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Haitian National Orchestral Institute – March, 2017

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet

GROUP OF UTAH SYMPHONY MUSICIANS AND MUSIC DIRECTOR THIERRY FISCHER HEAD TO HAITI FOR MUSIC EDUCATION SERVICE PROJECT ORGANIZED BY BLUME HAITI

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (November 29, 2016) – Fourteen Utah Symphony musicians along with Music Director Thierry Fischer will head to Haiti in March 2017 on a service mission to bring classical music training to 100 young Haitian-born musicians from across the island nation.

Spearheaded by Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein, the group will support Building Leaders Using Music Education (BLUME) Haiti, an organization dedicated to strengthening the country’s socio-economic fabric through classical music. They will create the first Haitian National Orchestral Institute – a week-long workshop for top Haitian music students March 27 to April 1, 2017 – held at the Dessaix-Baptiste Music School in Jacmel, the vibrant cultural capital of Haiti. Haiti is a Caribbean nation only 900 miles off the coast of Miami, FL that faces immense challenges ranging from natural disasters to political upheaval. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east, and was one of the regions hard hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. 

Every section of the orchestra – with the exception of tuba and harp – will be represented in the group of Utah Symphony musicians who have volunteered their time and expertise during a break from regularly scheduled performances. The full list of participating orchestra members is: Leon Chodos (bassoon), John Eckstein (cello), Thierry Fischer (conductor), James Hall (oboe), Claude Halter (violin), Eric Hopkins (percussion/timpani), Anne Lee (cello), Lee Livengood (clarinet), Jeff Luke (trumpet), Yuki MacQueen (violin), Graeme Mutchler (trombone), Stephen Proser (French horn), Mercedes Smith (flute), Jens Tenbroek (bass), and Roberta Zalkind (viola), While the musicians are paying their own way, the group aims to raise $20,000 to help fund travel and housing expenses for 100 Haitian music students selected from across the country to attend the workshop in Jacmel.

 “The response of my colleagues speaks volumes. I was overwhelmed that so many said they would spend their vacation time and own money to go and do this. But I think it shows you the reasons are compelling and what we get out of it far exceeds what we put into it,” said John Eckstein, who first experienced a teaching service trip to Haiti in July 2016. “What motivates us is basic humanity and the chance to make a difference in other people’s lives. That is what’s motivating us all to say yes, this is worthwhile to do.”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, members of the Boston Symphony traveled to Haiti occasionally to work with musicians in Port-au-Prince. However, as far as members of BLUME Haiti know, the March 2017 service trip by Utah Symphony musicians represents the first time such a large group of professional U.S. orchestra musicians has traveled en masse to share their knowledge with young Haitian music students. 

“Music is a key pillar of cultural expression in Haiti; indeed, we have seen over and over again the transformative power of music and know what an impact the Haitian National Orchestral Institute will have on the lives of the participants,” said BLUME Haiti founder Janet Anthony, who is a music professor at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin.” It is an honor for BLUME Haiti to partner with the Utah Symphony and our Haitian colleagues, as we work together to create an opportunity to ransform young lives, to do our part to offer the possibility of change in the life trajectories of our Haitian students.” 

In addition to the Utah Symphony musicians, Salt Lake City-based luthier (a builder and repairer of string instruments) J.P. Lucas will join the group to teach string instrument repair. Haitian-born conductor Canes Nicolas, who is currently a visiting professor of music at Southern Utah University, will accompany the group to his home nation to act as assistant to Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer.

“When the opportunity was presented to me to join 14 of our Utah Symphony musicians in Haiti to share our musical knowledge, I did not hesitate in saying yes,” said Mr. Fischer, who will conduct a concert with Haitian student musicians at the conclusion of the workshop. ”I felt it was so important to participate in sharing the transformative gift of classical music and am humbled for the chance to make a lasting impact on the music students of Haiti. It is an honor for me to be a part of such an important landmark mission.”

Although it is not a Utah Symphony | Utah Opera sponsored trip – each musician will be funding his or her own travel expenses – the organization is deeply committed to supporting the initiative. 

“We are inspired and committed to supporting this exciting initiative of our orchestra musicians as they embark upon a humanitarian and educational mission to Haiti. Music is a universal language that breaks down barriers and opens up opportunities,” said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President and CEO Paul Meecham. “There could be no better example of this in action, as Utah Symphony musicians choose to give of their time and talent through music to serve communities in need. We are immensely proud of them and Maestro Fischer for their enthusiasm in bringing their knowledge, passion and musical expertise to talented musical youth of Haiti. They will be wonderful ambassadors of Utah Symphony!”

RELATED EVENTS
Two fundraising events involving chamber groups playing at art galleries will raise funds to help support travel expenses and housing for 100 Haitian music students from around the country to attend the workshop. 

On Sunday, December 11 at 4 PM, long-time symphony and opera supporter, Diane Stewart, will host a chamber concert at Modern West Art Gallery (177 East 200 South) featuring Principal Flute Mercedes Smith performing Katherine Hoover’s Kokopelli and members of the Utah Symphony strings section playing Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major. The $100 donation entry will go towards the student musician travel fund. For more information, please email info@modernwestfineart.com

Another chamber concert to support the Haitian student musician travel fund will be held in Park City on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at 4 PM at Susan Swartz Studios (260 Main Street, Park City). For more information, visit www.susanswartz.com.

DONATIONS
Tax deductible receipts will be issued for people making donations to support the cause. Checks can be made payable to “Utah Symphony | Utah Opera” with the footnote “BLUME Haiti” on the payment. Online contributions may be made at www.usuo.org/give  (please include BLUME Haiti in the note section). For more information on BLUME Haiti efforts, please contact John Eckstein at jeckstein2004@yahoo.com.
 
Media Contact: 
Renée Huang – Public Relations Director
rhuang@usuo.org (801) 869-9027

PHOTO CREDIT: Julie Edwards

MOTUS in Haiti

James Hall, Yuki MacQueen and John Eckstein

James Hall, Yuki MacQueen and John Eckstein

Musical Adventure in Haiti

Three musicians from the Utah Symphony (James Hall, oboe, Yuki MacQueen, violin, John Eckstein, cello) decided to travel to Haiti this July to volunteer at a music camp run by the Holy Trinity Music School, based in Port-au-Prince. Their summer camp was on a campus just 40 miles West of Port-au-Prince (but 2 hours by car) in the village of Grand Goâve. What a learning experience for us! Although Haiti has gone through so many tough times, the students are overflowing with talent and hope.

RoofSleep

Challenging Environment

Tropical heat and the absence of air conditioning had the faculty guest rooms feeling more like a steam sauna, so we grabbed our mosquito nets and slept out on the roof the first night.

Very Receptive Students

Most lessons took place outside because of the occasional breeze, so any shady spot became an instant teaching studio. We could hear other lessons and rehearsals from every direction, but the attention of the students was admirable. Despite the language barriers (Haitian Creole and French are the principal languages), we taught through gestures and demonstration.

ReedsHaitiJames wrote: “I found the students that I taught excited and enthusiastic about the oboe. I was able to give each of them reeds I had brought from Utah, and also managed to provide them with more reeds by the time I left. What with all the teaching, coaching, rehearsing and reed-making my schedule was pretty jam-packed, but the experience was very rewarding given the student’s focus and eagerness to learn and improve”.

JYVes

John and Yuki each played a selection of solo Bach for the evening vespers assembly.

