The art of seduction


Mariss Jansons is a charismatic conductor.   Dynamic, witty and full of charm.

He also tells a good joke.

When a conductor tells a joke, there is complete hush. 

Three conductors, a Frenchman an Englishman and a German having a chat.  Subject . . . the art of seduction.


"I like to use Champagne.”

"Oh yes?” said the Englishman. “How does that work?”

"Meet before the concert, and take her for some Champagne . . . Dom Perignon is best."

"Invite her to your room for the  interval. Have Dom Perignon on ice."

"You walk her to her place after the concert, and call into a bistro for a candle lit supper, with Dom Perignon."

"When you get back to her place, toast her with arms intertwined".

"Gently undress her .. . . drizzle a little Dom Perignon onto her neck so it runs into her cleavage . . . "

". . . kiss her . . ."

" . . .  pour some so it runs into her navel . . ."

". . . kiss her again . . ."


German excitedly . . . 

“Geht es auch mit bier?”



In 1992, Mariss Jansons was named principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. News of the appointment came through to us players in the LSO when we were back stage waiting to go on and give a concert at the Barbican Hall. 

The shoe polishing machine backstage at the Barbican Concert Hall

The shoe polishing machine backstage at the Barbican Concert Hall

Cyril Ruben, a long serving and revered colleague in the first violins, was never short of a wry comment:

“The LPO get Marriss Jansons . . .  and what do we get? . . .  a shoe polishing machine.”  (Literally)







Some people collect jokes.  Some collect great recordings.

Mariss Jansons' Mahler’s Symphony No 6 on LSO Live is a great recording.

You can stream, download or buy our LSO Live recording by following this link:




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Sunny Easter

Warwick poolside

Warwick poolside

Probably my favorite time of year in Provence. Springtime, when the first poppies are out. It's really starting to warm up. Birds are busy building and singing, and daily there is more leaf on the trees. A week ago local vines that had shoots the size of a half smoked cigarette, today have leaves the size of an open hand.

A busy week, retirement only a few months away with still lots to do.  The old windows although quaint let in the winter winds so have all been changed.

Now what colour for the shutters?  The dark brown ones look so sad.  Walking to the village I noticed a hut in the distance.  In the morning sunshine, surrounded by grassland it looked idyllic. It had light grey green shutters. I later located the colour on the colour card at the local builders merchant.  Verte de Provence.  Surprise, surprise.

Equipped with a small of pot of Verte de Provence I tried it out one of the side shutters.  I looked at it from a distance.  Hummed and hawed.  Was I trying to hide the house in the woods?  It looked like camouflage.  An apologie.

Back to the drawing board.

Colleagues in the orchestra often ask me if I ever get to see Warwick.  Warwick and his wife Gloria moved to France when he retired about 12 years ago.  For more than 25 years Warwick was Principal 2nd Violin of the LSO.

They moved to the South west of France.  France is a big country.  For me to "pop over to Warwick's" from Provence is like a Londoner to"pop up" to see somebody in Edinburgh.

Anyway, after many years of not seeing Warwick and Gloria,last October, they finally got a visit.  Very nice to see them too.  Both on good form and enjoying life, along with their German Shepherd dogs.

We spent many hours going over old times.  Many stories.  Few printable. 


Easter, back in Provence I remembered taking a photo of some shutters  of a house near Warwick and Gloria's place.  Striking enough to warrant a photo.

Back to the builders merchant with my photo.  The nearest match: Rouge Basque.


Its been a fun Easter week.  Catching up with village politics in the local bar. Several splendid parties with friends.  One in a Bastide, one in the woods and another in an olive grove. The french fiddle got an airing too.

And there you have it. With a bit of Basque Rouge the house is starting to look jollier too.

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Men only


Damn I missed it. I meant to have my iPhone in recording mode for the great moment. Figure 26 in the first movement of Mahler's Sym. No 1.

It's the first climax in the symphony after a long build up. Anyway, technically we're not supposed to have iPhones in rehearsals.  At least not if you're a string player.

The second rehearsal I had my iPhone ready but this time it didn't happen. It only happens the first time, the first rehearsal, with a fresh conductor.

There is a huge roar as the orchestra open their throats and let it all out.  It's an amazing phenomenum. And it's lovely to see the shock on the face of the maestro. It's probably why we do it.

