Synergy represented by:

Amy Haworth, Micaela Haslam, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross, Andrew Busher, Gerard O’Beirne

Waiting for much needed gins and tonics: (L-R) Andy, Gerry, Heather, Amy, Rachel

I’m afraid I didn’t get to see a huge amount of Buenos Aires, as most of my days were spent trouble-shooting and dealing with the next batch of unscheduled admin, but here’s my diary in any case.  I must first of all send out a big thank you to the other 5 singers (and indeed my partner, Will, who came to BA for a birthday treat…!!) for their unending patience, support and tolerance as we stumbled from one crisis to another. I’ll try not to dwell on the lowlights, but suffice it to say that relatively little of what we were promised actually materialised, and if it weren’t for the British Council, we’d have been sleeping in the theatre!

We were in Buenos Aires for 11 days – doing schools’ workshops, composers’ workshops and 2 concerts.  The tenors in particular had ludicrous amounts of spare time.  Not their fault, of course – they were only required to attend a couple of workshops and sing one 20 minute piece in the first concert.  Fortunately, the tenors in question were Gerry O’Beirne and Andy Busher – the two most intrepid tenors in the contemporary music world.  Many tenors would have crumbled under the pressure of having to entertain themselves for so many days in such a crazy place, but these two filled their time effortlessly, walking the length and breadth of the city and visiting everything they could find listed on a map – and a few things that weren’t.  Apart from a slightly sticky moment in Boca (where they accidentally turned left instead of right and ended up in a street full of dodgy dwellings, swinging doors, filthy children and a very large free-range Alsatian), I think I can safely say that they made the most of the experience.

The first two crises (apart from flying with Iberia) came in the form of 5 of our suitcases being left in Madrid, and Will being left in Buenos Aires airport for 4 hours – but the first really big crisis was our accommodation.  We’d been promised the 5-star Panamericano Hotel, but we were taken from to the airport to a (2-star?) Aparthotel with dirty chairs in the foyer and the sort of lifts that bounce from floor to floor with concertina doors.  No way were we going to stay here for 10 nights!

Room with a view!

Glamorous bedroom

Thankfully, we had agreed to take a workshop with the girls’ choir at San Marcos school on our first morning.  Having agreed to stay one night only in the Aparthotel (because we were all so exhausted), Gerry and I were whisked off in a nice car with the lovely Agustina from the British Council.  Finally, we felt as though we had stepped back out of a parallel universe.  The girls and the staff at San Marcos were absolutely delightful.  We had great fun trying Clapping Music and learning all sorts of rounds and songs together.  Their English was excellent – putting us to shame in the language stakes, as usual.  We had quite a long drive to get there, passing the most enormous shanty town (which is home to over 1 million people), stretching around and underneath a big motorway, but this gave us the opportunity to explain our accommodation situation to Agustina.  Thanks to her, the wonderful British Council came to our rescue, taking over our battle and organising NH Hotel accommodation for us for the rest of our stay.  We were so relieved and grateful that we offered to do the next Argentinian British Council TV-ad backing-vocals for them free of charge!

‘Clapping Music’ with the girls at San Marcos

Our first few evenings were taken up with composers’ workshops led by the lovely Santiago Santero (a local composer/conductor).  A local group of singers were the guinea pigs for a dozen or so new pieces, and they did a very good job showcasing them.  There were some extremely interesting ideas on offer, but some of the usual practicality/singability issues cropped up and needed to be addressed.  We tried to be as constructive as possible and hope that our comments were helpful.  Thanks to Elena for helping to keep us abreast of all the in-depth discussions.  Translating at that speed, she could get a job at the United Nations!

When we first arrived in Buenos Aires it was warm and raining, but then the temperature soared to a sweltering 34 degrees centigrade.  Lovely by the seaside, but not so comfortable in a city teeming with cars, buses and motorbikes, all driving at breakneck speeds.  I’m amazed we only witnessed 2 accidents.  And I’m not sure that the government is all that strict about MOTs, or whatever the Argentinian equivalent is.  Gerry, Andy and Rachel almost didn’t get to our first concert as their taxi had a completely knackered clutch and gearbox.  Andy gives a hilarious (after the event!) account of sitting in a stalled car half way across a major road, with 4 lanes of cars lined up, engines revving, ready to take them out!

As recommended in all the guide books, we sampled a great many steaks in order to find the best one in town.  NH Hotel buffet breakfasts, empanadas for lunch, then huge steaks for dinner meant that we all felt rather sausage-like in our concert trousers, but sometimes you have to suffer for your art!