Quint

Faculty Performance

On chamber music performance night we performed a movement from Schubert’s two cello Quintet and the entire Mozart Oboe Quartet, collaborating with Janet Anthony, cellist and long time organizer of Blume Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) from Wisconsin, Usman Peguero, an accomplished violinist from the Dominican Republic, and Marta Kocon, a fabulous violist/educator/conductor from Denmark . It was terrific to get to know all the other volunteer faculty members from far and wide as well. An impressive bunch of dedicated people! James Hall wrote: Performing in the ever-present heat and humidity certainly was a challenge, but the positive and enthusiastic atmosphere made up for any discomfort we were experiencing.

MozQuar

Another Music School in the South

After our time at the summer music camp, we headed south to the scenic and historic seaside town of Jacmel. There, we also had the opportunity to teach and meet students from the Ecole De Musique Dessaix-Baptiste. Music is alive and well in Haiti, and although living conditions are challenging (to put it mildly) we were impressed by the musical talent and positive spirit of these young students.

JoYuJa
Donations of Music Supplies from MOTUS

We are tremendously grateful for the materials so generously donated by our colleagues and friends which we were able to transport with us to Haiti and bring to the students in both Grand Goâve and Jacmel. They were all extremely thankful and appreciative, especially given the difficulties they face in obtaining music-related supplies. For more information about supporting BLUME (Building Leaders Using Music Education, please visit BLUME Haiti.

Dons

The Musical Journey, Pt.27

 

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Symphony Guild lunch with Lisa, Henriette Mohebbi and Bob

Symphony Guild lunch with Lisa, Henriette Mohebbi and Bob

“Time flies when you’re having fun!” and somehow our year long sabbatical has come to an end. Our goals that started with a canoe ride on a quiet lake in northern Michigan were met. The stack of books have been read, my new “Quotation Etudes” book is now on sale, Lisa’s scrapbook of concerts is complete and we’ve just finished rejoining the Utah Symphony in performing eight Beethoven symphonies in nine days! It will be difficult to decide which two ballets, 22 operas, 50 recitals or 80 orchestra concerts will be our most memorable, or which hall or conductor is our favorite, or which city the most exciting, but allow me to recap some of what we experienced over a 12-month period.

During the months of October and November we spent our time at Interlochen, Michigan. Cathy and “Dude” (my dad) Stephenson graciously invited us to stay in their cabin on the shores of Green Lake. Interlochen is the site of all my summertime childhood memories, along with those of my five brothers. It’s where we were all surrounded by the Arts, where we learned to swim, fish, water ski and sail, where we used to run the 100 yard dash, where we would run free for eight weeks every summer and where I first held an oboe. Like two of my brothers, it’s where I went to high school and amazingly where my oboe teacher, Dan Stolper, still teaches! His resume of successful students is the largest of any oboe teacher anywhere. Sometimes you just get lucky in life and I was lucky enough to be the son of someone who had the skill and energy to direct Gilbert and Sullivan operettas every summer.

Besides the beauty of seeing the fall colors and looking at the ever-changing lake out our front windows, being in this setting helped give us inspiration for our various sabbatical projects. Lisa and I had stacks of music we wanted to get to know. I had etudes to both practice and compose, books about baroque performance practices to read and flute and oboe music to discover. We took time to enjoy being with Mr. Stolper, meeting with the faculty and students and attending a variety of concerts. Being a student there is like being a member of royalty and for the tuition of $54,000 that’s understandable! The facilities are amazing and the cafeteria food very good. We loved the time spent with old family friends like Bruce Douglass and Barb Sandys, four of my cousins, college classmates of Lisa’s, high school classmates of mine and Catherine Valovick of Traverse City.

Utah Symphony woodwinds

Utah Symphony woodwinds

Using Michigan as a starting point, we began a road trip that included seeing “Electra” in Detroit and staying with the terrific Florin family of St. Clair. We went to hear the orchestras of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston. We saw “Aida” and “Carmen” at the Met and “Il Trovatore” and the Chicago Symphony in Chicago. We visited my birthplace, Ann Arbor, and heard the San Francisco Symphony on tour. We knew players in every orchestra and in New York we spent as much time as possible with our son, Kendall. He was in the process of completing his master’s degree at The New School of Social Research. He was an excellent tour guide and chose some great restaurants for us to try.

Besides some wonderful concerts, we visited the homes of nine U.S. Presidents. We also enjoyed the sights of Washington D.C. including a tour of the White House and the Library of Congress, which houses a spectacular flute collection. Lisa was in her own “candy store”.

We returned to Michigan and before long, were shoveling snow. The edges of the lake were beginning to freeze and the leaves had fallen. The loons continued their calls across the lake and two beautiful white swans repeated the daily routine of paddling before us on the smooth surface of the shoreline. We boarded up the cabin and drove back to Utah. After having heard the orchestras of Colorado and St. Louis heading east, we stopped in Kansas City heading west to hear that orchestra. They have a new hall that is really fabulous and the musicians were all excited about their future.

After the holiday season and some time in Salt Lake City, we spent a month in Los Angeles. We continued with our projects and heard the orchestras of Los Angeles, San Diego, Rotterdam (on tour) and Pasadena. We heard a couple of operas and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra. It was nice being in a place that was comparatively warm and where we didn’t need to shovel snow! It was fun to spend time with all the Byrnes relatives in the L.A. area.

On March 12th we took the direct flight from Salt Lake City to Paris. Maja Bogdanovic allowed us the use of her apartment in Paris and, despite the jet lag, we began taking advantage of every day. That was pretty much our motto for the next three months. By the middle of June we had been to nine different countries. Some of the highlights included time spent with Mary and Lee Stephenson in Amsterdam, Brussels and London, Lisa’s baroque flute lessons with Rachel Brown, visiting homes of famous composers, seeing the “Ring Cycle” in Vienna, seeing “Don Giovanni” where Mozart first performed the opera in Prague, hearing Interpreti Veneziani perform in Venice, hearing Radek Baborak play horn with the Afflatus Woodwind Quintet, walking the forests of Karlsbad where Beethoven and Tchaikovsky strolled, seeing the rebuilt cities of Dresden and Berlin, the waters of Lake Como, the palaces of Versailles, Sanssouci and Esterhazy, the Alps of Switzerland and the architecture of so many spectacular European cities. We took a stab at several different languages and several different cuisines and put a lot of kilometers on our shoes.

Bob's published etudes

Bob’s published etudes

The months of June and July took Lisa and me in opposite directions. Lisa continued her association with the Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop at Humboldt University and I went to southern Tennessee for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. It was fun getting back to these familiar environments, seeing old friends, practicing, coaching and teaching.

A lot can change in a year’s time. Our daughter Chelsea became Mrs. Mutscheller, Kendall got his Master’s diploma, our nephew Tucker married Colleen Hampton, buildings popped up in Salt lake City and at least half a dozen talented musicians joined us on stage at Abravanel hall as members of the Utah Symphony. It promises to be an exciting season. We anticipate drawing from this musical journey and for those who have read the articles and seen the pictures, thanks for following along. We’ll keep trying to bring life to the notes and something notable to life.

-Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.26

 

Utah and the Southwest

James, Chelsea, Bob and Lisa enjoying the Downtown Farmer's Market

James, Chelsea, Bob and Lisa enjoying the Downtown Farmer’s Market

Having been away for seven of the last eleven months, it felt good to be home in Salt Lake City. Our home had been well cared for by Colleen and Tucker Weathers, the recent newlyweds. We enjoyed seeing our daughter, Chelsea, and her husband James. Chelsea spent time interviewing for a job with the Salt Lake Women’s Clinic and a possible job as an Ob/Gyn. We enjoyed time at the Farmer’s Market and at home. We’ll be crossing our fingers, hoping she’ll return to Utah following her residency in Columbus, Ohio.

Being on sabbatical means you can go hear a concert versus performing in one. We took advantage of that opportunity by going to hear the Utah Symphony with Kristin Chenoweth up at Deer Valley. Our seats were high up the hill, but Ms. Chenoweth was in excellent form. Her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was really beautiful and the duet from “Wicked” that she sang with a surprisingly talented audience member was especially memorable. 4,999 other people seemed to agree. Colleen and Tucker shared the blanket and experience with us. It’s fun having a picnic under the stars!

Kristin Chenoweth concert at Deer Valley

Kristin Chenoweth concert at Deer Valley

We also made it up to Deer Valley to hear the orchestra again, this time with Diana Krall. She and her five-member band were terrific! I loved her version of “Do It Again” and “Let’s Fall in Love”. My violin-playing colleague for the past 35 years, Tom Baron, was playing his final concert with the orchestra. His wife, Carolee, and a visiting Ron Holdman (former timpanist with the Utah Symphony) joined us on the hillside. Diana Krall’s program had both variety and emotion. I also noticed some beautiful oboe playing from Lissa Stolz.

When you are away from home for long periods, the changes you see can be dramatic. New apartments are popping up in several locations, and the Sugarhouse area is now home to many new restaurants and a fancy new movie theater. We went to see “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” in the newly remodeled movie theater. The seats were luxurious and the movie was a lot of fun. One of the scenes involved the Vienna State Opera House where we had seen Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” just three month ago. Tom Cruise helped save the day from an assassin who used a rifle disguised as a bass flute. The security guard should have known what Lisa stated to me, “There’s no bass flute in Turandot!”

Bob in his studio

Bob in his studio

Between visits to three major oboe dealers in Los Angeles, Paris and London, I felt motivated to buy a new oboe. Last week, that’s what I did! The same shop in Los Angeles that supplied me with my first instrument 50 years ago, did so again. With a couple of weeks to go before the new orchestra season begins, I’m breaking it in slowly, testing notes with a tuner, making new reeds and running the humidifier. I played the instrument at home, with Lisa, at the University of Utah and on stage at Abravanel Hall. The real test will be when I’m “tooting my own horn” while surrounded by 85 other musicians. That’ll be fun!

Beautiful Moab

Beautiful Moab

Lisa and I make a yearly trip to Grand Junction, Colorado to have her flutes worked on by an excellent repair person, Sherry Lee. This particular trip included travelling along the scenic byway near Moab and seeing the “Needles Overlook”. It reinforced the idea that Utah is a beautiful state. We enjoyed a nice stay at the Doubletree Hotel and found a delicious Japanese restaurant, Suehiro, on Main Street in Grand Junction.

We continued the drive south to Prescott, Arizona to see my mother. A couple of miles before my mom’s home on Ruth Street we could hear the intermittent roar of cicadas. This chubby insect with translucent wings spends most of its life underground. I’m talking up to 17 years! Their mating call from the surrounding treetops appears carefully orchestrated. One morning I awoke before 7:00am. It was quiet, but already warming up. At exactly 7:03am the first roar of cicadas began. The giant collective crescendo is enough to cause you to cover your ears. A few stragglers hang on at the end of the rising and falling love call before it all begins again. This goes on all day!

Mary Stephenson, Bob and Lisa in Prescott, AZ

Mary Stephenson, Bob and Lisa in Prescott, AZ

Chris Tarvin, one of my mother’s dearest friends, joined us in the garden for an evening performance of a duet I wrote for ceramic flute and oboe. The working title is “The Call of the Winds”. The outdoor setting is fitting, even with a few hundred cicadas in heat. The ceramic flute was made in Salt Lake City by Leslie Randolph and has a gorgeous sound. It probably helps that Lisa knows how to handle all its earthy eccentricities. We all enjoyed a “friendly” game of pool and catching up on each other’s lives.

Bob, Chris and a Cicada

Bob, Chris and a Cicada

For an 87-year old woman, my mom is doing pretty well. Her mental faculties are good and all her gardening keeps her especially active. She’s lost a lot of her peripheral vision, which means she has to watch her step, and her hearing may have gone down hill. The following is an exchange she had with Lisa:

Lisa: “So, have you had a lot of cicadas this year?”
Mom: “Oh yes. They’ve done really well.”
Lisa: “More than usual?”
Mom: “Yes. And we’ve enjoyed eating them.”
*silence
Lisa: “Are we talking about the same thing?”
Mom: “I thought you were asking about my potatoes.”
Lisa: “Oh, no. I was asking about the cicadas!”

We took about 12 hours to get back to Salt Lake City. Smoke from wildfires in the western states kept us company for the entire trip. We got back in time for Lisa to hear flute auditions at the University of Utah. It was a long day.

Vladimir, Maja Bogdanovic, Lisa and Bob enjoying coffee at Cafe D'Bolla

Vladimir, Maja Bogdanovic, Lisa and Bob enjoying coffee at Cafe D’Bolla

On his last day in Salt Lake City we met up with Vladimir Kulenovic and Maja Bogdanovic at Caffe d’Bolla. After conducting hundreds of concerts over a four-year period with the Utah Symphony, “Vlada” is off to Chicago and his Music Director post with the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra. For the 1200-mile trip he had a very big U-haul truck and a car filled to the top! I noticed a large collection of tuxedoes and tails hanging by the front passenger seat. Maja popped out of the trunk when we met them in the parking lot on 400 South. Lisa enjoyed a very expensive cup of coffee. I had tea. We wished them safe travels.

Flute choir performing for April Clayton and Chase Kimball's wedding

Flute choir performing for April Clayton and Chase Kimball’s wedding

We went to the wedding reception for BYU flute teacher, April Clayton, and her husband, Chase Kimball. Lisa played in a 16-piece flute choir and we met up with old friends, Erich Graf and Ricklen Nobis, two outstanding musicians. Erich played principal flute with the Utah Symphony for more than 30 years and Rick wrote an oboe d’amore concerto for me along with teaching two of my kids the piano. They both looked good. We’ll look to find Erich’s new book chronicling his life in music. April was a happy and beautiful bride.

Lisa with student Jacqueline Noel

Lisa with student Jacqueline Noel

We had a nice visit with Jackie Noel, former student of Lisa’s and mine. Unfortunately, for the oboe world, Jackie stuck with the flute and is now attending music school at McGill University in Montreal. After lunch, Jackie played for Lisa, revealing improvements in many areas. It’s nice when your students are successful.