That was the rehearsal on Tuesday for the concert on Thursday at the Barbican. It didn't happen again.


In June 1985 we were in Watford Town Hall. The maestro was Claudio Abbado and the piece Ravel's Bolero.

When the climax finally comes it is after one of the longest crescendos ever written.

Claudio was suitably shocked, amazed, and thought it wonderful.

It was a recording session for Deutsche Grammophon. Claudio enjoyed the roaring cheer so much that he wanted it include in the final recording.

He disappeared into the box (control room). That's where the record producer listens. 

Rainer Brock the DG producer was not keen on the idea at all.

. . . Claudio was insistent.

Eventually it was agreed that we could try it. The red light went on. We recorded from the beginning. And when the moment came, we summoned up our second climactic roar of the day.

The red light went off and Claudio disappeared back into the box.

. . .  Claudio came out of the box. The record producer wasn't happy. Too messy. Only perhaps acceptable if it more could be more organised.

We were to do it again.  This time in a more controlled fashion.

Still not happy.

After lengthy discussions "in camera" it was finally agreed that we could do it, but should be only if it were in unison with the trombones.

Another recording.

Still not happy. There was a problem.


At that time there were few women in the orchestra.

You could hear one female voice sticking out. It was first violinist, Gilly Findlay.

The women were asked to tacet.


You can hear the final version on the Deutsche Grammophon recording.

It's an historic moment. The only commercial recording of the LSO roar. 


Even if we did fake it.





Licensed to skill

Our health insurance in the LSO doesn't cover injuries caused by taking part in winter sports.  Quite understandable really.  Hurtling down glassy slopes and breaking a few fingers may not be good for your violin playing. 

In the Broadbent family, there are lots of musicians.  Some of them, Stringfever for example, make a living out of it. Youtube Videos, Bolero and The History Of Music In 5 Min went viral.

Sitting next to Niall Keatley, our new 3rd trumpet, on a recent flight, he said that he knew one of my nephews quite well. "In String Fever?" I asked.  "No," he said. "This one wasn't a musician."

It turned out he was talking about Harry Broadbent. They were in NYO together.

Harry as a youngster got Associated Board Grade XIII with distinction on violin, piano, and percussion. And then played percussion in the NYO. Not a musician indeed.  Just because he didn't join the profession!

We got to talking about Harry's brother Graham, and their cousins who make up the rest of Stringfever. And how about ten years ago they came to Provence to practise.  It was there that they put their History Of Music together. 

Niall "What a great place to go and practise.  Can anyone come?"

And so the idea of setting up a practice retreat available to anyone was born.  A place where people could come practise and relax.  Or even relax and practise.

"All you need is a website." said Niall.  . . . something like "Nigel en Provence"?


In January every year Giles, the first violin in Stringfever, likes to arrange an outing to the mountains for family and friends. And as you may know, he rarely misses an opportunity of doing something a bit daft.  

After mixed success with cordless bungee jumping, and also difficulty in getting into extreme ironing, this year he decided on something less dangerous.  "Let's make one of those music video thingies." "Sort of a family bond movie."

This video hasn't gone viral yet.  Don't encourage him.  Don't click on this link. Too ri ski



Affair of the heart

"Tonight's Friday Night Is Music Night comes to you live from Golders Green Hippodrome.  The BBC Concert Orchestra with its leader Arthur Levins."

In 1975 that was my first full-time job and Arthur Levins was my first leader.  He was an experienced player, a gentleman.  He was unflappable.

But one thing that did get him going was when conductors would tell when or not to use vibrato.  Arthur was adamant about vibrato.  For him, vibrato was something that comes from the heart. An expression of soul. Not a thing just to be switched on or off.


In our parts we pencil SV to indicate when a conductor wants Senza Vibrato.  It's an often used part of a conductor's arsenal.

When parts emerge for future performances, perhaps weeks or years later, the SV markings are still there. Will the next maestro want the same?

The question often comes from the back of the section because they can see SV marked in their part. Yet someone in front of them is having a good old wobble. The inevitable question then gets passed forward desk by desk until it gets to the second desk.  That's where the questions get filtered.  Is it worth bothering the leader with?

The leader then has to wait for a suitable moment to ask the maestro for his/her thoughts. The response 9 times out of 10 is ... ah well perhaps "poco vibrato." That way nobody is offended. No previous maestro's genius has been rubbished.


