10 February 2013

I'm writing from our plane home, which is currently 36,000 feet over the top of Norway; the view is magical. The snowy white land is bathed in the glow of a setting sun, which we have been chasing since we took off from the land in which it rises nine and a half hours ago. When we arrive back in London in two and a half hours' time, we shall have succumbed to darkness, the sun having set, literally and figuratively, on our tour.

The last day was great. The coaches left at eleven to carry us to Tokyo's Metropolitian Art Space hall, yet another fantastic space in which to play. Before we began the rehearsal Esa-Pekka thanked us for all our efforts, and we all thanked Akiko for inviting us to accompany her in her own amazing country. E-P joked that as it was the day of rest, Akiko was going to perform just the one concerto.

After the rehearsal, four of us violas headed to a brilliant little stand-up sushi place five minutes away (by which I mean you stand up to eat, not that they've got a salmon robot telling jokes. Although they may well do somewhere in Japan I suppose). Being a sushi chef is an art form. It takes years and years of training to qualify. In this place three smiling, welcoming chefs stood behind the D-shaped counter, on which were arranged dozens of different types of fish. Sign language works very well here; you point at one, the chef squeals in delight, bows, and approximately twenty seconds of blur later there appears on your green leaf 'plate' a pair of perfectly presented pieces of sushi. You help yourself to a dip of soy sauce and a sliver of fresh ginger, and there you go. Sometimes your chef will get a blow torch out and lightly scorch the meat before serving it, and occasionally he'll instruct you that this one is best enjoyed sans soy. You can't really go wrong, all of them were delicious. The one I did avoid, however, was the mega-poisonous blowfish, because even though these guys are very highly skilled in cutting them up in such a way as to avoid the nasty bits, I'm just not prepared to risk death simply for the hell of it. Blowfish are the rollercoasters of the kitchen!

We walked back to the hall past some funky owls and chatty pigeons (see picture), and changed into our penguin suits. I had brought three dress shirts with me on tour, which I reckon was about right. Someone, who shall remain nameless, had brought just one. But someone else who shall remain even more nameless once declared that he had done a twenty one-concert tour with just one shirt! Thankfully he sits quite far away from the viola section.

Again, it was a brilliant concert. The first half was all Sibelius, Pohjola's Daughter and the Violin Concerto, and the second half was The Rite. It felt as if we put every last reserve of energy into it, and again the audience applauded and cheered long and hard. Special mention to Aidy on bass drum who thwacked the hell out of it in a most appropriately barbaric manner, and the horns who blasted the hell out of the loud bits like the sensitive artists they are. Brilliant stuff.

As it was a matinee, we were back at the hotel by 5pm, which gave us time to freshen up (write the previous day's blog) before a nice big group of us headed to a restaurant in Roppongi that is so cool it inspired Quentin Tarantino to use it as the basis for a classic scene from his movie Kill Bill, in which a yellow-pygama-ed Uma Thurman takes on about a hundred ninjas with very bloody consequences. I'm pleased to say that the only skewering going on during our visit was of extremely good yellow-finned tuna and other assorted meat and vegetables. A good time was had by all.

A few colleagues then took up my offer to gather in my hotel room to watch the Ireland v England rugby match, which kicked off at midnight. I've long thought the similarities of an orchestra and rugby team are both numerous and strong. They each require specialists in every position; a prop can't play flanker or full back, just as a cellist would almost certainly be unable to play flute or trombone to the required level. But both team and band need all their specialists to work perfectly together for a successful performance to ensue; one individual won't win a game, and an orchestra needs to be able to blend perfectly together. Both rugby and The Rite require a certain amount of savagery! And touring is a big part of both worlds too. England were victorious in Dublin, dealing well with the vocal local support and the weather, much like we've had to deal with jet-lag, unfamiliar food and new acoustics on this trip. And the best thing about tours is the spirit and teamwork that is needed for them to be a success. If times are hard, you stick together, supporting colleagues through tiredness and travel, illness and the blues. And when you have a great performance you celebrate it, and then move on to the next one. Above all, it takes good people working well together to make a tour like this successful, and everyone from our managing director to admin staff, tour managers, conductor, players and blog-readers have played their part. It's a special bunch of people.

Well, we're about to land at Heathrow. I'm knackered and very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight. Tomorrow the orchestra rehearses with a new conductor for concerts in England and Wales, while I am getting back on a plane to hear a gorgeous girl play the piano in Slovenia. Thank you for joining me on this Japanese journey; do come and say hello at a concert, and I'm sure there'll be more blogging to come from us to you. Thanks for reading!