LONDON – High alert in the United Kingdom looks something like this:
Curtis Institute of Music president Roberto Diaz was having a perfectly civilized interview on BBC Radio 3's live show In Tune around 6 p.m. Thursday when a warning came through one of the intercoms in the control room: A "suspect package" had been spotted at a nearby Caffe Nero, a popular coffee chain here, and evacuation might have to happen.
Minutes later – just before Diaz (also a violist) was due to play a Mozart duo with graduating violinist Kevin Lin – the announcement came through that the evacuation was for real.
"Due to a security incident … we request that all members of staff leave the building," intoned the anonymous voice over the loudspeaker.
The interview, which publicized the Curtis Symphony Orchestra's coming European-tour performance Friday in Cadogan Hall, was wrapped up quickly but gracefully, and a recording was put on where Mozart would have been. Diaz, Lin, and some fellow Curtis musicians who had played a movement from Mozart's Flute Quartet in D just before the evacuation joined throngs of others on the street. "This is one of the things you leave out when you talk to your parents," said Michael Casimir, the orchestra's principal violist.
"You just roll with it," said Diaz. "You act quickly, do what you're told, and get to safety. Most of the time these things turn out to be nothing, thank goodness. We're all safe and out of the way."
Fire trucks arrived and police sirens were heard, but within a half-hour they were gone.
Had it not been preempted by the evacuation, Lin's chamber music debut on BBC 3 would have occurred on a special day in his life: Thursday it was announced that he'd landed the prestigious co-leader position for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The position happened on a fluke: He applied for a temporary position with the orchestra, but has friends in good places who encouraged him to go for the much bigger job.
And, in truth, he has made his BBC broadcasting debut: During one of his tryout concerts with the orchestra, "I had one 15-second solo in the Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 9."
The rest of the Curtis contingent made a strong impression on the control-room engineers on a few fronts: One was Diaz's rich radio voice and the other was the quality of the Mozart performance. "They're really wonderful," said program producer Chris Barstow.
The show is already archived on the BBC's website, www.bbc.co.uk. (Search for "In Tune" to find it fast.)
The evacuation wasn't the only residual ripple from the Manchester terrorist bombing as the orchestra settled into London, the fifth stop on its nine-city European tour, after performances in Helsinki, Bremen, Berlin, and Dresden. As tour coordinators had suspected, passport lines held up entry to the U.K. for more than an hour.
Yet the young musicians are resilient: One minute, they're navigating a chaotic hotel lobby, and the next they're walking to the BBC studios enjoying the warm sunshine, seeing London's famous chamber music venue, Wigmore Hall, across the street, and joking about playing a few notes in the lobby so they can say they've performed there.
Laundry is becoming an issue at this point in the orchestra's first multi-city European tour since 1999. Thus, bus conversations wend their way to the clean-clothes challenge. Send clothes out to the cleaners, and they may not come back until you're off to the next city. Coin laundries can be found, but how the machines work in foreign countries can be mysterious. For the truly desperate, there's the rock and roll roadie trick: Dump your clothes in the bathtub, run the shower, pour in as much shampoo as possible, and then hang everything up to dry.
But if there's a godsend here, it's the super-cheap Primark department store located only blocks from the hotel where the musicians are saying. For the cost of getting a shirt cleaned and pressed by the hotel service, you can buy enough underwear to last for the rest of the tour. Normally, a shopping bag from a place so "down-market" (as the British say) is kept out of sight. But with the Curtis musicians, the Primark bags are objects of envy and wonder.