Synergy represented by

L-R: Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Heather Cairncross, Rachel Weston, Gerard O’Beirne, Andrew Busher, Paul Charrier, Gabriel Gottlieb

“Our arrival into New York was slightly chaotic. We’d flown from LA, separately from the players and arriving at a different terminal of JFK. Little did we know how complicated it could be, and how long it would take to hook up with the players’ bus, but we got there in the end – only to find ourselves on what seemed like a Thomson Holiday coach tour. As the journey from the airport progressed, our “tour rep” tried to sell the city to us but only got himself into deeper and deeper water, insisting that New York was the cultural centre of the world with the best musicians in the world and the best concert halls in the world etc. When he finally asked us all whether we wanted him to shut up, he was met with a resounding “yes please” – but he carried on anyway. I still have no idea who he was or why he was there!

Pennsylvania Hotel

Downtown Manhattan

After a long day, we were pleased to arrive at the Pennsylvania hotel, just round the corner from Macy’s – pleased that is until the lifts opened onto the upstairs corridors, which were dark and dingy and lined with what looked like reinforced prison doors. The smell of damp and putrid air freshener was overwhelming, and the rooms were indescribably horrible. A couple of the soloists immediately moved to another hotel. There was nothing diva-like in this protest whatsoever; the Pennsylvania was simply the worst place any of us had ever seen. Check it out on Trip Advisor if you don’t believe me…

The rest of us decided that we could just about bear it for 2 nights, then headed straight out for food and wine. The following morning gave us a bit of time for shopping, then we were straight into the dress rehearsal in Carnegie Hall.

Dress rehearsal

Reinbert de Leeuw (conductor)

It is a rare treat to perform in Stern Hall. You can’t help thinking of all the thousands of world-class stars who have played and sung there, and it is unquestionably a fabulous space. Our high spirits were dashed a little when we found ourselves positioned immediately behind the horns, who have a lot to do in La Commedia – much of it very loud! There were no baffles in the building, but we were happy to make do with a large board covered in a black cloth – anything to spare our ear drums.

Claron McFaddon (my favourite soprano)

The biggest treat was having Claron McFaddon in our midst. In Disney Hall, there were audience seats behind the stage and she was perched up at the top there, but there is no such space in Carnegie Hall so she was next to us towards the back of the stage. Everything Claron has to sing in La Commedia is high (up to top D’s), sustained and hugely exposed – and she makes it look and sound SO easy. I could listen to her all day. Truly sublime singing!

On the phone to AA – no, American Airlines!

Between dress rehearsal and concert, we learned that our flight back to London the following morning had been cancelled due to the ash cloud from the unpronouncable Icelandic volcano. Paul sat for about an hour on Skype trying to get through to someone at AA. We finally concluded that we should show up for check-in at 6am as planned and take it from there.

This concert also went extremely well. A few members of the audience walked out about a third of the way through the piece, but that’s par for the course in New York, and I think a bit of a tradition at Carnegie. Great fun to make a point that you don’t like something new, I’m sure, but a bit of a waste of money if you’ve bought a ticket! Still, you can’t please everybody.

Micaela with Louis Andriessen

Left to right: Gabriel, Paul, Jeroen Willens, Gerry, Andy

The only good thing about the Pennsylvania hotel was that no-one minded leaving it at 5am! On arrival at JFK, we asked for the AA customer service desk – there isn’t one. Not a great start. Fortunately the lady at check-in was very helpful, but all she could do was rebook our flights – four of us in 5 days time, and the rest in 6 days. Then came the bombshell – AA wouldn’t provide any accommodation or subsistence at all.

JFK misery

After an extremely long, somewhat stressful morning at JFK, I managed to secure hotel rooms for our entire party – thanks to Carnegie Hall who made the booking (having tried 50 other hotels!), and Asko|Schönberg who kindly agreed to foot the bill. It was a very odd situation to be in. We had no idea how long we’d be stuck in NYC. Just because we were booked onto later flights, it didn’t mean that they would be going – and in the end none of them did. It was such a shame for Asko|Schönberg. They had another concert scheduled at Carnegie involving more players who were stuck in Amsterdam.

Cancelled

It doesn’t feel like a holiday when you’re stuck somewhere you haven’t chosen to be. Still, there was little we could do except try to enjoy Manhattan as much as possible, whilst spending as little money as possible, and keeping an eye on the ever-changing situation. Most importantly, we took the time to line up as many friends and colleagues as possible who lived within a couple of hours of New York. Members of the Steve Reich ensemble were all SO kind – even those who were unable to help with accommodation. It was such a weight off my mind just knowing they were there. We did a bit more sight-seeing for a few days, interspersed with lot of aimless wandering, and even managed a little birthday party for Gerry.

Gerry’s birthday party

We couldn’t expect Asko to provide any further hotel accommodation, but we were running out of rooms as those of us who should have flown home were still in New York. Rachel befriended a lady at the opera who invited her to go and stay at her pad up the West Side. Gabriel and Paul found digs with distant relatives, Heather hooked up with a friend of a friend, and the rest of us shared the remaining hotel rooms. Just when we had to leave the hotel (and just when I was quite looking forward to going to Garry Kvistad’s place up in the mountains), British air space suddenly reopened and we were able to rebook flights within 24 hours. Finally, we were on our way home!”

Micaela

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