Street market

Tango in San Telmo square

We enjoyed some live tango one evening in a square in San Telmo.  It was weird but lovely to be sitting outside for dinner in November.  Even at 11pm it was still well over 20 degrees.  The only downside was the mosquitoes.  Poor Amy had about 35 bites by the end of the first week and, having been fine for whole trip, felt really ill on our concert day.  She obviously had a lurgie, but I’m sure all those bites and the heat didn’t help.  It was really hot on stage at Teatro San Martin too, and she did brilliantly in the circumstances.  I’m sure many singers would have given their proverbial right arm to be able to sing that well even when feeling fine!

Gerry and Andy’s contribution to the concerts was about 10 minutes of singing in Proverb.  It was an extremely worthwhile contribution though – beautifully sung, as always, and their unison page-turning was exemplary – not to mention their immaculately ironed black shirts!

Rehearsals for the two concerts were spread out over several days.  Pablo Druker, our conductor, was delightful and very good.  We love working with musicians like him.  He knew the pieces really well, but was completely open to discussion in respect of tempi and style etc.  The percussion players from Uruguay (Ensamble Perceum) were equally lovely and we sincerely hope to work with them again.  Steve Reich came over for both concerts – which is just as well, otherwise he wouldn’t have believed the story of the Drumming gig….

Taking a bow for ‘Tehillim’

On the afternoon of said Drumming gig (having been to a rehearsal that was put back by 2 hours and nobody had told us!), Will and I were just about to pop out for a pre-concert bite to eat (in the now very short gap between rehearsal and concert) when the hotel lights went out – not just in our hotel as it turned out, but across half the city.  There were no street lights, no traffic lights, the underground was halted, air-conditioning was no more, and shops and restaurants were plunged into darkness.  We walked for several blocks, finally found a cafe with the lights on, and sat down to order a salad – then those lights went out!  We did get our salad, but had to use up all our remaining cash to pay for it (the credit card machine being out of action).

As the concert time was looming, we rushed back to the hotel and up 18 flights of stairs to our room (the lights were on – presumably down to an emergency generator – but the lifts weren’t working).  After a rapid change into concert gear, and with half-made-up eyes, I received a call from our co-ordinator to say that the electricity was also out in the theatre, that the technical staff had gone home, and that there was no chance of the concert going ahead.  With a sneaky sigh of a relief, after what had already felt like a long day, we headed downstairs to the hotel bar to meet Heather for a drink.  One hour and one large G&T later, a man came over from the desk – “phone call for Micaela”.  You guessed it – the concert was back on.  Could we be at the theatre in half an hour?  So, back upstairs to change again into concert gear.   Heather had already ordered a burger, requested it “to go” – then promptly dropped it on the pavement round the corner from the hotel.

Have you ever tried hailing a cab dressed in black, on a street with no lights?  It’s not easy, but we did finally manage to get to the theatre.  The electricity was back on but all the technical staff had indeed gone home, so a plucky member of the team set to work rigging up 2 rock n’ roll amplifiers for the marimbas, voices and piccolo.   The drums and glockenspiels would have to play acoustically.

Finally, the audience (still waiting patiently in the foyer) was ushered back in and the piece started.  Section 1 of Drumming involves 4 pairs of tuned bongos and Ensamble Perceum managed the phasing and patterns really well.  Then it was the turn of the marimbas, with female voices.  Heather and I belted out our marimba patterns, as requested – then all the lights went out!  Green emergency exit lights went on over the doors as the marimbas faded out, and we all wondered what would happen next.  Those plucky percussionists were not to be defeated, however, and simply carried on into Section 3 (glockenspiels, whistling and piccolo).  Even though they’d learned Drumming from memory, they still needed to see the instruments they were playing.  As if by magic, a couple of stage-hands raced on to the stage with Mag-lites, and the piece went on by the light of these tiny torches and the emergency exit lights.  Then the emergency lights went out and we were plunged into a complete black-out – but still the players continued.  They even managed to finish the piece together, despite the fact that they couldn’t see each other – amazing.  Needless to say, the crowd went wild, there were tears on stage, and Steve was amazed, grateful and I think genuinely moved by the tenacity and commitment of this amazing ensemble.  Then the lights came back on!

…and then there was light!

View of the proceedings by the light of a camera flash

Needless to say, all the luggage got left behind in Madrid on the way home.  Honestly, you couldn’t make it up!”