San Francisco (January 2015)

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!”



New York (September 2014)

Synergy represented by

L-R: Amy Haworth, Heather Cairncross, (Steve Reich), Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison


“It was a few months ago now, but I feel as though this project is one that should be noted in our diary because it was part of such an extraordinary event. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the record label Nonesuch, the Brooklyn Academy of Music put on a series of concerts featuring their top artists. Three of the opening concerts were to feature both Steve Reich and Philip Glass, sharing a stage together for the first time in around 40 years. In their New York student days, Steve and Phil were close friends. They both drove taxis to make ends meet, and even (briefly) set up a removal business together. Then they famously fell out (though neither would discuss the specifics) and now, in their 70s, they were to be reunited. Not only that, but Steve and Phil were to perform as members of each other’s ensembles – so Steve was to play Music in Similar Motion with the Philip Glass Ensemble, and Phil was to play Four Organs with Steve, Nico Muhly and Timo Andres (with David Cossin on maracas).


The High Line

Original tracks on the High Line






It is a very rare occasion these days that Steve Reich & Musicians gets together, so imagine what a thrill it was for us to be copied in to Steve’s invitation to his ensemble. Synergy Vocals and Steve Reich have collaborated regularly for almost 20 years now, but that is nothing compared to how long these guys have all worked together, so this invitation felt like a real badge of honour. The last time we all got together was for a European tour in 2006, celebrating Steve’s 70th birthday. Who could forget the infamous tour bus with its leather seats and a sort of cocktail lounge at the back? Sadly, the said lounge soon turned into a sick-bay, as more and more members of the ensemble took ill with a sickness bug. Poor old Jim Preiss was the first to succumb to the illness in Paris, then it seemed to spread like wildfire. Some members of the ensemble even went so far as to book their own train tickets from city to city, to avoid the sick bus! Most stuck it out, however and thankfully a few of us (including Steve) were spared, and we did manage to complete the tour.

Very sadly, early in 2014, we lost the inimitable Jim Preiss, and it was strange to perform Music for 18 Musicians without him playing vibes and generally keeping everyone in order. For this performance in BAM, the brilliant David Cossin (a former pupil of Jim’s) was taking his place.


Music for 18 dress rehearsal with David Cossin on vibraphone


So there we were in New York, and our old stomping ground – the wonderful Brooklyn Marriott. It’s a myth that you need to stay in the centre of Manhattan in order to get the best out of New York. Brooklyn is the key. It’s so easy (and quick) to get to just about anywhere on Manhattan; Brooklyn itself is really vibrant; Brooklyn Heights is gorgeous, and teeming with eateries; the view across to Manhattan is stunning, and the walk across Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan is simply one of the best things to do in the city. We also re-discovered the High Line, the amazing urban park on an elevated walkway, previously a disused spur of New York Railroad’s West Side Line.

Another thing we love about the Marriott is that it has a fabulous pool and gym. Very annoyingly for me, I’d done my back in the previous week and even swimming was painful. I did try. The completely deserted full-length lanes of clear blue water looked so enticing, but after half a length I had to surrender to the pain – gutted! Never mind, Macy’s was still round the corner! There’s another tip for you. Don’t bother with the mid-town enormous Macy’s – too big! Head to Brooklyn and enjoy a nice leisurely peruse round the store.

Post-concert speeches

Steve and Phil












It was so good to see the gang again – Bob Becker, Russ Hartenberger, Garry Schall, Garry Kvistad, Thad Wheeler, Ed Niemann, Lisa Moore, Phillip Bush, Jeanne LeBlanc, Liz Lim and Todd Reynolds – not to mention the super-efficient Steve Ehrenberg, making sure everything was set up as is should be. It seemed like only yesterday.

Our first rehearsal in BAM was for Drumming, so Heather and I toddled along with our activity packs, expecting to be twiddling our thumbs for the first 20 minutes of Section 1. Almost as soon as they started, however, it dawned on me that this really was an historic event. Here were Russ and Bob – the masters of Drumming, without whom the piece would never have materialised – playing Section 1 with the wonderful Garry Kvistad and Steve Reich himself. This is no longer a common occurrence – these musicians are now in their 70s, living very separate lives –  and who’s to say when, or indeed if, this might happen again. It is wonderful that there are so many fabulous groups around the world playing Steve’s music nowadays, but still Russ and Bob play Drumming unlike anyone else.


The masters at work, L-R: Russ, Garry, Steve, Bob


I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I sincerely believe that all would-be Drummers should witness Russ and Bob playing the first phase – at close range. They take SO long over it (Steve would probably say too long!), but watching the process is a lesson in itself. They play with such stillness and poise, combined with extraordinary power and energy.  I suggested that they should make an archive (educational) video of Drumming Part 1, shot from several angles. Don’t get me wrong, I love the young flashy players too, but there is something SO cool about these two – something which I think should somehow be preserved.


