lully notes


I keep on looking up from the score for a beat and wondering where the mammoth ego is that should be towering over us. At first it feels like a lack. Then I remember this is a different orchestra from the one with whom I have been playing for three years. We are making music together. Ah, that’s what it feels like. I am a cog in a healthy wheel again. I breathe out deeply.

Though we rarely leave first position, there are challenges to playing the basse de violon in Lully’s Thesée: First of all, the strings on this huge baroque version of a cello are elephantine and until our fingers develop protective helmets it can be tough on the pads. Second, we have to spread our legs real wide to cradle the ribs. (Good, if you can stay relaxed, for releasing the hips and mastering various yoga poses. Also good, if you can’t, for dead legs and mangled knees.) Third, we are tuned a tone lower which means that we have to transpose as we go. One slip of concentration (and after four hours of Lully there are bound to be some) and we’ve done a bum note. Fourth, the manuscript is illegible: Each stem has a head and a curly tail. If we accidentally start following the tails we’re buggered. In addition, stray stave lines appear all over the place just to confuse us. Is this a ghost, we think, or the real thing….? By which time, of course, we are doubly buggered.

We are playing in the Theatre des Champs Elysées which has a certain charm having seen the delightful ‘Fauteils d’Orchestre’. The quartier, however, is dreadfully posh and I am glad I chose to pack my ancient suede jacket instead of my crimson berghaus paclite mac, and wear real shoes. Yesterday, on the way to the ‘continuo dress’, I saw something black and curled on the pavement and found myself rejoicing – for the first time in my life – that a dog turd might be fouling the walkway of the ‘Richissimes de Paris’. On closer inspection, however, I saw that it was a black silk glove. Tant pis.

Despite this, I am having tremendous fun because The band is superb. Also, Anne Sofie von Otter remains a heroine. 'Vous êtes magnifique!' everyone - the cleaning lady, the make up artist, the violist, the director, the costumier - mutters as she passes, with half bows that reduce them to the level of her knees, and indeed she is. I pass her back stage before the continuo dress. 'Vous êtes magnifique!' I say.

Our chef has, since we worked on Handel's 'Theodora' at Glyndebourne together, changed. I think back to our little continuo team of three women in their forties – our chef, my colleague and I: All three of us desperately wanting to have a family and for various reasons apparently unable to; all three of us finding healing in Handel’s music; all three of us giving support to one another and bravely moving on. Now, four years later and the reason I am sure that her shoulders have dropped, her manner softened, and her eyes brightened, our chef has given birth to a little girl. Meanwhile, my colleague and I both, En Shallah, have little souls waiting for us in different continents.


So glad you're having fun.

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