As I write, I have just completed my 42nd hour confined to home. That’s hour 42 out of a total 193 hours that we are obliged to be housebound (unless we are given the all-clear after our test on day 5, in which case it will have been a mere 121). It’s a little boring, and made more all the more frustrating by the sun, who’s just decided to make his first UK appearance months. But it is 100% worth it. It’s worth it because we’ve just done what very few musicians have been able to do lately: travel abroad together, sing wonderful music for a live audience in a beautiful hall, and return home. “How very ‘2019′”, I hear you cry.
Well it wasn’t quite as easy as all that. In the course of the four days running up to the concert in Linz, Austria, there were several moments when it looked like it might not be able to go ahead. Without boring you with all of the details, there was a moment when we found out about a sudden ban on UK citizens entering Austria (which came into effect the day after we got back; phew!), a moment where the testing requirements for flying there were stepped up on the morning of our flight (we managed to book rapid turnaround PCR tests; phew!), and there was the moment when we realised our ‘letter of invitation’ was no longer sufficient (we managed to get an appropriate replacement sorted, with 5 hours to spare; phew!). So after all these phews and a few more, we found ourselves safely in our hotel rooms in Vienna, blowing our runny noses after another unexpected COVID test in the hotel lobby, and realising that it really was all going to work out fine.
On the next day – the concert day – we collected a hire car and drove two hours west from Vienna to Linz (birthplace of, amongst others, Anton Bruckner and Adolf Hitler: I know which one I’d rather put on my plaques and roadsigns…). Many of the things we take for granted in our normal touring lives had a frisson of excitement this time. Driving on the wrong side of the road, trying to locate high-quality coffee shops using the Google Maps customer ratings, sitting in hotel rooms trying to get our mouths round paragraphs of German: all had a sheen of freshness after eight months in the UK. After a great rehearsal, and a delicious dinner in the theatre restaurant, we squeezed our lockdown bodies into tailored suits, did a bit of humming, and lined up to go out on stage in the sold-out-but-half-capacity Brucknerhaus, Linz. From the handful of live performances we’ve given in the last year or so, I had this vague sense that the audience applause had an extra few decibels to it, and seemed to last a minute or so longer than before. This time confirmed it. The crowd were so wonderfully warm, and clearly had a thirst for live music which we were more than happy to quench, albeit with a slightly curious cocktail which consisted of Josquin, Senfl, Gesualdo and (R) Strauss…
Immodestly, I must say the concert was very good. You’ll have to ask someone in the audience for an unbiased opinion, but from where I was standing (20 centimetres from Eddie’s right ear) it was a great show. It was infused with the sort of focus and energy that can only come from truly missing something, and when we trooped off stage after about 400 curtain calls we each had a feeling of deep satisfaction and motivation as we scrolled through our diaries to see when the next one is.
So while I sit here in the only sunny corner of my garden, trying desperately to get a bit of sunburn so I don’t feel left out, I remind myself hourly that it is all worth it for what was our first glimmer of hope at the end of the 2020-21 tunnel.
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