01 April 2012

Richard Birchall writes: Thanks Mike! I'm delighted to join the blogging team, and glad the lower strings are now in charge...! To pick up where we left off: our first concert of the tour was on Saturday afternoon at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (the main arts and performance venue for the island), and we were greeted by a full house - always a good way to start! The programme of Haydn's C major Cello Concerto (with prominent HK soloist Trey Lee) followed by Mahler 1 drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd, and an encore of the Overture from Wagner's Die Meistersinger brought many of them to their feet. But it wasn't just the audience that enjoyed themselves; we as an orchestra are fresh from a complete Mahler cycle with Maestro Lorin Maazel last year, and as Mike said earlier the chance to dive back into two of the most popular symphonies under the same experienced and commanding direction could only be a great pleasure. Not even a healthy dose of West-to-East jetlag could dampen the thrill of the final page of the Mahler, where the whole horn section stand up to deliver their fanfare material!

Having enjoyed the rare luxury of two nights in the same place, the Philharmonia were on the move again this morning, catching a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, our first port of call in mainland China. The potential logistical nightmare of extracting a whole symphony orchestra with luggage and instruments from the carriages at Guangzhou East before the train began to move again seemed to pass without incident - and if we left anyone behind we haven't noticed yet! Straight on the coach to the centre of town, and here we are checked in to hotel number two.

Being such a regular travelling orchestra has its ups and downs, for sure; from a personal point of view, my daughter Hazel is just nine weeks old but it's already the third time I've had to leave her and my wife Helen to go abroad since she was born. It can be a wrench! The plus sides, though, are a chance to see some fascinating places, so very different from home - Hong Kong was really a gentle introduction, and life in China itself already feels much more alien - and occasionally to catch up with friends who no longer live in the UK. Pretty often on a tour schedule there will be a city near where a student friend or colleague lives, and I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of evenings in Hong Kong with my old room-mate Felix, who introduced me to the HK tram system and showed me where to find excellent roast goose! (Among other things.)

The second concert is tonight in the opera house here in Guangzhou - look forward to letting you know all about it...