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The Orchestra has made nine foreign tours: Ghent (1999), Strasbourg (2002), Paris (2004), Krefeld (2006), Poland and the Czech Republic (2008), Strasbourg (2010), Paris (2012), Leuven, Belgium (2014) and Reims (2016). The 2010 tour was to mark the 50th Anniversary of the twinning of Leicester with Strasbourg.
Please see the photographs of all the tours by Jeremy Oakley.
Descriptions of each tour with further photographs are below.
Please see the photographs by Mr Joel's Photography, Tom McClure, Jeremy Oakley and others
On a Saturday at the end of May two coaches left Leicester at 6am with Orchestra players, their guests and instruments (Including the drums and harp!). We were en route for Reims in the Champagne-Ardennes region of North-East France for the ninth LSO Tour overseas. We had a smooth journey to Dover but heightened security there meant we had to get off the coach and file through the French passport control building. This meant we missed our planned ferry, but we caught up time on the road later.
Other players had made their own way to Reims and we met up at the conveniently located Hotel on the outskirts of Reims. It was an ideal base and included an outdoor swimming pool which the hardier members made use of before breakfast. An evening meal had been organised at a nearby Taverne.
The next day we left after breakfast for a day at the town of Charleville-Mézières towards the Belgian border which was the venue for the first concert. It is actually two former towns either side of the Meuse river, now united. After some sightseeing it was time for the rehearsal in the large Basilique Notre Dame d'Esperance.
Here we were reminded that this area of France was heavily damaged in both World Wars and the churches, which are old, had in fact been extensively rebuilt to their original form. The concert programme included the popular Prelude to Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck and Bizet's Carmen Suite No 1, pieces by Liadov and Malcolm Sargent and ended with Borodin's 2nd Symphony. This early evening concert was very well attended by an enthusiastic audience who began arriving well before the start time. As with most churches, the acoustic was very reverberant! Our hosts provided drinks and light refreshments which included the tasty local speciality fruit tart, tarte tatin.
Optional trips were available on Monday which was unfortunately a wet day. Some chose to tour the local Champagne cellars; the coach tour of the scenic Champagne route on the way back had to be abandoned due to the state of the narrow roads after the rain. Those who visited the castle at Sedan saw better weather. Others spent their free time in Reims visiting the Cathedral and Basilica Saint-Remi. For some a surprise discovery was the building where the World War 2 German Surrender took place. A Museum preserves the actual room as it was on 7 May 1945. Some enterprising brass players hired bikes with trailers to buy and bring back their bottles of champagne - their arrival back at the Hotel soaked to the skin was quite a sight! In the evening a Group meal was held in Reims - followed by Pat's traditional speech.
The destination on Tuesday morning was the picturesque town of Châlons with its waterways. Sadly, the planned scenic tour in open boats was cancelled due to the wet weather. The second concert took place in the evening at Rethel in the Eglise Saint-Nicolas perched at the top of a steep hill where the same programme as Sunday was performed.
We were then led down the hill to a Cultural Centre building where refreshments were laid out, including baguettes and again some tarte tatin.
An early checkout the next day and we headed for home. There was some trepidation as there were rumours of transport strikes which might affect Calais Port where we were taking the ferry. We made good time and all was well at the Port so a stop was made at St Omer for those who wanted an early lunch. Arriving back in England we encountered heavy traffic which delayed our arrival back in Leicester and threatened the drivers' allowed hours.
A lot was accomplished in the few days - although looking at the photographs some people seem to have spent all their spare time in the bar!
So, another enjoyable and successful trip both musically and socially. We showed Leicester boasts more than just a football team! Many thanks to all those who helped organise this tour.
Please see the photographs by Jeremy Oakley and others
As is tradition in Leicester Symphony Orchestra, every two years we go on tour. This year was no different, and during the late May bank holiday, we departed for Leuven in Belgium.
We had a relative lie in this year, with the coaches loading at the positively late time of 09.30 from our rehearsal base at the Mayflower Church in Leicester. We left in good time, only to get stuck in traffic on the notorious M1.
After a tedious journey, we arrived an hour late for our ferry, with the result being that we had to wait for the next one. The crossing was calm and uneventful (although for a teatime crossing, there was a serious lack of cooked food!) and before we knew it we were in France.
