Remember the Horse...
George Jackson to the rescue, once again
Photo: A.P. Wilding
I am sipping coffee and very slowly packing my case for a week in Paris, this time, working with my mentor, Daniel Harding, as second conductor for the gargantuan Ives Fourth Symphony (which requires three conductors). I decide to check-in with the maestro by text, since he likes us to meet half an hour or so before each rehearsal in the Conductor’s Room.
A reply: ‘George, I have an ear infection. The doctor just told me not to fly and that my antibiotics might clear my ear in 3-5 days. I’m so sorry. Not sure what the orchestra will decide to do. I’m going to get back to you ASAP. You might have to take over the concert’.
But then of course, I had just convinced my sister that her car had been stolen during the night (April Fool’s!) So this must be another one of those. It’s a damn good one!
Daniel confirms, via sad face emoticon, that it is not an April Fool’s….
‘Would you be willing to step in?’
I am fondly reminded of that Eddie Redmayne story, á la Joey Tribbiani. ‘Yes! I can ride a horse for the part. Of course’. Always say yes.
So I do.
Seventy-five per cent of me still thinks this is an April Fool’s, and 25% is flooded with adrenaline. ‘Expect a call’...
The remaining 75% becomes adrenaline as the Orchestre de Paris’s management call within minutes, asking me how I feel, and whether, alongside taking over the main conducting of the Ives, I can also conduct the other concert items: Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Wheel of Emptiness’ with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Jörg Widmann’s clarinet concerto ‘Echo Fragments’, which features the composer as soloist, and a mixed ensemble of Orchestre de Paris and Les Arts Florissants, pitted at opposite ends of the stage in a kind of orchestral time machine. It’s a beautifully conceived concert, featuring all three orchestras performing side-by-side.
Remember the horse!
About an hour later, I am in Luton Airport’s branch of Wasabi. I must be the first customer to inhale their (frankly, delicious) 'Chicken katsu yakisoba bento’ whilst poring over an A1 score of an Ives symphony (there is still a small soy sauce stain in the top corner of the second movement, page 46). I am sure the other customers think I am rather odd.
Given my illustrious history of Uber mishaps, I am amazed that, having collected my luggage, an Uber is outside Charles de Gaulle within minutes, and we are speeding our way to Pantin, the Philharmonie’s neighbourhood in north-east Paris.
At the hotel, the first room I am given features a man in a dressing gown cooking pasta and watching Formula 1. A quick trip back to reception confirms that they did give me the wrong room. New key card for the room next door: that doesn’t work. Three return trips to reception (and four flights of stairs each time), and I finally get a fresh room. The Orchestra have very kindly left scores at reception for the pieces I have not yet seen, the Harvey and the Widmann.
I am sitting down at the desk by 6pm, opening up the scores, prioritising for the next day’s schedule (Ives in the morning, Harvey in the evening).
I break for a shower, where I count from 1 to 100 and recite the alphabet in French (that GCSE finally came in useful). In a rehearsal situation comprising of about 150 on stage (the Ives features a large chorus too), it will be really important to make sure everybody understands clearly where we are starting from.
I doze off for about 90 minutes in the small hours, powered through the night by the adrenaline high. The alarm officially wakes me at 8 to go into the Philhamonie for the first reading at 10. I walk
through the deserted streets (it’s Easter Monday after all), track down a bakery where I order a double espresso and a very fresh Pain au chocolat. Like the Pilgrim in Hawthorne’s ‘Celestial Railroad’, which forms the basis of Ives’ Symphony, I trudge towards the horizon, Jean Nouvel’s spiraling aluminium forming a curtain to open the week to come.
It’s going to be a wild ride….