It was at the end of a hot, sticky Sunday in Berlin that EUYO arrived at the Konzerthaus to play to a sold-out audience. The opening piece, Ravel's Bolero, was well suited to the circumstances: its repeating theme echoed the oppressive, stifling heat; the snare drum rhythm, sounding from the centre of the orchestra, pressed on in relentless determination, with each ostinato mounting the tension.
A dramatic introduction to a dramatic concert. All of a sudden the continuous drum beat came to a halt, the rest of the orchestra stopped their playing, and doctors rushed onstage. The percussionist had fainted; silence replaced the steady rhythm and whirling melody as shock pervaded the room. You could hear a pin drop. The unwell player left the stage to a round of applause; the orchestra followed with apprehension.
What happened next is a testament to the togetherness and determination of this orchestra of young, exceptionally talented musicians. Five minutes later they were back onstage to play the next piece, showing no audible or visible signs of being fazed by what had occurred, all pulling together to perform a superb rendition of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 16 with soloist Alexander Romanovsky, which was met with rapturous applause. The players turned to each other with beaming smiles and gave each other hugs of relief and congratulation. Every single member had shown strength and determination, and it certainly did not go unappreciated.
After the eventful first half, we reseated ourselves with nervous anticipation - and watched with awe as the unwell percussionist returned to the stage to partake in Pictures at an Exhibition, deservedly patted on the back by his colleagues. For an orchestra whose membership is diverse - its players come from all 28 EU countries - their support for each other is both staggering and touching. They didn't just pull through - they pulled off an astounding second half, which concluded with the Bolero being played again to the very end, and the percussionist receiving a standing ovation from both the audience and his fellow musicians.
It's easy to go to a concert and hear technical excellence, but rare that such passion and resolve is made so tangible by the musicians. EUYO managed both: musical excellence despite tough circumstances, and a sense of collaboration and devotion to their playing that moved certain audience members to tears.
As the players hugged each other once again, with a mix of sweat and tears running down their faces, the cultural differences between them amounted to nothing. EUYO unites its members in the spirit of musical collaboration, and the evening proved that it has well and truly achieved its goal. As cultural ambassadors to an organisation that wishes to achieve the same among its member nations, the EUYO musicians prove the power of working together in the face of adversity. It might be idealistic to hope that their example could be translated into the political arena, but their efforts nonetheless serve as a shining example of the success that can be achieved when nations pull together in difficult circumstances. Listening and watching EUYO last night made me feel a proud European: our combined strength is formidable, and something we ought to take heed of more often.