Sunday, July 31, 2005


Leader to his sectional cello:

"Here are some reviews of the opening night. Taken from Der Standard, Salzburger Nachrichten and Die Presse:"

Sectional cello to her leader:

"I presume you were not up since dawn translating this...?"

Leader to his sectional cello:

"Actually i chained christian to the coffetable all night long with a bowl of dry coffeepowder until he had translated everything..."

"In the premiere public the smallest Mukser is not to be heard. Certainly: As gently, tenderly, in the tone qualities of infinite, more floating delicate-eat as the orchestra the voice prime and clasp, must that simply to hearts go. Here certainly only music the area and says everything."

"The orchestralen commitment of the orchestra clock for clock pre and thought are. The conductor and alive-real ceremony master, brings the Mozarts' music to speaking, to the glowing. It worries with this ensemble almost agitating about the unimportant, produced thereby a continuous tension which did not provide at approximately three hours of performance duration from it, a minute thirst after sharper subject feel let."

"In the ethereal Pianissimo as in the strongly zupackenden Sforzato,in modelling eloquent melody elbows as in accenting fright sounds it does not do window to the Musicians you directly,if this conductor at the desk stands."

I think they liked it.

(Translation actually coutesy of babelfish )

Saturday, July 30, 2005



"Merde" said our generous chef.

Opening Night at the Salzburg Festival is quite a do though not, apparently, for us.

My section leader had been asked to remove all trace of individuality (which came in the form of a fashionably lime-green tie) and, as we sat in the pit black yanking our pegs paralysed by humidity, placing spares on the floor, plastering our sweaty horsehair with rosin, we geared ourselves up to disappear from view, combat the swelter and give them top notch early Mozart.

Meanwhile they paraded in - the Victoria Falls Tall Hair, the Rich Wrinkles in Pink Indian Silk Dirndl (again, I think), the Backless Number (making her ascent to the last row purposefully late - only the red carpet was missing)....the Glitz and the Glint of International Festival Posh.

"Who would you most like to see in the audience?" I asked my German colleague.
"Boris Becker" he shot out.

I thought of Boris' last appearance at Wimbledon with who knows what new babe and the huge lapelled baby blue suit and decided on MacEnroe. Or Ralph Fiennes. Or Juliette Binoche. Then I thought to, I would rather see:


Somehow the dense heat ate bar-sized holes in to our concentration, creating colanders of focus. The dress rehearsal had risen from the ashes of the pre dress to great heights and we were fighting the natural dip that follows a peak. However, it was my turn in the rota to sit up front, in the intimate inner circle of strings just below the baton, and it was thrilling to sit next to a leader whose gestures are so big and clear that mine (also pretty big) could fit snugly inside them without seeming to threaten him or rob him of his space. We made a good team and there were moments when I felt like the second body in a Russian Doll.

I think we semi-rocked.

After the shrieks and whoops of the audience' post-perf delirium and the increase in clapping volume as we took our well- earned bows, we walked past the hob-nobbing and kissing between darlings and the pop of be-ribbonned champagne bottles to our dressing room where, as we extricated smelly body parts from their sticky swamp of concert attire, we were handed a plastic cup half-filled with warm prosecco. This, while everyone else went to the ball, was our reception.

Merde indeed.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005



After a summer happily chilling out in Birkenstocks, my liberated toes were not happy on our Alpine adventure squidging together in a very expensive walking boot, and are covered in angry blisters.

The pre-generale of Mitridate took place last night. I spent Act One poking at a very persistent fly which had decided the blisters on my feet were a French delicacy. It occurred to me during my idle quavers to put honey on them for the next performance, or foie gras...Eventually I managed to squewer it with the tip of my bow. I then spent Act Two trying to assuage my guilt by convincing myself that rather than kill another sentient being I had made a sacrifice up to the Great Spirit of Mozart. In Act Three I finally managed to quieten my mind and contemplate some good bass line playing - becoming one, via my section leader, with the throbbing heart beat of the magnificent singers (Oh thank you God for singers with rhythm), the ritual step towards their fate, the earth beneath their feet, the wings on which they fly, the bouncy castle through which they romp.....however at about this time the rain came plopping down. All divine subtlety was lost and we were left, a pit full of miming lunies in the rock and roll of the downpour.

