The California coast
The Californian coast

Second Violin Peter Graham recounts the first week of the RPO's tour to the USA as the players visited concert halls along the coast of California. Stay tuned for parts two and three in the coming weeks!

Upon arriving at Heathrow on the morning of January 10th, I definitely felt a strong sense of familiarity and excitement, tinged with a certain amount of trepidation about spending 3 weeks in the USA in the midst of a pandemic. The fact that the tour could only be confirmed at the very last minute was testament to the extreme complications currently facing any orchestra hoping to travel abroad… will there be an audience? Will the venues even be open?

Before I knew it, we were on the plane and it WAS happening, thanks in most part to the tireless efforts of the RPO’s management and touring team to get us to this point, soaring over the ‘pond’ en route to 3 weeks of fabulous concerts, larger than life characters, massive restaurant portions and hopefully, welcoming audiences. Thankfully, the latter was prevalent immediately, the first two concerts in Santa Barbara and Palm Desert were greatly received.

Beach trip Peter Graham California RPO on Tour diary

RPO musicians enjoying a trip to the beach on the first day of tour

Vasily Petrenko’s controlled and exhilarating interpretation of two masterpieces of British, twentieth century orchestral music, Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, was met with elation by the eager audiences. Likewise, Olga Kern’s scintillating Tchaikovsky and Grieg piano concertos caused the audience to cry out for more, prompting encores displaying her faultless technique, generous musicality and general piano-mastery.

Sadly our concert in Northridge was cut short due to last-minute Covid restrictions in California State University, so we performed half a concert to an empty hall and a series of cameras. I’d forgotten how bizarre it is performing and not receiving the immediate feedback from the audience, such an integral part of live concerts. It’s hard to imagine the people streaming from the comforts of their homes breaking out in applause and rising to their feet in ovation as is so often the case in the US.

The next venue was the Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, a favourite for a lot of the band, not just because of the beautiful concert hall, but also for its proximity to the fantastic dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung. This gave me the perfect opportunity to combine two of my passions outside of music, food and fast cars. Thankfully, America doesn’t disappoint in either department.

Leaving plenty of time before the rehearsal, a few of us headed down to Costa Mesa in a pristine, white Dodge Challenger, one of the most iconic of American muscle cars. Needless to say the drive was theatrical (yet safe) and the food sublime.

Jackson Hall Mondavi Center Peter Graham RPO on Tour USA 2022 California diary

Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center in Davis

The next day was long! A short hop on a plane up to San Fransisco and then a drive to Davis (via the hotel in Oakland). This felt a bit more like a typical RPO touring day whereas the schedule had been pretty relaxed up until then, especially having been in the same hotel for the first four concerts.

And there ended the first phase of this epic tour. Despite the constant mask wearing, by most, and a couple of restricted audiences, it was starting to feel like a proper RPO American tour… and it felt good! Bring on Orlando.

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