The journey continued on the opposite side of the road, through France and into Belgium, where we eventually got to our hotel. Most people were then extremely excited about the close proximity of the Stella Artois brewery, which was located over the other side of the road from us. We had to wait to explore that though, so relaxed with a few drinks in the hotel bar.
On the Sunday, we all departed for the 90 minute journey to Dinant, where we had some time in the morning to explore the small riverside town. It is famous for being the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the Saxophone. As a result, the town was adorned with brightly coloured saxophone statues, which made for a very cheerful visit.
Dinant is also famous for its 11th Century citadel. This overlooks the town from the top of the limestone cliffs, up 408 steps. Some of us were brave enough to attempt these, others took the cable car up to have a look around.
After a brief look around, and grabbing a quick bite to eat, it was time to rehearse in one of Dinant's other famous sights: the Collegiale Church of Notre-Dame. This is one of Dinant's most striking buildings, and we were lucky enough to be able to perform a concert in it.
The rehearsal started a little late, due to some furniture moving and a little logistical problem of trying to fit the tympani through the church doors (easier said than done!) but eventually we started and then we attempted to get to grips with the acoustics. After the rehearsal, we had a tea laid on for us. This was a feast and consisted of many baguette sandwiches. The dessert was more impressive, however with French tarts and pies of every flavour (the cherry was the tastiest) and what seemed like 'all you can eat' chocolate custard éclairs! Nicely stuffed, we all squeezed ourselves into our concert attire and started to play at 6pm.
We performed Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel Prelude, Holst: Somerset Rhapsody, Tomlinson: Sinfonietta No. 2 and Dvořák: Symphony No. 8. The concert seemed to go down well and we departed on the coach back to Leuven (complete with 2 boxes of chocolate custard éclairs for the journey that we had not been able to finish at tea!). We finished off the day by heading into town to sample some of Belgium's famous beers. Ranging from 6% to as much as 12% (some even more, but we did not attempt these!) we managed to sample a surprising amount before heading back to the hotel.
On Monday we had a free morning or the option to go on one of the two arranged excursions to Brussels or Waterloo. Both had good feedback from the participants. Waterloo battlefield was very interesting for those more interested in history. Brussels was a bustling capital city, but due to the traffic being terrible on the way there, and the vast size of the capital, there was limited time to explore. After the obligatory look at the Manneken Pis and a few other sights (including a few chocolate shops), we were back on the coach heading back to Leuven.
Back in Leuven, we left the hotel on the coaches at 15.30 to travel to Sint-Michielskerk for another rehearsal and another concert. This concert was packed and we had an excellent introduction in Flemish to our audience. I am sure he was only being complimentary, however it is anyone's guess as to what was actually said. This concert seemed to be received well and we finished it off with an encore of Dvořák Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 8.
To celebrate we all went out to sample the local culture at one of the Belgian bars selling over 2000 different beers. I think as an orchestra as a collective, we certainly made a good start at sampling them all.
The next day, some of the orchestra more dedicated to sampling the local culture went to the Stella Artois brewery for some hair of the dog to help them with the day ahead. Others just opted for a lie in and either had a free day, could go to Antwerp for sightseeing or could visit the famous Les Jardins d'Annevoie. Unfortunately it was very heavy rain in Antwerp so there was limited sightseeing that we could participate in, however we all managed to visit the obligatory chocolate shops, and some of us even managed to visit the museum dedicated to the painter Rubens.
The final day was ended back in Leuven at a small restaurant called Domus for our end of tour group meal. Before bed, we had an obligatory stop on the way home at 'The Capital' to try and sample the last of the Belgian culture.
The next day was unfortunately our last. We drove back via Bruges, a lovely city albeit very busy during the time we were there. We managed to dodge the tourists, not get run over by the bikes, horses and carts and had a quick look around before heading back to the coaches to complete our return journey.
Overall, this was as ever a very well organised tour. It encompassed many local sights (and tastes), whilst being able to perform to large audiences in some very spectacular venues. We as an orchestra certainly are very lucky to have such an exemplary tour organising committee as I certainly believe that these tours are integral to the good team bonds and friendships that we have as an orchestra.
