Synergy represented by

L-R: Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, Heather Cairncross, Micaela Haslam



“On arrival into San Fran, we were pleased to be taken to a hotel just a couple of blocks away from Davies Hall where our concerts were to be held.  It was a sweet little place, but a little noisy, and we were somewhat alarmed to come back to this one evening (below), but it was a really busy time in San Fran so there was no option to move.  Inn at the Opera is a lovely, quaint, historic hotel (and the cookies on the front desk are to die for), but thank goodness for silicone ear plugs!


Hotel fire

This series of Grand Pianola performances came about thanks to Michael Tilson Thomas, with whom we sang Berio’s Sinfonia last year in Miami.  He said then that we should work together again soon.  Clearly, he meant it, and we were delighted once again to be somewhere warm in the middle of our UK winter (I think we should make this an annual event).  We were also excited to be working once again with John Adams, and making a CD with the composer at the helm. John may not be the world’s greatest conductor, but he has a wonderful energy about him that really brings his music to life. Audiences love him too as he’s so interesting and funny when introducing his music.


John’s pre-concert chat


In the same concerts, MTT was conducting Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale narrated by Elvis Costello (no less), and featuring Malcolm McDowell (no very less) as The Devil.  We don’t hang out with any old riff-raff you know!

















Our pianists were the brilliant Orli Shaham, wife of conductor David Robertson (Synergy Vocals’ “chief conductor”), and the equally brilliant Marc-André Hamelin, so this was one classy gig.

To add to all the fun, San Francisco Symphony put on a 70th birthday concert for MTT while we were in town – and kindly invited us.  The event also marked MTT’s 20th anniversary as music director of SFS, and it was the campest night ever.  Apart from the blue (his favourite colour) helium balloons, poodle-boys, and the glamour girl with a giant birthday cake on her head, Michael sported a new blue custom-made sports jacket with his initials emblazoned in sequins on the back, and the bass solo from the third movement of Mahler 1 embroidered down the sleeves.  The programme consisted of all sorts of crowd-pleasers, including Liszt’s Hexameron in which MTT played the part of Liszt with (count ‘em!) five other eminent pianists, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Marc-André Hamelin, Emmanuel Ax, Yuja Wang, and Jeremy Denk.  We were even treated to a few songs by a band consisting of Boz Scaggs, Elvis Costello, Phil Lesh (bass – The Grateful Dead) and Lars Ulrich (drummer – Metallica).  It was mental, but we did feel very privileged to be there.




Our schedule was dreamy, consisting first of morning rehearsals (when we were waking up ridiculously early anyway), then we had a free day, then three gigs in a row.  We made our pilgrimage to the Golden Gate bridge, obviously.  It was as glorious as ever.


Synergy on the beachJo & Mic by Golden Gate







Lombard Streethuge cappuccino


























It was lovely to have plenty of time for walking and cable-carring round the city, visiting the famous Lombard Street, and drinking cappuccinos as big as my head.

Finally it was show-time, and the concerts were a joy.  Happily, all our rehearsals had been held on the stage in Davies Hall, so we already felt comfortable in that magnificent venue.  So often you rehearse in another room/building with completely different acoustics, then you have only the shortest time to get used to a whole new set-up on the main stage.  We had three performances, all of which were recorded for a “live in concert” CD.  John Adams, the players, MTT and the audiences were all so lovely, we didn’t want to leave.  We can only hope they’ll invite us back!



Having flown all that way to the other side of the US, Will and I took the opportunity to hire a car and drive down the coast to visit friends in Santa Maria, stopping off in Carmel and paying a visit to the zillions of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.  An amazing couple of weeks and the perfect start to 2015!”