Royal Festival Hall, London

21 October 2004

I've been to a lot of concerts over the years but I don't think I've ever been as unsure of what to expect as I was tonight. I wasn't even sure I was going to enjoy the show. Yes, I knew I would like the music. But what would the show be like? what would the atmosphere be like? Would I get an emotional charge out of it? Because without all that, I might as well sit at home and listen to the CDs. There had to be something more than the privilege of sitting 20 feet from the most beautiful woman in the world...

And I wasn't even sure what music she would play. To play everything I wanted to hear, she would need an orchestra, rock band, multiple percussionists and a Chinese choir on stage with her. So either this was going to be a concert for about 20 million performers or she was going to play a very limited repertoire...

To be honest, I was prepared to be disappointed.

On Stage


As soon as I entered the hall, things started to look good. I had a wonderful seat, in the exact centre of row 8, and the extreme slope of the seats let me see the entire stage perfectly. The rear of the stage had space for a small string orchestra (about 26 people, members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra I think). In front of them was the rock band: keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitar. A multi-instrumentalist single-handedly filled in for the rest of the orchestra (flute, sax, clarinet, percussion, and several other instruments — the man was amazing). The group was completed by the most versatile drummer I have ever seen — honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anybody play so many different types of drum. I don't think I've ever even seen some of those types of drum before! There were also two backing singers on stage for some of the set. So it was a lot of people — but it's a big stage. There was still room for a large raised platform in the centre for the violin player, and the entire front of the stage was available for her to run about on.

She comes on stage when the house lights go down and stands silhouetted centre stage for several seconds — and nobody claps or anything. Strange audience!

Then she starts the opening solo to Sabre Dance and that's it... I'm hypnotised for the rest of the night.

She doesn't actually do anything except play — no cheesy dancing or silly antics or anything... just closes her eyes and plays and it's utterly wonderful. Sometimes she opens her eyes and notices the audience and smiles suddenly, but most of the time she's totally somewhere else... but you're there with her...

She played about half of the Choreography album (Sabre Dance, Roxane's Veil, Bolero, Tango... I think, I can't remember the exact order of the music). Then she swapped to an electric violin (a grey Zeta) for two older tunes — Laughing Buddha and Hocus Pocus. These are the only two pieces played on the electric violin all night.

For Hocus Pocus she used floor switches and effects pedals, just like a guitar player (but I never saw Jan Akkerman play his in stiletto heels). And, yes, her hands really do move as fast as you imagine them...

Then back to the "real" violin for some more older tunes: Night Flight (?), Retro, Toccata and Fugue, I'm a Doun (and she doesn't sing — boo!), and Bach Street Prelude.


Bach Street Prelude

Bach Street Prelude is amazing. She sits on the edge of the stage (legs dangling over the edge) to play it. And the percussionist comes forwards to sit next to her and plays the percussion on the floor! He plays with drumsticks, throws them away and uses plastic hammers, wooden planks, steel strips, springs... all kinds of weird things. He was very entertaining (even Vanessa-Mae finds it entertaining, because she keeps laughing at him). It's about the only point in the show that you watch somebody other than her. Even the orchestra applauds him for the performance!

Then it's back to Choreography for the next few songs, starting with Emerald Tiger, which is even more intense than on the record. It's already my favourite piece on the CD (maybe her best ever), and tonight it's absolutely breathtaking.

I think she eventually plays all of Choreography except for Minuet.

And the final piece is a very fast-seeming version of Storm. She leaves the stage very briefly, then comes back for an encore of Sabre Dance.

She talked very little and when she did she sounded nervous, tripping over her words and mixing up song introductions.

Complaints? Well, yes, it was too short! She played for 90 minutes, plus the encore. Also, she seemed to spend a lot of time re-tuning her violin between songs. That was odd — because no-one else in the orchestra seemed to need to. And the follow-spot operator should try harder! She wanders all over the front of the stage and the spotlight often didn't pick her up at the right moments.

(The stage lights, by the way, were very simple but very effective and added to the show without distracting from the music.)

But, considering how doubtful I was about the whole thing, I came away very happy. No, it didn't have the same atmosphere as a rock concert. But it — I should say "she" — had a special quality that made it... hmm... best concert I've ever seen?... maybe...

After the show

Meeting the fans

And afterwards she came out to sign CDs. Looking at the audience, I had thought they were all too mature and sensible to do fannish things like queue for an autograph... maybe there would be a few dozen... nope. What looked to be the entire audience stood in a queue that wrapped around the entire hall. (Actually, I started to feel really guilty about wanting an autograph — her poor hand!)

I stood in line for an hour (just to stand there, too stupid to say anything once I got next to her) and even after signing for an hour she still smiled at me and thanked me for coming.

She's so nice :-)

After the show

Meeting the fans