I was hardly involved in the project back in 2005 (being merely the OAE’s office administrator at the time), but remembering how much I had hugely enjoyed watching the performance at the Royal Festival Hall I was excited that we’d be putting it all back together again.
The project was only confirmed a few months ago so it’s been a busy few months for everyone involved, not least for bottoms horn ears which have been to Sydney and back since February (No, not on little holiday, but to take part in the production with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra which was also care of the Tim Carroll/Jenny Tiramani team).
The performance was to take place in Middle Temple Hall, which it self brings multiple challenges – well out of the comfort zone of a concert hall, with no purpose-built auditorium, stage, ANY equipment or staff. Cue the OAE team…
So, courtesy of our Production Manager Simon in came the stage, and making use of the chairs already at the hall, the hall was turned into an auditorium for 4 days. Construction work started on Friday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon the stage was built and ready for Philippa and myself to lay out the stage for the orchestra. We’d also had to source stands (with lights attached for the dark bits) for the orchestra and these were set up too. On Sunday morning the actors had a slot in the hall, a good chance to plot things out on stage without the orchestra present! Sunday afternoon: in came the OAE and conductor Charles Hazlewood, and as the first few bars of the overture started, I was chuffed that we were finally here. The wooden panels covering the walls and ceilings of the hall gave for a wonderful acoustic – everything sounded both clear and warm.
On Monday organised chaos arrived, with what felt like hundreds of staff from the BBC – camera men, lighting crew, sound engineers and production managers. By the time I arrived in the late morning I was astonished to see how much work had gone already. It was all coming together at last. I was very impressed by the helium balloons filled with light – never seen anything like that before…
Following the afternoon technical run-through we had a quick tidy up of the hall, as at 7pm we had the first dress rehearsal! The rehearsal went very smoothly and there wasn’t even a need to stop at any point during the performance – wow. I managed to sit in on the first half and really enjoyed myself. My job at the end of the evening was to make sure all the battery powered stands were charged up and ready for Tuesday, so all change with the fiddly battery packs and scouting about to find empty plug sockets for the chargers. With all that electronic equipment everywhere and other headsets on charge there weren’t many going spare.
Quick cycle ride home for 10.45pm. Not too bad!
Tuesday – a morning to catch up on some things in the office and then headed to the hall around lunchtime, more tidying up and sorting out technical bits and pieces from yesterday, making sure all the chairs in the auditorium were arranged as on the plan and tied together with cable ties. The afternoon was a second dress rehearsal and a final chance for the actors to practice their quick costume changes – I can imagine it’s quite a fine art being able to change from tails to a builders outfit or an evening gown to a cleaners outfit in about 30 seconds. (If you wander what I’m going on about checkout the webstream on BBC Radio 3’s website).
Our stage manager Jess was a fantastic master of all backstage operations from making sure the relevant props were on the right table at the right time to sending the actors on at the right time, from the right door – wearing the right clothes!
From my side of the fence (or door, or corridor) the evening went incredibly well, orchestra, choir and conductor on stage in the right place at the right time, phew. Stand lights all charged and working, phew. No conductor or double basses falling off the the stage, phew (one of my pre-MSND nightmares). No Middle Temple Hall burning to the ground before the event (another one of my pre-MSND nightmares)…
I gather the other sides of the fence all went incredibly well also and that the audience enjoyed it too! Brilliant.
Having not seen the 2nd half yet it was great to be able to have to opportunity to watch it in full, and I really enjoyed it. Though admit it felt slightly strange seeing something and all the people I knew on telly!
Ceri Jones, Projects Manager