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Day 7 - Vero Beach

Today we head east to Vero Beach – we are certainly doing a lot of zig-zagging across the state!  Vero Beach is home to some of the largest retirement communities in Florida and that was very evident in the audience.  Unusually, the venue was not a concert hall but a large modern church.

The acoustics were surprisingly good.

Amazingly blue sky.

Even the stop signs were personalised!

Everywhere we've played so far has their own concert series organised and funded by the local community and this was no different.

There was a beautiful outside atrium – perfect for a bit of al fresco practising!

Rehearsing the Brahms with Peter and Nicky:

Of course, it can't all be work and no play and we have the morning to either explore Orlando or head over to Vero Beach early.

I'm very pleasantly surprised by Orlando and how beautiful some of its neighbourhoods are.  A group of us went to the East End Market – a quirky artisan food and craft market, a real Mecca for foodies.

The Houndstooth Sauce Company.

BBQ mop anyone?

Quite possibly the best cookie ever – dark chocolate chips with sea salt!

We shared a beer flight – pear cider, green sour beer, raspberry wheat beer, lemon IPA and blood orange IPA – and those tacos were delicious!

Whilst we were overindulging in food heaven, others were on the beach and some even tried their hand at kayaking.

Happy St Patrick's day from the USA!

Day 6 – Sarasota

Anothert day, another beach, I mean concert! Today we are heading for Sarasota, a couple of hours west of Orlando. We have three coach drivers who are all being wonderfully flexible so one bus sent off early for those who wanted to explore a bit of the town.

Some of us decided that pedal power was the easiest way to get around so headed straight for the bike hire shop.

Others headed straight for the Sarasota Lido, a strip of land sitting out in the bay connected by a huge bridge.

The beach there has amazing pure white sand.

Sarasota is a pretty town with lots of charm and culture and less of the skyscraper feel of other American cities. The opera house and theatre look really interesting.

I could have sat and watched the pelicans diving for fish for hours.

The concert hall in Sarasota is called the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and I can't help but think of Count Wenzel of Weselton in Frozen! It's a giant purple structure which you can see for miles around and sits right on the Sarasota Bay. Its nickname locally is the 'purple cow'!

Chris Hart, our principal trumpet takes a moment to serenade the birds just as the sun is setting.

There's another 40th  birthday today too, this time it's the turn of our Principal Viola Tom and we duly embarrassed him with some cake and candles in the interval of the concert – Happy Birthday Tom!

 

Days 4 & 5 – West Palm Beach

Another free morning so it was an opportunity to head for the shops, the beach, a museum or park.  One of our hotels (we were split in two groups) was very close to the biggest mall in West Palm Beach.  Just the simple task of getting there was an experience – very little priority is given to pedestrians here and if there is a 'sidewalk', you're lucky.  But the crossing for the mall was a ten lane intersection and the green man, or white man as he is here, appeared not to be working so it was very much a heart in mouth moment!

It's amazing to watch the locals DRIVE from one shop in the mall to the next!

I've also never experienced having my name written on a fitting room door!

Palm Beach is an island off the coast of West Palm Beach and it is extremely exclusive – Donald Trump has a holiday house there.  Most of the beaches are privately owned but we managed to find the municipal beach and have a swim in the Atlantic Ocean – it's a lot warmer on this side!!

We were then off to the Kravis Centre for the first of our two concerts there.

Another stunning Brahms from Nicky and another standing ovation for the Eightsome Reels.  We were back in the next day for an afternoon concert with our other programme of the tour; Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Bruch's Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

We have been extremely well looked after back stage here with a huge 'spread' laid on before both concerts.  I was also fortunate enough to be asked to stay behind after the concert for 'afternoon tea' with our American Friends of the RSNO.  The Kravis Centre has a beautiful reception space reminiscent of an old library.  It was lovely to meet the British Consul General for Florida as well as lots of new friends of the orchestra.

Here is Krishna, our CEO, addressing the reception.

So, it's farewell to West Palm Beach and the first leg of the tour and onwards to Orlando, our base for the next five nights.

There's another birthday today, Janet our piccolo player.  As you can see, Janet is rather shy, preferring to spend her birthday quietly, away from any crowds! Happy Birthday Janet!

