The Musical Journey, Pt.19

 

Prague & Karlsbad

Charles Bridge and Stare Mesto (Old Town)

Charles Bridge and Stare Mesto (Old Town)

The train trip into the Czech Republic is especially scenic. The alps are gone, but the lush rolling hills remain. Huge fields of yellow rapeseed blanket the landscape. The crop is used to produce canola oil, and back home I seem to use a lot of it. The language changes from the sounds of Switzerland as does the make-up of the words themselves. The Czech language seems to be about consonants and different accents, like Polish or Slavic. It’s the most “foreign” of our foreign languages to speak during our three months in Europe. Like a lot of places we go, their English is better here than my attempts to speak the native tongue, but it’s a good idea to know key words or phrases. We study on the train.

Prague Spring Festival, Smetana Hall, "Ma Vlast" with NDR Hamburg Symphony

Prague Spring Festival, Smetana Hall, “Ma Vlast” with NDR Hamburg Symphony

We’re in Prague for the Spring Music Festival. The weather is good, and our apartment is in a good location. We’ll use some public transportation but probably walk most everywhere. Our place has a kitchen, so we find several small stores to do our shopping.

The opening night of the festival took place at Smetana Hall and featured the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg. On the program was probably the most important piece of classical music to the Czech people, “Ma Vlast” by Smetana. His music often incorporates Czech folk songs, and the complete “Ma Vlast” takes about 90 minutes. Of all the venues we’ve enjoyed for concerts, opera, recitals and ballet, this is the most beautiful! It includes paintings by Alfons Mucha, stained glass windows in the Art Nouveau style, statues on the walls and ceiling, brass decorative lattice work, rows of globe lights and more. The concert was sold out, and we had spots in the “standing room only” section. The orchestra’s Music Director is Thomas Hengelbrock and he led the orchestra in a passionate performance from start to finish. The visiting orchestra was enthusiastically received.

Dvořák Hall, International Flute Competition

Dvořák Hall, International Flute Competition

This year the festival hosted the International Flute Competition, and we heard the four finalists perform C.P.E. Bach, Quantz and Frank Martin with orchestra. The four young musicians were French and Korean and were spectacular. We debated their merits, but in the end, the first prize winner was Yubeen Kim. At the awards ceremony he happened to sit down next to us. I caught his picture seconds before the announcement. Even though getting to this point meant thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, it might still have seemed like a surprise to Mr. Kim. We’ll enjoy following his career.

The Alfons Mucha Museum is in Prague and as we own five of his prints, we thought it was an important spot to visit. Mucha was a leader in the Art Nouveau style and a Czech hero. He became famous for his beautiful decorative art paintings, and the museum collection, early photographs and his biography were really fascinating. He died shortly after being arrested by the Gestapo.

Alfons Mucha Museum

Alfons Mucha Museum

We also heard two of the finalists for the International Clarinet Competition. This year’s winner might be a familiar name to several of our colleagues in the Utah Symphony. His name is Sang Yoon Kim and he is a graduate of the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles.

We saw the opera “From the House of the Dead” by Smetana. The music was chaotic and one audience member yelled “boo!” at the first intermission. However, nationalistic pride produced many more “bravos” at the opera’s conclusion. Like many “box” seats in opera houses, it was hard to see the action on stage. It gave me more of an opportunity to evaluate the music. It wasn’t to my liking.

"La Traviata" at the State Opera

“La Traviata” at the State Opera

Seeing “La Traviata” by Verdi the next night was more enjoyable. Svatopluk Sem, who sang the role of Giorgio Germont, was a standout, and hearing those familiar beautiful long melodies was enjoyable. For the second night in a row, the action on stage included female nudity. Having seen it on Czech TV and elsewhere, it’s not so much of an issue here as in Utah!

Smoking is surprisingly pervasive in Europe. It’s allowed in outdoor areas and if you are attempting to escape an overheated opera house or enjoy dinner outside, it can be hard to escape. We are often adjusting our location to find a smoke-free environment. It seems disturbingly ironic to see health and beauty specialists smoking outside of a day spa or people at the top of a Swiss alp taking in the fresh air and view while lighting up.

Even angels smoke in Prague!

Even angels smoke in Prague!

In the Dvořák hall, there is a poster of the Czech Philharmonic. They employ 118 musicians. In both the flute and trumpet sections there appear to be a father/son combination. In Utah we are about 84 musicians and we work with four musicians named “David”. In the Czech Phil they have 16 players with the name “Jiri”! We’ll hear them this week.

We went to visit the cemetery with the grave sites of Dvořák and Smetana. Flowers adorn their graves, and on Smetana’s granite tombstone were the seven notes from the second flute solo which starts “The Moldau”! At both sites small crowds stood in reflection. High on a hill was another vantage point to overlook the beautiful city and the winding Moldau River below.

Dvořák's gravesite

Dvořák’s gravesite

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic was in town for two concerts, and we attended both of them. Yuri Temirkanov was on the podium, and we enjoyed the Shostakovich Symphonies No.7 & No. 5. It’s a huge orchestra with a huge sound. I was struck by the expressive wind and brass playing and the wall of sound from the strings. The winds have a greater refinement than their recordings from the 20th century, and Temirkanov kept his conducting to a minimum. The second concert featured Julian Rachlin playing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. Since the sabbatical began, this is our fourth time hearing this concerto! We may have saved the best for last! Mr. Rachlin was really in command. The opening and his lack of vibrato made this music sound icy cold. His tone developed into a beautifully romantic quality and then the driving force in the Allegro made me think he could saw his Stradivari violin in two!