The smoke outside may be lessening. Inside, I can hear the sounds of Lisa practicing. We’re still on a musical journey, and it’s time to continue breaking in a new oboe.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.25

 

The Final Two Weeks in Sewanee, Tennessee

Wildlife in Sewanee

Wildlife in Sewanee

The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee has southern roots going back to the 1860s. There’s a slow pace and gentle rhythm to everyday life on this hilltop town. The grave sites of Confederate soldiers can be spotted in the cemetery I walk by on a daily basis. The slow and light traffic on campus allows for the sounds of nature to come through. Songbirds in the morning, musicians during the day and cicadas and croaking frogs at night give this small community their signature sound. There’s a wind that hits the leaves of the tallest trees that makes it sound like rain, even when the skies are clear. Carilloners perform recitals several times during the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, and at the beginning of the month, an all-girl bluegrass band took time out to entertain those dining in the 1,000-seat cafeteria. When I asked the Pierce brothers, Jim and Joe, two avid bird watchers if they could tell they were in Sewanee by just listening, they both replied “Yes”.

Besides the active birds in Sewanee, the campus mascot, who I call “Shaggs”, roams the area around the Stirling’s restaurant. Shaggs has a heavy coat that is usually wet from his walks in a nearby stream. His gray whiskers and happy spirit blend in with the timeless atmosphere. Pepe and Paco LePugh, two neighborhood skunks, patrol the bridge my students must cross on way to their lessons and studio class. Fortunately, I don’t hear about any students needing a tomato juice bath! Squirrels play “tag” between the giant trees and deer and bunny rabbits are a common sight. Fat bugs and a variety of colorful butterflies add to the Sewanee experience.

Sewanee, Tennessee has an unusual distinction. It is the only town in North America that is classified as a rain forest! Eight days with rain helped it live up to it’s reputation, and when it comes down it can be drenching. Timing your trips between buildings can be important. The weather app saved me several times!

The weather was good enough for the students to perform an outdoor concert at the Sewanee Inn and Country Club. My students, Katrina Kwantes and Jenna Sehmann, played beautifully in the Haydn Symphony No. 100. Haydn’s “Military” symphony takes on a special quality when the snare drum and tympani aren’t confined to the walls of a concert hall.

Bob Stephenson performing Telemann Taffelmusik

Bob Stephenson performing Telemann Taffelmusik

My own performances include the music of Georg Philipp Telemann, the Hindemith Woodwind Quintet and the Ludwig Thuille Sextet. The stage is hot, but the collaboration with my gifted colleagues is always fun. Someday we can look forward to the air-conditioner being fixed.

The studio class and summer experiment proves to be a big success. My twelve students are introduced to 21 points of musical expression and in front of several other faculty members they all perform in a convincing style. The woodwind faculty begins discussing an expanded version that we can use next summer. In a year my hope is that all the young musicians who play flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon will have ideas about phrasing that will highlight their musicianship. I keep telling them “It has to be about more than just getting the notes!”

The oboes all went out for Mexican food at Mi Casa. The chips and salsa are worth the trip. Many of them have trouble “leaving work at the office”. There was plenty of talk about the oboe.

The class recital was another highpoint. Their performances contained some special moments. SSMF alumni, Wilson Harmon, returned to offer his keyboard skills. For two of the young oboists it was the first time they had ever played a solo in public!

Sewanee Oboe Class Recital

Sewanee Oboe Class Recital

The student orchestras performed many works, including Symphonic Metamorphosis by Hindemith and Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. There is always that youthful enthusiasm and satisfaction in hearing them do well. I enjoyed reporting back to Lisa about her student from the University of Utah, Cindy Chen, who sailed through the Hindemith in expert fashion. It was nice to see and hear Memphis Symphony Music Director, Mei-Ann Chen, lead the Sewanee Symphony through a challenging program. The repertoire, which included Scheherazade, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn and “Blue Cathedral” by Jennifer Higdon was played with precision and expression. Her leadership in conducting five concertos was especially good, and having a twelve year old cellist win the “competition” gives everyone hope for the future.

Students in Dvořák Serenade

Students in Dvořák Serenade

The end of the festival means faculty, staff and students head off in every direction. My floor-mate, violinist Shi-Hwa Wang from Utah, heads to the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria for an 18-day music festival. Because Lisa and I were there two months ago, I shared pictures on my iPhone that Shi-Hwa quickly identified. I tell him how jealous I am to be playing in a place where many of Haydn’s works were played for the first time! For a second year in a row, on the morning after the final concerts, I had a choice of any seat in the cafeteria. The cafeteria staff is very friendly, and since I never missed a meal, they got use to my bearded face. I tell them all “I’ll see you in eleven months!”

Flutist Cindy Chen and Oboist Jenna Sehmann in Sewanee Woodwind Quintet

Flutist Cindy Chen and Oboist Jenna Sehmann in Sewanee Woodwind Quintet

Upon returning my tray I’m pretty sure I can hear a songbird announcing a new day. It’s that or a young piccolo player getting in a last session of practice before a flight home. Hopefully, the 180 students who called Sewanee home for four weeks leave this special place with an added dose of inspiration.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.24

 

Lisa in Arcata and More Sewanee

Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop faculty

Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop faculty

On the “left coast” in the shade of giant redwoods and the cool temperatures of Northern California, Lisa spent a couple of weeks working on the faculty for the Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop. After more than 20 years of coaching chamber music, she describes the area as a place with scenic beauty and dear friends. Violinist Cynthia Moyer from Arcata opens her home to Lisa and the two have a common love of the outdoors. Bird feeders and a beautiful view make for an entertaining time. The binoculars are usually close by.

Mendocino coastline

Mendocino coastline

Humboldt State University houses one of the great chamber music libraries in the United States and, along with close friend Armand Ambrosini and several other talented musicians, Lisa helps bring small musical ensembles to life. This summer Lisa had the chance to coach both junior high and high school students for a week and seasoned adults for a week. The experiences were quite contrasting. After a week with the adults there was reason to ask “Now, which week had the kids?” Sometimes a prima donna can stamp her foot loudly enough that the needs of the many do NOT outweigh the needs of the few, but now Lisa can put “referee” on her resume.

In Mendocino with Lisa and oboist Ruth Stuart Burroughs

In Mendocino with Lisa and oboist Ruth Stuart Burroughs

Lisa spent some wonderful time with an old friend and oboist, Ruth Stuart Burroughs. Their pictures along the coast of Mendocino were particularly beautiful and running into a 4th of July parade was an unexpected bonus. Time with family in Murphys, California was especially enjoyable.

Back in Sewanee, Tennessee, it rained for eight days in a row. The music festival here is charging ahead into Week #3. We had our own 4th of July parade where the storms cleared and the town doubled in size. Students from the festival marched, played their instruments and waved flags. There’s plenty of red, white and blue and the police and fire department come out in force. Their sirens don’t come with a mute button! Several of my students joined me on stage for a band concert. It featured plenty of Sousa marches. The cafeteria serves a lot of red, white and blue. The cherry cobbler was especially good.

4th of July Parade, Sewanee, TN

4th of July Parade, Sewanee, TN

Performances are nearly every day. Cellist Joshua Roman came to give a recital, but my colleagues stole the show! Percussionist, John Kilkenny, violinist Jonathan Magness and cellist Anthony Kitai had starring roles that made me proud to be a part of the faculty.

The two student orchestras did amazingly well on just five rehearsals each. The college musicians played Stravinsky’s “Firebird”. Larry Livingston came in from his duties at USC and really inspired the musicians. His tall and lean frame accompanied by a dramatic head of white hair certainly caught my attention and despite falling off the podium, he seemed in excellent control. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the music continued on despite the incident.