Russ Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad


The build-up to the event was enormous, as you might imagine. The press had a field day discussing “long-feuding composers” and “minimal awkwardness” etc. There was quite an atmosphere backstage too, with both ensembles milling around the green room, waiting to witness the non-public reunion. I have to say that Steve and Phil were incredibly dignified about the whole thing. Beryl Korot (Steve’s wife) described their response as “graceful”, and I knew exactly what she meant. They were polite, quietly friendly, and very respectful towards each other – and they’d done their homework. I knew that Steve had been struggling with a bad wrist, but it clearly hadn’t stopped him practising the piano. I thought Steve was particularly gracious in his donning of a dark jacket to play with Phil’s ensemble, conforming to their “uniform” (Steve Reich & Musicians always wear white shirts and black trousers, which looks good – and it’s about the only time you’ll ever see Steve in a white shirt!).


Four Organs in concert from stage right


I sat in the wings to watch Four Organs, as I wanted to be as close as possible to this historic event. It’s always entertaining to hear Michael Tilson Thomas describing the Carnegie Hall performance of the piece back in 1973 (for which MTT was responsible) when there was a Rite of Spring-esque riot with audience members booing and shouting at the players to stop, whilst other punters shouted back at them to shut up because they couldn’t hear the music. And here we were in Brooklyn with a well-behaved attentive audience, enjoying the piece as though it were a Beethoven string quartet.


Brooklyn Academy of Music


Our contributions to the three-evening event were Music for 18 Musicians in the first concert, then Drumming in the second.  We weren’t involved in the third concert (we nearly got to sing Proverb but then the programme was changed – sorry tenors!), but I stayed on to hear it. This one featured the quartet from Steve’s ensemble playing his WTC 911.  I confess I didn’t know the piece at all, but I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting time or place to hear it for the first time. In the sky over lower Manhattan, there were lasers showing where the twin towers had stood, as this was the anniversary of 911, and sitting in the audience with me was Francesca Vanasco (married to Thad Wheeler – a long-time member of Steve Reich & Musicians), who lost nearly all her colleagues in one of the towers (Fran had stayed at home to work that morning).  Fran’s voice is one of those featured in the WTC 911 backing track – “I knew it wasn’t an accident”. This was an incredibly passionate and moving rendition of a superb piece of music. Steve had initially said “how do you write a piece about 911?”. “Just like that”, I would answer. I haven’t witnessed such a long respectful silence at the end of a performance in a very long time. If the stage manager hadn’t started clapping, I think we would all have got up and left in silence. I was almost disappointed that that hadn’t been allowed to happen, but the players did deserve the hearty applause they finally got.


To complete the Nonesuch-Reich-Glass-New York experience, I stayed for the second half of the concert, which featured (quite a lot of) Phil Glass’s music. Whilst I appreciated the technical prowess and sheer stamina of the players and singer, I confess I didn’t love it. It’s just incessant for the wind players and singer, with absolutely nowhere to breathe. They did brilliantly, but I found it really stressful and I couldn’t help feeling annoyed with the composer for putting them through it! I know Steve’s music is repetitive too, but to my mind it’s much more human and linear – and uplifting. With some exceptions, Glass’s music makes me feel as though I’m being bashed around the head, on beats 1 and 3. Steve’s music is definitely on the proverbial 2 and 4, and feels more like surfing. Now there’s a discussion for an A level music essay if ever there was one!


taking a bow


Suffice to say, we all felt really privileged and proud to be part of this amazing event. It’s one I’m sure we won’t forget.”



Glastonbury (June 2014)

Synergy represented by:

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


“Two years ago, just after we’d performed at the Open’er Festival in Gdynia with Steve Reich and Ensemble Modern, Steve mentioned that that had been his first pop festival gig – at the age of 75.  I suggested that 75 was the perfect age to start doing pop festivals and that we should aim for Glastonbury next, perhaps supporting Radiohead.  Happily, Jonny Greenwood was on the Gdynia bill with us, playing Electric Counterpoint, so I asked him to put in a good word – and here we were, on our way to the biggest pop festival in the world!  Actually, I take no credit for the practicalities whatsoever, because it was the administrative team at London Sinfonietta that made this happen (rounding up sponsors in a very short space of time to make our appearance possible), but I like to think that I put the idea out into the universe!  Steve Reich wasn’t joining us on this occasion, but we did have Jonny Greenwood on the bill again, providing the Glastonbury kudos.


Rehearsing in Waterloo

Everyone on the London Sinfonietta/Synergy team had played Music for 18 before, so we just needed one refresher rehearsal in London.  That worked out well in that some of the sponsors who were unable to get to Glastonbury could have their very own private performance.

