On the skis, at the top of a new run, Part I

In London with the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra, and on tour with Ensemble Epomeo

About ten days ago, last Wednesday evening I believe it was, I found myself in a surprisingly nice London hotel room trying to think of  a metaphor.

I knew that when I woke up the next morning, I was about to launch into one of the most unrelentingly busy and probably most professionally important months of my life. I’ve had a few of these months before, but I think this one might be the most intense, and have the most at stake. I thought it might be a good time for a blog post about that sense of moment and anticipation.

However, I wisely decided to look through my scores and to get some rest.

10 days and 6 different concerts later, I’ve got a workable metaphor. Skiing is my favorite hobby- I love the speed, I love the scenery  and I love the sheer physical exhilaration. A month like this is a bit like moving on to a new ski run- perhaps even like moving from a blue to a black run, or even moving off a groomed run (something I generally don’t do because of my wish to continue playing the cello). When you stand at the top of the mountain, all you really know is that there are going to be some big challenges, some unforeseen obstacles and some real demands on your endurance, and that all of these are going to be coming at you at speed until you reach the bottom. The only way to stop or slow the onslaught is to crash (or stop, but where’s the fun in that) and every good crash is more tiring than three runs.

The next morning began rehearsals with the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra for the gala concert that evening (reviewed here). You read that correctly- we started rehearsals that day. After two 3 hour rehearsals, we launched into a  concert that culminated in Beethoven 7. LvB7 is one of my all-time favorites, and one I feel I have a very settled idea of, but I tried to be flexible on this occasion to let the orchestra’s voice come through, and to allow time and space for those gut strings to work. They really do make a completely unique sound. Physically, I think it is one of the most taxing works in all of music, but it was doubly so after a long day of 6 hours rehearsal with an orchestra I’d never met before and with a few modified tempi. It was also REALLY hot on stage at St John’s Smith Square. At one point in the Finale, I had to remind myself “don’t pass out.” I’ve rarely been more wiped out after a concert. Also, since it was my “official” London debut, the pressure was, as they say, exquisite.

Even HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, who was as nice as could possibly be, said afterwards “you must be SO tired after that Beethoven!”

After the reception, we had a very short night at the hotel before I had to head to Heathrow. Friday I flew to Philadelphia, where I met my trio colleague David and picked up my cello for this week’s tour with Ensemble Epomeo. From there we flew on to Manchester, NH and drove on to Newburyport. It was a long day of travel (I’d left the hotel at 7AM London time and arrived in Newburyport around midnight Eastern time), not enriched by the fact that my nice old wool dress coat went missing at PHL airport. Saturday, we launched into rehearsal with a vengeance, with only a few hours to get ourselves back in shape. The adjustment to this US cello is less drastic than it used to be, but my shoulders were still aching from the concert on Thursday, and it wasn’t an easy day. Somewhere along the way, I had to run to buy a new coat for the next day’s trip to Canada.

The concert Saturday night drew a huge crowd to the beautiful church there in Newburyport. The NBPT Chamber Music Festival, who put on this concert, seem to have built a gold-plated reputation for quality there, and there was a real sense of occasion. I found it  a tough night at first- I’d only had half a day with the cello and really had to concentrate like mad to find my way even as my body was nearing collapse. As the concert went on, I felt better and better- I was literally adapting to the cello and getting back in shape in front of the audience- and the Beethoven Trio in G felt amazing.

After the concert and a wonderful post-concert meal with our hosts, I awoke to an inbox full of emails. Coming up after this mini-tour are some big projects- particularly two big concerts tied to CD’s with Orchestra of the Swan. As it would turn out, every day this week, there would be issues to address (as there always are). When you’re unusually tired, you don’t want that first flicker of waking to get you thinking “crap- I’d better check email.” You want to think “heck, I’m going to sleep 15 more minutes!” Sunday morning after the concerts, there were a raft of emails from OOTS and from others lurking in my inbox.

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PS- you can follow Ensemble Epomeo on our Facebook Page here.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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