Musical travels in Covid times
What's it like for musicians to travel again in the new Covid world? Eivind Aadland reports from his recent trip to Australia to conduct the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
It felt different this time. In the days before my flight I felt an unfamiliar, anxious anticipation. The flight from Oslo to Hobart – Norway to Australia – is not new to me, but what will travelling be like in the times of Covid? Will flying feel normal again once I am on the plane? The answer is no – the world has changed.
It is strange to observe how everyone is adjusting to the new normal: anti-bacteria, face masks, Covid tests, check-in that takes 25 minutes (including phone calls to Australian authorities), flight attendants in full protective gear and endless Covid security announcements. This is what travelling will be like for some time.
The challenge now is to live the new normal and not to think about what a 14-hour flight without a face mask used to be like. I can still do everything I used to do on long-haul flights: study a little, watch old episodes of Friends, eat, daydream, dose off for a while and be satisfied with doing nothing. Meals on board provide welcome breaks – they mean masks off, and flight meals taste better than ever!
Finally, I arrive in Adelaide for quarantine. After waiting in line, getting into a bus, registering at the hotel, being escorted to the hotel room by fully protected hotel staff, the door closes. This is home – or prison – for the next 14 days. Just a short stroll in the hallway will result in an immediate fine of $1,000.
The police call every day to check that I am still there. Then the nurse calls. Name? Date of birth? Are you feeling any symptoms? How are you coping mentally? I am fine, I really am!
I have been lucky with my ‘prison cell’: a big, modern room with a balcony and even an exercise bike (thanks to the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra). Three meals are delivered outside my room every day with a firm but friendly knock on the door.
I work well, I have Zoom meetings, I teach via Zoom, I talk to my family, I read, I rest – I am fine. And, of course, I exercise every day. But as I sit sweating away on my bike, overlooking Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Square, I cannot help wondering: for how long is all of this going to be normal?
I count the days to my release from quarantine – I can’t wait to get started with rehearsals and concerts in Tasmania.
Back in the concert hall
After the 14th day of quarantine, my ‘prison sentence’ ends at midnight. Only four hours later, at 4am, I check out from the hotel and head for my very early flight to Melbourne and then Hobart.
There are two orchestral rehearsals and a board meeting scheduled for my arrival day. David Horn from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra greets me with a warm handshake. I instinctively step back. Is this allowed? When I arrive for the first rehearsal there are further handshakes and welcome-back hugs. Tasmania saw its last Covid case nearly a year ago and life here is a welcome reminder of what pre-Covid times were like.
I have not seen my orchestra for more than a year, so I am nervous as I walk into the hall to start rehearsing Haydn’s Symphony no.102. I cannot imagine a better way to start working. The freshness of this music energises us all. Who can have a negative thought in their head in the company of Papa Haydn? All thoughts about travel, quarantine and pandemic seem to have evaporated. Music can work miracles!
PS Dear music lovers all over the world: as soon as it is possible, get back into the concert halls! Music is communication, and magic can only happen in the meeting between composer, musicians and you, the audience.
Photos with Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra: Alistair Bett