I was 16 and living by myself when the Lahti orchestra in Finland asked me to come along as a sub to their short tour to their sister city in Sweden, Västerås. I agreed and had to buy my first set of tails. I knew the Lahti orchestra well, having played with them as a soloist at 13. Many of their musicians had come to help out in my dad’s orchestra in Kuusankoski and I had befriended them.
Finnish musicians like to drink (no wonder I always felt somewhat like an outsider there) and the orchestra had insisted that the trip be made by one of the numerous car ferries that take about 8 hours to cross from Turku to Stockholm. “Ferry” is a misnomer as these magnificent floating monsters are like the fanciest cruise ships, Some can be ten stories high or even more. Cars are kept out of sight in the bowels of the mammoth ships. Main thing is that everyone has fun.
So, my colleagues immediately started drinking (alcohol used to be much cheaper then, before the EU) and since I looked much beyond my years, I had no trouble joining them. From early on I knew my limits and never enjoyed losing control, so I was careful. The orchestra had hired a visiting principal cellist who really had a weakness for liquor. After the boat trip we had to bus for an hour. The mayor and everyone important were meeting us. The first bus door opened and the guest principal cellist rolled out, absolutely plastered, to the mayor’s feet, not being able to move an inch, and threw up. I was quite embarrassed but everyone seemed to think this was normal.
The concerts went surprisingly well. The conductor’s violinist son was the soloist (nepotism is everywhere), but he did a respectable job with his Tchaikovsky. Needless to say, the cellist did not play a note but was fine by the time the return voyage started, ready for more fun.
Today this orchestra is a hot item and plays in a fabulous wooden hall. Osmo Vänskä used to be their conductor for many years, before leaving for Minneapolis. The group has recorded an incredible number of compact discs, mainly for the BIS label. After moving overseas I’ve returned there once, to play the Tchaikovsky concerto with them.