“Will and I flew to New York the day before the rest of the team, and a day before my birthday, in order to enjoy a free day in the Big Apple together. Our visits to the USA seem to come in waves. Not having been at all for three years, this was our second of four trips across the Atlantic in 2014.
The lovely view that greeted us from the hotel window in the morning was bathed in sunshine, and we headed out to make the most of it. The first place I was determined to visit was Ground Zero. I’m pleased to say that I had seen nothing in the news of what had finally been built on the site so had no idea what to expect. I knew that various ideas had been proffered, but hadn’t kept up with the proceedings. Anyway, my hopes were far exceeded by the breathtaking waterfalls in the footprints of the original twin towers.
Having witnessed the devastation soon after the awful event (Heather and I were in New York just a couple of weeks later, when the site was still burning), it was wonderful to see this beautiful, tranquil, respectful memorial to those killed in the 9/11 attacks. I would strongly urge anyone visiting New York to make it their first port of call. Its simplicity is incredibly moving – with the water falling (a long way!) down into the granite squares, then again into another central well. There’s something very poignant about the fact that you can’t see the bottom of the inner well, wherever you stand around the pool. It’s as though the water just disappears into nothingness. All the names of the victims are stencil-cut in bronze around the sides, and this has also been done so beautifully – with friends’ and colleagues’ names carefully placed together, as they were in life. Each panel is numbered, so that you can easily find any name you might be looking for. Next time, we’ll definitely make a booking to go into the museum. Mike Dore did that very thing later in the week, staying for several hours – transfixed by the stories of those who lost their lives so tragically.
Having paid our respects, our next pilgrimage was, of course, to our favourite bridge.
When the others arrived, our first rehearsal in the Lincoln Center was for the singers alone – four Synergites and the inimitable Rinde Eckert, who has a voice like no other! Rinde can sing baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the high stuff more like an opera singer than a choirboy. He also has a wonderful speaking voice and stage presence, but best of all, he’s a really lovely bloke!
It was great to see Rinde again – and of course our guitarist friends in Catch (Patricio Wang, Seth Josel, Mark Haanstra, and the “new boy” Aart Strootman). As usual on a Dreamhouse tour, we nine “soloists” arranged a group dinner with Steve Mackey the night before the gig (actually two nights before in this case, as we didn’t want to risk any alcoholic after-effects on such an important occasion). Boosey & Hawkes were in town, making a documentary about Steve, and they came along to film us all at the meal. They asked us to “just relax and look natural”, which wasn’t very difficult as we were all genuinely excited about our New York premiere, and pleased to see each other. I imagine the flowing wine also helped with the relaxing bit. Goodness knows what B&H picked up from the various conversations in the room – I think we covered everything from musical matters to ski-ing, village fetes, world population and bacon flavoured chocolate! Speaking of which….
This was a particularly special week for me, as my old friend Georgee Corley Wiley had arranged to fly up from Atlanta to see us. I stayed with Georgee on a school music “exchange” when I was 15 years old (about a hundred years ago). Georgee had been to Newcastle the previous year, but hadn’t stayed with me because I wasn’t at the school in question. I just tagged along on the exchange because they needed a bassoonist – lucky for me. Anyway, I still clearly remember the wonderful time I had in Decatur with Georgee and her family. I remember her mum Jeanette in particular, because she was so sweet and motherly – always trying to feed me new things like grits, bacon with maple syrup, and iced tea. The whole family was just great – Mom and Dad with four kids (Ed, John, Georgee and Lori) and Elvis the dog – in a three bedroomed white clapboard house. I instantly thought of The Waltons (which co-incidentally I loved at the time!). It was so good of Georgee to travel all the way from Atlanta to New York to see us. She very bravely came to both concerts (never having been to anything like it), and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out and catching up. And she made us eat some bacon chocolate!
We were lucky enough to be able to rehearse on the stage at Avery Fisher where the concert was to be held – so we could get used to the staging and the sound. I threw a minor spanner in the works by requesting (at short notice – sorry!) that we four be moved slightly upstage behind the violins. On previous occasions, all nine of us were in a line across the front of the stage, but the problem was that the people on the far right (Andy and Mike) couldn’t see the conductor at all without turning 90 degrees side-on to the audience. It’s very tricky to sing like that when the microphone is on a stand in front of you – and it doesn’t look great from the audience’s point of view. The stage crew were very accommodating and, though we were a little bit squashed, it was definitely a better arrangement.
Jayce Ogren was at the helm, and was extremely well-prepared. Dreamhouse is quite densely scored so needs to be carefully balanced by the conductor. There are also some very tricky corners for the players, but the New York Philharmonic made light work of them. We were delighted to be back at the Lincoln Center with this amazing orchestra – and to see some familiar faces, both in the orchestra and on the administrative team. We had two performances on consecutive nights, which is always great. It sometimes seems as though you put such a lot into the preparation of a piece, then the concert is over in a flash. It’s a rare treat to be able to have a second go – and I think it also takes the pressure off the first night a little bit.
Dreamhouse formed the second half of the concert, the first being Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe. I felt a little bit sorry for Steve Mackey having to follow such a gritty large-scale piece. There was a huge amount for the audience to take in – but I’m pleased to say that Dreamhouse received an extremely warm reception on both nights (as did Julia’s piece). It was great to hear Rinde and Catch in top form, and to work with an orchestra and a conductor that made our job so much easier. Andy Busher was on the Dreamhouse team for the first time (Rob Kearley having retired from singing a couple of years ago – now a very successful opera director), and he did a brilliant job, as usual. I’m so grateful to him, and to the other Synergy singers who are so diligent and reliable. There’s a lot to be said for having a few years’ experience behind you! We were all rewarded by copious amounts of champagne in our dressing rooms (thanks so much to the New York Philharmonic and the Lincoln Center – very generous and much appreciated).
There was one final sunny day to enjoy in New York before our evening flight home. The obvious choice was a nice stroll through Central Park. Where better to sit and have lunch, and enjoy a spot of people watching?
So farewell to New York for now, but we’ll be back in September for a Steve Reich/Philip Glass spectacular at BAM. We hope to see you there.”