This week we had a fabulous time with Fabio Luisi.  He was a delight to play for.  The orchestra in the palm of his hand. His gestures graceful, perfumed.  He caressed with open fingers. What a sound. 

In the rehearsal on the day of the concert we played all pieces without any last minute fixes. An affirmation of trust and beauty.

In the first rehearsal with Fabio one of those inevitable questions about SV came from the back of the cello section. Fabio's response was simple ... " I don't think I even know how to spell "Senza Vibrato". 

Last night's concert in the Barbican Hall was the last time I will play Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. It was very special. Thank you LSO. Thank you Fabio.




Three Choir Boys

Stephen, Nigel and Alan Broadbent 

Stephen, Nigel and Alan Broadbent 

My brother Stephen once commented that almost all of his coaching colleagues with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain had a choir background.

Our father was a keen amateur musician.  Singer, pianist, loved music. Sang all the time, while driving or gardening. He would often drop off to sleep last thing at night with a score open on his lap.

He was also choirmaster and organist at the local church in Newent, St Mary's. So from the age of five there was nothing unusual in joining my brothers in the choir.  Black cassocks, white surpluses and ruffs. Angelic or what?

The photo was for our family christmas card in 1958.  Taken by our eldest brother Julian on the day he left for Manchester University.  

For followers of Stringfever, Stephen is Graham's dad, Alan is Giles', Ralph's and Neal's dad. And in the middle is Uncle Nigel.

St Mary's Church, Newent

St Mary's Church, Newent

I enjoyed the singing but for me the endurance tests were the sermons. They seemed endless.  I didn't understand a thing . The magic words I couldn't wait to hear were when the vicar would turn round to face the altar and say "In the name of the Father ... ".

In the meantime, as it was pre smartphone, the main attraction was just staring at the stained glass windows.

The Three Choirs Festival is a flourishing music festival taking place in the cathedrals of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester.  I visited all three again last week.  Magnificent structures.  Full of beautiful, colourful, stained glass windows, similar to those in Newent Church.

Gloucester Cathedral was always freezing when we played there as kids.  Concert uniform was usually white shirts ... not very warm.  So our ever resourceful and ever knitting mum knitted us Broadbent boys white wooly jumpers to wear under our shirts along with our knitted string vests. Cool eh!


For many years the LSO played annually at the Three Choirs Festival.  From back in the days when Edward Elgar was principal conductor until the mid sixties.
Then one year during a rehearsal in Hereford Cathedral the general manager Ernest Fleischmann stood up in front of the orchestra.  He had just received a letter from an entrepreneur in Florida.  Instead of coming to the Three Choirs next year how would the orchestra feel about 6 weeks (with families) in Daytona Beach instead?

There was a vote.

St Paul's Cathedral is also an amazing building.  Even bigger than the ones in the west country.  Impressive structure.  Beautiful mosaics.  But where are all the lovely stained glass windows? Nearly all of the windows are now plain glass.  I guess courtesy of Mr Hitler.

Last night's concert in St Paul's started at 7pm.  The choirboys were angelic. The concert included the Lord Mayor of London Andrew Parmley as organ soloist in Saint-Saens Symphony No 3.

If you visit the cathedral today you might still hear some of it.



Seconds away

George Prêtre

George Prêtre

When a boxer enters the ring he enters with a certain confidence and is ready for combat.

Sparkle in his hooded eyes and sporting a pre-broken nose as badge of honour.

The ring in today's trot down the memory lane of my funniest moments in the LSO was not a boxing ring.  It was a Portugese bullfighting ring converted into a concert hall.

In the blue corner, the LSO.

In the red corner, Maestro George Prêtre.


Now the LSO needs no introduction, but I feel I must explain that in the 1980's the LSO was a slightly different animal to the one you see today.

In those days players sometimes actually spoke to each other during rehearsals just like regular humans.  And on occasions if a conductor spoke to them they might even talk back.

Prêtre with Callas

Prêtre with Callas

George Prêtre was a conductor famous for his collaborations with Maria Callas.  He also was an ex boxer.

A happy life on stage depends largely on a mutual respect between the maestro and the players. 

Rehearsals start with an expectant silence. You can always tell how much respect players have for conductors by how long it takes before they start talking among themselves.

Perhaps its just the need to get some bowings sorted. Or even something like "what time did you get home last night?"