On the evening before our gig, we all headed down to a Salisbury hotel.  That was the only way we were going to be able to manage the early get-in for our midday slot on the West Holts stage.  We couldn’t risk having anyone stuck in traffic, or missing a train.  Music for 18 is so called because 18 is the absolute minimum number of musicians you need to play the piece.  It’s often played as Music for 19  – or even 20 – but Music for 17 simply wasn’t an option.  Most of the ensemble came by coach, but I (with Will) opted to drive so that we could stay another night and have an extra day at the festival. Dutifully displaying our windscreen pass “within 10 miles of the site”(10 miles!), we followed the coach to the Blue Gate, then we all transferred to a couple of mini-vans to take us down to the stage.  The security was (understandably) very tight. Getting in to Glastonbury was a bit like crossing an Eastern European border, with its heavily guarded perimeter. It’s hard to conceive of the amount of fencing required to contain a festival of over 1300 acres – 6 miles of it, 15 feet high, dug 3 feet into the ground – but there are already SO many ticket holders and artists at the festival that a flood of fence-scaling/tunnel-digging gate-crashers would be a health and safety nightmare.

I have since discovered a few more impressive statistics about Glastonbury:

It is the world’s largest open air musical festival (180,000 people).

The electricity usage is the same as that of the city of Bath.

The Pyramid Stage alone has over 250 speakers.


Stage door

Artists’ area of the West Holts stage










As we were performing in the middle of the first day, the back-stage area of the West Holts stage was still immaculate – and so beautifully decorated, it was a veritable work of art.

Regular black concert dress seemed a bit formal for this occasion, so we had decided on “trendy black” instead.  We got changed on arrival, while they were still setting up.  Then, as it was just starting to rain, we donned our wellies to get across to the stage.  After the rehearsal, the gals (4 Synergites + Shelagh Sutherland) decided that our wellies were so comfy, we’d keep them on for the gig as well.


Jonny & John

Sound check





Our time was very limited for the sound check, so there was no way we’d be able to play through the piece, which is an hour long. That said, it was imperative that we sorted out the foldback so that everyone could hear what they needed to hear.  Fortunately, we had the marvellous Ian Dearden (Sound Intermedia) on stage with us, monitoring the monitors, leaving the inimitable David Sheppard on front of house.  I know what a sacrifice this was for Ian because he really wanted to be out front too (“Hello Glastonbury!” and all that), but we were very grateful to have him close by in case of any on-stage crises.


Synergy girls with the lovely Ian Dearden – check out those funky wellies!

Monitor levels (and indeed sight-lines) can make or break a performance of Music for 18. The piece depends entirely on visual and aural cues between all the musicians, so a break-down in either form of communication can be disastrous.  Fortunately, all was sorted in relatively good time, while Jonny waited patiently for his chance to sound check Electric Counterpoint.


Jonny’s guitar ready and waiting

During the short space of our sound check, the audience went from this:


to this:

… and then there were five

to this:



Jonny was up first (immediately after his sound check) and put in an excellent performance of Electric Counterpoint. He has performed the piece several times since that first time in Gdynia, and was noticeably more relaxed and “in the zone”.


Under starter’s orders

Jonny in action










Then, on we went for the Glastonbury premiere of Music for 18 Musicians.  It was great to have such a chilled-out, open-minded, enthusiastic audience.  Some people had come specifically to hear the performance, and some had just taken a punt and thought they’d give it a try.  Happily, there was lots of smiling and jigging along to the music, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.


Spot the trolls

My favourite moment was in section 111a when the trolls turned up, bearing signs saying “hug a troll” whilst dancing exuberantly to the music.  Ian Dearden was creased up with laughter in the wings, and Heather and I just couldn’t help smiling.  Sadly for Jo and Mandy, it was all going on behind them so they were blissfully unaware.


Stage left

Heather, Micaela & Jonathan Morton


It was wonderful to be a part of such a special event, and it’s certainly a gig we won’t forget in a hurry.

… and from the back

“Music for 18” bows


After the performance, lunch was laid on in the artists’ tent, then the coach headed back to London to deliver the players to the Royal Opera House for an opera performance that same night.

Will and I (armed with our camping chairs, waterproof trousers, jackets and brollies) then headed out into the delightful madness that is Glastonbury.  Fortunately, the skies had brightened up, so we made our way to the Pyramid Stage for a chill-out on the grass during Rodriguez y Gabriela’s set. Then we went for a wander – and the heavens opened!!


A spot of camping, anyone?


Thank goodness for the artists’ tent, where we took cover from the torrential storm.  It was so bad that they had to shut down all the electricity at the stages – which meant that all the sets were put back and/or curtailed.  One band at the West Holts stage lost their set completely – I was gutted for them.  They went on stage, huddled at the front, and played a few acoustic numbers, but that was their lot.  The next band was already raring to go when the electricity came back on.

