Depending on your view of the Olympics, this RPO trip to Azerbaijan and China was perfectly timed for a London orchestra. We got all the excitement of the build up to the opening ceremony, and the very next day, escaped to exotic climes just as the city ground to a halt, as widely predicted. Actually we’re now seeing on the news that London is a ghost town, contrary to all expectation, but never mind, it’s great to be here!
We flew to Gabala (sometimes spelt Qebala or Qabala) on a charter flight, which always makes musicians happy because there are none of the usual boring procedures of commercial flying (security for example!) and we can usually spread out a bit and sit where we like. The same charter will take us on to Shanghai next week – our very own plane!
We are in Azerbaijan to play at the Gabala International Music Festival, the Orchestra’s second visit. We are staying at the Qafqaz Riverside Resort high in the Greater Caucasus mountains near Gabala and playing six concerts at an outdoor venue nearby. If you follow the RPO on Twitter @rpoonline you will see some pictures of the stage surrounded by lush green mountains.
Anyone who works 9-5 doing a proper job in an office somewhere could reasonably splutter with outrage at the word ‘work’ to describe this trip. The accommodation is five-star, the schedule fairly light and the hospitality first rate. Having said that, there are six concerts to perform, each with a different programme, and the first two were a bit of a challenge to put it mildly. First up was a programme exclusively of Azeri music, none of which was easy, and all of which we were seeing for the first time on the day, but it seemed to go down rather well with our small but enthusiastic audience. An opera gala followed on the second night, and then, despite some ominous black clouds, a Tchaikovsky concert, with a fantastic performance of the violin concerto by Sergei Krylov.
Wednesday was a complete day off, practically unheard of on tour! Some people went walking in the foothills of the nearby Mount Bazarduzu, Azerbaijan’s highest peak. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for some photos. The lazier among us (me included) stayed put to chill out at the resort. Choices of activities here include sunbathing, eating, sleeping, swimming and, um, eating. Oh there’s free Wi-Fi too, always a big hit with travelling musicians.
We’re looking forward to the arrival of Charles Dutoit, and will rehearse with him in Gabala for the remaining three concerts here, with repertoire ranging from Beethoven to Berlioz to Bernstein. Ok, so there’s a bit of hard work ahead! Watch out for more blog posts from Shanghai next week and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @rpoonline!