved beers in the Rotunda Bar!
Straight from there we went to Zaragoza in northern Spain, one of our favourite concert halls and lovely people who invite us regularly. There were lots of kids in the audience who all came backstage afterwards in search of autographs and group photos. Cello did get into the group, but I don't have a copy to show… Perhaps one of the parents could send one?? It's so great when we can enthuse young people to the extent they seemed to be enthused - if my Spanish is any good!

Cellfies - just a small selection of me and a few male admirers...

 He carried me to the tapas bar in Zaragoza and 
pretended to play me…what a thrill!
 These are old shots from Mexico in November. I was a little nervous on the back of that truck, but he held me tight and I felt ….aahh!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Five days in Sweden

It was a little sad to leave the start of spring in London - promisingly warm weather and clear skies - only to touch down in a very wet, misty and overcast Copenhagen Airport for the second leg of our  Swedish tour. But crossing The Bridge in that eerie mist was quite dramatic, if lacking in any kind of view!
The first outing for a new commission, a haunting and mesmerising short work by Andrea Tarrodi, was somehow apt for the weather outside on a quiet Sunday afternoon in Landskrona... and very well received. Returning to Malmo for a cosy evening meal in the lovely characterful hotel made up for the long journeys of the day.
Next day we returned to the fabulous hall in Malmo Paladium (Art Deco splendour and a great accoustic) followed by the warm hospitality of Martin and Andreas from Music i Syd for a great dinner after the concert. Here we had been happy to play the Tarrodi again but this time in the presence of the composer, who seemed happy with our treatment of it. Would love to get to know her other quartets.
Three more concerts followed - in Helsingborg the dramatic chamber hall with windows overlooking the harbour, boats flowing by seemingly in harmony with the music, I was reminded of the similar hall at Sydney Opera House, the Utzon Room, named after the architect of that iconic building. Lo and behold, this hall was designed by his son! The next day was a complete change of scene - playing high up in the castle at Kalmar, another room with a view of the ocean and - most appreciated by us - a 600-year old castle that was well heated! Warm audience too…encores followed by lovely fish soup reception! Finally, Oskarshamn - another gem of a hall within a school chapel, and the concert was preceded by an award ceremony for young musicians. Always great to see the support offered around the world when so much funding is being withdrawn through political apathy…
Up early the next morning for a four-hour drive back to C'hagen Airport to fly home. Such a glamorous life!

Cellfie spotlight.
Hi fans, just a couple of snapshots of my latest tour to Sweden. Was so time for more.
                           I really am the anchor of this group...

                                   People-spotting at the airport. 
                     Do our bums look big in this?
                     I'm all about that bass….

Thursday, 2 April 2015

En route home in Kuala Lumpur again

Here we are again in Kuala Lumpur awaiting the connecting flight home. Still buzzing from the final few days of the tour.

From Christchurch we drove south in a great big comfortable 4x4, sharing the driving and listening to Sibelius symphonies as the scenery slipped by. At first a little dull but becoming more dramatic and unusual as the journey went on. Fabulous coffee stop in Riverstone Cafe then another quick stop by the sea at Oamaru. What an extraordinary place - with an historic centre which seems to have been abandoned as its ideas of grandeur in the import and export of whisky were dashed some time in the early 20th century, leaving huge Victorian commercial buildings to gradually disintegrate, only to now enjoy a resurgence as quirky tradespeople moved in, selling books, antiques, textiles, crazy rusty metal sculptures, and, yes, whiskey! 

                                                          Sampling said whiskey!

There's even a steam train which moves up and down the short esplanade every 20 minutes or so (forwards then backwards!) and of course if you're lucky enough to be there at dawn or dusk you can watch the penguins leave or return from a busy day 'fishing'. From there we took an amazingly beautiful scenic route which was graced by a wonderful rainbow over the crashing Pacific, and onwards to Dunedin.

Dunedin has bits of Edinburgh in its name, and Dundee, and is indeed a very Scottish-looking place. Vibrant university town with majestic old buildings including a great theatre which has been modernised with great taste and finish, where the concert was to be the next day. But before that we had a fabulous day driving out to the famous Otago Peninsular, with more stunning scenery (yawn,yawn!) and the rare chance of spotting albatross when you reach the end. Which we did! As well as seals lazing on the beach, perfectly happy to pose for photos with enchanted tourists.
Here we made a little film of a kiwi rehearsal - see FB link - and walked on precipitous spectacular cliffs. The return journey on the other side of the peninsular was no less amazing. What a day! The concert that evening somehow seemed to glow with the memory of all we'd seen…

Next was Invercargill, the furthest south we were to go, indeed it's the very bottom of the South Island. The scenic route had to be taken, of course, so we spent an enjoyable few hours meandering along the coast, through the rain forest, looking at waterfalls and stopping for coffee at the quirky and excellent Whistling Frog.