As soon as the players smell that a conductor is saying something that he/she decided to say before hearing a note, then he/she is on a slippery slope.

There is a difference between a beat that is a command as opposed to a gesture which is an invitation to play.  Invitations engender respect where as commands tend to be only dutifully executed.  The difference in sound is enormous.  That could be the subject of an entire book!

On the afternoon in question the silence wasn't long-lived.  The level of respect mutually low.  Sparring began.  It soon got a bit out of hand.  Ducking and diving. Jab jab, upper cut. Dance dance dance.


At the break our chairman Anthony Camden called an emergency meeting of the orchestra.

"OK I understand that he's not being nice, but please, please, we must be professional about this.  We dont have to work with him again but please remain quiet."

Suitably reprimanded, tails between our legs, we returned to the stage and waited.

Eventually the maestro returned to the podium. He liked to wear a white towel bunched round his neck. He had a fresh one.

The silence was complete.

What happened next I'll never forget.

Have you ever heard the LSO suddenly explode in unreserved laughter?

Its amazing the effect that a lone triangle can have.


Ding ding ....



Elgar country


From the house where I was born you can look across the fields and in the distance see the Malvern Hills.  Elgar country.

On 10th January 1903 Edward Elgar took delivery of a new bicycle. This bicycle was fitted with the latest thing.  A freewheel.

If you lived in or around Malvern the ability to swoop down those hills without holding your feet in mid air must have been a dream.

For his first trip he decided to go to Gloucester to visit the cathedral.

He got as far as Newent and was caught in a downpour and aborted the trip, returning by train.

Can you imagine his excitement when he set out that day?  A day out on his new bike. Wooly tweed jacket, plus fours, saddle bag of sandwiches and his handlebar moustache waving in the wind, freewheeling for the first time!

The steam train that Edward travelled on has long since gone.  As a boy I sometimes went on it to Gloucester. I also watched the last train as it slowly left Newent for the last time, pulling up the track behind it. 

As Maurice Handford once said, with tears in his eyes, when we got to the last page of Elgar's Symphony No 1, "Not just the end of a symphony, more, the end of an era."

I have several colleagues who are also biking enthusiasts. Who also love the latest thing. 

From impossibly light frames with carbon fibre widgets to spray on leggings, air slicing wheels and day glow underpants.

There is a problem with such keenness.  It requires endless perusal of bike magazines, leaving little time for composition. 


Ps. If you find yourself in the Malvern Hills don't forget to look out for the road sign:  






Monday Brahms


Theres nothing like starting a Monday morning with some Brahms.

Playing for ourselves, in an empty hall.  First time through. Fresh, clean, original Brahms. It's familiar ground. What a joy. Almost plays itself.

The next time you play it without interruption is probably at the concert in a couple of days time.

The ever illusive search for perfection begins.

Louder, softer.  Shorter, longer.  Darker, lighter. Directions for improvement ... fix, fix, fix.

Yet what happens to the music?

Have you ever read a book and someone starts talking to you? You have to re-orient yourself to take in what they are saying.  God forbid if you are immersed in your book or music.

Sure it can be done, but if you're concentrating on what you're doing and have to repeatedly flip between playing a beautifully crafted piece of music and someone's micro-management instructions then it can be more than a little wearing.

Happily, some conductors don't feel the need to talk.  They can convey their wishes through the baton.

Yes they do exist. 

Bernard Haitink recently stopped the orchestra to make a couple of changes. He then, with a glint in his eyes, apologised. "Sorry, I'm talking too much!"

 It was a great moment.  We all laughed with him.



Colin Davis' usual approach was simple. Play it through twice. Most things sorted themselves. Then, and only then, resort to fixing. He honoured the musicianship of the players.

When something wasn't together he might say, "Lets try that again ... I'll try and do better."

On one occasion: "You know, nobody's right ... I'm not right ... You're not right. Lets try again".

A voice was heard from the back. Roger Groves, trombone. "He's right you know" 



Too risky

Nearing the end of our tour we have a couple of days in Hanoi. 

What immediately strikes you is the traffic.   Hundreds and hundreds of scooters.  Two up. Three up. Even four. 

There is only one way to cross the road. 

Look straight ahead.  keep a steady pace.  No hesitation, Definately dont stop.  Just keep going. 

If the scooter riders can read what you're doing then there's no problem. They just weave round you. 

