The last leg of the tour began with a gruelling 15 hour travel day (!). This involved a taxi from our hotel in El Paso to the airport; a flight from El Paso to Chicago; a second flight from Chicago to Hartford; and finally a 2-hour drive from the airport to our hotel in Schenectady (upstate New York) in two hired Ford Explorers. We arrived in Schenectady at 2am, at which point we were all very thankful for the blissfully comfortable beds at our hotel.
Total distance travelled: 2159 miles. Average speed: 144 mph.
The following day saw the group give an afternoon concert at the beautiful Memorial Chapel in Schenectady’s Union College. This was the first and only performance of our Pictures at an Exhibition repertoire, which despite a higher than average level of general travel fatigue was a stunning concert in a perfectly generous acoustic that went down fantastically well with the audience.
Thanks to the snowy weather, Schenectady itself was a magical winter wonderland covered in fresh snow. Dan West was especially excited by this, no doubt filled with nostalgic memories of his younger years in his Canadian homeland. He can be seen here expressing himself after the concert.
Buoyed by our performance, and generally feeling quietly impressed that we got through the different repertoire with very little sleep, we headed to a local bar for some well earned refreshment, and more chicken wings than we needed.
Despite the ominous weather warnings, we woke on the 27th to clear skies and happily headed off in the Explorers to drive the 210 miles from Schenectady to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, stopping on the way at a diner in St Johnsville to grab a spot of lunch. As steak intake had been woefully low over the previous 48 hours, I ordered the Philly Cheesesteak Burger, which was satisfyingly dense and filthy.
With a serious weather warning in effect (a snow storm was approaching Rochester and the surrounding area), we were somewhat apprehensive that we wouldn’t make the journey, however the weather held up enough for us to power through and get to the hotel. Unsurprisingly it was absolutely freezing when we arrived!
After a swift turnaround we headed over to Eastman briefly sound check for the concert that evening, which would be our final concert of the tour.
Eastman is steeped in grandeur, with two wood-panelled recital halls, and a full-sized symphonic concert hall larger than most in London. Home to the Rochester Philharmonic, the 100-year-old school is held in very high regard in the music world. The acoustic of Kilbourn Hall (the recital hall we were performing in that evening) did not disappoint, and was a real pleasure to play in.
Being not only the last concert of the tour, but also in such a prestigious setting, the evening’s performance had a little something extra to it, a sprinkling of reverence for the occasion perhaps, and was a supremely satisfying experience for the group.
After a standing ovation by beaming music lovers we headed out to meet the audience, who seemed entirely captivated by the performance: one man confidently announced that it was the best brass concert he had ever seen, while another woman thanked me for the concert whilst visibly shedding tears and then excused herself swiftly. Whilst there’s no way to be entirely certain the man was being truthful or the woman’s tears were actually in appreciation of our concert – it’s what I’m choosing to believe.
After a successful but busy day we needed to cool off, and did so with a couple of bar games and brewskies in a Canadian-themed bar (complete with hanging moose head!) around the corner from our hotel, followed by a much deserved kip.
The 28th was the final day of the tour. We checked out of our hotel and then headed off to give a morning chamber music masterclass in Eastman’s relatively recently opened Hatch Recital Hall (an absolutely stunning, wood-panelled performance space), and finished with an open Q&A for the students. Many of the students were especially interested in hearing about the freelance scene in London – somewhat of an alien concept in the US – which was described accurately by the group as “a feast or famine environment that breeds workaholics, but is the best place in the world to be a musician”. I’m fairly certain they thought we were all totally mad.
After the class, we were whisked off to lunch by two of Eastman’s Trombone Professors: Mark Kellog and Larry Zalkind. It was fantastic to chew the fat with some of the US’s top trombone players and teachers, with whom we shared anecdotes and philosophies of teaching and brass playing.
And with that the tour was complete, leaving only the journey home on the schedule: a flight from Rochester to Newark; and then another from Newark to Heathrow. A lengthy delay getting into Newark very almost caused us to miss the second flight, but got us into the terminal with just enough time to power walk a hundred gates and sweatily jump aboard the flight to London.
Farewell US, see y’all again next time.