Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Netty's tour diary. Part 2 (singing-bowls, lost keys and officious ladies)

Fri Mar 25 2011

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Viola player Annette Isserliss concludes her US tour diary:

Thurs 17th

Awoke wondering how on earth the OAE homeward travellers (the players who weren’t staying on for the Heiner Goebbel’s concert) had managed to rouse themselves to leave at 6.00 am! Took the subway (with viola in tow) to meet cousin Judy in Chelsea, and after a guided tour of some of the finer architectural sights, we climbed up onto the High Walk: converted from an old railway on an overpass to a garden walk with views of Chelsea Harbour with Hoboken,New Jersey beyond, on one side, and interesting city glimpses on the other. Although botanically at this time of year it was confined to almost-budding saplings and crocuses (crocii??) it was exceedingly pleasant in the mellow sunshine. As we approached a bench with a be-hatted native simultaneously basking and scribbling, it looked up, and turned out to be fello viola Nick Logie! He was staying in NY a bit longer, not only for the sponsors’ reception that evening, but because his eldest son Sascha is currently working in NY for the UN.

We persuaded him to join us for lunch, and he gallantly took turns in carrying the viola, which was becoming heavier by the minute!

After lunch with Judy’s husband, cousin Marty, Nick wanted to listen to some of the Goebbels rehearsal, so we made our way to the studio on W 25th.

Rehearsal v intense and detailed, but it was good to reacquaint with Heiner Goebbels’ Songs of Wars I have Seen: a collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, featuring the female members reading excerpts from the writings of Gertrude Stein on the subject of the privations of war. It is a highly effective piece of Music Theatre, but involves quite a lot of multi-tasking and equipment! Anu Tali, our conductor, is petite, perfectionist and persevering. It is complicated to have to speak in a different rhythm to the music you are playing at the same time! There were some giggly moments too, such as harpist Helen Tunstall’s attempts to read (in a funny story) that her dog had diabetes, turning involuntarily into another word beginning with “dia………” It was all very hard work indeed, and we were relieved when Heiner Goebbels agreed to finish the rehearsal by 7.30. It had been most helpful to have him there for the evening part of the rehearsal, as he was very clear about what effects he wanted.

So good to re-encounter our colleagues from London Sinfonietta again!
And to find that Roger Chase would be playing: I’d known him since RCM, when we had adjacent viola lessons with Bernard Shore.

Fri 18th
Final day. To Greenwich for solitary breakfast. Thought I was practising my muttered speaking part and rhythm-thumping discreetly until diner in far corner lowered his New York Times meaningfully and observed me over his glasses. Wandered around village admiring the graceful doorways of the older red brick houses.Thence into the bowels of the subway again to emerge in Upper West Side, re-exploring old haunts. Then reluctantly back to the Vampire to practise.

Arriving onstage at Alice Tully for rehearsal, taken aback at the amount of paraphernalia cluttering the stage, which made it hazardous even crossing to my place! Wires and cables everywhere: music-stand- lights; microphones by every musician; side-tables bearing little lamps and tibetan singing-bowls with their sticks (for the epilogue) ditto; pick-ups to be attached to the tail-gut strings on our instruments; etc. Tricky to arrange one’s mic close enough to one’s mouth but avoiding hitting it with the instrument or bow! Another somewhat tense rehearsal…..I’m always so impressed at Shelagh Sutherland, LS keyboard-player, reading a long monologue whilst playing a complicated harpsichord movement by Matthew Locke!

It really is a highly effective piece of Music Theatre, and I’ve come to really appreciate the musical effects too. It feels quite polarised to be interspersing Goebbels with Locke: the latter so redolent of the time of Shakespeare.

We OAE ladies hung out in the dressing-room as LS did the 1st half of the concert. Poor Lisa B (flute) arrived in a state, because she couldn’t find the key to lock up her friend’s amazing apartment where she’d been staying, and had had to leave it open. All ended happily however, as the friend had accidentally walked off with the key!

We got on stage at the end of the interval (in spite of the officious ladies) to prepare ourselves with mic positioning, instrument pick- ups etc. I needed to get into heightened focus mode, as this situation demanded living in the “now” of the moment as well as being prepared for what was to come immediately after.

The performance felt really special in the event, even if more than a few of the singing-bowls turned out to be duds. There was a tape to reinforce the intended overwhelming ringing, so I mentally tuned into that so that I feel a part of it.

A big hit with the audience, happily, and a great end to OAE’s mega-busy week! Much contented imbibing thereafter, and to hell with the projected 06.00 start looming….

Annette Isserlis, Viola

You might be interested to watch a video about the piece by Heiner Goebbels here.

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