China 2018: Day 15 Friday 3rd August

Brookman is back! The visit of Messrs Bishop and McKee has really done the trick and Mr Brookman is much more his old, cheerful self. Actually, we don’t use the word ‘old’ anymore as we realise it is insensitive.

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To celebrate his return, we asked him to explain to us the (revered) art of page-turning. Oh my word did we wish we had asked at the start of the tour when we desperately needed to sleep but couldn’t. The whole explanation took over an hour; we did our best to appear interested.

We think the key points were:

1. It’s fundamentally important to understand the character of the player you are supporting as you are a partnership.

2. Decide with your player whether they would prefer you to turn from the top of the page or the bottom. This is essential for the body’s balance and shape. It is then advisable to practise the upwards movement from the sitting position to that leaning (albeit briefly) over the player. This fleeting moment of physical closeness must be one that reassures rather than distracts the player, and it is the rigorous practising of this particular skill which Mr Brookman believes gives him his edge.

3. You need to understand how your player reads music. All musicians anticipate by reading ahead in the score, but this is not just about turning early. The page-turner must consider the piece’s speed (Mr Brookman calls this the tempo – he is so clever).

4. Mr Brookman is most proud and animated when discussing his analysis of a piece’s harmonic tempo and  textural complexity. This (apparently) affects both the speed of the turn and the angle of the page being turned, as the player should be afforded a view of the page for the maximum amount of time.

By the end, we had absolutely no idea what Mr Brookman was talking about, but he didn’t seem to mind that only two of us were still feigning interest.

Yesterday we mentioned obliquely that Mr Swinson hasn’t been his usual self. Mr Brookman and Mr Swinson are supposed to be great friends but Mr Brookman has confided in us that he doesn’t recognise his friend at the moment. We know that men of Mr Swinson’s age can question and even doubt their status, but we are learning that some of his recent behaviour has been somewhat deplorable.

All concert halls in China have a VIP dressing room, one reserved for the world’s most famous conductors, and when Mr Swinson arrives at a new venue, he now demands in loud, stentorian tones to be escorted to ‘his’ dressing room. Nobody else is allowed to enter this room, save Mr Brookman, and only then to attend to Mr Swinson. Mr Swinson even then insists that Mr Brookman bows his head and addresses him indirectly, as in ‘would the maestro like his shirt ironed?’.

We caught a quick glimpse of Mr Swinson’s room yesterday.

Ms Federici is a brilliant pianist and we are so fortunate to have her as our accompanist. We noticed that she didn’t join us for our sight-seeing day in Shanghai and Mr Brookman has now let it be known that Mr Swinson had decreed that she spent the day practising. Mr Brookman tells us he overheard Mr Swinson saying to Ms Federici: ‘if you expect to play This Old Man with a musician of my calibre you have some serious issues to address. I command you to undertake four hours of slow practice to begin with’.

Furthermore, ever since Mr Swinson ran the London Marathon (it’s not as if he won) he has been obsessed with toning his physique. We’ve noticed that, when he leaves the gym, he often says ‘almost perfect now boys!’. He also spends a lot of time admiring himself in mirrors and doesn’t seem to mind that we notice this. Perhaps most worrying, though, is that he is constantly taking selfies.

We are sorry to have dwelt on this matter but, on a long tour such as this, we choirboys feel a sense of responsibility in caring for the welfare of the staff. Mr Swinson seems to be genuinely (and understandably) frightened of Mrs Martin, so we are hoping that she can smooth things over and restore some semblance of normality.

Anyway, back to today.

We spent the morning in a comfortable, air-conditioned coach, travelling from Shanghai to Nanjing. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it was relaxing, and preferable to traipsing around railway stations and airports.

We stopped off at a service station and admired the typical culinary offerings.

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Nanjing was China’s capital city in the Ming dynasty and, as we drove through the outskirts, we noticed the old city walls.

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We’ve been very lucky to stay in some lovely hotels during this tour. The Jinling Riverside Hotel is set in some attractive gardens and the rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated.

This evening’s concert was in the Jiangsu Centre for the Performing Arts and wow, just wow! We have sung in so many amazing halls that it is easy to become complacent. Almost without exception, they are stunning to look at and have great acoustics. Every hall has also had a new and well maintained Steinway model D. Mr Brookman tells us that Mr Swinson’s VIP dressing room had a new model B and Ms Federici’s had a model M. Here are some photos from inside:

And here are some to take your breath away from outside:

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