Düsseldorf – Tonnhalle & Bonn – Bundeskunsthalle (20th & 21st September 2011)

Synergy represented by:

Amy Haworth, Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Julia Batchelor

Steve Reich on Piano 4, and Amy on knitting needles!

“Amy and Mandy both had throaty colds on this trip, so it was something of a relief to get through these two performances of Music for 18 without incident.  Fortunately, Julia was fine and so was I – for a while at least.

Mandy, Julia & Amy waiting for a train in Düsseldorf

“Which carriage did you say was ours?”

Düsseldorf went by in a flash – good concert, well received, in a very nice venue, where we were provided with delicious pre-concert scran – so off to Bonn.  Our hotel in Bonn was considerably nicer than the one we’d stayed in the night before, it was very close to the Hauptbahnhof, and was opposite a pharmacy – fortunate for me, as I had a headache that I couldn’t shake off and needed more drugs!

We made our way to the Bundeskunsthalle and discovered that we had an apartment set aside for us at the top of the building.  Nice idea – rehearse, rest, do gig, party in bar, then sleep – with no travel involved.  Not quite our schedule, sadly, but it was nice to have a lie down before the gig.

Ueli (piano 2), ready to play his maracas

Rainer with matching shirt and sticks

Rainer was sporting a lovely new purple shirt which matched his vibraphone sticks perfectly.  One of the other players also had a purple shirt, and some of the band thought that I must have taken them out shopping.  Our endless supply of matching Synergy costumes is legendary!

L-R: Jagdish, Julia, Mandy, Michael – captions on a postcard please...

In my opinion, this performance in Bonn was rather better than the one in Düsseldorf, and the audience was great – though they weren’t so keen to stand up – just a gentle standing ovation from a few brave souls.  It’s interesting what prompts audiences to respond as they do.  You never quite know what will get them on their feet – not always the performances you think.  Anyway, I thought we were brilliant, and we retired to the bar in good spirits to enjoy some post-concert dinner and a drink or two.  The following morning, I said my farewells to Amy, Mandy and Julia, and headed off to Strasbourg with Ensemble Modern, for our first performance of The Cave.”


Krakow – Laznia Nowa Theater (12th & 13th September 2011)

Synergy represented by:

Amanda Morrison, Micaela Haslam, Andrew Busher, Gerard O’Beirne, Alastair Putt, Rachel Weston, Amy Haworth, Heather Cairncross

Sharing a joke after our "Three Tales" rehearsal, L-R: Mandy, Brad Lubman (conductor), Gerry, Alastair, Andy, Rafal Payne (violin)

“Our 2nd and 3rd concerts in Krakow included performances of Three Tales and Tehillim respectively, in the very much smaller Laznia Nowa Theater. This was another bumpy bus ride from our hotel and down such a narrow lane that the driver had to drop us off 2 streets away.

Both concerts were very late (10pm) with mid-day rehearsals, so Krakow sight-seeing time was sadly curtailed – at least for those of us involved in all the concerts. I know everyone says it, but Krakow really is a very beautiful city, and one of the few places I’d consider revisiting for a “city-break”, even though I’m not a huge fan of “city-breaks”. My idea of a break is to stay well away from any city!

Pretty Krakow

Food market

Anyway, Three Tales went very well, and it was lovely to have Beryl Korot (video artist) with us, as well as Steve of course. All was fine on stage, except that we couldn’t hear the speaking voices on the film, many of which provide our cues to stand up and sing. There is one section in the third movement (Dolly) where we sit for about a hundred bars, then we stand quickly and sing. Thankfully, I’d totted up all the bars rest during the rehearsal and made a note to count them, but unfortunately, when I sat down I couldn’t see my writing – at the bottom of the page, in the dark, and masked by the stand. I had a vague idea of the number of bars, counted like mad, then just leapt up and hoped for the best. Thankfully, we all came in at the right place, but I knew that the others were following me for this lead, so it was somewhat stressful. Note to self – write the number of bars rest at the top of the page and highlight the number in yellow!

Inside the Laznia Nowa Theatre

The Tehillim concert should have been straightforward, but when we got on to the stage, our music stands were in darkness. Sometimes, lighting designers bring the lights up at the last minute for dramatic effect, but we got the distinct impression that this wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, Brad Lubman’s music was also in the dark, so he didn’t launch into the piece. Finally, I had to make a request for more light. The radio audience must have been wondering what was going on. Anyway, I’m glad we didn’t have to do the piece from memory!

It was a real treat to discover that Julia Wolfe and David Lang were at this concert, and I ended up chatting with them for so long afterwards that I missed the bus and had to get a later ride back with the techies. There’s never enough time to catch up properly, especially when the concerts are so late. Beryl and Julia are great friends, and they’re both so delightful to chat with. It was just a shame that we were all staying in different hotels, and the Synergy team was leaving the following morning.