The skies cleared for Lily Allen, who I thought was great – an excellent performer and a very pithy song writer.


Lily Allen on the Pyramid Stage

I was delighted to see the trolls popping up at all sorts of other gigs around the site.  They made me smile every time.  I have to say that, for me, it was all the little random acts that I enjoyed the most.  There were some young girls dressed as old ladies (hankies on heads / fake fags in mouths) pushing a tea-trolley around; a gang of be-stilted copper coloured people dressed like a gang from a dark sci-fi movie; Professor Twitchit with Tallulah the Psychic Midget; Captain Robert Scott covered in snow, roped to a fellow explorer, looking for the Antarctic.  They were all crazy – but utterly delightful.


Captain Scott

I can’t say I’ll be rushing back to camp at Glastonbury next year (nothing would persuade me to use the cattle-stall loos, for starters), but I’m so grateful to have performed there and to have enjoyed the Glastonbury experience in both sunshine and ankle-deep mud.  I hope it’s not the last time we perform at Glastonbury.  In the meantime, we shall treasure our 2014 memories, performer’s passes and wrist bands.”


New York (May 2014)

Synergy represented by (L-R): Michael Dore, Micaela Haslam, Heather Cairncross, Andrew Busher


“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.

View from hotel


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.


Inscribed panels around the edge

9/11 Memorial Pool












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.


Brooklyn Bridge

View from the walkway










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!


Rinde & Micaela

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!


Georgee & Micaela

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?



Lunch in the park

Central Park












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.”





Miami Beach (February 2014)

Synergy represented by:

L-R: Michael Dore, Micaela Haslam, Simon Grant, Tom Bullard,
Amanda Morrison, Gerard O’Beirne, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross

“We couldn’t have picked a better time to go to Miami – 26ᴼC and sunny, while the UK was more or less under water!  The New World Symphony Orchestra had kindly offered us apartments in the “Musicians’ Village” (named by me), where the orchestral players live.  This enabled Will and I to have a few extra days in the February sunshine.  Just what the doctor ordered!

Our apartment neighbours consisted of a very friendly percussionist on one side, and a very diligent pianist on the other.  We didn’t mind her practising at all because she was really very good.  There was one amusing afternoon, however, when she was practising the opening of the 5th movement of Sinfonia over and over again.  It is a tricky solo moment for her, me and the flautist, but enough was enough.  So I joined in with my solo from the other side of the apartment wall – that did the trick!

Everglade airboats

Having walked and cycled the length and breadth of Art Deco Miami Beach, and with a whole free day to ourselves, Will and I decided on a visit to the Everglades and a trip on an airboat, so that we could pretend we were in Miami Vice.  As you might expect, the set-up is a bit touristy, with a shop and a café and an alligator “show”, and I wasn’t surprised to see (just by this walkway on the right of the picture), a huge replica of an alligator in the water (presumably to make the tourists go “ooh look!”).  I resisted the urge to reach down and touch it, which was just as well as, when we returned from our airboat ride, the same massive alligator “replica” was sunning itself on the slipway!


We met a few of his slightly smaller friends whilst out on the water, including this character (N.B. picture taken by Will, without zoom, with boat engine switched off – and me crouched on the other side of Will!)










As we were staying just a few blocks from the venue, we headed down to New World Center to check out this amazing new building – a collaboration between Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and Frank Gehry (who of course designed the amazing Walt Disney Hall in LA).  NWC was purpose-built as the home of the New World Symphony Orchestra, and it houses a fabulous state-of-the-art concert hall where these top-notch postgraduate orchestral players can hone their skills and continue to learn from the best conductors and international orchestral players.


We bumped into Anna – my main contact in putting this concert together – and she and Maydela (MTT’s very cute puppy), gave us a guided tour of this fabulous building.  I was particularly envious of MTT’s office and meeting room at the top of the building – just next to the roof-top garden.  I know where I’d spend most of my time if I worked here!


Listening in to players’ rehearsal

MTT invited me to the orchestral rehearsal the following morning, where I bumped into three familiar faces from LSO who were in Miami to coach the “fellows” – a lovely surprise.  After a very productive and delightfully collaborative rehearsal, Michael then invited us over to his amazing water-side house for dinner – along with some of the “fellows” and NWS associates.  I don’t know how MTT finds the time to do all he does.  Such generous entertaining was way beyond the call of duty – but how very lovely!

A bit of Art Deco – Miami style

It was a real pleasure to rehearse with MTT and these wonderful players.  Michael asked me to chat a bit about each movement just before we rehearsed it.  It’s great to do pre- and post-concert talks about Sinfonia but it’s even better to be able to share our knowledge with the players, having performed the piece so many times over so many years.