Please see the photographs by Paul Cole and Mr Joel's Photography.
The Leicester Symphony Orchestra have been touring every two years since since 2000. This year the Orchestra visited Paris during the late Spring (Jubilee) Bank Holiday, flying the flag for Leicester.
We assembled at the Mayflower Hall early in the morning (about 6.15am) of Saturday, 2nd June and fortunately it remained more or less dry whilst we were loading the coaches. We left before 7 am. and made good progress to the Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal (picking up various orchestra members on the way).
During the journey we experienced problems with both coaches - a shredded belt on Coach "A" just before the Tunnel and, two hours into France, overheating of coach B: topping up with coolant was sufficient to get us to the Ibis Hotel Berthier Place de Clichy, our home for the next 5 nights, only about an hour late. After unloading the Coaches most of us were soon dining in the Hotel Brasserie and enjoying a relaxed evening.
Sunday was a free day in which to explore Paris, or to take part in one of the two visits that had been arranged to Versailles or Fontainebleau and Barbizon. We now found that Coach B could not be used as it needed to be "recovered" to a garage for proper investigation and repair - and the French recovery service did not operate on Sunday! Fortunately, all those wishing to make one of the visits were able to do so using Coach A to first deposit the Versailles party and then continuing to Fontainebleau/Barbizon for the rest. Although the Versailles visitors had a good day (despite, reportedly, being propelled round the Palace rapidly by the vast crowd of visitors and being unable to visit the garden), the Fontainebleau party probably had the best deal as admission was free (in contrast with Versailles) because it was the first Sunday of the month and it was not very busy. Versailles and Fontainebleau both have many splendid rooms and much more to see and do than can be easily absorbed in one day. Barbizon also proved to be an attractive and interesting small artists' town.
Monday morning was another free period and most people spent time looking round Paris before assembling at the Eglise de la Madeleine to unload the Coach (still only one!) and set up the Orchestra in the church. The Madeleine church is a huge and impressive colonnaded building in the Greek style with a vast box-shaped interior with plenty of space for the Orchestra; unfortunately, not so good acoustically with a resonance time of about 7 seconds (a bit less with an audience). After an early afternoon rehearsal, the concert followed at 4 pm, so we were reloading the coach by 5.30! The acoustics were challenging but, thanks to the clear and calm conducting of our Guest Conductor, Lev Parikian, the performance was satisfactory. Lev implored us to watch his beat and not to listen to any other section (as if we did we would be behind the beat): this was very unusual, mostly players are urged to listen, as well as to watch the beat!
We performed the Overture "Froissart" by Elgar, a group of songs by Delibes (Les filles de Cadiz), Massenet (an aria from "Manon") and Rachmaninov's "Vocalise", a suite from Bizet's opera "Carmen" and Dvorak's 8th Symphony. Because it was necessary to be out of the Church at 5.30 the "Carmen" suite was shortened by omitting one number. For both of the concerts our soloist was Eva Ganizate who performed the songs superbly in both venues.
Tuesday was the day for our second concert, in Compiègne. Originally it was planned to be in Beauvais but that fell through in April! Thankfully the Orchestra's contact in Beauvais introduced us to Compiègne which met the challenge magnificently. We were invited to visit the Chateau which had been rebuilt by Louis XV, was the place at which Marie-Antoinette first met Louis XVI and was the favourite residence of Napoleon III - a very impressive palace. Unfortunately Coach B was still under repair and Coach A had to make two journeys to transport everybody from Paris (a little over an hour away) so some who wanted to see the Chateau were not able to do so. The Chateau is normally closed on Tuesday but was specially opened for us and, not only that, two of the guides volunteered to show us round on their day off. This was merely one example of the marvellous welcome that we were given by the citizens of Compiègne who also provided an excellent lunch in the old Abbaye and a reception with supper at the Hotel de Ville. After lunch we rehearsed in the Eglise Saint-Jacques which proved to have acoustics much better suited to orchestral music than the Eglise de La Madeleine. After the reception we performed to a very enthusiastic audience (who gave us a protracted standing ovation!). This concert had substantially the same programme as the first but included all of the Carmen Suite and also Mozart's "Ave Verum" played movingly on the Oboe d'Amore by our principal oboe, Christine Griggs who was presented with a well-deserved bouquet. At last Coach B had now been repaired and was available to carry passengers back to the hotel after the concert.