Our chef was none too pleased with the performance. Despite a superb group of individuals, we are not yet breathing as one; we are plugging into irritating flies instead of being mindful of the task at hand and as yet the five string sections feel to me like five countries with five brilliant leaders and five brilliant systems....We have not found our common voice.

A string section is an extraordinary thing: Eight hearts, souls and egos, eight lives, eight sets of pain, of joy, eight inner parents, eight inner children, eight leaders and eight followers all playing the same line, hopefully in exactly the same way. A section should, like all micro-communities, be a set of healthy individuals working towards the common good, each person's vision reaching for the greater picture, and thus open and able to build bridges with other communities (even the violins). Like my intelligent toes in their spacious cork beds, each musician should be contained by the structure and yet liberated, have space to breathe and yet take full responsibility not only for the weight they bear but for taking up any slack or backing off when necessary. And like my Birkie toes, they do not like having their freedom taken away from them. They can get red and and are likely to erupt. It is a miracle when it works. When it doesn't we have to believe we are simply on the way and stay humble and open.

Meanwhile, even if Birkenstock cannot save the struggles of the world's orchestral sections, it seems they can save my toes. They have started doing hiking boots. Will I be able to get a hold of a pair before the next trek, I wonder? That is, if my thighs ever stop burning and I stop wobbling down the street like a puppet with no strings.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

five go in search of the edelweis


We have been sitting on our bums for a week now, idle flesh starting to drip over the sides of the chairs into the pit. Over a very early morning drink in the infamous 'Triangle' five of us gals decided to go on an adventure. Maps were laid amongst the weizen beer-mats and a suitable mountain was chosen. There was even talk of staying over night....

In the cable car we swigged a pricey bottle of vitamintausandalpingewurzgesundgetrank to try and combat the effects of the rioja consumed only several hours before and arrived at many thousand feet in the swirling clouds. There was no danger of Julian's prophecy of me dying by tripping coming true here as all we could see was our feet and we dutifully looked at them scrabbling over rocks for the next four hours. However, in close vicinity and somehow illuminated by the half light were an array of alpine flowers, their pinks, black purples and blues intensified by being so petite. We were being guided through heaven by little lights.

A chamois led us to the hut - an alpine Jamaica Inn. We arrived in time to get five of the mattresses in the freezing rafters of the 200 year old building whose history included having been used as a bunker for the Nazis. We were served beer by the mountain goat who ran the place, moving swiftly on to goulash and wine and a strange alcoholic 'jager tee'. As if rigged by 'Heidi goes to Hollywood' or 'The Sound of Amadeus', five lederhosen-clad Alpine lads arrived to keep us company. We were not far from bursting into song as we fell into slumber to the sound of the night-wind and giggling under the roof together.

The descent was designed to make wurst-meat of our thighs and as we sit once more for the pre-dress of Mitridate tomorrow there will be no dripping. Just good firm mountain-fresh flesh. We agreed that if only we would all go for group Alpine therapy on free days the orchestra would be bonding across music stands and different stylistic approaches and the pit would be full of love. We'll see if we can spread a little tomorrow.

Half way down the mountain I realised my inner soundtrack had changed from Rameau to Mozart. The fresh air had caused Mitridate to get under my skin. However the first thing I did on my return, after phoning Julian and skyping all the pic links to him, and letting my toes roam free once more in my Birkies, was go to the Boreades spot on my ipod.



Thursday, July 21, 2005



We are into the fourth day of rehearsals for Mitridate and I feel like Celia Johnson at the end of 'Breif Encounter'.

Wolfgang says:

"Thank you for coming back to me"

but my heart is still battered and spinning from my encounter with Monsieur Rameau....

