Sheepless in Seattle

Seattle, USA – Sunday 12 November 2000

Another grey, leaden day as we commute the three hours across the border to Seattle and the USA. The scenery, once we leave the ‘urban sprawl behind, is stunning, with lofty snow-capped peaks following the highway south. Around halfway through :he journey we stop at the US border. After the confusion of immigration in Miami, where none of :he officials nor anyone on the airline could give us any meaningful information about what paperwork is needed, it transpires that we all need a piece of paperwork that we must carry and present or. our departure from the US. Several members of the party don’t have this paperwork – it has either been misplaced, taken by Canadian immigration, or (one suspects) never provided in the first place when we entered Miami.

The defaulting party members are herded off the bus to go and sort it out. Money changes hand (don’t worry, Colin, I’ve got a receipt!), and we go on our way, relieved that there aren’t too many more border crossings between us and home. The entry to and exit from Argentina was without incident, hassle or confusion. This cannot be said of either the Canadian nor the US border crossings, where every official seems to have a different version of the gospel. With a party of 56, this becomes very wearing and tiresome.

We arrive in Seattle to find that the Claremont Hotel has only about half the rooms ready, so we pile into the dining room to wait, and are served another culinary first (for me, at least) – hot apple cider; very sweet, but not unpleasant (as Julie says, it’s a bit like drinking the liquid from an apple pie!). It is also the only hotel where I’ve ever seen a copy of The Teachings of Buddha, in addition to the obligatory Gideon bible. We have just a couple of hours before departing for Benaroya Hall, the city’s new concert music facility, but none-the-less, certain party members are witnessed returning to the hotel laden with shopping bags within a very short time indeed.

WRITTEN MONDAY MORNING. 13 NOVEMBER

The 500-seat recital hall, where we give our concert, is an intimate but modern hall. The acoustic is dry, especially after the lush sounds of the venues in Vancouver and Edmonton, but not at all bad, and the concert is receded enthusiastically. The austere foyer spaces of the centre feature magnificent glass sculptures by Dale Chihuily, the Washington state-based artist who was featured in a recent showing at the National Gallery of Australia.

Sam Dixon, former Artistic Administrator for Symphony Australia, has been doing some work on the ground in Seattle for the TSO’s performance, and it’s good to catch up with him. Also in town is Patrick Garvey, David Porcelijn’s London-based agent, who has been able to incorporate this TSO concert into a business trip through North America. Other visitors to Seattle include former TSO principal violin Jenny Owen and Liz O’Connor’s sister, the rapidly rising star Frances O’Connor, star of the recent British TV adaptation of Madame Bovary and the new Hollywood movie Bedazzled.

Despite being the home to the aforementioned Starbucks, Seattle appears to take its coffee seriously enough to admit more styles than brown water. I’ve enjoyed the best coffee thus far in North America here, at the very grungy internet cafe the Speakeasy, from where I’m sending this message.

It is a tradition in the TSO that members’ birthdays are commemorated, where they fall on a rehearsal day, by a rendition of Happy Birthday played in as wide a variety of keys and time signatures as possible. The more cacophonic, the higher the honour accorded. This morning was Peter Kilpatrick’s birthday, which fell not on a rehearsal day but on a rest day in Seattle. On arriving downstairs to breakfast he was greeted by the most appalling rendition of Happy Birthday imaginable – not played but sung by orchestra members. Not a pleasant way to start the day.

We give our final performance of the tour on Tuesday evening, over the state border in Oregon. On Monday we are fortunate to have a free day in Seattle.

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