Summer nights, hot and humid, mean just one thing — it’s Proms season again. Sore feet, sweaty armpits, queuing outside the ladies loos, home on the Underground with a head and heart buzzing with Bruckner or Bacharach, Handel or Honegger. Just as special is the nightly feast on Radio 3 — a live concert, guaranteed every evening, and on top of that specially commissioned talks and literary events to get us thinking. On Sunday afternoon, in between the Mozart and Schumann performed by Bernard Haitink and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE) at the Royal Albert Hall, Sarah Walker took us inside the working life of an orchestra. What does it take to create the particular sound of an ensemble of individual players? How important is the conductor? Who pacifies the hotel manager after the brass section has had a post-concert party?
In How to Start a World-Class Orchestra, Enno Senft, double-bass player and founder member, talked about the early days of the COE in the 1980s when booking players meant using a phone box on the street to make international calls. Senft reminded us of what it used to be like (and could be again?) to travel across Europe, stopping at every national border to fill in yet another customs form for a violin or cello, oboe or clarinet. Everyone paid for their own travel. He was once asked to get off the night train from Vienna to Bologna because his double bass was taking up the top bunk and he couldn’t afford to pay for another ticket. Perhaps the most shocking fact is that back in 1981 the LSO only had one female player; in contrast, from the start the COE ensured that 50 per cent of its players, mostly in their early twenties, were women.
James Judd, founder conductor, recalled an early concert in Palermo.