Two weeks, three concerts, four fantastic musical works, and five thousand people packed into the Royal Albert Hall. What a great way to finish NYO 2014.
When I first arrived at Birmingham University I was struck by the beauty of the campus- I had a lovely view of the lake from my bedroom window. (This meant I never needed to set an alarm; the geese honking before seven o’clock made sure I was always on time for warm ups.)
In the first week the orchestra got to grips with the main challenges of the repertoire, through full orchestral rehearsals, sectionals, and ‘peer-learning’, where small groups of players break off and rehearse without a tutor. The cello section once again split into two teams- this time tones and semi-tones. Post-its were used as points, but they kept falling off so I can’t remember who won.
The main challenge with Stravinsky’s Petrushka was to understand the story behind the music we were playing. It felt very fragmented- for example, we’d be enjoying the bustling commotion of the Shrovetide fair, and the music would halt abruptly, making way for a whimsical cadenza in the solo flute. It didn’t make much sense until one morning the entire orchestra watched a film of the ballet, and we realised the magician produces a flute and plays the cadenza before touching each puppet with it, awakening them for the Russian Dance.
It is always important with an orchestra as big as NYO (twenty first violins, eighteen cellos, nine trumpets, etc.) that each section has some time to bond and get to know each other. The section night is an evening early on in each residency when all the players of one instrument come together and have some fun. Standard activities are watching a film and eating party food, but this summer we saw some very exciting alternatives…
In the second week, when the principal conductor arrived, things got a bit more serious. This summer we were under the baton of Englishman Edward Gardner, director of the ENO. From the first rehearsal we felt very secure- he knew exactly what he wanted from us, having recorded Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra with the BBC Symphony Orchestra just a few years ago. He made us laugh too, describing the violins’ playing as a bit too ‘baked potato’, and when the woodwind didn’t play together he said they were ‘separating like a bad mayonnaise’. Later, in the final rehearsal before the BBC Proms concert, he said to the violas ‘I have a lot of respect for your playing, but if you rush here, I will kill all of your pets.’ They didn’t rush in the concert, so thankfully my friend Hannah’s five cats are still alive and well.
Our last meal in Birmingham University marked the end of our days of rehearsal, and the start of the concert tour. The lovely catering staff created a symphony orchestra with cutlery and cocktail sticks to send us on our way. My favourite was the conductor- how cute!
The next day we travelled to Newcastle. The orchestra filled four coaches, named Coach Igor, Coach Witold, Coach Harrison and Coach Sergei (my coach). This was my third visit to the Sage with the NYO, and it’s one of my favourite venues- creating a huge sound is always effortless for the orchestra, which meant the climactic fortissimo passages in the second half could really pack a punch.
After a day off to wander around Durham, we travelled back to Birmingham to perform in Symphony Hall. After a short rehearsal we were given some free time to look around the city. My friends and I went to the enormous library and found two table tennis tables in a circular courtyard, so spent our afternoon playing that.
After another thrilling concert, we got straight on our coaches and headed to London. It wasn’t ideal to arrive at our accommodation at two in the morning, but the RideLondon event, where roads close to allow thousands of cyclists to weave their way around the city streets, meant the coaches wouldn’t have been able to drop us off the next day. However, I did enjoy the scenic walk over Waterloo Bridge to the tube station on the day of our Prom.
I remember watching the NYO prom before I got into the orchestra, and being in awe of these perfect performers and the giant hall they were playing in. In actual fact, many of the players are nervous backstage, and it can feel very daunting knowing you will be watched by not only the thousands of people in the hall, but also by the insect-like cameras zooming above your head. However, this time the extra adrenaline definitely worked in our favour- I remember in the second movement of the Lutoslawski, where the strings play extremely fast, pianissimo semiquaver passages, it was the most accurate we’d ever played it. For me it was these very intimate moments that were the most special- having thousands of people all in one space, listening so intently to something so quiet.
I’m back home now, missing the music, missing the people, even missing the warm ups and the two minutes silence. We’re all busy practising for our auditions, because it means so much that we’re a part of NYO 2015- although 2014 will be a tough year to beat.