Very exciting tour with the MCO. All of the Beethoven piano concertos with the exquisite playing of Leif Ove Andsnes. This was the first time that I had been to many of the locations, actually I'd only been to Tokyo before.
We started off in Hong Kong which lies very beautifully by the coast. I was struck by the impressive skyline of skyscrapers and with the beautiful green mountains in the background. The food was great and, thanks to colleagues who have been here before and knew where to go, we had amazing Peking duck and dim sum. A temperature of 32 degrees centigrade and high humidity outside meant an attire of sandals and shorts but the overuse of air-conditioning was almost shocking…you needed a thick jumper on inside! The concert was really great and the audience really appreciative.
The next stop was Taipei. The hotel in Hong Kong was great but the Hyatt Hotel in Taipei was even better. This is one benefit you have playing in a great orchestra; you get treated very well and get to stay in hotels that are normally out of your private price range. That also means no excuses not to play your best. The food was also great here, I didn't get to try snake, which I have heard is one of the delicacies on offer here, but I had great dim sums, noodle soups and fruit. The concert hall was very special on the outside as it was built in Chinese style. Inside though, it was a bit massive and boomy and not so beautiful, the concert was good though.
Next on the agenda was Hainan in the south of Taiwan. Apparently Hainan is, it is said, the Tawainese people’s favorite town because of its local cuisine and ancient temples. I had time to see a few of the temples and must agree that they were very beautiful. After another great concert a group of us went for dinner in a street full of restaurants famous for the local cuisine. Far from luxurious, we sat basically in the street, but the food that we ordered consisting of local vegetables and fish blended together with spices was absolutely delicious (one example: the edamame beans were mixed with garlic, cumin and star anis).
Then it was time for Shanghai, a huge town with a population of 26 million with influences from both France and Britain. These influences were clearly apparent in some of the old areas, both in terms of the architecture and the street layout. Shanghai must have experienced one of the biggest building booms this century. I heard that in the year 2000 there were no skyscrapers at all whereas now you could see hundreds of them, three of them just beside each other being among the highest in the world. I went up in the "bottle-opener" where you had a fantastic view and you were walking on transparent floor so that you had the feeling you were walking on the sky. We had two concerts in the new Symphony Hall which was a very nice hall to play in. The concerts went very well and the orchestra and Leif Ove seemed to have a great time.
Next stop, Korea. We stayed in a suburb of Seoul called Goyang. A few of us took the train into Seoul one morning to visit the Imperial Park. We saw some old houses and palaces and people wearing traditional clothes. I was struck by how clean it was everywhere and the people were very nice and friendly and seemed considerate and respectful of one another (we were told off by fellow passengers when we had failed to notice the signs and were found sitting on the seats reserved for elderly people in the train, they were polite but firm!).
After another great concert it was time for our final destination: Tokyo.
It has long been a favorite destination of mine to visit, there is always so much to do and all the concert halls that I have played in have all been great. The hall we played in now, The Opera City Hall, was no exception. It was an impressive hall with a very tall pyramid-shaped ceiling, exceptional acoustics so you could hear both yourself and your colleagues clearly. When you play pieces that you know really well and have the additional advantage of playing in a great hall, it can be a refreshing kick and lead to another level of music-making. This was what happened here in Tokyo and resulted in two very special concerts with splendid chamber music playing from everyone in the orchestra and, of course, from our amazing soloist Leif Ove Andsnes. The audience in Tokyo is one of the most attentive in the world. You can feel the concentration and their interest in listening to us performing Beethoven as we think it should be done, they were so silent you could hear a pin drop.
All in all a great tour apart from being too long! I hope my kids will still remember their father after I've been galavanting around Asia for three weeks.....