After a strenuous afternoon in Macy’s, a lovely Italian meal and lashings of key-lime-pie-cheesecake-ice-cream (gorgeous!), the concert day was upon us.  Miami Beach was pretty busy by this stage, as it was in the throes of the annual boat show.  Once upon a job, Will used to sell boats.  He reckons that owning a boat is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £10 notes!  That said, I reckon I’d settle for this one if I had to.

Micaela’s boat

The first half of the concert consisted of several small-scale pieces by Scelsi (my favourite being the one for flute and oboe – never thought I’d say that! – it was played so beautifully) and Berio’s Linea for 2 pianos and 2 percussionists (starring BOTH my neighbours) – very impressive.  Then, at the beginning of Sinfonia, MTT chatted to the audience about the piece, and we were treated to a short film about one of the “fellows” (a great idea to promote the orchestra, showing the players as individuals with personalities, funny stories etc).

A fine job was done by all and Sinfonia was warmly received.  Michael had made a small mistake in the 1st movement (I bet no-one even noticed), so when he came back on for his 2nd bow he turned to the audience and announced that he’d like us all to play that movement again.  This was an admirably selfless gesture.  He clearly wanted this performance of such an iconic piece to be as good as it could be for these young players.  I think we should repeat the first movement in every performance of Sinfonia.  Everyone’s much more relaxed the 2nd time round!

Taking a bow

A roof-top reception followed, during which time we chatted up as many of the NWS associates as we could, in an effort to persuade them to employ a resident group of 8 professional singers.  You never know…

Art Deco sunset

Finally, MTT invited us all to attend the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra concerts on the South Bank in March.

We all went along to the marathon that is Mahler 3 yesterday (March 16th).  It was a triumph, received with a standing ovation and much cheering.  MTT was marvellous, and “man of the match” definitely went to the principal trumpet – brilliant.  “Women and children of the match” were the ladies of the LSO chorus and the boys of St Paul’s Cathedral, who all sang from memory and were incredibly well-disciplined.  They did us Brits proud!

So, same time next year in Miami Beach….?”


Gdynia (July 2013)

Synergy represented by:

L-R: Amanda Morrison, Micaela Haslam, (Jonny Greenwood!!),
Heather Cairncross, Caroline Jaya-Ratnam


“Steve Reich (playing piano 4 in Music for 18, as usual) was due to meet us in Poland at the sound check.  Meanwhile, the day before our performance Mandy, Heather, Caroline and I flew to Frankfurt for a brief “music minus one” rehearsal with Ensemble Modern at their rehearsal studio.  Having concluded that we all knew Music for 18 Musicians rather well, we went out for a very nice lunch and headed back to Frankfurt airport for our group flight to Gdansk.


Ueli (piano 2) and Jurgen (piano 3) in EM’s
Frankfurt rehearsal studio

It was a nice surprise to see Jonny Greenwood on our Dinky plane to Gdansk. He was due to play Electric Counterpoint just before us in the gig, having performed the piece with us in Krakow a couple of years ago.  He had since re-recorded the guitar tracks (because he thought they could be better) and played the piece in Sydney. Electric Counterpoint is quite a way outside the comfort zone of his Radiohead fans, and I really admire him for doing it at all.  He’s clearly a big Steve Reich fan and definitely “gets” Steve’s music.

So, after a free evening and a leisurely morning in Gdansk, we headed over to the Open’er Festival stadium to meet Steve and have a sound check.  It was a beautiful day and we were very excited with our “access all areas” backstage festival passes.  I just wish I could have been out front to hear Music for 18 through this sound system – it must have been amazing!


What a stack!

What a stack!

Mandy and Caroline have arrived

















The main stage is a somewhat precarious place to be at events like this, as each crew seems only concerned with the destination of its own gear – no matter who might be standing in the way.  Finally we managed to get ourselves set up and played through a few sections of the piece to check that the microphones, foldback and speakers were all doing what they were
supposed to be doing.


Steve warming up

Steve warming up

Clearing away the Kings' kit

Clearing away the Kings’ kit






Steve looked like a very cool dude – clearly born to be a rock star!


My view from the stage

My view from the stage

As we rehearsed, I watched the bouncers being briefed for the evening. Having seen them in action, I now realise what an important (and precarious) role they were to play in the proceedings.


Mandy on a blow-up Chesterfield

Mandy on a blow-up Chesterfield

Artists' sandpit

Artists’ sandpit









Mandy and I decided to hang around for the rest of the day.  Our chill-out on these deckchairs was somewhat short-lived.  Just after this photo was taken, my chair collapsed and I threw my cup of coffee all over my shirt! The blow-up Chesterfield sofas were hilarious.  This hangar was kitted out with several suites of blow-up Chesterfields and lots of potted palm trees. Unfortunately, there were also a gazillion swallows’ nests up in the roof, so several large nets had been suspended to catch the stuff you’d rather not have land on your head.  It was still wise to check the floor and the chairs before sitting down!



