November 20, 2021

Singing for our supper

Ever wondered if there’s a place that was designed to give off the vibe that nothing was too much trouble? A place surrounded by stunning nature? A place with not one but multiple spa facilities and fantastic cuisine? A place designed to lure musicians in need of a break from their busy life? Well, that place does exist and it’s in Bavaria. But what’s the catch, I hear you say? You have to sing for your supper.

We flew into Munich last Friday night and stayed at an airport hotel. The next day we set off feeling relaxed and excited about the coming days. Other than Nick and I, everyone else had a plus-one, which immediately changed the feel about the trip. It’s so special having loved ones with us on tour. It doesn’t happen often and so we all enjoy having them accompany us for as long as they are able (school holidays help) when the nature of the touring permits. The drive from the Oktoberfest capital takes you away from the hustle and bustle, south towards the border with Austria, less than an hour away from Innsbruck. You leave the autobahn and drive through Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It’s a place we’ve sung in numerous times for the Strauss Festival (Richard, not Johann…or Andrew) and it also provided a venue for Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards to hurtle down the Olympic ski jump thirty odd years ago. Mountains rise up steeply, and the road starts to become windy from Klais, a service town for the surrounding area during the winter season in particular. Ten minutes later you get your first glimpse of the castle. Whilst it’s not the Disney-esque Schloss Neuschwanstein, it’s still impressive. We pulled in and made our way to reception. I then proceeded to make my entrance by dropping a glass water bottle on the lobby marble floor. Cue two staff with towels and a vacuum cleaner. I’d heard about Schloss Elmau's 2:1 staff-to-guest ratio but hadn’t expected it straightaway.

After check-in I made my way to my room and the view was fabulous. It matched all the hype. Naturally, the next thing to do was get changed into a funky lime green dressing gown and head to the spa before rehearsal. Anyone with any experience of German saunas will know that clothing is rarely seen. Anyone with any experience of Brits and Kiwis in public will know that clothing is always seen. I did, however, pluck up the courage and embrace the experience fully. I must admit, it’s quite an invigorating experience doing something outside your comfort zone. So much of what we do is expected; we plan our lives as such. We have jobs (hopefully) and expectations of the work we do, the people we interact with, the people we live with, and even the people we talk to. So, to walk into a room with people you’ve never met before and be so, well, naked in front of them (whilst avoiding eye contact obviously because I’m half British) was both unplanned and yet strangely unremarkable. What’s the big deal? No one cared about what I looked like and I didn’t care what they looked like. The only thing I did wonder was whether any of them would turn up at the concert later and recognise me in my suit. Or ask for my autograph with a knowing look.

Feeling suitably chilled out, it was time for a very zen rehearsal. If you’ve ever wondered what six, post-steam roomed King’s Singers sound like, it’s rather pleasant. Fast forward to the show and as I walked out on stage my first thought was to scan the audience for my fellow sauna buddies. Alas, I didn’t recognise any. Probably because we’d avoided eye contact. The audience were terrific and what we didn’t realise until after the show was that the next day Germany had a new law in place which meant Schloss Elmau’s performances were restricted to hotel guests only. I spoke to a very nice Hungarian man after the show who’d traveled eight hours to be there. Turns out he heard The King’s Singers back in the early 90s, formed his own group and subsequently won Hungary’s Got Talent. He’s no longer singing with them but they’re still going strong. I love meeting people like that after shows. Completely unexpected but through my predecessors I feel proud of the heritage I belong to. Who knows, maybe years from now another group’ll spring up and win Bavaria’s Got Talent: The Sauna edition.

What’s nice about the concert venue being in the same building as your bedroom is just how easy it is to do the post show ritual. No fuss and once I’d got changed it was time to head downstairs for some pre-dinner cocktails with our delightful entourage and enjoy the delights of the hospitality on offer. We’d sung and now it was time for our supper. Very generously everything was provided so a merry night was had by all. One of the benefits of being in the middle of nowhere is that the lack of light pollution makes the sky light up like Christmas tree lights. We don’t often get to ponder the meaning of life underneath the stars during touring patches so it was a lovely thing to do before the onslaught of the festive season gets underway. Nick and I left the others to it on the Sunday morning and met up with them in Chur for the series of concerts we have been giving with the chamber orchestra, Le Phénix. I’m currently typing away in a little cafe and enjoying looking back on the wonderful experience we all had. I’ve still got two more of my free nights to use at Schloss Elmau so Liz and I go back next April for our 5th wedding anniversary. Can’t wait to have some hikes in the mountains, maybe try our hand at archery, definitely enjoy some treatments in the spa and eat to our heart’s content! If you ever feel the need to just get away for a bit of well-being mixed with culture and nature, win the Lotto and head to Schloss Elmau for a good time. It’s fun, clothed or unclothed.