"Three Tales" team with Steve and Beryl

Fortunately, our hotel bar stayed open very late, so even at 1am there was time to catch up with our friends from Asko|Schönberg who had just arrived in Krakow for their concert the following day. There are several Synergy/Asko projects in the offing for 2012. Fingers crossed that they all materialise.

So, well done Krakow on a wonderful festival and I hope you’ll have us back another year. Anything less than an audience of 3,000 just isn’t enough now!”


Krakow – Electric Tinning Plant (11th September 2011)

Synergy represented by:

Amanda Morrison, Micaela Haslam, Andrew Busher, Gerard O’Beirne, Amy Haworth, Heather Cairncross

"Music for 18" in rehearsal

“We didn’t quite know what to expect of a venue called “Tinning Plant”, so we set off to our rehearsal feeling somewhat intrigued.  After a 15 minute bumpy ride from our hotel, we got to a very military looking gate flanked by what looked like two enormous fortresses.  Once the rather stern uniformed guard had decided to let us in, we drove off into what looked like a film set, or perhaps a paint-balling no man’s land.

Great film set for a thriller!

We now seemed to be in woodland, dotted with enormous, apparently deserted industrial buildings, with power lines and steaming pipes criss-crossing the narrow roads and grassy rail tracks.  On we drove through this wilderness, until we arrived at nothing in particular – just another huge factory, it seemed – but this was the venue.  It’s a real-life tinning plant, and here’s the tin to prove it.

...and here's some tin

Tinning factory

Something of a contrast to our last concert – a late-night Prom at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Glamorous artists' entrance

Public entrance

Dressing room - just kidding!

“Backstage” was a cordoned-off area of this vast building, which smelled rather like our coal grate the morning after a nice fire. There were two very large white tents inside, sectioned off into dressing rooms. We got to share a tent with Steve Reich and Jonny Greenwood – there are times when you know you’ve arrived!  The other tent was for the instrumentalists, and it also contained the “catering room” – a bit like Glastonbury, I guess, but with fewer tents.

Mandy on the big screen

The auditorium was vast, with about 3,000 seats, and there were cameramen on stage relaying pictures onto screens towards the back of the audience – Wembley meets Glastonbury!  There was also a screen at the back of the stage where all sorts of arty visual mixing was going on.

Me on screen taking picture of me on screen, rehearsing Daniel Variations....

Jonny Greenwood was playing Electric Counterpoint just before our performance of Music for 18 so we couldn’t get out to hear it, but we enjoyed what we heard during the rehearsal, and we knew that the place would be packed with Jonny on the bill – and sure enough…!

You can watch his performance on You Tube, of course! Here’s one of the links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmf7HwqHSJM&feature=related

Jonny Greenwood in rehearsal

I was thrilled to discover that Tim Lines (clarinet) had been drafted in to play Music for 18.  Nina, who usually plays clarinet with Ensemble Modern, was busy doing another concert the same evening.  It was a lovely surprise, though of course we missed Nina, who is wonderful.  Tim was absolutely knackered at the rehearsal, as he’d had a gig the previous evening, then a long journey home, poorly baby twins during the night, a hideously early start, and finally a missed connection due to a delayed flight.  But still he smiled on through, played brilliantly and was as thoroughly lovely as ever.

Tim, Amy & Micaela

I’d like to say that I was deeply engrossed in the music for this photograph, but I think I was actually struggling with 12 down in The Week crossword.  Amy’s usually knitting at this point in the proceedings so I don’t feel too guilty.  We’ve performed this piece in concert more times than I care to remember and it’s a piece of cake to sing it from memory whilst reading.  Actually, I might try that piece of cake as well next time…

Rehearsing with Steve in cloud of dry ice

This was a long concert (a new piece by Mykietyn, Daniel Variations, Electric Counterpoint and Music for 18), but great fun, in true pop stadium style – hi-tech, funky lighting, dry ice, big screens – the whole works.  We loved it!”


Barbican, London

Steve Reich The Desert Music
LSO conducted by
Kristjan Järvi
October 2011

The Desert Music … delivered with exemplary precision by Synergy Vocals”
London Evening Standard

“The performance was terrific. The vocal writing came off superbly well, with the ten amplified voices of Synergy Vocals effectively balanced against the orchestra, their parts often reminiscent of jazz-oriented groups such as Singers Unlimited or Swingle II, perfectly in tune”
Seen and Heard International

“… no wonder Reich seemed so pleased at the end”
The Telegraph

Hellerau, Dresden

Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians
Ensemble Modern with Steve Reich
October 2011

“Ensemble Modern and Synergy Vocals gave an exciting top performance and interpreted this key work with an irresistible quality.  The audience was thrilled.”