It was fascinating to watch all the comings and goings of the various artists, their entourages, the press etc.  The Kings of Leon all arrived in separate cars (don’t they like each other?), and at one point Rihanna wandered through to chat with them.  One of the crew tried to take her photo but she had a man with a special light machine that made sure he wouldn’t get a decent photo.  What a crazy world she lives in.


Corridor for squashed girls











Following a support band or two, we went down to the main stage to hear some of the Kings of Leon set.  It was sheer madness beyond the bouncers, yet we could just wander comfortably around backstage – that felt a bit weird, though very nice weird!  Just in front of the stage, we watched the bouncers pulling girl after girl from the crowd, sending them running down this corridor back into the edge of the crowd.  A few of them were hauled out (rather unceremoniously) unconscious and there were medical teams on hand with stretchers.

The band did sound great and I liked some of their songs.  Caleb Followill probably wouldn’t thank me for this observation, but I reckon there’s a hint of Phil Collins in his voice.  Have a listen and see what you think….


Ready for action in our dressing room


Finally, we were driven down to the stage to watch Jonny perform, before going straight into Music for 18.


Jonny in action

Jonny in action

It takes some guts to go onto a stage straight after Kings of Leon and play Electric Counterpoint, but that’s just what Jonny did – and extremely well. Steve Reich was down at the sound desk with the marvellous Norbert Ommer, and at one point even punched the air as he was so delighted with what he was hearing.

Then finally, well after midnight, it was our turn.  Although it was very exciting to be where we were, it was bleedin’ freezin’ on that stage!  All the warmth of the day’s sun had well and truly evaporated, and the stage seemed to act as a giant wind tunnel.  In fact it was so windy that most of us had large sheets of Perspex over the music and/or clothes pegs pinning the music to the stand.

The audience was great – many treating Music for 18 as a connected “set”, clapping in the links between sections where the texture thins out.  I reckon that made all of us think about the piece in a new way – very refreshing!

So, Glastonbury next year perhaps?  We asked Jonny if he could put a word in…..”


Paris (May 2013)

Synergy represented by


L-R: Simon Grant, Michael Dore, Tom Bullard, Heather Cairncross, Rachel Weston, Gerry O’Beirne, Amanda Morrison, Micaela Haslam

“This was Tom’s first Sinfonia with Synergy and it was great to have him on the team, as always. We had no rehearsal before heading to Brussels, so it must have been a bit strange for Gerry singing with a completely new desk partner at the first orchestral rehearsal. Tom has sung tenor 2 in Sinfonia a gazillion times, so we knew there’d be no problem – which of course there wasn’t – but it’s always good to keep everyone on their toes!

We all prefer to take the Eurostar to the continent when possible – no airport hassle to contend with – and this journey was as delightfully quick and straightforward as ever. We headed first of all to Brussels to rehearse with the Brussels Philharmonic, before continuing to Paris the following day. We had a very fine people-carrier waiting for us at Brussels Midi. The only downside was that no-one had told us where to find the driver. We kept our eyes peeled at arrivals for someone with a sign, then headed for the taxi pick-up area – no-one there for us either. Finally we found our man (after several phone calls to and from Brussels Phil) standing in front of Sam’s Café – nowhere near the Eurostar arrivals, nor indeed the taxi rank, so an interesting choice…. Still, we finally got to our hotel which was the main thing. Unfortunately, we had virtually no turnaround time before our singers’ rehearsal with the conductor. Our driver-scouting had used up precious time, and the traffic in the centre of Brussels was awful. Apparently, François Hollande was in town, so the whole place was gridlocked. I know it’s not exactly strenuous sitting on a train for a few hours, but I always feel as though I need at least an hour’s chill-out time before starting work after a long journey. I think it’s something to do with getting into the right head space – or is that just me? Anyway, ‘twas not to be on this occasion.

We hailed 2 cabs to the rehearsal venue, which was only about 3 km away, but about 30 mins in this appalling traffic. Heather, Mike, Rachel and I had a kamikaze taxi driver who whizzed through petrol stations to jump queues, pushed into any space bigger than a foot, and even drove down the middle of the road towards an oncoming tram at one point. Fortunately, he managed to squeeze back into the line of traffic before we were taken on a ride back up the road attached to the front of a tram.