4th of July Band Rehearsal, Sewanee, TN

4th of July Band Rehearsal, Sewanee, TN

Gabriella Alberico 19th birthday, Sewanee, TN

Gabriella Alberico 19th birthday, Sewanee, TN

My 12 students continue to have inspiring moments. If they make it to the finish line, I think they’ll have some memories to last a lifetime. We took some time out to celebrate the 19th birthday of my student, Gabriella Alberico. I composed a serenade for 12 oboes that we played in unison for her. Hearing 12 oboes gives understanding why our ancient oboe ancestors were used to rally the troops during times of war. It was slightly frightening!

During the week I’ll be performing Telemann and Hindemith in recitals here and in Chattanooga. Playing with people like Tony Kitai, flutist Pat George, bassoonist Hunter Thomas, clarinetist Chad Burrow, french hornist Alex Shuhan and pianist Amy Dorfman is a real pleasure. We’re all aware that there are at least 12 sets of ears in the audience hanging on every note! It’s a festival where you also have to prove yourself. But being a professional musician is that way. Fortunately, I still enjoy practicing.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.23

 

Back in the States: Jet Lag, a Wedding and Packing Our Bags Again!

The Byrnes clan

The Byrnes clan

When you’ve been away from home for three months and Europe is seven times zones to the east, it can take a while for your body to adjust. At 3 a.m. something’s telling you to get up. Part of your brain is repeating “There’s a lot to do”! The to-do list is long and includes things like addressing bills, getting a sprinkler system running, having your cars inspected, preparing for guests, seeing students, getting a haircut, sifting through a couple of boxes of mail, trying to practice your instrument, organizing masterclass topics and running a multitude of errands. Somehow, it gets done.

Following months of careful preparation, the Byrnes, Weathers and Hampton clans descended on Salt Lake City for the wedding between Colleen Hampton and Tucker Weathers. Jonathan Byrnes officiated the ceremony, which took place in a small amphitheater up Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City. The weather was gorgeous, as was the bride, and the vows exchanged were personal and endearing. The couple have known each other since elementary school, and a true picture of happiness radiates from them both. After living in our home for a year, they now have an apartment less than a block away. Lisa is already planning on weekly Sunday dinners. The newly married couple would head off for Glacier National Park, fitting for a pair so connected to the outdoors. Aunt Lisa wonders what happened to the little boy she’s known since his very first day. Tucker’s a man now and I remind her “He’s only a block away”!

Rehearsal dinner with Colleen Hampton, Tucker Weathers, Bob and Lisa

Colleen Hampton, Tucker Weathers, Bob and Lisa

It’s never a good time to get sick, but sick I got in the days following the wedding. A trip to the clinic on 900 East revealed I had a prostate infection. Dr. McNally made the right call and prescribed “Ciprofloxacin”, an antibiotic. Sparing you the gory details, I began to make a slow recovery.

My son, Kendall Stephenson, came back to Salt Lake City for a week and, with his sister Gretchen, we went out for Thai food the night before I left for Tennessee. Kendall graduated last month from the master’s program at the New School of Social Research in New York City and is on the job hunt. Gretchen got a promotion at the Sun Company in Salt Lake City and seemed especially happy. As a Dad, it’s nice to not be worrying about your kids.

For a fifth summer I have returned to the mountains of northern Tennessee and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. The festival has been in existence for 57 years and takes place at the University of the South. The campus is consistently voted one of the most beautiful in the country. The buildings look like castles and churches. Tall trees and expansive lawns dominate the grounds. We commonly see squirrels, deer, rabbits, frogs, turtles and a variety of birds. A couple of bright red cardinals make their home close to my studio and the songbirds are forever whistling a happy tune. Powerful rainstorms are common enough to convince you to carry an umbrella and poncho. My dorm room is next door to the Woodwind House I share with the flute and clarinet studios, so if I make a dash for it, I’ll get wet versus getting drenched! The dorms and studios are stark, and the bed is like sleeping on a trampoline. We are without hooks, shelves or mirrors, and a shared bathroom means I must be sensitive to my fellow floor-mate. The studios were so loud I began hanging sheets to improve the acoustics, but 12 talented young oboe players make it all worthwhile. The faculty is made up of about 20 devoted teachers. Students this summer number 180 and come from five different countries and 39 different states. The energy level is high and the eagerness to learn is strong. Weekly lessons and masterclasses make it possible for me to make a difference. Faculty recitals had me enjoying a performance of the Beethoven Piano/Wind Quintet, with Telemann coming up later this week. After three months without my oboe, it felt good to get back to playing. My students range from 16 to 22. They are probably “stars” back home and several will be stars here, too. Their lessons, chamber music and orchestral assignments keep them very busy. This summer my students are part of an experiment. I have gathered examples of the “musical opportunities” we see in the music on our stands. We are focusing on musical expression, dynamic inflection, “singing” on the oboe, rhythmic discipline and much more. My goal is to have 12 young musicians who do more than play the notes!

Bob's oboe studio at the Sewanee Music Festival

Bob’s oboe studio at the Sewanee Music Festival

The annual concerto competition, recitals featuring my students Amy Cassiere, Nathaniel Wolff and Jordan Howard and two orchestra concerts have given my students opportunities to shine. The Symphony #4 by Tchaikovsky was the big work on Sunday and the students really delivered! Jamie Sanidad had some beautiful moments on the oboe. Stravinsky’s “Firebird” is on tap for this week and tonight we’ll have a sectional to review the important material from seven different works for orchestra. This week five students will join me for the 4th of July concert. Tuba player and organizer Eric Bubacz has prepared a patriotic celebration that is heavy on Sousa marches. This concert is usually very popular with the local music lovers. If it sounds like the students are busy, they are! To counteract their musical lives, a soccer game has been scheduled, along with a trip into Nashville, movie night, a barbecue, hikes, a talent show and much more. The volume level in the cafeteria seems to rise as young men and women make friends on this special place high on a hilltop in Tennessee.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.22

 

The Ring is Completed and a Return Home

Vienna Kiss

Vienna Kiss

Different repertoire for an orchestra allows for certain individuals and certain sections to have their moment in the sun. Playing Wagner showcases the brass, and this was particularly apparent as we completed The Ring Cycle. Unlike our two previous viewings of the operas “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre”, this time we had seats inside the Vienna Opera House. Sir Simon Rattle continued on the podium, and the Vienna Philharmonic added their firepower which consisted of augmented sections throughout the brass. Hearing the sound of two tubas on opposite sides of the pit, a full contingent of horns and Wagnerian tubas, four brilliant trumpets, four amazing trombones and heroic offstage horn solos was really thrilling! The voices were powerful and in “Siegfried”, the title character acted and sung by Stephen Gould will be a memory that will last for a long time. His scenes of trying to play a crudely whittled reed-pipe, accompanied by an aching offstage solo English Horn and the famous offstage horn calls were both beautifully timed and convincingly mimed. We marveled at the ability of these singers to sing at full voice for an entire five hours, and with “Götterdämmerung”, five and a half hours! One of the things that we especially noticed was the tremendous applause given to the orchestra at the end of the performance. It was as though the audience understood the musicians had also successfully finished this marathon event. In a way, it felt like it had been an accomplishment for us too. Lisa began planting the idea of seeking out other performances of the Ring. We’ll see.

