We started off this tour in Britain, which is a good place to start - personally I would have been worried to wake up in any other country but the one I?d fallen asleep in. As a collective, the whole of Sinfonietta had decided that Britain was simply too cold, and that we needed cheaper alcohol than that on offer in Britain. So anyway, that is how I found myself at Gatwick airport one Thursday afternoon in June, Thursday 28th June 2007 to be precise.
We oohed all the way from Dubrovnik airport to our accommodation, the Villa Rasica - the architecture of outer Dubrovnik is very Mediterranean. We arrived quite late, but naturally went to the nearest bar and happily sampled £1 per half litre of beer. This turned out not to be very long as the entire orchestra exhausted the capacity of this small watering hole and soon all the draft beer was gone, later followed by bottled beer. At around two we all drifted off to bed, as the dream of cheap alcohol was shattered, much like most of the musicians.
The next day we had a tour of Dubrovnik. Here some people may say "nothing can ever possibly prepare you for the architecture of Dubrovnik" and other such hackneyed phrases, as if the buildings were going to attack you - and that you need specialised training in architectural defence. However, if there ever was a city to be unprepared for, Dubrovnik is probably it. From the marble polished paving stones that you walk round the city on, to the white gold granite that most of the city?s architecture is constructed from, Dubrovnik really is the gem of the Adriatic.
The rest of the day was given over to exploring Dubrovnik ourselves, and then back to the Villa Rasica for dinner. Some of us had serious musical commitments that evening - Imperial College Choir had their first rehearsal with the unique Collin Durrant. After literally dragging most of the choir members from the beach, the villa's reception was soon filled with the deep throaty sounds of the choir.
That evening, Big Band played their first concert in the main square of Dubrovnik, just in front of St Blaise church. This was a chance for much merriment, with a combination of dancing and loud music, many of the other musicians being enthusiastic dancers. Afterwards we went to a bar on the old port and admired the view.
Sinfonietta and Choir had to wait a whole day before their first concerts. The concert was once again in St Blaise?s square and we successfully played some excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Bruch's Kol Nidrei (with soloist Gabriel Kan on cello), and finally Sibelius's Symphony No 1. Next, Choir serenaded us with their voices, with favourites from their repertoire of opera choruses.
The rest of the night was whiled away at a bar literally perched upon a rocky outcrop, discovered by chance and was simply the best bar this hack had ever had the pleasure of drinking in. The next few days followed a similar pattern, mostly spent wandering the streets of Dubrovnik, having lunch in various restaurants and general merriment.
Sunday being the day of rest saw most of the tour members in Dubrovnik's Cathedral, presumably to atone for the sins of the previous few days, but also to hear a wonderful collaboration between IC choir and Sinfonietta. We were performing the Faure Requiem - this went along without hitch and much praise was given to the respective societies for the beautiful sounds that filled the cathedral for forty minutes that Sunday morning.
We played another blazing concert in St Blaise square on Sunday night, this time Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets and Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony. There was no concerto, and we would have to wait until Monday for Shuang Wang to amaze us with her piano playing. This last concert was quite special, as it was in the Rector's Palace - the historic high seat of Dubrovnik's government, now a place where various important things happen and also home of the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra. It really was quite an honour to be playing here. The program for this night was to be: Wagner Introduction to Act III from The Mastersingers of Nurenberg, followed by Grieg?s Piano Concerto (played by the impossibly good Shuang Wang) and finally Sibelius Symphony No 1. All I can say is that this was simply the best concert I have ever played in - particular approval should be given to Shuang who was incredible, surpassing her performance with Sinfonietta in London earlier this year even. The concert was warmly received by the audience, with many calls for extra bows.
The next day was given over to preparations for the chamber concert, and Choir and Big Band's last concerts. The chamber concert was up to the high standards that preceded it on previous tours - once again a mixture of jazz and classical groups, it was lovely to have the addition of some singers into the mix this year. Alas, I have to say I missed this beginning of the Choir concert as I was playing with my quartet in the chamber concert in the Old Town (Choir and Big Band were playing in the hotel Kompas, which overlooks the bay of Lapad). I did not however miss the rest of the night's partying and swimming. So much so, I almost missed the boat trip to Lopud island the next day, which was most enjoyable, so I'm glad I didn't.
That evening we had the tour dinner to attend to, which was an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the tour and hand out some comedy awards for various endeavors, including noise production, alcohol consumption and beachwear in absentia. Then it was onto the beach for our final night (all of it). Sadly the tour came to end, we trekked back to the villa to pack. My last memory of tour was sitting on the plane, taking off, and seeing the Adriatic spread below me as we took off into the still rising sun.
The combination of beautiful architecture, incredible weather, the chilled out nightlife of Dubrovnik, and of course the company of friends, made for one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life so far. I should thank everyone involved with the organization of the tour - with so many societies involved, the list is rather long to detail here and I think you know who you are, but Sinfonietta's conductor and overall tour organiser Daniel Capps deserves a special mention for even thinking it was possible to bring 135 people on tour in the first place. Job well done, all of you.