The conductor, Michel Tabachnik, went through a few sections of the piece with us, a cappella. After about 10 minutes he declared that we didn’t need that rehearsal. That’s all very well, but I could have had my hour’s chill-out in my hotel room! Anyway, we cracked on with the tutti rehearsal and finished in time to head out for a very nice meal just around the corner from our hotel – easy staggering distance back to our rooms.


Sam’s Café


The following morning, we headed back to Brussels Midi to take the train to Paris, only to discover that our train was delayed by an hour – another hour I could have spent in my hotel room (actually the Mercure Hotel in Brussels wasn’t great – I had an incredibly noisy room, so I wasn’t missing it). Having done the round of the station shops, we camped back in old Sam’s Café, until our train finally showed. Thalys provided a substantial packed lunch on the train because it had been delayed. You wouldn’t get that in the UK!

Finally we got to Paris and to our hotel (Hotel Mercure directly opposite the Cité de la Musique – previously a Holiday Inn) – just in time to head straight out to the sound check! Once again, no rest for the singers. Having got the monitor levels sorted out, we retired to the hotel while the orchestra played through Mahler 1, then returned for the Sinfonia run-through. I know that things always sound different when the orchestra gets going and the front of house speakers are mixed in, but I’ll never understand how (stored) monitor levels can change so radically from one rehearsal to the next. I spent most of this final rehearsal running to and from the sound desk because monitors were too low / completely off / individual voices were sticking out etc. Michel kindly chose to ignore my comings and goings, and we seemed to get everything sorted in the end – fingers crossed!


Simon & Tom – cool, calm and collected before the gig


I’m happy to report that all was well for the concert. The monitor levels were good and the team performed well. There’s always a corner or two (different every time) that I’d like to improve on but, all in all, I was pleased with what we did. We were sitting among the players for this performance (often the singers are arranged directly in front of the conductor), with the sopranos and tenors on the outside. It’s not what we were expecting, but actually I rather enjoyed it. It’s nice to feel like a member of the orchestra, rather than being stuck at the front, and I felt as though we had built up a good rapport with the players after our two days together.


Post concert dinner


Best of all, Sinfonia was first in the programme, so we had plenty of time to enjoy a good meal (and a kir royale or two) in a delightful restaurant across the road!”


Amsterdam & Leeds (March 2013)

Synergy represented by:

L-R: Tom Bullard, Heather Cairncross, Micaela Haslam, Andrew Busher

“We all met in London – at St Giles in the Barbican – on the day we were travelling to Amsterdam. The four of us had had a rehearsal a couple of weeks earlier with Andrew Greenan who was stepping bravely into Brindley Sherratt’s shoes to sing the role of Christus. This was now the first meeting of the whole team, so Andrew really had to hit the ground running. There’s no recording of the piece (a luxury we’re all so used to these days when learning new music) so this was a tough gig for him, with very little tutti rehearsal. Andrew was sweetly self-deprecating, but actually did extremely well. It turns out that he and I sang Jephtha together at Manchester University about 100 years ago – small world. He assured me that he wasn’t a stalker though, or indeed “Mr Memory” from a travelling circus – he’d simply found the programme in his score.



Will Conway steered us all cheerfully and calmly through the piece, and we headed off to Amsterdam with renewed confidence. We were staying at The Mövenpick Hotel, right next door to the Muziekgebouw – always a happy experience. Most of the gang headed straight to the hotel bar to enjoy a beer or two.

Beer for ladies

Beer sizes










Which one of these is for the lady, I wonder….? Some of the ladies I go on tour with can drink the boys under the table! I did the sensible thing and headed straight to my room. Still suffering from a horrid incessant dry cough, I thought my “tower of isolation” [©John Milner – sonic sculptor] would be the best option the night before a concert, and of course I had this offer from the hotel to put to the test……!


Promises, promises!

After a splendid breakfast and a chill-out morning, we met for the balance/rehearsal. The Muziekgebouw has wonderful (adjustable) acoustics, and we opted for a more resonant sound. To my mind, Since it Was the Day of Preparation….. works best in a church, but a concert hall like this is the perfect alternative. We put Andy and Tom up in the galleries for their long recit solos.


Tom Bullard doing his thing

This looked great – at least it would have done if Andy’s spotlight hadn’t blown during the concert. He had to sing his entire 3 minute solo in complete darkness. Just as well he knew it from memory!

My biggest worry was that my voice would pack up completely, having sung nothing at all for three weeks. Every time I’d tried, I would start coughing uncontrollably, so I just had to surrender to the steaming and hot honey with lemon, and hope for the best. It’s amazing what a bit of adrenalin can do and thankfully I made it through the concert, which was really well received – a standing ovation, no less. The others all sang and played wonderfully and I felt very proud to be in such an amazing team.