Parliament Building in Budapest

Parliament Building in Budapest

View of Budapest and the Danube River

View of Budapest and the Danube River

We decided to go to Budapest. With just a backpack, we checked in to the Danubius Hotel overlooking the Danube River. Our room on the fourth floor offered a great view of the river teeming with cruise ships, barges and other boats. The Parliament building and the bridges make a big impression, but we were still on a “musical journey” and I was eager to see the Bela Bartok home and museum. Bartok didn’t care for the city, and his home for 11 years was on the outskirts of Budapest. We took the #5 bus to the end of the line and walked a bit through a beautiful quiet neighborhood. Bird calls accompanied us on our walk to a two-story home with a surrounding fence. We were buzzed in through the front gate and soon met “Agnes”. Agnes gave us a tour of the home where Bartok composed “Contrasts”, two string quartets, “Mikrokosmos”, the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the 2nd Violin Concerto and much more.

Bartok House, with tour guide Agnes

Bartok House, with tour guide Agnes

The home contained the original phonograph Bartok used to record more than 8000 folk songs! A topographical map pinpointed the villages Bartok had visited over a 20-plus year period gathering material. A great photograph of him traveling with his phonograph while riding in the back of a rustic wooden cart hangs on one of the walls. Besides the folk songs, Bartok collected regional costumes, folk instruments from various villages, ceramic pitchers and insects. The bugs were on display and were the inspiration for his piano composition, “Mikrokosmos”. The piece was written for his young son, Peter Bartok, and imitates the sounds made by insects. Lisa remembers playing the piece on piano, but seeing the little bugs gave the composition a little more meaning. The dining room furniture was made up of some beautifully handmade pieces from a maker in Transylvania. They were unique and personal. The maker’s photograph hung on the wall along with family and friends, including Zoltan Kodaly.

Bartok's home

Bartok’s home

Many of the photographs show Bartok with a cigarette in hand and it would be lung disease that would cause his death in a New York hospital at the age of 65. The home was a popular place for musical gatherings during Bartok’s lifetime and an attractive recital space is still used today. Lisa bought some Bartok flute compositions that the museum had for sale. Somehow, knowing Bartok as a human being gives us a stronger feeling for his music. We both look forward to performing his music again.

Liszt Academy of Music

Liszt Academy of Music

One of the more important and most beautiful music schools in Europe is the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Notable alumni include Bela Bartok, Antal Dorati, Zoltan Kodaly, Gyorgy Ligeti, Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Janos Starker, Georg Solti and many more. We were aided by a young violinist, O’sz Puspoki Dorottya, from the neighboring high school conservatory in finding the Academy just in time to attend a free vocal recital by Zsofia Stasny. We enjoyed different aspects of the recital, but were distracted by the beauty of the concert hall. The Art Nouveau style is one of the best examples in all of Europe. One recital seemed like it didn’t offer enough time to take in all there was to see. We lingered after the applause died down, giving us time to enjoy the view.

Liszt Hall

Liszt Hall

The next day we enjoyed the beautiful spa connected to Hotel Danubius. There was a feeling that many of the Hungarian people using the spa did so on a regular basis. Those tans probably don’t happen sitting on the couch at home!

We returned by train to Vienna in time to hear the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by one of our favorites, Andris Nelsons. The program featured the Mozart Violin Concerto in D with Baiba Skride, who has played with us in Utah several times. Her playing had style and some expressive use of dynamics. The orchestra did a great job too. In the second half, we heard the Bruckner 7th Symphony. There was some excellent string and brass playing, and the audience expressed their appreciation long after the final fortissimo chord.

We enjoyed spending more time with Alexandra Turk from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Her work with physiology and musicians takes her to many important cities, and her stories of life in St. Petersburg were especially entertaining. She also has a discerning ear, and her musical opinions often matched our own.

Danube River

Danube River

 

After having enjoyed being on canal, river and boat rides many times previously in Europe, we decided on taking a “three-hour tour” on the Danube River aboard the “Blue Danube”. My childhood memories of TV and the tales of the crew of the S.S. Minnow being shipwrecked on “Gilligan’s Island” were quite different from this three-hour cruise. Our time on board the Blue Danube allowed us opportunities to see how a lock system operates, to take in another beautiful city from a different perspective, eat a delicious lunch and perhaps see graffiti in another way. In Vienna there seems to be an encouragement of graffiti art along the banks of the Danube River. Much of it I would describe as both colorful and creative. I took pictures and sent them to my son in New York City. It’s good to have a second opinion! People might ask whether the Danube is indeed blue? I’d probably say it’s more a muddy sage green, but “The Muddy Sage Green Waltz” by Strauss doesn’t have the same kind of ring! He probably was thinking about marketing.

George Solti statue

George Solti statue

Graffiti along the Danube

Graffiti along the Danube

It’s been suggested that we’ll experience “culture shock” upon returning to the States after three months in Europe. We imagine missing the experiences of Europe, the concerts, afternoon “kuchen” at an outdoor café, the architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets and plazas, the cobblestone charm, etc., but coming home can be nice. There is family, friends, peanut butter, tacos, ice cubes, TV in English, the English language, not living out of a suitcase, smoke-free environments, the Farmers Market, a familiar pillow and ….. I could use a haircut! We’ll look back and smile at having seen “Duck Dynasty” dubbed in German, or seeing the word “Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung”, which I learned means speed limit in German or reviewing the hundreds of photographs taken in nine amazing countries.

The plane touched down safely in Salt Lake City. We have a nephew’s wedding coming up and Lisa soon heads to Arcata, California to teach at the Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop. I go for a month to Sewanee, Tennessee where I hope to make a difference for twelve young oboe players. For any musician, it’s a lot about the journey, and being “on the road” has many rewards. We always look forward to what’s next. Next for me will be a month on a mountain in Tennessee and what might be one of the more intense musical experiences in America. Stay tuned!

Tucker Weathers, Colleen Hampton Weathers, Lisa and Bob

Tucker Weathers, Colleen Hampton Weathers, Lisa and Bob

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.21

 

Back in Vienna

Opera on the Square

Opera on the Square

If you are on a “musical journey” in Vienna, it’s hard to do it all; however, a priority for us was to see Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung”. This cycle of four epic operas was first presented at the Bayreuth Festival 99 years ago and changed music as we knew it. We tried to procure tickets for all four performances come rain or shine. Two of them were free, but our seats were outside of the opera house! Being on the wait list gave us another European experience when no seats were available inside. We saw “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre” on the plaza in front of a huge screen. As with the HD performances from the Metropolitan Opera, these performances featured different camera angles and interviews from the cast and conductor (Simon Rattle). The graphics made the opening scene of “Das Rheingold” look like the characters were under water. The voices were powerful, and the orchestra was excellent. Seeing a Wagner opera is like watching a long story. You begin to notice that there are few, if any, cadences. Seeing it outdoors means that the story can be accompanied by the sounds of the city. Honking horns, sirens, whirling helicopters, chanting gangs and horses clopping down on the cobblestone streets was the “norm”. The audience outside is much more transient. Sitting for two and a half hours straight can be a challenge, but more so when it rains, which was our experience when watching “Das Rheingold”. Fortunately, we brought our foul weather gear. Thanks, Weather App! “Die Walküre” is more than four and a half hours long but comes with two intermissions. On the second break, we left to get something to drink and returned to see our seats occupied. We stood until an opening presented itself and sat for the remainder of the opera. Two hundred or so fans around us joined those inside to applaud the production.