Our final day in Paris was spent sight-seeing, some remaining in Paris but the majority enjoying either the delights of Van Gogh's art in Auvers-sur-Oise or the gothic splendour of Chartres Cathedral. Both of these outings were enjoyable, especially as the weather was largely fine and sunny; a slight disappointment at Chartres was the restoration that closed off the choir so half the Cathedral was inaccessible. Nevertheless, part of the restored and cleaned choir was just visible, bright and colourful in contrast with the unrestored nave: when the work is finished (in about 2016) the interior will be magnificent and well worth another visit. On Wednesday evening the Orchestra enjoyed a meal at Hippopotamus George V.
We left on Thursday and, in contrast with the outward journey, had an uneventful trip back to Leicester - just a rather long wait in Calais before boarding the ferry.
Overall, as a survivor of all the previous Tours, I think that this was probably the best Tour yet; in spite of the many problems that arose both before and during the Tour, the result was a resounding success both musically and socially, in my view. Audiences were large and enthusiastic at both concerts, our hotel was reasonably accessible to the city and we were all in the same hotel. That is not to say that previous Tours which also had their own, different, problems were not enjoyable or successful, rather that, somehow, in 2012 everything came together in the end in a most satisfactory way. This is a tribute to the organising committee and the coach drivers, who (publically at least) coped with all the obstacles thrown at them calmly, effectively and with good humour.
Strasbourg is a beautiful and fascinating city with lots of history. We in Leicester are very lucky to be twinned with such a place but it is quite difficult to get to. If you go by coach a whole day is required so an early start is recommended. The 2 coaches carrying Leicester Symphony Orchestra, their instruments and supporters left Leicester at 6.30 Saturday morning. At South Mimms there was a change of drivers and we were on the ferry at Dover by 11.25.
From Calais we had a gruelling 8 hour stretch ahead of us. The route passes almost down the line of the First World War front. We pass Cambrai where tanks were first used on a battlefield in 1917. We also pass near the place where George Butterworth was shot by a sniper. We travel on into the Marne valley where the von Schliefen plan was halted and the French and German armies got bogged down in what was to become 4 years of trench warfare.
We take a break before Verdun, the scene of many first world war battles, then pass into the long disputed territories of Alsace and Lorraine. The dispute has been running for at least 1200 years - so long before modern day France or Germany existed. The descendants of Charlemain could not agree on how his huge Frankish kingdom was to be divided. We arrive in Strasbourg around 10pm and were joined by our conductor Roland Melia who had flown in from Cyprus via Bulgaria - or so he would have us believe!
The next day, Sunday, we motored about an hour to Saverne, a pleasant enough town to spend a morning. The afternoon was spent in Marmoutier Abbey, a great location for the concert. The rehearsal was the first time we had met with the choir Les Petits Chanteurs de Strasbourg. Nobody knew quite what to expect but it was instantly apparent that the choir was of a very high standard so any doubts we may have had as to their abilities quickly put to rest. The concert was very well received by a capacity audience. We rounded a great day off with an evening meal in the nearby village of Haegen, which gave our coach drivers, Mick and Graham, plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their driving skills by squeezing the coaches through amazingly narrow gaps between buildings!
On Monday we took the coaches to 3 beautiful small Alsatian towns Ribeauville, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg. One of the features throughout Alsace are the storks which are encouraged by the locals by providing often elaborate rooftop nest sites. The storks feature hugely in the work of the celebrated local artist Hansi whose anti-German sentiment earned him a spell in prison for poking fun at those oh-so-serious Prussian soldiers. After a good look around we then went back to Strasbourg for a reception at the old Town Hall. Another excellent day was rounded off with an evening meal at the Au Pont St Martin, a superb restaurant in the Petite France area of the town.
Tuesday started off with a boat trip round Strasbourg's historic waterway network. In the afternoon we gave our second concert, with the choir, at the Eglise St Paul. Again there was a very appreciative capacity audience.