Mozart was fourteen when he wrote this opera, twenty years after the eighty year old Rameau wrote Les Boreades. Jeunesse and Sagesse side by side. Rameau had clearly, in his old age, abandoned himself to child-like wonder and playfulness and thus a profound work of art was born. The pre-virile Mozart, however, seems to be thinking that he is going to be a very serious composer indeed.

So off we go, this vehicle called the orchestra, most of us caught somewhere between jeunesse and sagesse ourselves, on our two month voyage with a very young genius. Bodies are already flagging from interminable rows of sub-inspirational crotchets. In the bathroom the women show signs of stress and debilitation.

Heads are jammed in chin-rest position, necks in braces. Legs are bandy from cradling baroque cellos too forcefully for too long and knees are buckling when straightened. The zovirax is out of many a handbag and rashes are being compared:

"I only get outbreaks when the bass-line is pants and I'm bored out of my brain"
"Mine always come when I have an overwhelming, catholic guilt-ridden desire to snog my desk partner."
"My desk partner is so fat I have to bow round his stomach. Don't think I'll be snogging him along the Salzach."
"I am about to tie my gut strings around the throat of mine - jabbing every bloody note in such a macho fashion that all I can think about is how he.......yeeeuk"
"Yeah. The conductor did say he wanted it virile but not like a serial rapist."
"There's a great word for that in German. 'Rammeln'...."

And at the hint of something which sounds like his name I am back to pining. I climb the steps back up to the hall, turn to the right page of identical looking blackeads with stems, check where the tonic and dominant are in E flat major, put bow to string and fantasise about the singing the 'air des matelots' au milieu des fleurs.

Monday, July 18, 2005

speaking in tongues


After three glorious days of oozing figs from a friend's garden and rosé sunsets with my beloved I'm up, up and away again....

This time to Salzburg.

"Frankreich ist schon aber es ist so schlecht organisiert....." is exactly the phrase, behind me in the airport queue, that makes me want to educate all those who cannot revel in the mess of a bursting fig.

I do not do well in Germany and Austria. Something here brings out the rebel in me. I do not like being told I can or cannot cross the road or that my cello is taking up someone's personal space... and yet my discomfort is a bit like looking in the mirror and coming face to face with my inner Ms Bossy, Ms Rigid, Ms Organised, and it is not a pleasant sight! I'm always trying to better people with my 'superior' ways, telling them to turn their music down, shut their babies up, not jump the red light, take their mobile phones outside.....

...and this is how I make people feel. Ouch.

The great thing about living in France for me is that it doesn't make me face any of my demons. I can escape the clipped still English Ruth, avoid the control freak and touch the shores of the sensuous and gesticulatory woman I fantasise about being. Languages are like sonic maps of our sub-personalities: Some we love and want to hang out with a lot and some we would rather ignore. Sometimes it's good to revisit the neglected ones. They may well bear gifts.


Friday, July 15, 2005

du calm


Today was the yearly trip over the shoulder of the Ventoux to inspire purple smells and to exhale; to be in the burr of the bees' industry whilst they make our royally scented jelly. Today was lavender day. Whilst fortunes are being made selling 'du calm' in bottles of essential oil and eau de linge I got to thinking about how, short of droplets of oil on the fingerboard, we can attain a sense of inner calm in performance:

In a recent concert I was observing the continuo cellist. It was a hairy aria - one in which there are frequent exposed soli, mostly which arise from silence. I noticed that for my colleague these silences were not part of the music but rather a hellish public preparation for each ordeal to come. Uncharacteristically for her, none of her preparatory movements were in rhythm or character; her hands, frozen in a vast span, gripped the fingerboard; her thumb was white with tension; her elbows were locked, her wrists rigid and fingers sweaty. Most critically, her lungs were on hold and every cell of her was holding on till it was all over.

We've all been there.