Strauss Waltzes at the Kursalon

Strauss Waltzes at the Kursalon

We also wanted to experience the “Viennese” waltz while in town, so we attended a concert of Strauss waltzes in the touristy Kursalon where Strauss conducted during the 19th century. When you say the name Strauss in Vienna, one thinks of a family dynasty that spanned decades. The “Waltz King” (Johann II) was the son and brother of famous composers and is the one that packs in the crowds on a daily basis. Personable Viennese gentlemen in period costumes stroll the streets selling tickets to as many as six different nightly concerts featuring the music of Strauss, Lehar, Mozart, Von Suppé, etc. The one we attended was sold out, and there was a second small orchestra (also playing waltzes) two floors below us that played to a full house as well. The show was entertaining, and I kept thinking that this might be a good city to be a freelance musician if you like Strauss.

We enjoyed a wonderful performance of Rossini’s opera “La Cenerentola”. It was set in 1950’s Italy and starred Serena Malfi in the title role with some great sets and costumes. After hearing such wonderful music, it seemed sad to think that Rossini spent so much of his life NOT composing. His love of food and entertaining was legendary.

Beethoven Memorial

Beethoven Memorial

Statues, streets, cafes and bakeries honor the many composers who called Vienna their home. We enjoyed seeing the apartments of Mozart and Beethoven, having cake and coffee at the Mozart Cafe, snapping pictures next to memorial statues of Schubert, Mahler, Brahms and more and hearing their music. It was often played in stores and restaurants.

We made a trip to the Esterhazy Palace where Haydn worked for more than forty years! His home was modest, but the palace was not. Our tour of the palace made it possible to see the beautiful concert hall where many of “Papa” Haydn’s 104 symphonies were first performed. We often imagined being able to travel back in time to hear such concerts.

Esterhazy Palace

Esterhazy Palace

One of the more interesting concerts of our sabbatical was hearing the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle where the second half of the performance consisted of eleven movements from different Haydn symphonies. The variety of musical personality and inventiveness was really amazing and highlighted why I love hearing Haydn’s music. The orchestra played so beautifully, especially in the slower movements. There is pride in their music-making and the “Viennese” sound. This sound is reflected in the carryover of musical instruments, most notably the oboe. Often when I hear an oboist from Vienna, my first reaction is that the tone quality is like the English Horn but with higher notes. The instruments themselves are more creatively designed than French oboes. They have bulbous curves and keys which make me ask, “What does this do?” Still, beautiful phrasing is beautiful phrasing.

Musikverein in Vienna

Musikverein in Vienna

Since our sabbatical began, our tally of performances has hit one hundred, and we are still going strong. Number one hundred was a performance by the Vienna Symphony conducted by Jaap van Zweeden. The program featured Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. David Frey was the soloist and played with a strong degree of technical accuracy. The Symphony was exciting, especially the tutti passages.

We enjoyed seeing the art collection at the Belvedere Palace and the Secession Museum. Gustav Klimt was the featured artist in both museums, “The Kiss” in one and the “Beethoven Frieze” in the other. Like all great artists, his work draws you in. Another significant work was the large painting of “The Philharmonic” by Max Oppenheimer. It took him 26 years to complete and measures about 20 feet across. Gustav Mahler is on the podium. We both agreed that turning the Belvedere Palace (or any palace) into an art museum seemed like a good idea.

Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace

We have seen more than twenty operas since the sabbatical began, giving us a wide range of repertoire. “Salome” by Richard Strauss was especially exciting. Gun-Brit Barkmin sang the starring role, and the Vienna Philharmonic was in top form. The costumes and sets looked like the art work of Gustav Klimt. The director did a great job of capturing the madness of Salome.

Arnold Schoenberg Center

Arnold Schoenberg Center

We saw the Arnold Schoenberg Center, which happened to be located near our apartment. There was a room which duplicated his studio in L.A., numerous videos of his orchestral and chamber works being performed and interviews with the players and conductors. It was very interesting.

Big cities attract big orchestras from around the globe. The Philadelphia Orchestra came to town, so we went to hear them play the Shostakovich Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Oddly enough, this was our fifth time hearing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto since the sabbatical began! This doesn’t matter when you are hearing such a great soloist (Lisa Batiashvili) and a great orchestra. Ms. Batiashvili’s playing was poetic and exciting. I was especially thrilled to hear Mark Gigliotti (bassoon), David Cramer (flute) and Holly Blake (contra bassoon) play starring roles in the demanding Shostakovich Concerto. Mark, David and I were friends/classmates at Curtis, and their beautiful sounds have only gotten better with time. On the second half, Yannick Nezet-Seguin led the orchestra in a fabulous performance of the Tchaikovsky. There are so many star players in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I have to mention clarinetist Ricardo Morales, oboist Richard Woodhams and horn player Jennifer Montone. All had inspiring moments. Former Utah Symphony musicians Jeff Kirschen, Shelley Showers and Dara Morales all contributed with typical excellence. During the days that followed, we enjoyed spending time with Dara, Mark, Holly, David, Jonathan Blumenfeld and his close friend from Berlin Ina Lontorfos. With all the Austrian pastries available, it wasn’t too hard filling our social calendar and my sweet tooth.

Jonathan Blumenfeld, Ina Lontorfos, Bob, Lisa and David Cramer

Jonathan Blumenfeld, Ina Lontorfos, Bob, Lisa and David Cramer

The University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna is one of the leading music schools in Europe. Antonio Salieri founded this school in 1817, and some former instructors on the roster include Paul Hindemith, Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler and Pierre Boulez, to name a few. A large student body of over 3000 study music, theater, film and more. One of the instructors is Alexandra Turk, who Lisa has known for many years through family connections. Alexandra is a physiotherapist who helps musicians understand breathing, mental health and physical health as it relates to playing their instruments. She gave us a great tour of the school, and we met some of her colleagues. Playing an instrument is more involved than just playing the right notes, and this school seems committed to helping young musicians in every way possible.

Lisa, Mark Gigliotti, Holly Blake and Dara Morales

Lisa, Mark Gigliotti, Holly Blake and Dara Morales

Two hundred and one years after it’s premiere in Vienna, we went to see “Fidelio”by Beethoven. It was another exciting production where one of the main characters was the orchestra! When the Vienna Philharmonic played the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 before the final scene, the applause following the final chord was startling! It is part of that “Viennese pride” mentioned earlier. The voices were superb and the orchestral writing thrilling. One could understand the argument that this is the best opera ever written. We felt very fortunate to have been there.

Alexandra Turk and Lisa Byrnes

Alexandra Turk and Lisa Byrnes

We’ve decided to make a trip in two days to Budapest, home to Bartok and Kodály. We are trying to pack it all in before our flight back to the States in a few days. Someone recently suggested we might experience “culture shock” upon our return. Maybe if I learn how to make a good apple strudel that will help.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.20

 

More Prague

Astronomical clock from 1410

Even without the Moldau River, the beautiful bridges and the imposing palaces in the distance, you might still know you’re in Prague. Firstly, there are a lot of Americans! It is a popular destination for students and the study abroad programs. Older visitors may be attracted to the abundance of fascinating architecture or perhaps the goulash, sausages and pork knuckle. Antique stores, well-fed pigeons, Segways, “change” stores, mimes and vintage automobiles are most everywhere.

