London Sinfonietta Travels: Poland

At the end of September our players headed to Poland, to perform the London Sinfonietta’s celebrated Warp Works programme at the Sacrum Profanum Festival in Kraków. Principal Saxophonist Simon Haram tells us about the trip.

Thursday 18 September

Planes, trains and automobiles

7am Brussels: the day starts with the inevitable earworms and sore embouchure that are the result of a two and a half hour Michael Nyman Band show last night. We played a double bill of his scores to Dziga Vertov movies, a world away from Conlon Nancarrow’s Player Piano Study No. 7 which I’ll be playing tomorrow for the London Sinfonietta.

First on the agenda today, bus to Brussels Midi to catch the Eurostar home. Thinking about the Scottish referendum and how it might affect all my friends north of the border. I’ve got some recording sessions with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a month’s time – will I need my passport to get to Glasgow by then?

3pm Heathrow: made it on time to the airport after a whistlestop visit home. Just time to dump one of my saxophones, grab some lunch, chuck a few clean clothes in the case, feed the cat and then get back on the road. All completed in 35 minutes.

Check in was very smooth as I’m travelling light on this trip. The Nancarrow piece actually calls for tenor and alto sax, but as all the notes fit perfectly on an alto, (and sound better in my opinion), I often play the whole thing on alto when we’re on the road to save the excess baggage fees. Principal Percussionist David Hockings could only look on jealously as I breezed through while he negotiated getting his numerous boxes of toys checked in.

WP_20140918_0019.30pm Somewhere over East Germany: I was hoping to write a few words at Frankfurt airport but the connection was a bit of a scramble so I’m catching up in the air. I’ve already met some new faces on this trip. On the first flight I was sitting next to Ian Hardwick who is playing oboe for this concert and am currently sitting next to Zoe Matthews who is playing viola. Touring often throws up new experiences and right now I’m ticking the box that says “sit next to someone on a plane who has brought a pizza with them just in case they get peckish.” Takes all sorts!

Right now though, I’m missing good friend John Orford who is travelling to Kraków in the morning as he’s involved with the London Sinfonietta’s concert at Kings Place tonight. We traditionally while away plane trips by playing cribbage. A few years ago on a trip to New York John may have lost a considerable sum to me this way, but of course I’m far too polite to ever mention it. Playing crib on my tablet just isn’t as much fun.

Midnight Chopin Hotel Kraków: so a long day of travel draws to a close with the traditional small beer in the hotel bar. There’s a lively atmosphere, with lots of locals seemingly settled in for a good night. Not sure about the decorations in the lobby though. Did it really take that long to get here?


Friday 19 September

Historical re-enactments
WP_20140919_007Morning in Kraków: tonight’s concert is a prelude to a big party that Warp Records are throwing tomorrow night. We’re revisiting a programme that we toured extensively four or five years ago with many of their artists. As such it’s something of a reprise. A stroll to the centre of town this morning after breakfast resulted in a couple more re-enactments in a more impromptu fashion.

I headed for the main square with Principal Trombonist Byron Fulcher and one of our Emerging Artists, trumpeter Christian Barraclough, in order to hear the famous trumpeter play his incomplete fanfares from the tower of St Mary’s Church. The story goes that in the 13th century the trumpeter was playing to signal an imminent attack and was hit by an arrow through the neck mid fanfare. To honour this story the trumpeter never completes his fanfare, even though he is tasked with trying to on the hour, every hour! I hope one day for his sanity he’s allowed to finish it.

The square was that typical European mix of street food market, overpriced cafes, buskers and street theatre. The buskers in particular were of a very high standard. There was a fine soprano, a guy playing musical glass organ and a fabulous accordionist who was powering through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons like it had been written for him. There was also a line of beautiful white horse drawn carriages, looking a bit like an ancient forebear of a Formula 1 starting grid.


Christian kindly re-enacted the untimely demise of his historical colleague for me so I could get a photo for this blog. At that moment, a man mountain dressed as Ghengis Khan, (I think), spotted that we were taking photos and took it upon himself to get involved by threatening to remove the head of our Principal Trombone. It was all good natured stuff though and Genghis insisted on shaking all our hands once the 10 zloty had been handed over for the photo opportunity. Big mistake. His handshake was more like sticking your fist into a vice. I’m just hoping my fingers are okay for the rehearsal in a few hours time.

Afternoon at the venue: being the sax player in an orchestra involves hanging around. A lot of hanging around! This can be a blessing and a curse. Right now, it’s giving me time to work on this blog, but often it can be a bit of a drag.

It seems like the whole of the Kraków tram system between our hotel and the venue is being dug up at the moment so the traffic meant we arrived a bit late to the rehearsal. Nobody is as late as Enno Senft’s bass though, which has been lost somewhere in transit by Lufthansa. The promoters have found him a bass to play the concert on which sports an indian chief at the top. Very impressive.

Andrew Gourlay, our conductor, was also stuck in traffic and got here after us. This means we’ve had to play through everything with little time to double check any wrinkles that show up. So my preparation for tonight so far has been a 1 minute warm up, quick blast through the piece and now a 3 hour wait until the show begins.

You might think this makes my life easy, but it can be tricky switching the concentration back on after such a long break and of course my first entry is a prominent solo. Situation normal for a classical sax player. Sometimes it really is easier to play for the whole concert.

Later at the hotel: the concert finished for me after the first piece so I could make an early getaway. Another diversion strewn journey, in a cab this time, back to the hotel means I’m already packed for the morning and about to call it a night while the rest of the band are still hard at work. Did I mention being a sax player can be an advantage sometimes? We’ve got a 4.30am start in the morning so stealing an extra hour in bed is precious, especially as I’m about three quarters of the way through seven weeks non stop touring. Two flights home tomorrow, mad dash up to Liverpool for a quick rehearsal then off to China for two weeks. Roll on October and a week off.

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