I’m Helen Kamminga, the RPO’s co-principal viola and currently also a Board member, alongside Adam who wrote one of the first posts on the blog.
Being on the Board gives us a real insight into the background workings of a symphony orchestra. It provides us with a bridge, if you like, between the goings on in the office and what you might call the finished product, the concert. We get to see how a project takes shape, from the initial enquiry to the orchestra getting together to produce the performance, whether onstage or in the recording studio. Obviously we don’t witness this stuff first hand (we’re too busy practising of course) but in Board meetings Ian Maclay, the boss, will often describe how a particular project is coming together. We can ask questions but usually he tells us to mind our own business. Only kidding Ian!
Elen Richards talked about Madam Butterfly earlier in the blog and despite that keeping us pretty busy, we still managed to cram in quite a lot else besides. Even by the RPO’s standards this has been an eclectic few days. The strings went to Angel Studios to record a crossover album for Decca. This involved playing lots of lush arrangements by Cliff Masterson and trying not to spend our fee at the handmade chocolate shop just along Upper Street (sample flavour: goats cheese, rosemary and lemon). Almost always for this type of work we turn up not knowing what we are going to play. If you are sitting in a principal seat (which I do sometimes) there could be all manner of things you have to play on your own once the red light is on, so it’s best not to have too many double espressos next door at Carluccio’s beforehand. Luckily (for me) this usually only happens to wind players. Or cellists. And very impressive they are too.
A few days later the orchestra was at Air Studios recording a piece called Teke Flower composed by the President of Gabon, Mr Ali Bongo Ondimba. Now I must confess that I had to Google Gabon. I mean, I knew where it was to the nearest continent but I felt a little more accuracy was called for, particularly if it was going to feature in the RPO blog, and geography has never been my strong point as my mum will confirm (whilst shrieking with laughter probably). For those who don’t know, it’s a former French colony in equatorial west Africa with Cameroon to the north, DR Congo to the south and a very musical President. We have recorded with the Gabonese before but this time they were filming us too so we spent the day in black concert dress, handy for nipping to the Albert Hall later for another Butterfly.
- Possibly the most unusual gig of the month was a fortnight ago at Cadogan Hall which had been filled with plants and flowers to promote the launch of the gardening section of a certain well known TV shopping channel. Plants, we are told, respond well to classical music, so we played Mozart to the massed flora while being filmed which was quite fun though to be honest I couldn’t see much happening, despite watching quite carefully. Having watched The Day of the Triffids recently though, it’s just possible my imagination was running away with itself! Anyway it was good fun – and the best bit? We got to help ourselves afterwards!