5th Jul 2018

The English Chamber Orchestra on Tour in Turkey (Part 3)


Our timpanist, David Corkhill takes us behind-the-scenes on our Turkish Tour as we prepare for our final concert at the 46th Istanbul Music Festival

Tuesday 12 June, Off to Istanbul

The sun was just beginning to colour the eastern horizon dusty pink and palest blue when the alarm went, so not a rude awakening at all. Weather like yesterday evening’s and a lucid sky like this one are all part of a complete miracle in my view and I’m awed by it all. I’ve been told that a red sky in the morning is a sailor’s warning but we’re flying today not sailing so that’s alright.

We’re a bit early at Izmir airport and the flight announcements are so loud that it sounds as if the announcer is arguing with herself about an unresolved and desperately emotional matter. I might go and look for a coffee but Izmir airport seems all space and no substance so it might be quite a search.

Complete success! There’s proper coffee and sunshine eggs which supply everything that the hotel’s breakfast bag didn’t. Now the day begins and I’m even motivated enough to send some texts to my students at the Guildhall School of Music. It’s Final Recital season and they’re either panicking or complacent, neither of which is desirable, but they are well prepared for sure – one would hope so after four years – and I’m certain it will be better than they can imagine. Their parents will love it anyway especially if they have travelled, as some of them will have, half way across the world for the great occasion.

As far as I know the flight to Istanbul was uneventful and I imagine the rest of the ECO spent it asleep as well. We arrived – that much I do know – and the normally routine bus ride to the hotel was anything but, with the sudden appearance of the Bosphorus below and to each side of us. It was broad and the deepest blue, and busy with boats of all sizes and functions ploughing up and down and from side to side, the smaller boats weaving in and out of the larger crafts’ wakes – a most beautiful and unforgettable sight.

The hotel is in a busy back street but there’s barely time to enjoy its amenities let alone do anything touristy as Fabio and I jump in a taxi and head for the concert hall where there is, as there was even at the Izmir hotel, a security X-ray machine to walk through. It looks as though it’s not just me expecting hotheads then. We’re set up in no time and I treat Fabio to a coffee in the park opposite. I know on which side my bread is buttered. There are cats everywhere but they all look a good deal less well fed than their British counterparts and it’s no wonder that several of them hover expecting morsels to drop from my plate of food.

Perfunctory is not the word to describe the rehearsal of the Beethoven and Prokofiev but it’s certainly brief as Mr Schwarz clearly trusts us and there’s plenty to be gained from not over rehearsing. More time is spent on the Dvořák Serenade as this is its first public outing on the trip. The hall makes a very nice sound although from the back of the orchestra it’s occasionally difficult to hear all the string detail through the resonance. As yesterday’s experience showed, good orchestras adapt quickly to whatever conditions are thrown at them but it’s good to have decent sized dressing rooms and it was oddly surprising though pleasantly useful not to have music flapping about in a stiff breeze.

The concert to close the 46th Istanbul Music Festival was a great success and the audience clearly enjoyed it immensely – and it’s no surprise, given a conductor, two soloists and an orchestra all on top form. And the icing on the cake was the two piano encore of Lutosławski’s mammoth Variations on a Theme by Paganini. It was great stuff and a wonderful display of virtuosity and ensemble, and the Pekinel sisters have been delightful soloists to work with. And bringing the whole musical adventure together was of course the conductor, Gerard Schwarz, who has been appreciative, accommodating, friendly and modest throughout. It’s been a joy and a pleasure.

Wednesday 13 June, homeward bound

As a huge bonus, believe me, hotel check-out this morning is a very reasonable 9.30am giving us time for a respectable breakfast, an important ingredient of this travel day. Even the check-in at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, overseen by Fabio and Lydia, is easy and you might say that everything the ECO Management does runs like clockwork, but that wouldn’t be right because clockwork eventually runs down and the ECO Management shows all the signs of doing quite the opposite.

So from an altitude of 10,973 metres, or so it says here, aboard our Boeing 777-300, it occurs to me that it’s been like Christmas – mountains of planning and expense and hard work and over-eating, and it’s all over in three days. But I can go no further without saying a big thank you to Bengi, Deniz, Dogus and Vildan in Izmir, and Efruz, Murat, Hande, Seda, Yank and Seyfi in Istanbul, for making our visit so enjoyable. And the biggest possible thank you to our highly esteemed and hard-working Orchestra Manager Fabio Sarlo, and our impeccably organised and unfailingly good-humoured Development Manager Lydia Brookes for looking after us so well and keeping everyone happy. And well done us for playing so nicely, no matter what.

It’s been quite a tough tour this one with some silly early starts and some admittedly self-imposed sleep deprivation, but have pity for Aegeon in A Comedy of Errors who had suffered far worse travel problems than us (I won’t spoil the story and it’s far too complicated to explain Shakespeare’s elaborate deceptions anyway). And what would we say when faced, like Aegeon, with Solinus’ demand –

‘…say in brief the cause

Why thou departed’st from thy native home

And for what cause thou camest to Ephesus.’

Perhaps it was for a job well done, a worthwhile musical journey, the company of colleagues and the applause of many hundreds; any of these causes and more.

© David Corkhill 2018