Wednesday was our last day and there were various optional activities including a walking tour of Strasbourg, a visit to the Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg and wine tasting at Obernai. In the morning a small group of us decided to branch out on our own. Using the very cheap and extensive local city transport network we took a bus to the bank of the Rhine and crossed the river on a footbridge. This all with the sole object of being able to say that we had set foot in Germany! Having accomplished this we had a great feeling of achievement. Our evening was spent at the restaurant A l'ancienne Douane - our third and final group meal.
Thursday, we set off about 8.30 for our long trek home. We arrived back around 22.30. We returned home tired but in the knowledge that something extremely worthwhile had been achieved.
The tour took place in the last week of May with the orchestra split into two groups, one travelling entirely by coach, the other flying to Poland.
The coach party set off early on Saturday morning, while my group flew from East Midlands Airport at a much more reasonable hour the following morning. We arrived in Wroclaw early Sunday afternoon and were taken on a brief tour of the city by our guide Agnieszka, who was to remain with us for the rest of the week. The five star hotel was very luxurious, with slippers, bathrobe and a bathroom with a telephone next to the toilet!
The coach party arrived later that afternoon and we were all taken to the Raclawice Panorama, a large circular building whose inner wall is covered with a fantastically detailed painting of a battle between Polish insurgents and the Russian army. This was followed by dinner at the Spiz Restaurant.
The next morning, we were taken on a walking tour of Wroclaw by Agnieszka and a fellow guide, "Waclaw from Wroclaw", which included the University Museum with the fabulously decorated Leopoldinum Hall. The ancient university is situated on one of the many islands which fragment the broad and majestic river Oder into many channels. The university had a special point of interest for our orchestra. In 1876 the university, then of Bresslau, conferred an honorary doctorate on Johannes Brahms in the Great Hall and he repaid the compliment by dedicating the Academic Festival Overture to the university and students everywhere.
After lunch, we moved on to Kudowa Zdroj, a town close to the Czech border, where we stayed for the next two nights at another excellent hotel in very pleasant surroundings. After settling in, we were taken to a nearby farm for a demonstration of local handcrafts such as bread-making and pottery followed by a barbeque where we got to cook sausages over an open fire ourselves.
Tuesday morning was spent at Bledne Skaly (Wandering Rocks), having enormous fun clambering over and squeezing between tightly packed stones named after the objects that they supposedly resemble: table, ship, box office (?) etc. Definitely not one for the seriously overweight! In the afternoon we rehearsed for the evening's concert at Kudowa's Town Theatre, where we performed Sibelius' Finlandia, Grieg's First Peer Gynt Suite, Brahms' Academic Festival Overture & Elgar's Enigma Variations to a select but appreciative audience who rewarded us with a standing ovation.
The next day we left Kudowa and crossed the border into the Czech Republic. After arriving at our hotel in Prague, we went on a guided tour of the old part of the city with a verbose guide who bombarded us with information about the City Gate, Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge etc. at very great length. The day concluded with a superb meal at a local brewery/restaurant "Novometsky Pivovar" (good eating was a notable feature of this tour).
On Thursday the orchestra visited Jablonec nad Nisou for our second concert. This was better attended and just as enthusiastically received by the audience who gave us the second standing ovation of the tour, earning them two encores: Finlandia & Nimrod.
After breakfast, the coach party began the long journey home, leaving the rest of the orchestra to spend a free day exploring Prague and its surroundings, including Kutna Hora, Prague Castle, the Cathedral, the Smetena, Dvorak & Mozart Museums and the Czech Music Museum with its impressive collection of old instruments.
We arrived at Prague Airport early in the evening for our flight back home, only to be delayed for a couple of hours by a strike in Italy. Prague Airport is definitely not the most stimulating place to be stuck in. We finally touched down on British soil at nearly one o'clock in the morning.
By contrast, the coach party got home ahead of schedule, having caught an earlier ferry than planned. Jammy devils.
Thanks as usual to Pat, Jenny and everyone else involved in organising the tour for making it so enjoyable with such excellent accommodation, food and sight seeing. If the next tour is only half as good, I can hardly wait.