Going out to a superb vegan restraunt again this evening.  Some of the best eating out that I've ever had.  Last night was pine kernal soup,  Mushroom hotpot and a Pineapple Falooda. 

The soup was served in a hollowed bread roll.  There were seven kinds of fresh mushroom cooked in front of us.  The falooda served in a pineapple.  All for 350.000 Dong. (about £12)  Probably a fortune locally.

Last concert of the tour tomorrow night. And my last Rach 2 ever.   I see that Star Wars is down as the encore.  Then it's straight off to the airport and a night flight back to blighty.

Too risky

Too risky

If I dont get back from the restraunt tonight it's probably because my rules for crossing the road didnt work.



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Muzak Hath No Charms to Soothe


Muzak is a brand of background music played in retail stores and other venues. Formerly owned by Muzak Holdings, the brand was purchased in 2011 by Mood Media in a deal worth US$345 million.

Muzak is the sweetener in the drink called ambience.

The worst job in the world must have been to be in a lift top band.  Sitting up there in all the dust and grime.  I dont know how they managed it. Must have been exhausting playing all night and day the same old tunes. Up and down, up and down. So now it's been replaced by recordings.

In the restaurant at the Hotel in Beijing there was music playing. The slow movement from Mozart's Flute and Harp concerto. Very nice.

It was on a loop. The loop repeated every four minutes thirty seconds.    Very nice the first time.   Tolerable the second.  Unfortunately however, trained musicians can't help but listen.

After half an hour you could hear players running out screaming.


In the 80's we had the honour of being guests of the Sultan of Oman for a week at Al Bustan Palace Hotel.  There the poolside loop was about thirty minutes long.

Day two, all the poolside speakers found themselves mysteriously bandaged with towels. Such ingratitude.  But sanity is important.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel

Al Bustan Palace Hotel

Last night after a performance of Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 in Shanghai Symphony Hall and a quick beer with some friends I found my self alone in the hotel lift  A very elegant lift with mahogany panels and bevelled mirrors. And yes of course, soothing music.  It sounded familiar. It should be. It was Rachmaninov Symphony No 2. 

Would it still be playing on the way down to breakfast?

Ps Hands up. Guilty. We did record the music for the Shard lifts.

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​An Innocent Ear


Following an intersting converstion with Dudley Bright our principal tromboneist I was inspired to write the following post.

Musicians make a huge sacrifice. They give up the pleasure of listening to music.

Musicians have super-critical ears.  Whether for intonation, rhythm, ensemble, line, dynamics, character, interpretation, presence, the list is long. 

It must be the same in any art.  Can an actor watch a performance, however great, without noting the mechanics?

Can an artist enjoy seeing a painting without regarding the techniques involved?      

Basses having a rest on the Barbican Hall stage.  London

Basses having a rest on the Barbican Hall stage.  London

                                                                                                                                                                               When I retire and leave the LSO the prospect of the transition from being a player to becoming a consumer is a daunting one. Going to a concert, as a member of the audience, would be a "grand travail".

For a member of the public who has been bombarded with worldly troubles and tensions all day, to sit in a serene concert venue and be transported by music, is a joy and relief. 

However, for musicians who are immersed in music six or nine hours a day there is nothing like a bit of quiet at the day's end.

In the 90's when I was on the Orchestra's Board I had occasion to spend a few days, from 9 'till 5, in the office checking figures. In the evenings, I was surprised to find how much a pleasure it was to go home and listen to music!


In the old fashioned recording session we could be expected to play the same movement, with it's extreme passions, many times. There is nothing more frustrating, than having recorded a movement six times, then the conductor saying, "We're getting there. Just once more."

I love ice-cream, but two scoops are enough. Imagine a continuous diet of it. Paraphrasing my Uncle Fred "There's a difference between one extreme and another."

We rarely do classical recording sessions any more. The bottom has dropped out of the market.  Usually it's restricted to accompanying new competition winners or to making "vanity" recordings.

Currently we release CDs and downloads on the "LSO Live" label where the process is different. 

"Live" recordings have a vivacity to them often missing from traditional recordings. In principal the recordings are an "assemblage" of two live performances.   This is supported by a patching session to cover coughs etc. The danger is, if over used, it can revert to a less "live" recording.

There can never be a perfect performance.  But there is always a human one. And that's good.

One day I hope to be able to listen with an innocent ear again.  To lie on a soundscape beach and let the waves crash over.

