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Our co-principal Violist Max Mandel blogs from Rotterdam on the Bach Christmas Oratorio tour. A blow by blow account of the 1st 24 hours:
We’ve already had a week of rehearsals and concerts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio so it doesn’t feel like the usual beginning of a tour where you’re not sure how it’s going to go. Instead we feel like quite a close group already, in part thanks to Maestro Masaaki Suzuki’s generous spirit. He’s the kind of director who is very insistent on what he wants from the music but the way he gets after it never feels like nagging. His humility and endless enthusiasm for the music has made the project a joy for everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group so eager to get on a plane first thing in the morning.
05:45 I wake up an hour earlier than I had set my alarm. Happens all the time. The body knows it has to get to the airport and wants to get going. An hour later actual alarm goes off. Sleep for another 15.
08:15 Arrive City Airport. My first time. Only took 45 minutes! I’m one of the lucky ones. Some of our members live outside London and will book a hotel the night before a flight like this.
08:20 Standing in line to check in I read on social media the rules for creating your Star Wars name: I got Manma Cater. Excited about Rogue 1 opening soon.
08:40 I find out the flight is delayed by 30 minutes. Always painful, but a regular occurrence so I’ve trained myself to relax into it.
09:12 My dear colleague violinist Debbie Diamond wants to know if I’ve eaten anything yet. Horrified to find out I haven’t had breakfast. We manage to have a lovely chat about our shared Toronto history. Canadians are well represented on this tour with guest leader Julia Wedman (Saskatoon, SA) on loan from Tafelmusik and Toronto natives Debbie, Baritone Johnathan Brown and myself.
10:08 Pret breakfast.
Very important dinner plan for Brussels discussion with violinist Andrew Roberts. Where to eat is the top priority for most musicians followed closely by where to drink.
10:56 Orchestra gets to board first thanks to the lovely violinist turned British Airways dispatcher. Managed to get all our gear loaded without incident, no tears, no yelling, no threats, and I don’t hear any jokes about “wishing you had picked the flute.” Pulled out of the gate at 11:20.
13:22 Bags come off the belt in Rotterdam perfectly spaced 2 feet apart. Are Dutch airports always much more efficient than British ones? What’s their secret?
14:05 Arrive hotel.
14:10-14:20 Stare at wall.
14:45 Suddenly starving grab a slice of pizza next to the hotel, where I run into a few colleagues who had the same craving.
15:20 Arrive at the hall and discover the nifty backstage area.
15:50 Right before rehearsal starts our friend and world renowned fortepianist Kristian Bezouindenhout appears out of nowhere. Fantastic to see him! He’s rehearsing for his recital the next night with soprano Anne Sophie von Otter.
16:00 Rehearsal at De Doelen. Huge hall which looks a bit imposing for our baroque instruments but it turns out to have a lovely warm sound on stage and almost no balance issues out in the stalls.
Maestro Suzuki leads a lively rehearsal, mentioning that he knows we’ll be excellent in the concert but that he needs more energy from us for the rehearsal. I believe he flew in the night before. My favorite quote to come out of rehearsal was when one of our horn players wanted to do their tricky bit over again. Baroque horns are notoriously unreliable and sometimes a unwanted squeak or squawk will pop out. Suzuki takes this moment to ask rhetorically “What is failure?” He goes on to explain that failure is not a flub in beats 2 or 3 from an individual player, but when the entire orchestra doesn’t play with the same intent and total commitment on beat 1. Heads nod in enthusiastic agreement all over the stage.
17:30 Rehearsal over, Kris and Anne Sofie have been listening to the rehearsal, she tells me the choir sounds very good. High praise from a legend.
18:00-19:00 Stare at wall in hotel
19:15 Snacks with the guest leader in her hotel room
19:45 Back over to the hall.
20:15 Concert! Program starts with the Sanctus from the b minor Mass which Suzuki had previously informed us had been written much earlier in 1723 and added later. A glorious opener. Always brings a smile to my face.
22:15 Concert over, congratulations all round.
22:25 A dispute breaks out whether we should proceed directly to the Chinese restaurant at the hotel or get a drink first. Countertenor Robin Blaze leads the charge back to the restaurant (he had eaten lunch there) while a splinter group heads to the closest bar.
23:00 Concerned about the maestro being left alone with all those singers (and the slow pace at which the alcohol is entering my body at the bar we chose) I grab Kris and dash back to the restaurant.
23:15 Suzuki has ordered a gorgeous array of Chinese dishes, which he insists on treating us to. Late stragglers from the bar start piling in, managing to get in some last orders. Thanks to the friendly staff at Grand Garden restaurant for the very prompt beer delivery to our table.
00:15 I’m thinking about bed but Julia Wedman has a couple of students in tow and along with our bassoonist Joe Qiu and Kris B we decide that chips must be found and another drink is in order. Joe is confident that Rotterdam is a happening town and that we’ll find something close by.
00:30 We find the Coco Nuts Club. Loud thumping bass. Paradise in a glass. Daiquiris and frozen margaritas ensue.
01:3??? Round of tequila shots. We get up from our chairs and dance.
02:15 2nd round of tequila shots.
02:45 Manage to find out way back to the hotel.