Everyone's journey with stage-fright is a different one, I'm sure. For me the clue to recovery lay in hatha yoga - a philosophy of breath and movement, in which I learned to inhale air (inspiration) and then let go of movement (expression).

I used to hyper- ventilate when I played. This, I now see, was probably symbolic of my general control freak nature. I learned, through yoga, to let go physically of that which I had taken in and my breathing problems stopped, as did my nerves. When I think about that young insecure cellist, I conjure up the image of a tennis player making a finely-tuned preparatory back swing but, rather than hitting the ball and allowing it to follow through freely, she takes the ball and places it where she wants it to be.

As instrumentalists, the paradox of trying to hold on to movement is just as extreme. However, unlike the tennis player on the wrong side of the court, we usually succeed in playing the notes anyway, with bow shakes and intonation problems the only indications of our resistence.

Yoga taught me, essentially that all expressive movement happens by letting go, on the release, and it's a joy....

...on the cello that is. Life is another matter, and as I walked in-between the combed mounds of two-tone blues, inhaling nature's very own 'du calm', I wondered how long before I learn to feel this liberty elsewhere than on a fingerboard and a gut string!

It's time to train the mind.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005



We arrived in Salamanca at ten o' clock on a Saturday night. After a twelve hour day of rehearsal and travel it was time to untwist the contorted limbs, abandon the fears about an ill-prepared programme and wander in to town for tapas.

I had never seen images of Salamanca and so as we walked I watched a rose miracle unfold around me. The baroque steeples, sensitively up-lit and each sporting it's stalk and nest, did not pierce but rather seemed to caress the night sky. The day's light radiating from the stone seemed to illuminate the architectural flourishes making them tender rather than ostentatious; spontaneous gestures in space. As my feet floated down sandstone streets called 'Silencio' and 'El Arco', past the Casa de las Conchas, La Clerica, the Casa de las Muertas and the La Purisma monastary, the baroque sunrises, butterfly airs and sailor dances we were trying to paint in sound started to make sense:

The next night our chef appeared from the wings as an angel, her halo of Salamancan gold hair glinting in the stage lights. A rainbow had crept in from the streets and was nestling in the folds of her white organza skirt as she invited us to join her in her voyage through Rameau's 'Les Indes Galantes'.

The simple opening phrase touches the silence, violins and oboes lonesome and reedy as the first sun-ray touching the tip of the basilica's dome. Slowly the light penetrates through to the violas, and by the time the cellos enter the stage is floodlit with vibration. The magical scene is set.

(Don't worry. It's not all purisma. Much of this sublime music seems to be about baroque bondage.)

The celli rest up and listen much of the time, as Rameau conceals the bass line in other sections. "Enchaines-moi" sings the soprano, a lone flute decorating her plea. Just underneath her the 'bass' line floats in the violins like my feet suspended in disbelief on the soft Castilian streets. Her prayers appear to have been answered as out come the chains, shaken rudely by the percussionist, to introduce us to the raunchy 'Air des Matelots' and it's partner 'Air de la Matelotte'. Then the bossy violins are telling the 'Papillons Inconstants' to 'fixer leurs amours'; to behave themselves, settle down with one other butterfly and not be such tarts. There are two 'Airs pour les Fleurs', constructed from miniature phrase-petals which we stroke lovingly, a sunrise made from solo rising scales and heart-breaking 'Voix Bulgares'- style accents which makes me want to weep, and the infamous Rondeau which has to be where swing-time was born. Here bows are abandoned in favour of jazzers fingers flipping as they pluck the walking bass line. Heads are shaking, bums are bouncing and toes are curling up in joy. The cello section can hardly contain itself and the joint is swingin'.

After the concert we eat Ibérica jamon, drink rioja and dance in a sixteenth century courtyard to hip hop. I sleep one and a half hours and return home still floating.