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Smartphone invaders

On the way to Heathrow airport I travelled by tube.  Out of the twenty people I could see one was reading a newspaper, one reading a book.  The rest were on smartphones. The underground in Seoul is no different.

It can be very tempting. Most people have smartphones. But in most countries filming or recording during concerts is illegal.  It's a kind of stealing.

Ushers in China even have red lasers that they can point at videoing offenders.

During the applause lots of phones come out for photos. That's OK.

On this tour there was a first.  It was when our conductor, Daniel Harding, after taking his bow, whipped his phone out and snapped the audience ... then a selfie.  They went wild. It was wonderful.


On a less happy note, smartphones can be a real pain. 

Saturday, after the first movement of the concerto we paused to let in latecomers.  A tall man wearing a green overcoat arrived and sat in the middle of the third row.  We continued with the concert. 

From where I was sitting on the 4th desk inside, looking at the music I couldn't help but notice him out of the corner of my eye ... what was he up to?

But play on ..... try to ignore.

Yes he was videoing. Phone close to his chest to make it less obvious. It's funny, people think we can't see them  I've seen it all.  Cameras peeping out from under programmes, hats, books. Today's cheeky chappie managed to video two movements of Sibelius Violin Concerto an entire Mahler Symphony and even the encore.

Cheers mate.  I really wanted to savour playing Sibelius Violin Concerto and Mahler Symphony No 4 for the very last time and all I could think of was of you ripping us off.

At the ends of the concert he didn't even applaud.


Double cheek.


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Carmine gets a photo

Back to 300 kph on our TGV chinese style.  5 hours plus to Wuhan. 

And the conversation is ... has he any money?  Where's his bag? Has he got his phone?

What was he doing out there?  What's he going to do? 

The moment of realisation.   (Motto on the window translates "Great because of love.")

The moment of realisation.   (Motto on the window translates "Great because of love.")

Poor Jonathan Lipton has been left behind in Shanghai.  He popped out for some air. The doors closed and locked. Lots of bashing on the window.  But the launch sequence had already begun. 10.15 to the second and we moved off.

Yes, he has his wallet and his passport. 

Phones are busy.  He'll be OK.

Ironically, Carmine just happened to be there with his camera. 


Photo credits: C Lauri

Photo credits: C Lauri

Already a suggestion for tomorrow's blog.  "Carmine gets a bloody nose." 



Fresh air in Shanghai ... 

PS. We've just heard from Jonathan.  He's on the next train.  James Richards on the phone to him. 

"Yes relax Jonathan, we're all thinking of you.  Yes there'll be someone to pick you up from the station. You'll make the second half" 

"I see, there's standing room only on the train.  Yes don't worry we'll keep a chair for you on stage." 

" ... and by the way you photograph very nicely." 


For further appreciation of this saga, see ... "Today's Flight to Korea"


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Travel mates

Tom and Laurent

Tom and Laurent

On board the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai.

One side of the track hundreds and hundreds of tiny single story houses flashing past. On the other, fields and plots without end, every square foot being used as far as the eye can see ...

This train is the Chinese equivalent of the French TGV.  Very, very fast and quiet. The carriages imperceptibly tilting on the rare change of course.

Every so often a city can be seen on the horizon.  Suddenly a group of skyscrapers with no transitions at the edges.  As if just planted there.  There's very little greenery in sight.  Lots of brown and grey.

This is a free day. Books, kindles, snoozing, iced coffee, pistachio nuts.  For Laurent and Tom, chess.  Five hours of train.



Lost in translation


At the massage parlour in Beijing, I spent 15 minutes with my feet in a bowl of warm tea, before I realised there had been a misunderstanding.  No I wasn't there for a foot massage.  I was there for a whole body massage.  Difficult to explain with sign language.

This wasn't the first time on this tour that I'd had difficulty being understood.

In Seoul I decided I needed a hair cut.  When I joined the orchestra I had a head full of hair and wore it quite long. On more than one occasion, I was asked for my autograph, being mistaken for Claudio Abbado.

These days my head more or less resembles a boiled egg.

I still had some vestiges of hair trailing over my collar. In the hotel room, with all its mirrors, I caught a glimpse of it from behind and decided it looked rather silly.

OK, down to the barbers in the basement.  I dont speak Korean, and the lovely, immaculately groomed, hairdresser didn't speak any English, so on with the sign language.