At Invercargill the weather closed in and a fierce south wind with driving rain was quite a shock  to the system. The big treat here after the concert was a special delivery of famous Bluff oysters, courtesy of one of the lovely committee, with a crisp cold white wine. Yummy!
Next day we had to get up early for the drive to Queenstown where we were to leave the car and pick up a flight back to Auckland. So, for the first time in almost three weeks we headed north! We were treated to a most stunning day - clear blue skies making the hills and eventually mountains seem greener than possible. That moment when you turn the corner and spot Lake Wakatipu for the first time is quite amazing… just such tremendously unspoilt natural beauty. Up the Devil's Staircase (hairpin bends) as the mountains loomed larger all around us, and finally arriving in the extremely chic and thriving town/city/ski resort that is Queenstown. The flight out of there was truly amazing, with views over lakes and mountains and to cap it all, a clear view of Mount Cook.
So finally we were back where we started in Auckland - I even had the same hotel room on the 22nd floor! Time for a quick nap then down to the Town Hall, this time the great hall, for our final concert. There was a fantastic atmosphere, as if everyone knew it was our last of the tour, and we felt inspired by all we'd seen and done in the previous days and weeks. We finished with an encore of Elgar Chanson de Nuit, which seemed quite fitting for our return home. After a lovely final drinks reception with Peter Walls and some of the team at CMNZ we returned to the hotel to pack, sleep, then after a quick breakfast watching crazy people throwing themselves off the Sky Tower with bungy ropes attached to their legs, headed for the airport. 
It's been a fantastic trip, brilliantly organised and executed. Cannot wait to be back! 

A few Cellfies

Hi again fans - here's my last Cellfies posting of the trip. It's all about relaxation - as we seasoned travellers know, winding down for the long haul home is important.
                              A final coffee at the airport
                         Kicking back in the massage chair at KL
            Purchasing important accessories for the journey
               And catching some well-earned shut-eye on board. 
                                          Night night!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

More travels around New Zealand and a few Cellfies

That drive from Napier to New Plymouth was amazing. The beautiful Lake Taupo, the mountains, steaming thermal springs visible in the distance, but best of all was the Forgotten Highway: 100km of winding precarious track, remote, eerie (no phone signal in case of problems!) and spectacular. That's what I hear, 'cos only the violins were daring enough to take that route, (they're used to altitude;)...) us more lowly players being boring and sensible and definitely missing out. Idiots! (Well, someone had painted me such a black picture of this one-lane track I honestly felt it would be mad to try it!)
New Plymouth was lovely, in the quirky and wonderful boutique hotel aptly named the Nice Hotel, because it is, well, nice… Eccentric, generous and fascinating host Terry and his brilliant chef make for a great team. The concert was especially fun as lots of young people turned up - always such a pleasure.
Next day we flew down to Wellington and had the joy of being able to totally unpack the suitcase as we were staying for four days in one hotel! (Good planning, CMNZ -thanks!) What a fabulous city Wellington is, with the splendid waterfront, fantastic Botanical Gardens, great venues and restaurants. And of course, the best coffee in the world. We had a short drive up to Palmerston North for a concert where, amongst others, were an old university buddy of Ian's, Paul's brother-in-law's family from Ireland, and my art teacher from secondary school 35 years ago! What a surprise and a joy to see her… That's what's so great down here: so many people have come from Europe or have links there, one really feels part of the culture. The evening was perfectly rounded off with a delicious curry cooked and transported to the venue by Jenny with fantastic forward planning, knowing no restaurants would be open that late!
Also a bonus of being based a few days in one place, on a free evening we were able to go to a Real Home! Lovely Peter and Catherine Walls invited us for a fab dinner in their gorgeous house with spectacular views over the city, sea and mountains.
In Wellington we were able to spend time with our excellent hosts, CMNZ, in their great new offices, where we spent a few hours rehearsing and doing interviews. Also hoola-hooping with the girls - an activity I'm told is quite popular to clear the head after a typical day of logistical headaches organising tours for string quartets and the like!
The concert at the wonderful Michael Fowler Centre was rounded off with a lovely reception with all the team as well as many old friends from the chamber music world, including members of the lovely New Zealand String Quartet who we first met over 30 years ago at Banff.
On we went the next day (through the Middle Earth that is Wellington Airport, see below)