Friday, July 08, 2005

swimming pool


I have had the piscine municipal all to myself for three days. As the mistral windsurfed on the freezing water my arms reached back and up, fingertips almost touching the forks of low-scooping swifts and piercing the blue of the sky. A heavenly kilometre was swum. That was until the quartet arrived:

The beautiful nut-brown girl arrived first with the spotty boy. She - taut in her high cut bathing suit, not quite ripe for the picking, and he - fingers trembling, dodging her lanky flung limbs in fear of their erotic charge. Then came the floppy curled nut brown boy, dipping in and out of the ice blue at unexpected junctures on her squealing body, his hair raining sexual confidence all over her. The spotty boy circled in awe. Then the fat girl arrived and sat on the side and cried.

And then the bombers came, making as many violent waves as they could in the big wet square of safety with their innocent bodies.

Which one were you?

Yesterday my father didn't take the bus into town in London, where his meeting at the British Museum- in the centre of the bombings - had been cancelled. Meanwhile, a friend walked from Battersea to Maida Vale with a cello on her back trying to get to a rehearsal, unaware. It was good to hear both their voices.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

the bridge


It was a normal post-tour meet at the airport. I got off the plane, feeling like a sleep-deprived starlet in my new cotélac outfit bearing a suitcase bursting with criticism along with my dirty smalls. Julian didn't like the dress particularly and, ready to defend his temporary bachelor habits, looked sheepish.

The journey home was tense.

Walking in the door I saw the french farmhouse table waxed (a fetish of mine) and clear of debris, the floor washed and surfaces gleaming. Sheets were ready for our guests and the cd's neatly stacked on the hoovered floor. There was a beautiful space waiting for me.

"I did it with love" he said.

Still, I had to get it out; I had to say, no matter that it was the most inappropriate and insensitive moment, how I was FEELING..........(After all I'm a star, aren't I?)

The nightmare wife comes home.

It was a close shave and we narrowly escaped a head-on collision with some scratches. With careful steering on both sides, however, we managed to find the bridge:

Patting instinctively over to the c.d player, I slipped a recording of les Boreades in the silver envelope. With my bare feet up against the flaking lime-wash, I sat in the doorway listening to Rameau mingled with the sounds and smells of home; of Julian cooking infused with the clacking quavers of the cicadas and the vines' undulating dance. Oscar luxuriously arched his back during the most sensuous air, and Julian sat near quietly working on his computer. For the first time I was sharing this glorious music with my beloved and that fulfilled a profound need.

"Track number 5 is the one...."
"Too right"

Over the next three hours of Couguieux-choreographed opera , Julian hummed along and I continued my sporadic interjections:

"Here we took it much more spaciously; here our leader went nuts; here the tenor did the most perfect ornament which gave me goose bumps; here the chorus threw rose-petals down to the blue-eyed oboist; here we never managed to play in tune...."

Then the 'Entrée des Peuples' came on - the sublime pinnacle of the work. Tears flowed easily from under my closed lids as I remembered the pure joy of carving out this sensuous bass line, and also how happy I was to be home.


Monday, July 04, 2005

going home


I trudged, via wonky wet catslide roofs and Alsacian gnomes, over to to the gourmet supermarket in Strasbourg's Galleries Lafayette yesterday. There I stocked up with healthy leaves and crunchy veg, mini bottles of gourmet dressings, half bottles of wine, fruit and yoghurt for the rest of the tour and then, having filled the fridge at the aparthotel, I realized that I am going home tomorrow!

The tour has seemed infinite. I can't help wondering where I will find my place again amongst the flurry of daily paintings , the packing, the Tour de France, the heat, the bed I know he will have been sleeping sideways across. Will the cats even remember me? Will there be menstuff (you know what I'm talking about) in the fridge and empty sacks of potatoes? Will the laundry basket be empty or overflowing?

Tonight is our last perf of les Boreades. Each night I fall deeper and deeper in love with the music; each night Rameau fits better, the gestures having penetrated through to reach our vital organs, the colours a second skin; each night we fall deeper and deeper in love with each-other, our eyes rising heavenward together like lemmings in their final moment during the glorious 'Entrée des Peuples'; each night we groove harder....