Neue Musikzeitung

Hellerau, Dresden

Steve Reich/Beryl Korot The Cave
Ensemble Modern conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer
October 2011

“amazingly precise vocals”

Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten

Palais de la Musique, Strasbourg

Steve Reich/Beryl Korot The Cave
Ensemble Modern conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer
September 2011

“the appeal (of the piece) was primarily due to the spirited involvement of its performers, Ensemble Modern and Synergy Vocals, under the direction of Jonathan Stockhammer”


London – Royal Albert Hall (10th August 2011)

Synergy represented by:

Amy Haworth, Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Heather Cairncross

Steve & Micaela

“It was absolutely fitting that Steve Reich should have a Prom dedicated to his music for his 75th birthday, though for me it was a little disappointing that this was a 10.15pm concert and not a 7.30pm concert.  I have never seen a Late Night Prom so full and I’m quite sure that an early evening Prom would have sold out completely.  Still, we were delighted to have this stage with Ensemble Modern and Steve for his birthday concert.

Standing room only

After the statutory Clapping Music at the top of the concert (Rainer Römer from EM with Steve) we were treated to a fabulous version of Electric Counterpoint, recorded and played live by the amazing Mats Bergström from Sweden.  We first encountered Mats in the Stockholm Reich-fest in January this year and for me, his Electric Counterpoint is one of the best.  It sounded incredible in the Royal Albert Hall.

Mats & Micaela

Music for 18 was also amazing in this big venue, and hats off to the BBC for a superb recording which I enjoyed a few days later on iPlayer.  The balance was spot-on, in fact I would say it was CD-worthy.

Where did Steve go...?

Ah ... there he is!

The audience couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, and it was just wonderful that so many people had turned out for such a late concert.  We didn’t get off stage until nearly midnight so these were real Steve Reich fans.  I hope that Steve’s popularity has been thoroughly noted and we look forward to performing many more of his pieces at the Proms….”


Cork – Opera House (30th July 2011)

Synergy represented by:

Katy Hill, Amanda Morrison, Micaela Haslam, Heather Cairncross

“I confess that this was a slightly worrying gig on paper. Tim Lines (who has played 1st clarinet in every Music for 18 performance that I have coached for London Sinfonietta) was unavailable and there was no rehearsal scheduled before we headed to Cork. Clarinet 1 is not a part you can sight-read, nor can you learn it on your own. The only way to get to know the cue system for Music for 18 is to rehearse with the whole ensemble, and play the piece through several times. Mark van de Wiel (clarinet 1) had done everything he could in the circumstances. He’d gone through the part with Tim, and we had an hour together in Cork to talk through the piece, but he would in effect have just one run-through before the concert – yikes!

We also had a “new” violinist for Cork – Jonny Morton. The violin begins and ends Music for 18 and plays most of the way through, so a further half hour was put aside in Cork to talk through this part. Fortunately, Jonny was incredibly quick to grasp what was going on, and was delightful with it.

Jonny, Heather, Lionel, Karen, Olly

Next came the news that Adrian Spillett was also NA. Aidy usually plays Marimba 3 – possibly the most important and physically demanding “pattern” part in the piece. I was hugely relieved to hear that Sam Walton, who knows Music for 18, had volunteered to take on this role so that the new percussionist (Karen Hutt) could play opposite an experienced “Music for 18-er”.

Beaming up John Constable!

Imagine my surprise then when I learned that Tim Palmer, our cue-giving vibraphone player, would also not be with us. His wife had given birth earlier than expected, so there was no way that he could leave home. Dave Eliott was recommended by Tim and was a virtual unknown to Sinfonietta, and I have to say I don’t think he played a wrong note from the downbeat of the first rehearsal. More importantly, he plays in the band for Jersey Boys in the West End, which gives me another good excuse to go and see it – classic songs – love it!

Dave Eliott’s "Music for 18" debut

Suffice it to say that we had our work cut out in the 2.5 hours rehearsal in the venue the night before the concert. The sound crew had hardly any get-in time beforehand, so nearly half of this was a sound check. Still, we worked hard and kept smiling. We didn’t have time to get through the whole piece that evening, so some players were seeing sections of Music for 18 for the very first time on the day of the concert.

Micaela in action

To add to all the fun, we were staying in grotty student digs. The hotels in Cork were already full of fellow festival artists and there was no room at the proverbial inn. So we had cell-like rooms and communal bathrooms, and doors that were impossible to open or close quietly. The final straw came on the morning of the concert when we found that our “apartment” had no hot water, but still we battled on. Maintenance was called and full service was resumed after an interesting breakfast in the student shop.

4-star accommodation?

Still, all was well that ended well, and between us all, we managed to pull several rabbits out of several hats and deliver a good performance. Phew!”