and on to the sun trap and sleepy hideaway English-style town of Nelson. Simply lovely.  Great organisation by the local hosts and a fantastic Japanese meal in the hotel after the concert.
On today to Christchurch. What can I say? The devastation inflicted on this lovely city four years ago is still very much in evidence, but the spirit of community and determination shines through clear and bright. Most humbling.

Fantastic auditorium for the concert at St Margaret's College - and another lovely audience, one of whom had been a supporter of CMNZ since 1960! - and, joy of joys, Jenny brought another of her fantastic curries. Yum!
Back on the road tomorrow for the southern-most reaches of this amazing country.

Cellfies update
Hello again fans. I've been so busy these last days I haven't had much time for Cellfies, but here are a few I hope will amuse you.
A bit of downtime at CMNZ just hanging out with the gang…
we artistes can have fun too.

Posing with more Middle Earth celebrities at the airport.

Finally, a car that knows how to treat me! 
My own seat - and I don't have to be upside down!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Moving around the North Island plus more cello selfies (or Cellfies as they're now known!)

We've completed the first week of the tour and had a great time so far. Arriving into Auckland on St Patrick's Day really reinforced that feeling I always get on arriving down under. You travel half way across the world, as far as you can go, and emerge into a world which feels just like home! There were plenty of Irish pubs to choose from (though we were unlucky as the one we chose had run out of Guinness by 6pm!) Plenty of live music and "Craic" all over town. Also lovely to feel the warmth of the sun after a long European winter.
The first concert was in a lovely university concert hall in Hamilton, passing Hobbiton on the way though sadly no time to call in and see it for ourselves. This was the country's oldest music society and they were rightly proud of their great new auditorium, Gallagher Academy, which we heard all about with nibbles and drinks after the concert, audience and committee alike chatting like old friends.
Next day was Auckland, in the fabulous Town Hall, as part of the Auckland Festival. Had a great walk down to the bay with the committee then dined in the open under a spectacular sky, Jupiter and Venus vying for supremacy amongst millions of (unfamiliar) stars! And the next morning the Queen Mary sailed into port - what a sight!

Flying down to Napier, I was aware of its name from wine labels, entering as we were the famous Hawkes Bay region, but I didn't know about its Art Deco architecture, a silver lining on the cloud that was a terrible earthquake in the '30s. Re-building at the height of the style's popularity, the townsfolk decided to make their mark. It is truly wonderful - feels like walking through a Hollywood film set, old cars and quaint shops lining the streets. As it's one of my favourite periods of architecture I was delighted to wander the streets taking snap shots.

We had a short chat-show appearance on TV Hawkes Bay, which was great fun. Lovely audience for the concert later in the MTG Theatre and gorgeous after-show nibbles and chat again - well into the night with plenty of great wine!
We drove the next leg, across the North Island to New Plymouth. A seven and a half hour drive…. see next instalment!

More cello selfies - or "Cellfies" ;)

I must say, at my age (230) a transcontinental flight is somewhat challenging, but I made it. And look what was waiting to greet me on arrival at Auckland! I am a fan of Lord of the Rings so this is one of my most treasured cellfies yet! Drove past Hobbiton the next day too, but they wouldn't let me out of the car…meanies.

The view from my room (sea-view obvs) getting ready to hit the town on St Paddy's Day!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cello travel-blog and selfies - Kuala Lumpur en route for NZ!

Just landed in Kuala Lumpur…flight this far was great. The humans got to lie down as the flight was so empty, so for once my 'cello seat' was peaceful and secluded. They usually insist on my being accompanied but why? … I'm not exactly going to get up and walk around the aircraft causing blockages or disruption. Just kicked back and watched a couple of movies… One day they'll actually remember to give me a meal or even a drink.
So here I am in KL International. As they thoughtfully provide airside trolleys (unlike UK airports  which inexplicably don't) I was able to put on my best tropical scarf and do a bit of exploring. Check out my selfies…
First had to wait while the humans got their coffee and wifi fix.. then I was off!

Getting a feel for this iconic airport.

If only...

Posing with local celebs.