Post script from a coach traveller:
In May 2008 LSO set out on a concert tour of Poland and the Czech Republic. Early start essential, 5 30 at Mayflower Church Hall sees the orchestra gathering to load instruments and luggage for the 2 day journey to Wroclaw, pronounced Vrotswav (formerly Bresslau). Their route went via Dover, Calais and on across the flat fields of Belgium via Antwerp, across a small section of Holland and into Germany. Cross the mighty Rhein at Duisburg through the Ruhr region to the half way point Dortmund for a good night's rest. The second day starts early as there are 500 miles to cover. At Kassel the route turns south through Hessen then east again through Thuringen, the emotional and geographical heartland of a now united Germany. A medieval fortress, the Wartburg, stands high above the motorway at Eisenach. This is deeply significant. Martin Luther spent several months in hiding here after his trial in Worms. The full panoply of church estate was brought against him but he would not recant and the protestant faith was born. He used his time in the Wartburg to translate the bible into everyday German. The Wartburg is the home of the medieval singing contest and is the setting for Richard Wagner's Tannhauser. Eisenach is also the birthplace of J S Bach, one of Europe's greatest musicians. Onward past Weimar, cultural capital of the good old Germany. This is the one time home of Goethe, Schiller, Liszt and Wagner. On a hillside above the town, a huge stone monolith is easily visible - a reminder of the "twelve dark years". It marks the Buchenwald concentration camp where tens of thousands of enemies of the Nazi regime were worked to death or worse. On through Saxony, across the Elbe and past the beautiful state capital of Dresden. Before leaving Germany, a half hour enforced break courtesy of 2 very apologetic customs police. Sorry, driver, documents not quite in order, pay 192 euros to proceed. Across the Neisse and into Silesia, the first province of Poland. Settlements become sparser. The land starts to take on a slightly unkempt look. Only 2 hours left to Wroclaw. Our hotel is the Radisson in the Old Town. It is here that we join forces with the rest of the orchestra who had flown direct from East Midlands Airport. They may have got there earlier than we did but did they have as much fun?
Arrival in Europe
Following a tiring but relatively trouble-free journey to our hotel, located in a small town near Dusseldorf, we were treated to a substantial buffet meal at the hotel on our arrival.
Bonn and Petersburg
The coaches took us to Bonn and as it was Sunday most of the shops were shut, but it was still possible to find good food at one of the many cafés and restaurants, or even in the market place where numerous stalls were selling foods from around the world in front of a live music stage. Most of the orchestra met for the start of the Beethoven tour, which then split into two groups for a short tour on foot of the old city centre and entrance into the Beethoven museum house. I was in the first group and our guide told us the history of Beethoven's family and his involvement in Bonn as we walked around the city centre. What stuck most in my mind was that almost all the historic buildings we looked at had been partially or completely rebuilt to the original drawings, since our guide made a point of telling us that seventy percent of Bonn had been bombed in the second world war, including the cathedral, and grand university buildings. Our tour concluded in the Beethoven house where we walked through each room listening to our guide telling us about the history attached to the many artefacts including paintings, sculptures, old musical instruments, music scores, and even Beethoven's death mask.
Late in the afternoon our coaches took us up to Petersberg, situated on one of the many steep hills that overlook Bonn from the east banks of the Rhine. The delicious tea and cake was well received, and afterwards we took in the views over Bonn and the surrounding area from the high vantage points around the hotel.
In the evening we were free to entertain ourselves, and a number of us found a local restaurant to have dinner. As had been the case since arriving in Germany, the food and drink was much enjoyed.
Krefeld and concert
Our tour coaches took us to the Friedenskirche in Krefeld to offload our instruments before we were taken on a guided coach tour around the town, and given an insight into the history and industries of Krefeld. After finding a place to eat and returning to the church, the orchestra came together for the afternoon rehearsal.
Between the rehearsal and the evening concert we had been invited to attend a reception hosted by the Mayor of Krefeld at the town hall. Mayor Karin Meincke gave an eloquent and well-prepared welcoming speech in English and invited members of the orchestra to sign the town hall visitors' book before we moved on to the refreshments.
The concert was fully attended by an appreciative audience, including Lord Mayor Gregor Kathstede. The orchestra started well, supported by two local professional double bass players, and marked performances from our brass and woodwind sections. With the audience warming to our performances of 'Overture to Oberon', 'In the Steppes of Central Asia', and 'Three Bavarian Dances', we paused for the interval and returned for a thrilling rendition of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony. This was evident particularly from the spontaneous applause and shouts of "Bravo!" after the rousing third movement, followed swiftly by the more tortured and sombre fourth movement. As an encore, we had prepared Elgar's Nimrod, and our audience welcomed the opportunity to applaud once more to finish the evening.
