Some may think that the Edinburgh University Music Society could not possibly sustain eleven days of drinking and playing music but Tour 2011 to Belgium and France proved them wrong.

Pre-tour rehearsals progressing smoothly...

The orchestra had an exciting program including pieces by Borodin and Mussorgsky, two members of “The Mighty Handful”, who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia in the years 1856–1870. Borodin’s Polotsvian Dances from the opera Prince Igor is usually performed with a chorus but Nick chose to omit this for our performances (sorry choir). Mussorgsky wrote no less than three versions of Night on a Bare Mountain both with and without chorus which his friend Rimsky-Korsakov (another member of TMH) later “corrected” into the piece we know and love today.

With pieces like these the playing could not be half hearted, and half hearted it was not. Our instruments had collected a small amount of dust whilst travelling so no-one was really sure how the first concert would go: will I remember the notes? What way do I hold my violin? Am I too hung over to blow into my trumpet? But the audience of St Baafs, Ghent wouldn’t have guessed as they listened to the arching phrases and the shimmering in the strings and harp of Wagner’s Liebestod or “love’s death” from his opera, Tristan and Isolde. The constant modulation finally ends in a long anticipated resolution of a cadence and was a perfect close to a successful concert mainly energised by who knows what following a night in Bruges.

Nick does his thing...
Nick Fletcher leads the Orchestra in Brugge.

Our next concert was just a walk away from the hostel in Bruges (no need for badly driven buses that day) in a beautiful Catholic Church called Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Dutch: Church of Our Lady). However, being a Sunday we were unable to play Tchaikovky’s 1812 Overture as it was written to commemorate Russia’s defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of Borodino and therefore has influences from war. Instead Nick insisted we played Mussorgsky with no rehearsal which was surprisingly flawless considering we hadn’t played it for 3 days.

The last concert, this time in Amiens, France, was in Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens which reaches a height of 42.30 m and surely enough gave a challenging but impressive acoustic. Luckily we were allowed to play the 1812 and all held our breath as La Marseillaise, the French National anthem, filled the church; the audience didn’t seem to mind however, with one man insisting on giving a standing ovation at the end of every piece. So 10 days after we started, a lot of bleary eyes and unhealthy livers returned to Edinburgh leaving me with just one more thing to say… Happy holidays and see you in September for more buffoonery and of course music making!

Cat Burch