Near one of the main squares is an astronomical clock that still runs and attracts attention. Not bad for something built in 1410! One of the common sights are the “Trdelník” (turtleneck) vendors. This tubular pastry treat, cooked on a rotisserie, can be covered with sugar, almonds or chocolate and can be a mess to eat! I still tried. Groups of men, 10 to 15, are also a common sighting. We’re not sure if they are part of a sports team, drinking club or men on the prowl! We nicknamed them “Bro Gangs”. There didn’t seem to be a female equivalent.

Trdelník treat

Trdelník treat

In Prague, as in much of Europe, there are no laws on walking etiquette. The streets and sidewalks can be very crowded, and walking on the right is not a universal precept. Consequently, run-ins with strangers are common. A game of “Chicken” can ensue unless YOU get out of the way! It might remind someone of “The Zaks” by Dr. Seuss where the south going Zak meets up with a north going Zak and they both refuse to deviate from their path. While their stubbornness continues, the world builds itself around them. Attempting to avoid an “international incident”, we would most often yield the right-of-way.

Leading the "Bro-Gang"

Leading the “Bro-Gang”

We found time to visit the Dvorak and Smetana museums. Besides his years in the United States, Dvorak was a world traveler. “I would give all my symphonies to have invented the steam engine!” he said. He seemed devoted to his family and proud of his Czech heritage. Smetana’s papers were in good supply and, like Mendelssohn, he was a talented artist. Several of his drawings supported that reputation. Our opinion of the importance of the Czech influence on classical music has been elevated when we’ve learned that this area of the world produced composers like Zelenka, Hummel, Mahler, Janacek, Martinu, Smetana, Dvorak and others.

Dvořák Museum

Dvořák Museum

Our second apartment in Prague was near the Charles Bridge, a popular pedestrian walkway over the Moldau River. Artists and musicians line the long bridge competing for the tourist dollar or Euro. Seeing groups of musicians playing together became an everyday occurrence. Maybe a Slavonic dance by Dvorak or a folk song by Janacek? No, it was most often American jazz! Hearing a Czech bassoonist play jazz on the street was fun!

Our concert-going schedule continued with a performance of the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin, one of the premiere baroque ensembles in the world. The ensemble of about 20 musicians were a delight to hear and watch. They mostly stood while they played, including the cello players. Their instruments however rested on the seats of cushioned chairs. One fellow playing a straight contra bassoon got to have a seat. His ten-foot long instrument looked more like a rocket launcher! Fortunately, his “sights” were pointing at the opposing balcony! The conductor was also the concertmaster, and he danced his way through every movement of Lalande, Telemann and Handel, insuring some beautiful ensemble playing. Hearing the baroque oboes was a treat for me.

Historical Contrabassoon

The Prague Symphony Orchestra, with Pietari Inkinen conducting, played an interesting program of music by Hanus, Rautavaara and Mahler. The Rautavaara was a movement from his 6th Symphony and had us wishing to hear more. The Mahler was his 5th Symphony. There were various highlights like the Adagietto movement for strings, the horn playing or the bass drum solo in movement 2, but for the most part the performance was rather rough around the edges, with suspect intonation and ensemble.

Smetana Museum

Smetana Museum

The Czech Philharmonic was definitely a step up in quality. Another “Jiri” (there are 16 musicians in the Czech Phil. with the name Jiri!), Jiri Belohlavek, conducted an exciting Mahler Symphony No. 3. Oddly, for the fourth time in four nights at the Smetana Hall, there was a medical issue which required attention amongst the concert-goers. This time the performance stopped. A woman in the second row fainted. Medical personnel came to the rescue and shortly thereafter, four healthy men lifted the woman off the floor and then rushed her down the center aisle of the hall and out the back doors. Afterwards, Maestro Belohlavek resumed the first movement, giving the audience an opportunity to hear the beautiful trombone solo a second time! The evening featured some terrific brass playing, excellent string work and the gorgeous alto voice of Elisabeth Kulman. The concertmaster solos were also excellent and what seems to be the custom, flowers were awarded to the conductor, soloist and concertmaster at the concert’s conclusion.

Estates Theatre where Mozart premiered his "Don Giovanni"

Estates Theatre where Mozart premiered his “Don Giovanni”

I told Lisa I thought it was easier to get lost in Prague than a place like Venice. I shouldn’t have said that! In our only concert debacle (so far) in Europe, we were unable to find the venue for a flute recital up by the Prague Palace. We walked around for more than an hour trying to find this particular hall. Maybe if it had been an oboe recital instead? But what’s a few miles when you’re consuming Trdelníks and chocolate every day!

In the same theater that saw it’s premiere in 1787, we enjoyed Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. After seeing “The House of the Dead” and “Boris Godunov”, this was indeed a breath of fresh air! The costumes, sets, hairdos and voices were really special. The action included huge masks worn by members of the chorus, dance sequences during the instrumental segments, old black and white film being projected on the back wall, black roses that would suddenly pop up from the floor, a boy dressed like the grown-up Don Giovanni and much more. The small orchestra played very well and balanced the singers at every moment.

St. Nicholas Cathedral

St. Nicholas Cathedral

As in Karlovy Vary, we heard a concert of mostly baroque music in a magnificent church, this time featuring voice, organ and the oboe playing of Vojtech Jouza, a member of the Czech Philharmonic. He presented the music of Handel and Marcello and reinforced what I’m oft to say, “I never met a church the oboe didn’t like”! This St. Nicholas Church is a perfect example of baroque art. There are paintings and sculptures on the ceiling, a checkerboard stone floor, an enormous dome and gold everywhere! Mozart performed on the organ there during one of his many visits to the city.

Living next to the busiest bridge in town can be a mixed blessing. A popular sports bar emptied on to our little street and closing time was most often around 3:00am. This would be about the time I’d awaken to hear lively Czech discussions and the sports bar staff dumping beer bottles into the large trash receptacles. The week before, the Americans had beaten the beloved Czech hockey team in the world championship, so it surprised me to hear a group singing “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Maybe one of their countrymen had just won a darts championship! Anyway, Freddie Mercury would have enjoyed the celebration!

Another restaurant recommendation from Lisa’s friend Steven Schultz brought us to “U Fleku”. Imagine going back a few hundred years. The menu is not long but the roasted chicken and beer hall atmosphere was excellent! Thanks, Steven!

Bridal poses

Bridal poses

Another peculiar sighting in different European capitals is young brides and grooms taking pictures of themselves. Sometimes there’s a photographer, but often times not. The bride can be seen wearing her wedding dress and, with today’s technology, selfies are the norm. In Venice I remember seeing many young brides in their wedding dresses just strolling about. Maybe their photo shoot was over!

The Spring Festival has been seen by much of the world through live-streaming, and we were fortunate enough to see one of the popular groups live. The Afflatus Quintet performed in an abbey built in 1230. A large film crew covered most every angle of this excellent woodwind quintet. Their program included works by Reicha, Strauss, Eder, Poulenc and Stravinsky. This group has been together for 20 years and consists of players from various orchestras in Prague. Most memorable was the horn playing of Radek Baborak. He sounded like a 5th woodwind with amazing facility, control and musicality! In the “Till Eulenspiegel” and “Firebird” transcriptions he handled what sounded like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th horn solos with heroic ease! It’ll be a long-lasting memory! Oboist, Jana Brozkova, used some dynamic phrasing that was especially inspiring.

The Afflatus Quintet

The Afflatus Quintet

It was hard to say goodbye to Prague, but two weeks in Vienna is next. We just might be waltzing before too long!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes