Tour blog: October USA tour, 24th – 28th October

Wednesday, Heathrow Airport

Three Consort members assembled at Heathrow for the long flight to San Francisco – Mark is travelling a day later so as to have more family time at home during half-term. Two hiccups: the plane is delayed marginally because of a technical fault (a grind when you have so far to travel) and Matt has a stonking chest cold and fever. He is putting a brave face on it, but it is always grim when you start a trip in such a manner.

Some hours later (it was about 11, but felt like 111) we arrived at SF to be confronted by the usual queue to get through customs and immigration, but once through it was a treat to be arriving in daylight and in warm temperatures. Finding our hire car was straightforward and we headed north to Mill Valley, a village around 10 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. In a departure from normal practise we had booked an entire house, a necessary tactic to escape incredibly high hotel charges in the Bay area. But it proved to be a winner: the house was very spacious and comfortable and our SF based friends, Shoko and John, had called by earlier in the day to drop off enough provisions to feed and water (beer and wine) an entire army. Or the Orlando Consort. A wonderful gesture and a delight after such a long day.

The challenge was to stay awake as long as possible to try to counter jet-lag. We made it up to about 7.30/8.00pm!

Thursday, Mill Valley and beyond

A day for the three of us to settle in just a bit. Matt has still been labouring with his lurgy and has a quiet day ahead. My way of trying to get into the time zone is to get around and about which, with access to a hire car, raises all sorts of possibilities. So I headed towards the renowned wine regions of Sonoma and Napa and, largely at random, I pulled into a winery for a swift tasting. Purely fortuitously, it turned out to be the same place that I had visited some 17/18 years ago (when I cycled, but that is another story) and, just for old times’ sake, I duly had a sip of one or two wines. Actually it was 7, but they were very small sips, I promish. And it was very enjoyable too, though of course impractical to buy any to take away. I gave the excuse that I couldn’t take it with my on planes (true), but the prices were well out of my league. As is the case with the majority of Californian wines.

Afterwards I did a touch of shopping, then on to the beautiful forest at Muir Woods to see the Redwood trees. The varieties at the Woods don’t have the famed girth at the bottom of the trunk as some in other parts of California, but they were mighty tall. A definite bonus to see them, given that so much of our travel is generally to cities and towns.

Back at the ranch (aka our Mill Valley house) Mark had just arrived as I returned. His travel was fine, though he surpassed the length of our stay in the customs and immigration queue: is time was around 2 hours.

Friday, San Francisco State University

The serous stuff begins. We headed off after lunch to the university for a workshop session with the Advanced Student Vocal Ensembles led by Susan Martin. The very talented group sang three songs for us, by Machaut, Morley and Weelkes – the Machaut was especially well-known as a staple in the Consort repertory and we offered a few thoughts which were generously received and considered by the singers. Thereafter, we began our own rehearsal which included working on a handful of pieces that we had introduced into the programme to give Matt a bit of an easier ride, omitting items where his persistent cough would have endangered the usual facility he has for reaching the extremes of his range. It is always a difficult issue for singers: even when ill, you are loath to change a programme as you feel an obligation to perform items as they appear in print. But it is a much better option for all, and especially the audience, if you rein in ambition to ensure that you can really give a great concert despite the tough circumstances.

In fact, the pieces we substituted still fitted the programme theme (‘The Ambassadors’) and were very strong in their own right. Matt sang fantastically well in any case – we could detect what he was going through, but I wager that the audience would have been largely unaware – and we had a very good reaction from the audience afterwards, including our friends Shoko and John. (It was, as a footnote, also a very good chance for us to return their Tupperware to them!).

Our sincere thanks to Paul Ellison and Cyrus Ginwala at the University for making this project possible. It was a delight to sing for the Morrison series and to work with students and faculty while we were in situ.

Saturday, San Francisco to Tucson.

It was something of a wrench to leave our lovely accommodation on the Saturday morning – we could so easily have got used to that level of luxury. The trip to the airport was uneventful apart from the farce of trying to fill u the fuel tank at a gas station where anarchy was the order of the day: a crazy pre-pay system and a free-for-all from every direction when it came to driving towards a vacant or, in our case, non-functioning pump. Mark often does a great riff on the absurdity of these kinds of situations on tour and he didn’t let us down this time. But on the other hand, we all joined in as well, if not quite so expertly.

The road trip from Phoenix (our landing destination) to Tucson was unusually lovely. A strange thing to say about an apparently barren strip of road across a desert, but us folk from across the seas are very much tickled by the sight of giant cacti and a huge ‘car park’ for retired commercial aircraft in the middle of nowhere. Or at least, I was ticked by this). A spot of retail therapy awaited us on our arrival at the hotel, adjacent to the Tucson mall, and then we were treated to a lovely Mexican meal by our hosts from the Arizona Early Music Society – Laurie, John, Christina and Martin.

Read it and weep, all our good friends back in the freezing UK: we ate the meal OUTSIDE, in temperatures in the high 80’s. Oh, joy!

Sunday, Tucson…and home

I spent a relaxed morning in and around the hotel, largely gathering myself for the mental and physical challenge ahead. The concert would be fine. The journey back to the UK was a more daunting and significantly less enticing prospect.

Our venue for the performance was the lovely Grace St Paul’s Church and it was only the second time that I have performed in a church surrounded by cacti (sorry to go on about cacti and I can’t honestly say why I am so enthralled by them). The first time was also in Tucson, on 2nd February 2003 (I can still remember events that took place a long time ago!). Matt was still feeling a little way short of full match fitness so we retained the handful of amendments to the programme that we had made for our San Francisco concert, and we were greatly heartened by the enthusiastic and warm response to the performance. Very healthy CD sales suggest that the audience were not simply being polite, and one of the best aspects of that was that our cases would be considerably lighter for the journey home.

Ah, yes, the journey home. 2 hours’ drive straight to Phoenix airport and then leaving behind the glorious Arizona weather and exchanging it for near-freezing temperatures in London. That is after an overnight flight to Boston, a two and a half hour stopover and then the connection to Heathrow. That is except for Don, who had arranged to stay on and do some guest-lecturing followed by a visit to the American Musicological Society Annual Meeting in San Antonio in Texas. No doubt he will have his own travel ordeal to face in due course.

We will be back in the States in January 2019 and I, for one, am looking forward to it enormously. If any American readers have got to this point, then do have a look at our engagements list on this website. Who knows, we may be performing near you!

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What am I listening to?

You are listening to a commemorative motet, ‘Quis dabit capiti meo aquam’, by the composer, Heinrich Isaac (c1450-1517). Specifically, you will hear the last of the four sections of this beautiful piece, a lament on the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in April 1492. It is one track from our latest disk, The Florentine Renaissance, produced by Hyperion records (DA68349), a rich and varied selection of secular and sacred music, an aural collage of the vibrant city of Florence in the early Renaissance.