Day 3 - Fort Lauderdale

You may think it looks as though we're on a nice holiday and I'll admit it kind of feels that way! But today, we have the first concert of the tour so it's down to business, well this afternoon at least!

One of the unusual things about this tour is the fact that we are based in the same hotel for a few nights, so no living out of a suitcase. It's a bit like staying in Glasgow but doing concerts in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.

Fort Lauderdale is about an hour south of West Palm Beach so whilst the orchestra coaches were leaving just in time for the afternoon rehearsal there, a few of us ventured onto the 'Tri-rail' train to get down early and do a bit of exploring.

We are hugely indebted to Fiona McLeod, who works in our external relations department who came out to Florida earlier in the year as the advance party, who has been a mine of information on things to do, places to eat, etc. She told us that a boat trip around Fort Lauderdale was a must as it is known as 'the Venice of Florida'. I have to admit that other than the water, it bears no resemblance to Venice whatsoever!

It is the playground of the rich and famous with the average house price being around $500m and the super yachts costing $1m per foot. The water taxi was great fun with the driver telling us lots of information about who lived where and who owned the boats. Names like Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Johnny Depp and major American businesses like Pilsbury, Wendy's Hamburgers and The Sunglasses Hut to name but a few - it was definitely a case of how the other half live!

A couple of super yachts being towed along the river - they are both around 150ft long so worth a LOT of money!

This is known as 'The White House of the South'.

Daniel Radcliffe lives here!

So onto the Broward Centre for the Performing Arts, a massive hall reminiscent in sound and shape of the Birmingham Symphony Hall.

We have brought two programmes with us for the tour and tonight's offering is Borodin's Prince Igor Overture, Brahms Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.  We are so lucky to have our long-time friend and colleague Nicola Benedetti with us.  Her performance of the Brahms was gutsy yet sensitive and she is genuinely a great person to have around.

Nicky taking her bow to a standing ovation with our Music Director Peter Oundjian.

The orchestra onstage during the concert.

There is obviously a strong Scottish connection here in Florida so it was lovely to spot a few kilts in the audience and they were thrilled with our Eightsome Reel encore!

Day 2 - Recovery!

There's nothing like a good night's sleep after being on the road for 24 hours!

With the weather forecast looking like wall to wall blue skies and sunshine, most people used the day to visit the beach, either here in West Palm Beach or up to Miami to do a bit of people watching on South beach.

There are two types of behaviour on tour – those who arrive at the hotel, grab a map and just see what the local area has to offer, and those who plan trips well in advance.  Two such ladies are Jacquie and Janet (2nd violin and piccolo) who are often seen pouring over maps and guide books in the weeks leading up to a tour, planning as much activity as they can for their free time.  So, on this the first of our two free days, they set off for the Everglades in search of alligators and as you can see, they were not disappointed!

For me, it was a day to celebrate turning 40!  So, as well as enjoying the sun and sea, there 'may' have been the odd margarita consumed too!

I have a birthday twin in the orchestra, Rachael (cello), so we decided to invite everyone to join us at happy hour in a lovely bar downtown.  Happy hour should really be called Happy Day here as it lasts from 4-7pm then again from 10pm-1am! Just don't forget to tip the waitress otherwise she'll be back to get it!

Happy Birthday to us - it was a memorable day!

At this point in the tour, we were still missing two VIPs – our stage managers (or 'roadies') Craig and Michael.  If you've ever wondered how you get 6 double basses, 8 cellos, a set of timpani, percussion, tuba, contra bassoon, not to mention the rest of the orchestra across the Atlantic, well you're about to find out!

Craig and Michael loaded the RSNO truck on Friday night after our concert at the Usher Hall and then drove through the night to Heathrow where the instruments were loaded onto pallets and then onto a freight flight bound for Miami.  They followed in a passenger flight and were then there at customs first thing on Monday to get the instruments through their own process of immigration.

Here are our instrument flight cases getting loaded onto pallets and wrapped in what looks like tin foil!

We have hired a truck for the duration of the tour and it's a truck and a half!

It's only four years old and it has already done 600,000 miles!!

A massive thank you to Craig and Michael for ensuring that our precious cargo got here in once piece.

Onto tomorrow then and the first concert of the tour.