I shall miss Monsieur Rameau.

So, waving goodbye to Strasbourg and preparing for two months in Salzburg (via Madrid, New York and Bremen), I shall leave you with a couple of highlights aside from the music:

The first was being glued to the lined ghosts of Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport shifting around the screen of an unpaid for 'Canal+' channel (stingy buggers) whilst listening to the BBC commentary on wifi and ipod phones and talking to Julian free on Skpe.

The second was a celebratory posh meal at which we ate the following - translated in such a way the hilarious likes of which I haven't experienced since since back-packing in India:

'Smocked salmon in boursin scum with a panful of unctuous potatoes and chlorophyll cream.'

It was very good.

Get scrubbing Julian, my love, I'm coming home! (Briefly.)

Saturday, July 02, 2005



There are three types of section leader.

First there is the Head Nodder:

He sits - critically - with his back 'resting' against the chair. All his vital spinal energy drains lazily into the cushioning, chakra juice seeps out of him mixed with beer-sweat rather than spiraling ever upward, and his feet are crossed behind his cello providing zero grounding. His impulses start not in his solar plexus because it is blocked by slouch but in his fingers and his head. Since his fingers are otherwise engaged, he resorts to his head.

The head takes on a life of its own. Disconnected from the breath, it is unable to prepare a gesture so it nods furiously just after the beat in an attempt to force the section play with it. The rest of the section who are trying to breathe with the music feel the frustration behind the amputated gesture and are caught like naughty children happily playing ball when they should be doing their homework.

It's all over the place.

When the concert is over he invites his colleagues down the pub for mock-bonding. There he drowns his sense of failure as a leader, not to mention as a husband, in a couple of pints and a packet of fags.

Second comes the Scroll Waggler:

In rehearsals he stops playing to see who the culprits are and, when identified, they are sent to virtual detention. Because for some reason it sounds terrible, he regularly calls sectionals in which he condescendingly informs his students of the technical approach to each and every phrase. He wields his bow like a cane. His students regress to infantile behaviour, either by sticking gum on the frog of his bow or by becoming mute.

He swallows his beta blocker an hour before the concert lest, God forbid, he should lose control.

The moment has arrived. He sits on the edge of his chair spelling out the gestures of the conductor in mid air with the scroll of his violin. This, apparently, is for the benefit of his blind and deaf section members. Round and round the scroll goes, up and down, crossing t's and dotting i's. His sound bumps along behind him, dominating that of his cowering collagues.

What a mess.

Oh dear, better have another sectional rehearsal. Why, he wonders, is no-one inviting him to the bar? Never mind, it's time for an early night. There's work to be done.

(Needless to say, the critical thing about the Head Nodder and the Scroll Waggler is that actually they don't want the section to be together, for if it were, they would lose their sense of superiority.)

The third leader is the Zen Rocker:

He has had a strong spiritual experience in his youth which, though it frightened him somewhat, also humbled him. He has taken the essence of this connection and infused every movement he makes and every note he plays with it. Rather than pray he takes up his cello and sings.

He has a jazz band and has studied African drumming. All his gestures come from his gut. They can be contained, extrovert, blissful or poetic but there is always motion, however bonsai, and they are always huge in spirit.

The Zen Rocker invites his colleagues into the song circle by his breath like an ancient ritual. They connect to the in and exhalations together like they would the rhythm of the tides. There is no need to lead because everyone is following the music. When somebody plays a bum note he turns round and we all grin together.

After the show the section go dancing together. He melts into the crowd.

Last night in 'Les Boreades' I became very involved in a note. It was a luscious B and I closed my eyes and, feeling the squeeze of the dissonance, I milked the moment before the the ornament released it from the clutches of the clashing harmony. It can happen to anyone. In that moment of ego-bliss however I crashed and the entire machine crashed with me. I woke up and the whole phrase had fallen apart because of my momentary lack of attention to the group.

Luckily the Zen Rocker was at the helm and we moved on.