On Thursday 9 and Friday 10 June we performed two nights of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s acclaimed chamber opera double bill The Corridor/The Cure, on tour in Holland.

Flautist Karen Jones shares her diary of the tour:

Monday 6 June

IMG_0613We started with a civilised check in time of 10.30am at Heathrow airport. I met with my colleagues at various stages of security, then as seems to be the unspoken musicians agreement, we went for coffee and naughty pastries at Pret. A delayed flight awaited us but fortunately there was no schedule pressure – we were not working until the evening’s rehearsal in Amsterdam.

There was a typical British Airways snack on the plane – a bag of crisps! So as ever, our top point of discussion upon arrival at our hotel was grub! We had a couple of hours in hand before our first rehearsal, so took the easy option and ate out on the pleasant hotel patio area before setting off on the perfect ‘commute’ to work; a stroll along the canal, troubled only by bikes whizzing along on their way.

The Musikgebouw is a fabulous waterside concert venue. We immediately ‘costumed up’ and began our three hour rehearsal. It all went very smoothly and we finished on the nose of 10pm, so it was back to the hotel for more grub and several drinks.

Tuesday 7 June

Another unheard of luxury – a free morning. So Tuesday started with a very relaxed breakfast out in the sunshine with my colleagues. There was then an imperative change of hotel room – but more of our hotel and the hotel rooms later…

IMG_0616I met with an old friend and fellow flute player who lives and works in Amsterdam (Emily Beynon, Principal Flute of Concertegebouw for the past 21 years) and we had a most civilised lunch together out on the water at the front of the concert hall. Then began our six hours of rehearsal for the two operas.

Wednesday 8 June

In case you hadn’t already noticed, perhaps now is the time to point out that this is a most UNTYPICAL tour. Most, if not all, orchestral tours are usually one concert per night in a different city (sometimes country) each day, sometimes even with a different programme each day! To be in one (fabulous) city for five days, in one hotel with one programme – LUXURY! And the players relish these unheard of conditions each in their own way. Some choose to make the use of the free time by catching up on some long awaited practise. Some maximise the chance to explore this fascinating city and I do a mixture, throwing in lots of sitting in cafes watching this neck of the world roll by.

I promised more about the unusual Lloyd Hotel we are in. It is unique in that it has rooms ranging from one star to five. It was originally built (1916) to house migrants. It was then a IMG_0635penitentiary and eventually a somewhat grim and depressing juvenile prison. Needless to say it has undergone huge re-design into its current form as a hotel. Some of us had extraordinary room designs, with for example, showers in the middle of the bedroom resulting in flooded rooms, and others with icons above the bed or toilet units randomly placed centrally in their room! Sir Harrison even mentioned that he had a swing hanging from the middle of his room!  But we all came to love this eclectic and fascinating, not to mention friendly and very welcoming hotel and after five days here, it truly felt like home.

Thursday 9 June

Another lovely relaxed breakfast with my colleagues, during which Sir Harrison invited us to join him. As ever, his company was warm and interesting. The topics discussed ranged from the rare strain of tomatoes he is currently growing to the previous night’s dress rehearsal critique. To have the composer of the programme you have worked so hard at and been so thrilled to have been a part of, actually there with you, alive and in the flesh, is the most rare and treasured experience and one I personally will never forget.

The next few hours saw a group of us don our tourist hats and take the team to the Rijksmuseum. Wary of tiring ourselves on the day of our first performance, we convened for IMG_0642luncheon around 1pm and then went our separate ways. I met up with a Dutch flute student of mine and we ambled gently for the next two hours through parks and along canals until I felt the responsible thing to do was to jump on a tram back to the hotel. I  grabbed my gear, walked back along the canal to the concert venue, practised for an hour or so and off we went. The show was a late start, 8.30pm, but was one of those electrifyingly exciting performances that stays with you long after it has ended. The composer was thrilled and indicated to the fabulous soloists that it had reduced him to tears. Everyone was thrilled and for once it was particularly rewarding to have this recognised with a standing ovation. A small reception afterwards gave us all the chance to debrief and once again spend a little more time hearing from “Harry”, as he is affectionately known here at the London Sinfonietta.

Friday 10 June

IMG_0644The last day of this fabulous trip and a chance to visit the Van Gogh museum. And then mid-afternoon, I began to prepare myself for the tough programme which once again lay ahead. Some practise and a little admin later and we were once more on stage in costume, hopefully to do justice to the stunning operas in our hands. The second and final performance was enthusiastically and warmly received once again. Having taken the responsibility of organising a venue for a last night knees-up after the concert, we retreated to the tapas bar alongside the hotel with which we had become well acquainted over the last week. It was universally acknowledged as having been a gem of a trip with HUGE musical and artistic gratification.

Saturday 11 June

There was one final gathering of colleagues for breakfast before our mid-morning flight back to London. From there, we once again all go our separate ways, hopefully to be  reunited sooner rather than later. One player is flying to China, one is off to Tbilisi, all perfectly unsurprising for a group of London musicians.

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