Aachen and concert
Our trip to Aachen took us to the Kurpark buildings to offload our instruments, and as the weather was unpredictably rainy an indoor stage was set up. Before the afternoon concert we had some time to explore Aachen town centre, and after discovering the extraordinary cathedral we found a place for lunch.
For this concert we performed a shorter one-hour programme with no interval, missing out the first and last movements of the symphony. This was a much more relaxed performance but just as enjoyable, with the audience consisting of local people, and friends and relatives of orchestra members, including a number of small children. The enthusiasm of the audience again prompted the performance of Nimrod.
For the evening, an orchestra meal had been arranged at a large restaurant in Dusseldorf, and we proceeded through rush hour traffic and road works into the city. There was some confusion with the waiting staff as to who wanted which meal, but eventually everybody received their food and beer and we settled into enjoying the meal.
Departure for England
We loaded the coaches for the final time and left the hotel where we had enjoyed food, drink, and pool over the previous four nights. The journey home took us near to Delft in Holland where an hour's break had been planned. Due to a late departure and traffic we decided to carry on to the ferry port with only a short stop at a service station.
The crossing to Harwich was particularly rough and as we were being thrown from side to side, and plates in the restaurant crashed off tables, I began to summarise the tour.
A combination of good organisation, welcoming hosts, good music and the gaining of new friends in the orchestra had made this the most enjoyable tour I had been on since joining the orchestra eight years ago. No doubt we will be organising another tour for two years' time and I'm looking forward to it already.
The Leicester Symphony Orchestra made its third overseas tour at the end of May 2004. The venue was Paris. Some 53 members of the orchestra went plus spouses/partners/friends. Travel was by two single deck coaches with large instruments (including the timpani) and luggage in the holds underneath. The hotel was an Ibis conveniently situated near the Eiffel Tower and was quiet and comfortable. Central Paris is very attractive with its uniform apartment blocks and tree lined roads. The tall office buildings are all confined to the La Defense area away from the centre.
The two concerts went well. The programme was Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" and Bruckner's 4th Symphony. The concerts were performed in churches, the first in the impressive St Roch church near the Louvre, the second in the American Cathedral on one of the avenues off the Champs Elysee. The concerts were free and the first was full to standing room only! The retiring collection took £500. The American Cathedral was a more intimidating building (and it had 3 armed soldiers outside and a security guard vetting baggage) but a moderate audience turned up. Both audiences were very appreciative and sat silently throughout the Bruckner. On leaving the building several said the performance was magnificent. The resonant acoustic gave a tremendous sound.
There were 3 optional excursions: a boat trip on the Seine in a Bateau Mouche, a day trip to the Chateau at Chantilly and nearby town of Senlis, and a day trip to Monet's house and garden at Giverny. All were very popular and interesting. The enjoyable orchestra meal was held at a restaurant in Montmartre during which several short speeches were made including one by Martin Gilding, who was retiring from the position of first horn.
The only hiccup on the whole tour was with the travel there and back. The coach itself was comfortable but clerical errors by the coach company led to us not being allowed on to our intended ferry both ways and having to wait for the next one - on the return journey this was in a secure compound!
As usual on these occasions a lot was packed into the 5 days and with the early start and two late nights it took many of us a couple of days to recover!
Thanks are due to all the organisers, especially Pat, Sam, John, Mac and Kirsten who made it all possible.
I became a 'groupie' about two years ago. Until then, I could only stare in awe and wonder, first, from the cheapest seats in the body of the hall, and on later occasions as I graduated to a vantage point in the balcony. The thrill of seeing and hearing an orchestra was immense. A soloist (especially piano) added a special dimension. More than sixty years on, I can recall so many memorable performances of various orchestras and soloists, including our very own LSO. Moisewich, Eileen Joyce, Cifford Curzon, Sir Malclom Sargeant, Sir John Barbirolli and many other names denied to me by a fading memory.
