So, I am to be your roving reporter for the next two weeks. Our transatlantic flight leaves fairly late in the day for a flight to North America – 5.30pm – and dumps us on the ground at 7.30pm local time, which equates to 3.30 in the morning and really doesn’t bear thinking about. The ‘we’ in this instance is Mark, Rob and I; Angus and Matt come out tomorrow.
The tour makes some geographic sense, as long as you don’t look too carefully into it. The first three concerts are all West Coast, though the order – Vancouver, Palo Alto, Seattle – isn’t ideal given that Seattle and Vancouver are pretty close together. Those first three concerts are all of our film project and the Seattle performance marks the sixtieth we have performed it. Then it’s on to Eau Claire (Wisconsin, for our European readers), then down to Nashville and on to Birmingham, Alabama. We have, then, packed for all weathers, though we’re not going to experience summer at any point.
The flight is uneventful and in the cab to the hotel we discuss the movies we’ve watched and our laundry plans for the tour. Yes, laundry, We’re wild, we are. Even if, as has happened to me on the flight, you haven’t had the stewardess pour a cup of tea onto your pristine shirt and jeans, then at some point you are going to have to wash a few things, if only because one is otherwise packing 13 tops, underwear and socks. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can do without laundry, and I find it therapeutic. But that’s just me. This important subject disposed of, we pull up to the hotel around 9pm. Rob and Mark head out for a swift beer while I take the wimps way out, have a shower and crash into a welcome bed.
I do pretty well for sleep, waking early but relatively unscathed. The hotel rooms come with small kitchens so I buy myself a loaf of fresh bread and some milk, and make myself toast and tea. It’s just like home. I read the Guardian, catch up on overnight emails, and head out for a long run. We’re in downtown but nowhere is far from water in Vancouver. I follow the sea path, catching seaplanes taking off and landing and other more surreal sights like a small floating gas station in the bay which obviously dispenses fuel to boats. Around the harbour and then around Stanley Park, which affords me a view of the surprisingly uniform Vancouver skyline – steel-framed skyscrapers with duck-egg blue windows – and the Pacific Ocean to my right. Even with low cloud, the mountains look glorious. Having visited Cape Town recently I once again get the chance to appreciate that certain cities have been placed in exactly the right spot, with mountains, hills, and plenty of water.
I meet a journalist who writes for the Vancouver Observer in the lobby after lunch and we talk about the film project. He really knows his stuff and seems genuinely interested. Given that it was the subject of my dissertation it’s not difficult for me to freewheel and the trick is to pick out the stuff that will engage an audience rather than just a geek like myself. I will leave that to him and post a link to the article in due course
Thursday evening was spent with Matthew White, the artistic director of Vancouver Early Music, a former singer who had worked with Rob in the past. It's clear that they forged a solid friendship, mainly over beer, and the conversation flowed, taking in families, the environment, social care, Brexit and the Republicans. Jet lag was still an issue for us so we didn't make it a late night. Besides, the tables were cleared away for what was obviously dance night and none of us wanted to throw some moves, or at least not if anyone else was watching and certainly not with anyone less than half our age.
I slept well and once again made my own breakfast, then headed to the laundry. As noted above, this is an important occupation on tour and necessary in my case as my stone-coloured jeans had tea stains on them from the on-board collision with a stewardess. I also realise that I have forgotten to bring any black socks, which are a standard part of concert wear. You always forget something.
The preview of our performance tonight is now published in the Vancouver Observer. It's a thoughtful piece, though I quibble with the description of us using handheld IPads. It's not that it's innacurate - we actually use a freestanding laptop and second screen - but that the implication is that I have gone over to The Dark Side, i.e. Apple. I haven't. And won't. That my name is mispelled - Grieg rather than Greig - is less of an issue. I gave up having it spelled the right way years ago.
