Synergy represented by:

(clockwise from left) Gerry O’Beirne, Phill Brown, Rachel Weston, (Etienne Siebens – conductor), Wendy Nieper, Simon Grant, Amanda Morrison, Mike Dore, Joanna L’Estrange

This trip involved concerts in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, then a return trip a week later to repeat the programme in The Hague.  Three performances of Berio’s Sinfonia – with a student orchestra and a conductor we hadn’t worked with before. How would they all fare, we wondered?  With its quotations of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Berlioz, Strauss, Ravel, Debussy, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Berg, Pousseur, Boulez, Webern and Stockhausen – not to mention Berio’s own contributions – the work ain’t exactly a walk in the park!

Well, we needn’t have worried.  The players were well on for the challenge, and this turned out to be exciting and energised music-making.  Conductor Etienne Siebens encouraged everybody constantly to listen to what was going on around us.  It might sound like obvious advice, but I guess when the music is complex for each individual, it’s easy to concentrate so much on your own part and almost to block out the surrounding sounds.  I couldn’t help noting a few of Mr Siebens’ choice phrases during rehearsal.  For instance, while rehearsing movement 3: “Open your ears – big surprises!  Did you hear the harp in bar 5?” At another point, “There are vocals here – open your ears like elephant!”  In fact, although the members of the Synergy team had done this piece many times, we heard passages within the orchestra we’d never heard before, like the harp part beneath the gorgeous trumpet solo we always savour in movement 3.  But Siebens wasn’t just talking about the sounds we were producing.  As he put it, “My friends – what’s music without silence?  It’s NOTHING!”

Incidentally, Maestro Siebens told us he’d been wanting to conduct Berio’s Sinfonia since his own student days.  Surely these students in Rotterdam and The Hague could have had no better guide for their first encounter with the piece.

Etienne Siebens chats with Gerry after rehearsal

Happily, the thorough rehearsals gave rise to good performances of Sinfonia in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

How’s that for a view from a dressing room?! Wendy and I were tempted to hop on this cruise ship in Amsterdam after the gig...

And speaking of views, here’s the one from my 14th-floor hotel room in The Hague, looking over towards Rotterdam.

View from our hotel

The third concert, for which we returned to The Hague a week later, was part of ‘Together Now’, a special festival of many kinds of musical and dance events, all going on – some simultaneously – in a rolling schedule during one evening.  For Sinfonia, audience members were able to come and go during the performance if they wished, and all the stalls seating of the Dr Anton Philipzaal had been removed.  But most dramatically, no sooner had we taken our bows after the performance, but the stage lights went to black, the stalls doors were thrown open, loud drumming began, and beautifully-dressed African women sashayed into the hall singing and dancing.  Fantastic!  One of the girls in the orchestra took this photo just before she left the stage – perhaps you can just make out the African women, along with some of the audience – in the stalls area of the hall behind us.

Anyway, the drumming and singing and dancing clearly put us all in a good mood, as you can see from our broad smiles and from the ‘team pic’ at the top of this diary which was taken a few minutes later.  We’d spied the ‘photo opportunity’ on the stairs as we were making our way back to our make-do dressing rooms which were in fact the offices of the hall administrators.  With hundreds of performers taking part in the Together Now Festival, dressing room space was stretched to the max!  It was a fun event, though, and interesting to perform Sinfonia in a less formal context.

Next morning Simon and Gerry left for a super-early flight back to London.  They hadn’t been thrilled to be told, when we’d checked in at 11.30pm the previous night after our concert, that breakfast started at 8am because it was a weekend, and that as the kitchen staff had already left for the day there wasn’t a lot that could be done!  Nevertheless, the boys made their train to Schipol and their flight home, and they found food on the way, I’m sure.  The rest of us followed a little later, so we had a few minutes to enjoy breakfast before dragging our wheelie bags to the train station.  We did arrive at Schipol with loads of time to spare, tho’.  For me that was a wonderful chance to visit ‘Back to life’ for a back, neck, shoulder and head massage.  Bliss.  Half way through it I heard a familiar voice saying ‘Ah it’s Rachel!’  Philip had had the same idea, and he too settled into a massage chair.

Barbie à la Van Gogh!

Another of Schipol’s little delights was found on a shelf at the airport’s Rijksmuseum shop.  A Barbie doll in a Van Gogh dress.  Now there’s a costume idea for us – how about it, gals?!”

Rachel Weston