Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Back-Row Blogger: Temporary vagrancy

Wed 27 Jul 2011

Asleep on train

‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head’. Neither, from time to time, do musicians. During the Proms for example, morning rehearsals are held in the Albert Hall and the players are then released to roam the streets until the evening concert. If you visit Tate Modern, one of the cinemas in Leicester Square or a West End department store at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, as like as not you will be rubbing shoulders with an oboist or a tuba player. Some take the opportunity to fit in a few hours teaching – and there is always The Pub. Why not go home for an hour or two? It is a common misapprehension that London musicians live in London. Either through choice or necessity, many live beyond the M25, and orchestral schedules frequently result in this temporary vagrancy.

On the last day of the OAE’s tour with Simon Rattle a 6am start (the third in as many days) brought the orchestra back to Heathrow at 10 am for a rehearsal in the Festival Hall at 5 pm followed by a concert and live broadcast. Of course a 6am start is the norm for many workers, but consider that musicians are expected to perform at the height of their powers between 7 and 10 pm, more than 12 hours after the alarm has interrupted their innocent dreams. It is not surprising that the search for an afternoon nap often features prominently in a musician’s day. Indeed, if some enterprising person were to invent a violin case that could convert into a comfortable inflatable mattress, they would be sure of a market, and one OAE double bass player has admitted to curling up inside his womb-like, padded case. On the morning in question a member of the Back Row hit upon an ingenious solution. Having gone to Liverpool St station to buy an advance ticket for her homeward journey after the concert, she noticed that the Norwich train was due to leave in ten minutes. Purchasing a day return to Colchester, she boarded the train, and was soon sleeping soundly. At Colchester she caught the next train back to London and was able to sleep for another hour. On reflection it is quite likely that she is not the only musician to have used the railways in this way. Next time you see someone asleep on a train in the middle of the afternoon, tap them on the shoulder and ask what instrument they play. You may be surprised at the answer.

Back Row Blogger

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The Back-Row blogger

Tue 12 Jul 2011

A first post from our new back-row blogger – slightly delayed because of the amount of stuff we’ve been putting up here – apologies!

BLOG FROM THE BACK ROW

 ‘It’s my birthday…..there’s a party….everyone is invited……Lucas Meachem’. I study the invitation pinned to the OAE notice board at Glyndebourne. ‘Who’s Lucas Meachem?’ I ask my colleague. She stares in disbelief. ‘Lucas Meachem? Don Giovanni?’ in a tone which also says ‘Hello, where have you been for the last three weeks?’ Well, I’ve been in my usual place on the back row in the pit and, unlike my violinist colleague, unable to see anything on stage. (Our view consists of the back of the flutes’ and oboes’ heads, the backs of the ‘cellos who are on a slightly raised platform, the conductor, more or less, very occasionally if we’re lucky the leader, and the front row of the audience, some of whom will be snoozing after the interval.) We can hear that there are people walking above our heads, and from far away comes the sound of singing, but I admit that our perspective on proceedings is limited. To enhance my experience I’ve watched the DVD of the production, filmed last year. It’s a revelation. That alarming thumping directly overhead in act 2 for example turns out to be Leporello hopping across the stage with his legs tied together. No need to worry. But the cast is different from this year’s and so for me, Gerald Finley is  Don Giovanni – hence my puzzlement over the invitation. During the interval a cake is brought into the artists’ cafe and we all sing ‘Happy Birthday’. That must be the new     Giovanni blowing out the candles. So, Lucas Meachem, now I know you (sort of) but you don’t know me, and I can hear you (sort of) though I don’t suppose you can hear me at all. But when you’re back on stage remember, as you get dragged down into hell – that faint bellowing from far below is The Back Row, blowing our brains out in a vain attempt to drown your screams.

Back row blogger, 18/06/2011

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