We were all pleased with the performance last night and the audience seemed genuinely engaged and, almost inevitably given the power of Dreyer's film, disturbed. CDs sell well, something that rarely happens. There is no interval, after all, and people are so disconcerted by the film that often they drift away, in no mood to re-enter the world of commerce. But this is a loyal audience, established by the former director, Jose Verstappen, and fostered by Matthew White, the currenct director. Afterwards, Matt, Rob and I retire to the bar with Matt for a debrief over very good beer from Vancouver Island for a debrief. Matt is pleased and intrigued by the project.
Now we are in Vancouver Airport, ready to board our slightly delayed plane to San Jose. A short drive to Stanford and then the gig tonight in the beautiful Bing Concert Hall.
The concert went well, yet again, which was more than pleasing in that Bing Concert Hall is just so darned beautiful and encouraging to sing in. Various friends attended and the audience seemed genuinely to have loved it, albeit a little shaken from the experience. After, the five of us headed back to our hotel and shared some fine Californian beers to toast the moment.
Sunday is a much-needed day off. I head into San Francisco to see some good friends. They live near the beach in Richmond so we take the dog on a long walk then retire to watch the SuperBowl. I am introduced to the dubious delights of Boba tea, but then it is on to more traditional fayre - nachos, chilli, beer. My nephew, he who helped us with the digital file that guides us through the film project, is a Chiefs fan, while my SF friends naturally support the 49ers. There is banter by WhatsApp but my nephew wins out. I wend my way home by train and sleep well, never a given on tour. Tomorrow, Monday, we are off to Seattle
I catch up with my colleagues about how they spent their Sunday. Most had met up for dinner in Palo Alto after days spend in the gym, doing laundry, going to the cinema (1917), watching a bit of the Super Bowl, and generally catching their breath after the helter-skelter beginning of the tour. I head over to Jesse Rodin’s house for espresso. He is a musicologist at Stanford, a Josquin scholar, and also runs his own excellent group, Cut Circle. I first met him when he was finishing up his PhD at Harvard and we’ve kept in touch ever since. We chat about fifteenth-century music, about our work, about performers and performances, about the original singers of the repertoire (whom we both believe must have been better at it than modern performers) – the kind of conversation that would be very easy to parody. And we’re both aware of that but our enthusiasm carries us over that.
The flight to Seattle is uneventful, which is what you want a flight to be. Matt and I are in the same row and I tell him that he should head down to Pike Place Market tomorrow before the gig.
Dinner is spent in the Big Time Brewery, a local microbrewery and one of countless others in Seattle. It strikes me that this is the first time all of us have actually sat down in a restaurant on this tour. Beer is drunk, pizza and burgers are eaten. Touring is not a healthy lifestyle.
It is raining in Seattle. No surprise there. It is also snowing, which we hadn't anticipated. We spend the day in our different ways - shopping for Mark, a long walk for Rob. Matt and Angus head off to Pike Place market. And I do more laundry.
The performance tonight is the 60th. The crew are brilliantly prepared and the gig goes well. Michelle Witt, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Meany Center is genuinely enthusiastic and now keen to present more silent film with live music.
Afterwards we head again to the Big Time brewery to debrief, waving Rob a fond farewell as we leave early tomorrow and he flies home.
A travel day for us, the collective now being the standard line-up of the group. We're heading to Wisconsin, flying to Minneapolis-St Paul and then hiring a van. Angus drives and rather than ticking off the miles we clock the dropping temperature. It's 15 below by the time we arrive, so dinner is close by. It includes deep-fried cheese curds, a local speciality and the only food I have ever eaten that squeaks as I chew it.
For some reason, here in Eau Claire they pipe pop music from the 1960s into the streets. Why, I ask myself and, after a couple of beers, everyone else in the group. And why the 1960s? What kind of vibe are they trying to create? Apparently it is only switched off at 11pm, which is quite late for us, tired as we are from travel.
Tonight we perform our Food, Wine and Song program for the Pablo Center. The audience will be served food and we will provide the entertainment, which is both sophisticated and, er, risque. Pablo Center have put small gift packs in our rooms, which we much appreciate. It makes us feel welcome, more so than the music in the streets.
