Two-thirds of the way through our China tour our Principal Third Horn, Saul Lewis, shares his thoughts on the trip so far.
After spending a great length of time playing with the Australian Opera Ballet Orchestra (now the OAO), the resident pit orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, I joined the MSO in 2010. Due to the nature of working for Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet I had never toured with a professional orchestra. I enviously watched my friends in the SSO travel to exciting places around the world and wondered if I would ever get the opportunity to do so myself one day. And now, only a few years on and I have travelled to China, the UK and Europe on tour with the MSO. I have also been lucky enough to make great friends with horn players around the world and have played in Malaysia and even Iceland!
There are the wonderful tangibles that touring does for an orchestra. These include promoting the MSO to music-lovers overseas, representing an example of the wonderful cultural diversity of Victoria and forging relationships that develop future opportunities. The intangible elements often have an extremely powerful and long-lasting beneficial effect on the wellbeing of an orchestra and I have certainly found that to be evident after the tours I have done with the MSO. Moving around China with 100 people gives you a platform to get to know your colleagues on a level you don’t get to normally enjoy. This often translates directly into better performances on stage as it strengthens that important invisible communication that is such an integral part of making music together. Playing in different venues and their unique acoustics gives us a chance to re-explore pieces like Beethoven’s mighty Eroica.
China is changing so fast! The first two cities we visited (Guangzhou and Shenzhen) are replete with quite startling modern architecture. These cities are very clean, organised and seem to be embracing a new China that allows outside influence. Shanghai felt comfortingly familiar seeing as we spent a week there in 2016 and have since re-visited some venues that we enjoyed two years ago. It seems we will be continuing this relationship into the future, which I am really looking forward to. Nanjing was a place that seemed more influenced by the old perceptions of China and was less cosmopolitan but I really enjoyed the concert there. Among the fabulous examples of translations gone missing was one of my favourite rules of the theatre there which was as follows “Rule 10. During the performance, the audience seat declined to sit down.” I’m still working through what that could mean.
Other enjoyable moments are being had as I type this in a train travelling to Hangzhou. I look out the window in awe at how big the country is, the organised rice fields that bring back memories of histories I was taught at school and almost seem to show me what a long and important history this country has.
There is a lot of culture to soak in here and by way of a true exchange I have also been able to show the local bar staff the pleasures of making and imbibing in a carefully made Espresso Martini.