Thursday 21 August 2014

Tour of India - Part Three

The third installment of our India tour blog by orchestra manager, Annabel:

Greetings from Hyderabad, as the musicians are beginning their fifth concert.  The last few days have passed in a blur of early flights, car journeys, soundchecks and performances.  From Coimbatore we travelled to Chennai where our cellist, Eilidh Martin, has previously lived.  While there she helped establish the Sunshine Orchestra for underprivileged children, based at the KMMC Conservatory.  Although our schedule sadly didn’t allow us to visit the children, we were delighted that a number of them were able to attend our concert – and Eilidh had a chance to check that they are all still practising!  It was lovely to meet the children after the concert, and the evening ended with everyone in good spirits – so much so that, in a moment of carelessness in converting currencies, a bottle of wine with a price containing rather too many 0’s was purchased by the ensemble.  You live and learn….

From Chennai we moved to Mumbai where we gained our first experience of monsoon weather, with rain on both arrival and departure and much higher humidity.  Our concert here, at the National Centre for Performing Arts, was a notable highlight of the trip so far – the Mumbai audience were exceptionally welcoming and we were received very enthusiastically.

National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai
Another early start meant we were somewhat bleary-eyed when setting off for our flight to Hyderabad.  This didn’t last for long though as the realisation that a suitcase had been missed when loading our luggage at the hotel wakened me up somewhat.  A few phonecalls, a tense wait, and a slight dash through security and I made it onto the plane with the elusive suitcase, just.

At the start of the tour Ayaan Ali Khan told me that all of the cities we would be visiting have a distinctly different character.  On arriving in Hyderabad from Mumbai this was certainly true – it felt almost like an entirely different country! The rain and humidity have been exchanged for dry sunshine, and vibrant flowers line the roads.  Roads are less cluttered, and houses come in a multitude of colours.  So far, Hyderabad takes the place of my favourite city – although this may of course all change when we reach Bangalore, our sixth and final city, tomorrow.

Orchestra Manager

For full details of Britten Sinfonia's tour to India click here

Monday 18 August 2014

Tour of India - Part Two

The second installment of our India tour blog by orchestra manager, Annabel:

We had a slow start to our general rehearsal on the afternoon of our first performance, with sound and lighting crew working around us, many people passing through the performance space, and the ever-efficient housekeepers still trying to vacuum the stage!  We experiment with three different stage layouts before settling on one that suits everyone best, ensuring sight-lines between all are good.  No sooner had we settled on this and the rehearsal begun properly, the waiting staff brought in cups of tea and biscuits – it was the earliest rehearsal break I’ve known.  Amjad Ali Khan and his sons joined us a little later for a full soundcheck – we are performing with amplification, in order to balance the three sarods and tabla against the Britten Sinfonia line-up satisfactorily.

The evenings performance went smoothly, with Jacqueline Shave and Adam Mackenzie (bassoon) introducing the Western pieces from stage. Our audience were enthusiastic, and were keen to chat to all involved in the performance at a reception following the show.  It was, as always, a relief to have finished the first performance in the run.

A free day followed, and a chance to explore Delhi.  Journeys were made to various temples, Karims (of Rough Guide to India fame) for lunch, and even a flute shop.  It was, however, Indian Independence Day, so many shops and roads were closed.  At the hotel, flowers in the foyer had been arranged in the shape and colours of the Indian flag, and uniformed men manned an Indian flag positioned on the lawn.

Jacqueline Shave and Kathy Shave
The following day we were to travel to Coimbatore during the early afternoon.  Seizing a short window of opportunity in the schedule, the majority of the group set off in the early hours for the 3 hour drive to Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal. A slightly lengthier journey than anticipated meant that it really was a whistle-stop tour before the journey back to Delhi for our plane to the most southerly part of India we shall be visiting.  Despite the early start and much travel, a spontaneous rehearsal was held in the evening as it felt like much had happened since everyone played.

A further free day followed, and another early start for the enthusiastically-exploring players – this time to visit nearby mountains and scenic railway, with a chance to explore a local town and various temples. An early night was then called for, ahead of our second performance today and beginning of intense travel tomorrow.  It has been an unusually-luxurious start to the tour, but from now on we travel and perform almost every day; our next stops on consecutive days are Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Orchestra Manager

For full details of Britten Sinfonia's tour to India click here

Thursday 14 August 2014

Tour of India - Part One

Britten Sinfonia's orchestra manager, Annabel is currently on tour in India with the ensemble. In the first of a series of posts she talks about the first couple of days of the trip;

Arriving at our hotel in the early hours of Tuesday morning I breathe a sigh of relief – both flight and entry into India are uneventful, other than a short dash around Delhi airport to find somewhat elusive immigration forms.  Nice to know that instruments and visas were both accepted by airline and immigration respectively.  After a sweltering wait at the airport and hectic car-journey the hotel is peaceful, and we are warmly welcomed.

Eight hours later and I’m being briefed about a press conference that is to happen later the same day.  From Britten Sinfonia, Jaqueline Shave (Leader) and David Butcher (Chief Executive) are to take part, along with soloist Amjad Ali Khan and personnel from our promoters. All goes well, and both interesting and unusual questions are posed. We are told later that an unusually large-contingent of press attended – there were certainly many photographers!

Soon after, I am hunting for straight-backed chairs (for our string players) and music stands. A breakdown in communication means that music stands don’t arrive until half way through our rehearsal, so we fashion make-shift stands from chairs, folders and i-pads.  This first rehearsal is intense, with time being taken to discover the best way of rehearsing Sarod Concerto Samaaga, which features the Britten Sinfonia line-up of string quartet, flute and bassoon, together with a tabla player and three sarod players including composer and soloist Amjad Ali Khan. Helpfully, arranger David Murphy is on hand to assist.  The work was originally conceived and premiered with Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but David has made this new chamber arrangement for us and we’re delighted to be giving the world premiere in Delhi.

A film of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performing Samaaga

Within the programme we are also to perform a solo-set of Western works – including Purcell, Mozart, Philippe Hersant, and Machair to Myrrh, a composition from our very own Jaqueline Shave, for string trio and tabla which takes the listener on a journey from Machair (on the Isle of Harris), to Morocco!  We soon discover that the tabla tuned to A, which is required for the work, is going to be impossible to source in Southern India, as tablas tend to be more common in the North of the country.  Thankfully, Anubrata Chatterjee, our tabla player, makes a few adaptions and he and Jackie are soon finding their way around the piece, with Anubrata learning the work by ear.

A lengthy rehearsal calls for a well-deserved evening of relaxation, and the orchestra are therefore delighted to be invited to dinner with Khan Saheb and his family.  A fabulous evening was had by all, with wonderful food and warm company.

Orchestra Manager

For full details of Britten Sinfonia's tour to India click here