Saturday, June 19, 2010

A nightmare and Midsummer Night's Dream


When you walk out of our production of Midsummer Night's Dream you arrive in a fairy lit flower garden full of poppies, Fantin Latour roses, peonies and alliums. That is, if it is not pouring with rain when you probably choose to disappear under your umbrella.

We did have one glorious day in England. Luckily for me it was my one day off with Julian.

My husband has spent the last few months dealing with the proofing, delivery, signing and posting of his book. I have rarely seen him so worn and stressed. The delay in the printing process meant that the fork lift truck arrived at the foot of the Mont Ventoux several days AFTER I left on tour for two months, and not before. Luckily it was the day before they decided to close our beloved 'road in Provence' for ugly tarmacking. Luckily it was not raining. Unluckily Julian was alone. Despite strict instructions in capital letters in red from the printers that the truck should be equipped with lift and trolley and anything else a poor chap might need in the middle of nowhere to unload three thousand books, the truck arrived with neither lift nor trolley, or indeed anything useful at all. Julian was forced to take every box down by hand and walk it to the gallery. He became so exhausted in the process that he fell trying to save one, gashing his leg on something sharp and metal that belonged to the forkless liftless truck. He rushed himself to the 'Urgences' at Carpentras hospital where he ended up with six stitches before coming back to clean up the blood and face the next step.

The following week was spent in a vigil of dawn till midnight label-checking and printing, packing and visits to the post office. A few home grown lettuces were rescued from the mistral, a bean pole or two erected to try and save our small crop, but that was about it. It seems there wasn't even time to drink. By which, of course, I mean, Côtes du Rhône.

The first feedback arrived on my iphone while we were driving. 'It is beautiful, stunning but.....' Oh no, we thought. I had flown home for a day and we were driving from Bedoin to Garsington together in search of some relaxation after the great book- birthing. 'But there is a gash in the paper from page forty eight through to page sixty.' We looked out on to the rain soaked 'Autoroute du Soleil' and our hearts sank. Was it a whole batch or a one-off? The hours before the next lot of feedback that confirmed the latter were long.

Luckily we had some distraction in the form of a tasting at David Clark's bijoux winery. A shy young man, David had recently been featured on the BBC which had caused his modest organic one-man show to explode with success and there were lovely echoes of Julian's New York Times moment in the air as the two men exchanged gifts: An unlabeled 2008 Côtes de Nuits and a book of paintings. Arriving finally at my B and B in Garsington ten hours later, we devoured the Burgundy with relish.

Five days later Julian had been to three operas and posted forty more books (the latter not without driving seventy miles in search of a real post office as opposed to a counter in WH Smith). We had walked in his childhood playground in the beech-woods of the Chiltern hills and dined at three gastro-pubs. He descended the stairs of the makeshift auditorium in to the garden of fairy lights, poppies, Fantin Latour roses, peonies and alliums. He was humming the chromatic tune of Britten's exquisite setting of 'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows' (which he will doubtless hum for the next three months) and a tear was in his eye.

We did it!

Now the European comments are starting to pour in.

I have just received the most perfect art book ever! sober, splendid, huge and marvellous photography , the brush strokes are vivid...


La peinture de l'air dans les paysages et la pénombre qui étreint la surface tangible des choses.

The book has arrived and I am very much enjoying soaking up the ambience, countryside, weather, seasons, as portrayed in the wonderful pictures.

Thank you - a lot of hard work bearing lovely fruit.

I am so happy to have this book in my hands now! It literally exudes all the love and energy put into is absolutely precious!

There is a glowing write-up on Making a Mark.

And now it is pouring with rain again in Garsington. My strings feel like knicker elastic, my bow like strands of damp spaghetti, my cello like an old crate. In the pit we are wearing thermals and hand warmers. Hot water bottles and old tartan blankets rest on our laps behind cellos and underneath bassoons. Meanwhile, back in Provence, the sun is shining. Julian has taken his own stitches out with the help of some vodka. Garden salads are being eaten from the potager, and Julian is at last harvesting his own beetroot, turnips and potatoes, and breathing, no doubt, a sigh of relief.

Having made this beautiful book, surely, is a dream come true. Almost, indeed, on a midsummer's night.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

A blackbird sings at Garsington


I am walking through the formal gardens, on my way to pit for the first night of Figaro at Garsington manor. Giant poppies bob their welcome. Rose petals shimmer in the first summer light. Penguin suits and sequinned ball-gowns mill around picnic hampers on the distant lawn. The breathy sound of a flute emerges from the pit. In the big tree above my head a blackbird is warming up for her debut.

Although it is a Mozart night, everyone in the pit is practicing Britten for the rehearsal tomorrow. A violist and I are playing the same hysterical sequence, our hands flying up to the Gods of the fingerboard at high speed. We are three semiquavers apart and creating excruciating dissonances. Another violist is doing long calm bows, centering herself. I take her lead, it being far more suitable preparation for one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written.

The pit and the stalls are full. The conductor arrives. The continuo cello and fortepiano players take their places. Jane is wearing outrageous lime green earrings and Gareth shoves his jeans underneath the piano for a fast getaway. 'We're off to Alton Towers with the kids at the crack of dawn' he explains. The continuo team and the conductor have a mini rehearsal amidst the screaming Britten fragments. ‘You lead that bit’ says Dougie. ‘I don’t know what Gareth will think of that’ says Jane. Gareth is doing something on his iphone. ‘Could Jane lead that bit, Gareth?’ says Dougie. ‘Sure’ says Gareth,…

The lights go down. A robin has joined the blackbird. An elaborately dressed character bangs a stave on the stage as a way to get the punters to shut up, so we can play really pianissimo. And we’re off. Not to Alton towers but to somewhere as close as you can get, I imagine, to heaven.

And we are dancing. The speed, arc, bounce and swing of our bows are one. We are one with the bending of the conductor’s knees and the dancing of his feet. The night is drawing in and the magic is encircling us. Susanna sings her aria into the indigo sky. She executes a delicious diminuendo and as her voice trails off, the blackbird seizes her moment. She flourishes, pauses and flourishes again, pitches a high dominant perfectly in tune with the aria and shimmies down back to the tonic, diminuendoing all the while.

Then there is silence. Then there is clapping and a glass of champagne. And then there is sleep filled with birdsong.