Synergy represented by:

Katy Hill, Micaela Haslam, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross

“This Music for 18 Musicians project had been on and off since the beginning of the year, but the shaky start was nothing compared to what Barcelona had in store for me in May and June. I was very concerned about the very limited amount of coaching time I had, particularly as Steve Reich was coming over to play piano with the ensemble. The three months leading up to the concert were so busy for me, it had proved impossible to schedule more than two consecutive days’ rehearsal, so I had taken time to send as much advance information as I possibly could.

Clockwise from back left: Micaela, Katy, Xavi, Naum

At the beginning of June, just before I left Paris to fly to Barcelona, I received the news that Steve had pulled out due to illness, so Madrid had cancelled their concert (this should have been on 14th June). Fortunately, the Barcelona concert had been rescued, but the promoters wanted “a name” to replace Steve. This, of course, was the last thing we needed, for a piece in which everyone is equal – there are no “star turns”. At this stage, all I could do was remain philosophical and hope for the best.

I have to admit that my heart sank at the first rehearsal. It was clear that some of the players weren’t entirely sure what they were supposed to play and we got off to a worryingly slow start. Still, we got our heads down and worked hard for the first day. Thankfully, the sound engineer, Carlos Gomez was absolutely brilliant. He was really quick to sort out the different mixes for each monitor, and that made all the difference. At the end of the first day, we managed to get through the piece (with a bit of prompting), so I knew we were in with a chance. Having won the players’ trust, they started to relax and the ensemble went from strength to strength.

L' Auditori, Barcelona

On the evening of my second day of coaching, I was due to fly back to Paris for our final performance of Rain Live with Ictus at the Opéra, but when I tried to check in, I realised that the promoters had booked my flight for the wrong month! Fortunately, they were able to book another one that evening, albeit rather late. So there I was at Barcelona airport with loads of time to spare. I noted the gate – M1 – and went off to potter around the nicer end of the airport.

Little did I know that, when I went back to gate M1, with nearly two hours to spare, I was actually at gate M0-1, which is somewhere else entirely. There was no clue at any of the gates as to where the flights were going so I didn’t know I was in the wrong place, and guess what? – I missed the flight! I couldn’t believe it. I’d been in the bleedin’ airport for three hours. There was no call and no final call. It turned out that my Paris flight was from gate M1 /14. M1 is an area of gates – not the “porta” that the sign had indicated.

Gate M1, my foot!

Still, I wasn’t alone. Three other girls suffered the same fate. They verified that there had been no call (and they were Spanish speakers) – don’t you just love EasyJet!? So there we were, stranded at Barcelona airport, and I had a soundcheck in Paris the following afternoon – eek!

L-R: Ludivina, Alexandra, Patricia in Barcelona airport

One of the girls managed, via a friend and the internet, to find an affordable hotel online, so off we went on the airport bus. We seemed to drive for miles, then took another bus (the last one of the evening, apparently) to who knows where, got off at the hotel – but then no hotel. It turned out to be half a mile down another road, so we had to get another bus. Blimey – where on earth was I? Relieved to find our EXTREMELY basic Etap hotel, we asked the lady at the desk to print out our EasyJet boarding passes for early the next morning. Mine had been booked by the concert promoter, but the girls’ flights had been booked by a friend – on the wrong day! This was going from bad to worse. Thankfully, they managed to book more flights for the following morning. Without them, I don’t think I’d ever have made it back to the airport. I was in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish.

Crisis averted, I surrendered to the evening and went to bed – only to be kept awake all night by the noise outside. It was like sleeping on the North Circular. Only in the morning did I realise that someone hadn’t quite shut the window properly and that if I’d got up to investigate and pulled the window handle down, I could have had complete silence in the room!

Anyway, after a 6am start, finally I made it back to Paris – absolutely knackered, £120 poorer, and just in time to pack up my room (where I’d been for three weeks) before our last show at the Opéra.

The concert in Barcelona was immediately after our Cologne Three Tales gig with Ensemble Modern, during which I had been in the audience because I’d completely lost my voice. Whilst in Cologne, I received the news that Steve’s replacement had also pulled out due to illness. Whatever next? I’m sure it was the stress of my last visit to Barcelona that had made me ill, and still the banana skins were coming at me! The good news was that we ended up having our stand-in pianist play in the concert. Miquel would have been my choice all along, because he’d been to all the rehearsals. The lovely Carlos (sound engineer) gave me a radio microphone in l’Auditori so that I didn’t have to shout to be heard, and we had an extra rehearsal in the hall – only because Madrid had been cancelled. This extra rehearsal in situ made all the difference, so everything turned out for the best.

Synergy with BCN216 in L’Auditori, Barcelona

I had just a few hours spare for sight-seeing. I’d never been to Barcelona before (perhaps one brief stop with The Swingles but I don’t remember seeing the city). Barcelona definitely seems worth exploring over a long weekend. During the short time I had, I chose to check out the famous Sagrada Familia and, although I did have to queue for ages, it was definitely worth it.

Gaudi's work in progress

What an extraordinary project. I love the fact that it’s pointlessly ornate – fantastically elaborately decorative just for the sake of it. People love to visit this place which, to me, demonstrates the importance of art in society. Religion aside, it’s so uplifting.

Check out that ceiling!

Inside the Sagrada Familia

Hurrah for Gaudi!

Intricate stonework

Katy, Heather and Rachel came out for the balance rehearsal on the day, and we did a bit of surreptitious part swapping so that I could sing as little as possible. Fortunately, I had just enough voice to get through the piece, and BCN216 did really well. In the end, I’m sorry that Steve wasn’t there, if only to hear their performance. I think he would have been delighted with it – and with the audience’s rapturous response.

Taking a bow

Rumour has it that Madrid might reschedule the piece next season, so here’s hoping. But no more banana skins, please!”


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