I tried to show that I was happy with the sides, but I wanted the tail trimming off.

He smiled and nodded. Carefully he put in some clips, and started busily snipping with comb and scissors.  He paid a lot of attention to the sides. I was curious with his approach, and decided to wait and see what developed.

After 20 minutes he seemed satisfied with his work and removed the clips.  That's when I realised that I hadn't got my message across.   

OK, lets try the sign language again.  I took hold of the offending tail, and made scissor signs with the other hand.

This time he seemed to understand, and started again.

He trimmed the sides even closer to my head. He seemed to know what he was doing. He had a lovely snipping action and obviously enjoyed his art.

After another 10 minutes the tail was still intact.

Finally, in desperation, I wrestled the scissors off him and cut a chunk off myself.

The light then dawned.

He dutifully matched the length all over.


Colleagues have said how much younger I look. 

Had I done it myself?



Serious relaxation

Peeking duck? 

Peeking duck? 

Yesterday, we woke to sunshine in Beijing. Even a blue sky.

It was a free morning, so time for some quality relaxation.  Some by the pool, some on the tennis court. For me a Chinese massage. (See next blog ... Lost in translation.)

Who was our Peeking duck? For the evening she transformed into a swan. And lots of flowers for the birthday girl!

Colin (Exocet) Renwick ... launching  

Colin (Exocet) Renwick ... launching  

Colin, originally from Perth, loves golf, swimming and any chance of having a game of tennis.

He's the only current player who joined before I did. Younger than me, he still has a couple of years to serve before he gets out.


The buses to the venue not due until 4 pm, so plenty of time for a decent lunch and also a siesta..



Sun Peeking through

Sun Peeking through ... 

Sun Peeking through ... 

The sky is overcast.  There's snow on the ground and the sun is trying to shine through the gloom.  The air is acrid.  You can taste it.  But nobody is wearing a mask today as this is a pretty good day.  What makes me sad is that the people that live here are used to it.  And have to be happy with it.

Sometimes we have similar conditions in London.  The pollution is dispersed evenly in the atmoshere so that gradually all our air on the planet will be like this.  No blue sky, even in Provence.

There's lots to see in Beijing.  A trip out to see the great wall, temples by the score and also one or two chinese restraunts.  

My favourite is a visit to the Friendly Store. A place where you can buy your Pierre Cardin or Bose for next to nothing.  Just dont try taking what you bought to France as you're likely to get locked up. They don't like fakes.  

At the friendly store there is this terribly non British thing of bargaining.  I find it embarrasing.  Anyway I find myself emboldened by Claire's honed technique and manage to get a lovely cashmere scarf at 20% of the intial falsely inflated price. Job done.




Warm up ... warm down

When players go on stage, some of them have already been playing for a quite some time.  It's especially important for wind and brass players.

Every french horn player has their own bespoke warm up routine.  They can be as long as 30 minutes long. Over the years you get to recognise them.

80's LSO Horn section warming up on Daytona Beach

80's LSO Horn section warming up on Daytona Beach

It's a long and repetitive, tedious, but necessary process. Some do it hiding in corners, others while reading a paperback or Kindle. 

They have to know exactly how their face muscles are going to work. Every day is different. There's no room for error.  Split notes are a thing of the past.

As Maurice Handford, assistant to Barbirolli and trainer of hundreds of music students at the RAM, once said: "That style of playing went out when I stopped playing the horn".

The larger brass instruments need plenty of room and can often be heard in backstage corridors and stair-wells.

Trombonists are especially keen on warming up.  After they come onto stage they might have to sit for half an hour before playing a note.  You may spot them sometimes playing along with bits that composers didn't include them in, just to keep warm.

Denis Wick who has manufactured thousands of trombone mutes and mouthpieces, used to be our principal trombone. He once told me that he had a 30 minute routine.  He did it every day whether he was working or not, just to keep his chops in shape.

Maurice Murphu and Denis Wick

Maurice Murphu and Denis Wick

Maurice Murphy our Star Wars hero once remarked that he loved airport lounges.  Why's that Maurice?  "It's one of the few places you can't hear a trombone warming up!".

Did you ever notice Maurice at the end of a concert that had been a big blow.  He could be seen doing what looked like a horse impression.  Maurice wasn't a big one for warming up, but he did like a good warm down.