The musical highlights of the Paris trip were the two stirring performances of the Bruckner Symphony No. 4. Ten days before departing for France, the conductor, Nicholas Daniel, had delighted a sizeable Leicester audience with this mammoth work. Enthusiastic French audiences filled first, the Eglise St. Roch to overflowing, and later, La Cathedrale Americane, to hear the orchestra, led by the dedicated, concentrated, and demonstrably animated Nicholas Daniel, give two outstanding renditions of this inspiring symphony. The brass section features prominently in this work, giving the conductor the opportunity to display his full range of athleticism and control, as he demanded total commitment from them. None of the orchestra was spared his attention as he prodded, carressed and cajoled them into action. Not that they needed motivating since they have played so often under the baton of this very talented musician. I viewed the scene with the same feeling as always. I cogitated, I reflected, sometimes watching individuals, then sections and then through misty eyes, the whole of the orchestra. Those of us who have no special musical talent, save that of appreciation; what is it that we look for on each occasion? We need a conductor with a touch of showmanship, able to produce grand gestures with endless energy when required, switching instantly to gentle sensitive control. Nicholas Daniel has all of this and more. The orchestra, who at best, would expect to be called 'a talented bunch of amateurs', are much more than this. Their musical skills encroach heavily into the professional sphere, such that all of them could 'give up their day job'.
We 'groupies' were able to socialise with them during the trip, sharing many delightful hours as we cruised the Seine, viewed Monet's Garden in Giverny and visited the beautiful chateau and gardens in Chantilly. They wore their denims, trainers, sandals, assorted hats, all in colours of the normal ordinary world but when they donned their formal wear and took to the musical platform they seemed to be magically, musically transformed. We like our musicians like that!
Where to next?
As part of the Leicester Symphony Orchestra's 80th Anniversary celebrations and as a contribution to the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the Orchestra visited Strasbourg, Leicester's twin city. The Twinning Association in Leicester provided some financial help and the Strasbourg Twinning Association's help was vital in arranging two concerts, one at the Reithalle, Offenburg in Germany and the other at the Salle des Fêtes in the centre of Strasbourg. The Orchestra, with guest leader Julia Barker and Nicholas Daniel, the Orchestra's new conductor, performed Imperial March (Elgar), Hansel and Gretel Overture (Humperdinck), Adagio for Cor anglais and strings (Mozart), Cockaigne (Elgar), Slavonic Dance No.8 (Dvorak) and Symphony No.3 (Brahms), to great acclaim at both venues.
The concerts were not without their problems - three members (including 2 horn players - half of the section) had to fly out on the day of the first concert (rather than travel by coach with most of the Orchestra). Unfortunately they missed the flight but nevertheless arrived, via Geneva and the efficient Swiss/German railways, with 40 minutes to spare!
The tour was not merely a musical event but had a social content and this included a free introductory sight-seeing boat trip around the Strasbourg waterways and free entry to the Museum of Modern Art, both kindly arranged by the Strasbourg Twinning Association. The waterway trip encompassed not only the sights of the old city, but also the modern buildings of Strasbourg, notably the European Parliament building and the buildings of the other European institutions which displayed spectacular modern architecture.
There were opportunities to explore Strasbourg and the surrounding countryside, both as a group and independently. The nearby Vosges region of Alsace is attractive and includes many beautiful towns and villages. As part of the exploration, the Orchestra's coach followed the "wine route" through the Alsace vineyards, culminating in a tour of the Klipfel vineyard with wine-tasting, recommended by the Twinning Association.
The final event in Strasbourg was an evening meal at a quaint but very efficient restaurant, over-looking the river Ill at the heart of old Strasbourg: not only did the restaurant provide an excellent meal for about 70 Orchestra members but also high-class entertainment by an amazing violin/accordion duo and a charming French chanteuse. Two members of the Orchestra could not resist the limelight and rendered a Stanley Holloway monologue, followed by a song, to the delight of the diners (not only the Orchestra members!). The short speech at the meal was restricted to votes of thanks - to those organising the tour, the players (including several Leicester players not regular members of the Orchestra), our long-suffering coach driver, Mike and, not least, the Twinning Association whose help was invaluable and contributed in no small measure to the success of the tour.