An early start and back to Minneapolis to get the flight to Nashville. We are all angry with Delta, which has dumped us in middle seats. The airlines are all at it, but when you add up all the trips we have flown with Delta over the years it feels somewhat ungracious of them. Computer says no, as the saying goes. More worrying, Angus has no seat at all and is being told that he will be assigned one at check-in. Though the drive is pleasant and uneventful, things get fraught at the airport, with lines of people to check in with Delta, followed by clogged traffic at security. Tempers fray with us all in various ways venting to each other, though that’s better than moaning to the various staff who are, after all, only doing their jobs.
That behind us, we pick up a van at Nashville and head to our hotel. The concert is in Christ Church Cathedral with a wine-and-cheese reception afterwards, the program Food, Wine and Song, as last night.
It's one of those days that makes promoters nervous. Will the flight be late? Will we make it? We do, of course, and a given a very warm welcome by Jack Hill who runs the series and Susan Dupont with whom I have been corresponding for nearly two years now. It's good finally to meet people of whom one has been asking endless questions and getting patient, helpful replies.
The audience is warm and the acoustic matches. A good concert, followed by wine and cheese. We meet various singers, musicologists and parishioners and discuss politics. I had alluded to Brexit in one of my introductions, saying that we are four men who believe the UK is still part of Europe, opening the floodgates for comments about our respective countries. Dark times.
On a lighter note, there is a very good review for our Seattle performance. It incorrectly states that Angus gave the pre-concert talk, even identifying him with my picture. This amuses my colleagues a great deal. So I write to the very nice reviewer and within seconds the mistake is corrected. Ah, the digital age...
It's a beatiful day In Birmingham, AL, the sky a clear blue, the air crisp but comfortable. I had the best night's sleep of the tour, evidence that I am now firmly in the time zone, just in time to fly home and have to readjust all over again.
We all turned in early last night. It was a long day, with a three-hour drive through what is termed 'rolling countryside', a rehearsal with our old friends, the excellent Independent Presbyterian Church and their conductor, Jeff McLelland, before a swift beer with Jeff and then a meal at a barbecue restaurant. When in Rome, etc. The concert is this afternoon and then it is on to the traditional party. This will be great fun, we know, and our generous host has already checked with us what we would like to drink and assured us that there will be plenty of it.
The concert is a mash-up of ancient and modern, all along a Scottish theme. The first half is mainly the Orlandos on their own, performing a mass that is probably by Robert Carver. We end the half with a piece by Patrick Douglas, a sixteenth-century composer with whom I am not at all familiar, but it's a fantastic piece and he clearly needs to be better known.
The second half is more collaborative and features a piece written for us and for choir by Tarik O'Regan, a British composer whom we know well and whom we saw in Stanford only a week ago. A week ago? It seems like six months, not six days. Crazy. These tours are intense and time suffers from a sort of Doppler effect, stretching and contracting by turns, making it very difficult to keep a sense of progression. Weird.
No hangover. That's a plus and also something of a surprise given the quantity and quality of the beer and wine provided at the post-concert party last night.
The performance went well. It was a tough gig for the four of us, featuring a mass (almost certainly) by Carver that we had prepared especially for the concert and several challenging contemporary pieces. The choir were right on top of Scattered Rhymes and, more literally, we were right on top of the choir in that we stood for the entire concert in their midst. They were encouraging, as were the audience, some of whom we met afterwards and a few of whom had been to all four of our earlier appearances. As I say, the party was warm and welcoming, a touch of Southern hospitality.
So now a soggy day dawns, the lashing rain outside a fitting metaphor for the sense of release that the end of the tour brings. Put differently, we are tired but satisfied. We now drive back to Nashville for the flight home, our suitcases lighter, our body weight increased. This time tomorrow we will be at home. And so, till the next time...