The band – Gabriella, Liz, Steve, Yann & Will

The following day, our only job was to get to Leeds. Sounds easy enough, except that there had been yet another dumping of snow in the UK, resulting this time in the closure of Leeds/Bradford airport. Gabriella managed to get a flight back to London in order to pick up her harp from home and drive up to Leeds. In Amsterdam, she’d borrowed a harp – not the easiest instrument to take on tour. The rest of us waited and prayed that the airport would reopen for our early evening flight. Thankfully, it did, though we landed in quite a snow storm. Normally, I wouldn’t like that, but having endured a horrid turbulent flight from Glasgow the previous week, landing in what felt like gale-force winds, this was a breeze.

It may have been 9pm, but our hardy crew ventured into Leeds, braving the deep snow and ice, in search of a curry. Once again, I did the diva thing and retired to the hotel, but I did manage to persuade them all to return to the same curry house (Akbar’s) the following night – so at least I didn’t miss out on the delicious spicy fare and the monster naans.

monster naan

I’m afraid I didn’t really enjoy the concert in the Howard Assembly Room. The acoustics were too dry for this piece, and the air was too dry for my throat! After the Amsterdam gig, I was running on one vocal cord, and now felt as though I was clinging on for dear life – never a pleasant sensation in a concert. By the end of the gig, I was completely voiceless. Curry and beer in the noisiest restaurant imaginable provided the final nail in the proverbial vocal coffin, but at least I’d made it through – phew!


Taking a bow in Leeds



Berlin (March 2013)

Synergy represented by:


L-R:  Micaela Haslam, Andrew Busher (Sian Edwards - conductor),Gerard O'Beirne, Phillip Brown, Amanda Morrison

L-R: Micaela Haslam, Andrew Busher, (Sian Edwards – conductor),
Gerard O’Beirne, Phillip Brown, Amanda Morrison

“Mandy and I headed off to Berlin the night before the first rehearsal.  We can’t be doing with the Heathrow early starts – we’re much happier with a nice relaxing dinner, a chill-out evening and a leisurely morning.  As usual, the boys went for the early morning option, but then they’re used to getting up at the crack of dawn, having 9 children between them!  Our hotel was just down the road from the Konzerthaus in Berlin with plenty of swanky eateries nearby.  Mandy and I chose the least swanky (on financial grounds), but still had a really excellent steak and a fine glass of red wine.

I enjoyed a wander in the sunshine on our free morning.  Berlin is so smart and clean – at least in the area where we were staying.  It was a real pleasure to walk around.  At one point, I came across what was presumably a photo shoot for a bridal magazine or something.  I love the fact that this man just strolled along eating his sandwich as though a girl dressed like a meringue sitting in a doorway were the most normal thing in the world.


We hadn’t seen our friends at Ensemble Modern for quite a while so it was lovely to catch up with them at the rehearsal the following afternoon.  Our conductor for this concert was Sian Edwards and this was her first go at Three Tales.  It’s a deceptively difficult piece to conduct.  You’d think that a click track would make for an easy job, but not at all.

The sound track of the film is very loud, with many layers of rhythmic material and speech.  Added to that, you have 2 pianos, 4 percussionists, a string quartet and 5 singers to contend with.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to work out what’s live and what’s on the guide track – and it’s all too easy to “lose” the click in all the racket (wonderful racket though it is!).  Sian confessed that she was feeling somewhat daunted at the outset – understandable, being the “new girl” in front of a feisty bunch of musicians who have been playing/singing the piece for over 10 years – but she did brilliantly.  As I’ve said so many times, there is nothing better than working with musicians who are real team players, without big egos.  Sian definitely falls into that category, and I hope we’ll work with her again soon. She was delightful, well-prepared, technically proficient and great fun – my favourite combination.


Sian Edwards and the boys in action

The interior of the Konzerthaus is extraordinary – it felt a bit like being inside a giant wedding cake.  Looking at all the marble busts of the usual suspects – Bach, Beethoven, Schumann et al – around the room, I couldn’t help wondering whether, in a hundred years or so, those busts might be of Steve Reich, James MacMillan, John Adams, Louis Andriessen etc.  Who knows?


Konzerthaus interior


Berlin Konzerthaus
















We were only able to get into the main hall on the day of the concert, so Sian had one opportunity to go through the piece with the film running.  We were back up on our riser behind the string quartet and just in front of the percussion.  These two vibraphone players are my heroes of Three Tales.

David Haller & Boris Müller

In Part 3 (Dolly) the vibe parts are absolutely fiendish for pages and pages and pages.  It’s really thrilling (if quite loud!) to sit just in front of these guys.  I think we have the best seats in the house – even if we can’t see the film.

The performance was a triumph, worthy of celebration with several beers and some terrifyingly meaty German fare in a bar across the road.  More Ensemble Modern/Synergy Vocals gigs coming soon…”


Buenos Aires (October 2012)

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!”