Smetana's grave stone

Smetana’s grave stone

His Paganini encore was equally spectacular! During the concerts on two consecutive nights, the action on stage went uninterrupted while two people in the audience had to receive medical attention. The response to each who had fainted was immediate, but the wooden seats and platforms where we sat were so noisy that Mr. Rachlin could be noticeably seen looking out into the audience and the area where the medical personnel had gathered. The first ill fellow sat in the row in front of us, and I thought this might be his last time hearing a concert, but he came to and managed to walk through the aisle with some assistance to the exit.

Hearing the St. Petersburg Philharmonic confirmed the importance of what we call the auxiliary instruments in an orchestra. This orchestra had some terrific musicians playing piccolo, E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet! These solo instruments really made the most of their opportunities, and in the music of Shostakovich, they come often!

View of Karlsbad

View of Karlsbad

We enjoyed a night in the beautiful and modern Design Hotel Elephant before taking the train to Karlovy Vary, or Karlsbad. This town has for centuries been known for it’s therapeutic hot water springs. Lisa had booked this amazing room in a pensione overlooking the city, thanks to her flute playing friend and travel connoisseur Steven Schultz. The buildings are painted in a variety of pastel colors and are beautifully maintained. Most are five or six stories high and have names like Mozart, Menuet, Alisa and Nikolina. The streets are almost void of cars. The long promenades are filled with people sipping and strolling. They can be seen munching on Oplatky wafers and drinking the warm or hot mineral waters from their individual “pohareks”. These vessels come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are ceramic and include a narrow spout that receives the water on the way to your mouth. I got a little one. The water has a faint flavor of tea. It’s supposed to help with digestion, your liver and a long list of things that must be promoted by the local travel bureau! On our second day in Karlovy Vary we heard an afternoon recital of soprano, flute and organ music in the Mary Magdalene Church and an evening performance of operetta music with the Karlovy Vary Philharmonic. This concert featured many Strauss waltzes. There were a total of nine violins, so after the St. Petersburg Phil., it seemed a bit thin. The audience enjoyed the music.

"Taking the waters"

“Taking the waters”

Karlovy Vary is a place that had been frequented by people like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Dvořák, Smetana, Chopin, Puccini, Strauss, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and many others. Movie stars have come to this town, and part of “Casino Royale” with Daniel Craig as 007 was shot at the Grand Pupp hotel. The German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, used to take walks in the woods with Beethoven. I’m not sure if the spring waters helped us or not, but we found a spa in town where we spent three hours enjoying the same benefits that may have been experienced by these famous composers. The spa was built around the stone mountainside. The pool is made from small ceramic tiles in different shades of green with streaks of gold and silver. The irregular shape has rounded borders and the water sloshes over the side. One of our treatments included going from one very hot pool to a very cold pool and back and forth. It made me think of Goldilocks trying to find the porridge that was “just right”. That wasn’t it! I then relaxed and breathed deeply in an electro-inhalation room and then went for a massage with “Victor”. Victor was a stocky middle aged man who quickly got me on the massage table. His technique was aggressive. It made me think he had been an interrogator with the KGB! When he seemed to be pounding on my back the rhythm from a fast March by Shostakovich, I half expected him to say, “You vill tell us vhat ve vant to know!” He put an hour of himself into 15 minutes, and I thought afterwards that he might be the one that needs a massage! Lisa whined about the light massage she got from her masseuse. Next time she can get Victor!

Dvořák statue

Dvořák statue

We enjoyed our strolls, our sipping, some good food and the views overlooking Karlovy Vary. We took a picture of the Dvořák sculpture in the park and shopped around for more pohareks.

On our last morning, we walked up to see the Russian Orthodox Church passing places like the Chopin Villa, the Smetana Villa and the Tchaikovsky Palace. In the same area was the Russian Embassy and a statue of Karl Marx. This spot marked the entrance to the forest said to be frequented by Beethoven and many others. Immediately, the early morning sound of birds is apparent. They were singing in a way that reminded me of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Could they too be in F Major? We wondered if Beethoven could have heard these calls. There was definitely something magical about this forest, and a little further up was a plaque identifying a spot where Tchaikovsky had stopped to look and listen.

Historic mineral springs colonnade

Historic mineral springs colonnade

The rains came, and with our pohareks in hand, we were soon back in Prague. In some of Europe’s oldest cities, there are spots where time seems to stand still. We keep our eyes open and try to take it all in.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.18

 

Switzerland

Travel can take a lot of planning and be surprisingly taxing. On a spring day in May we left beautiful Lake Como for a different kind of beautiful, the Swiss Alps. This trip required a ferry to Menaggio, a hydrofoil to Como, a half-mile walk to the train station, a train to Arth-Goldau, a train to Lucerne, a train to Interlaken and finally a train to Lauterbrunnen. And this involves two countries that share a border! All those switches are a good reason to pack light because all those changes mean hauling (for us) two suitcases, two backpacks, a couple of ljackets, a purse and the “emergency gf food bag”.

Scenic train trip into Switzerland

Scenic train trip into Switzerland

One of the things we first noticed heading towards Switzerland was the color of the water. There are a lot of lakes and rivers. The colors would best be described as teal, or sage, or aqua marine. It’s a sign that you’re heading to glacier territory. Though their numbers are diminishing, there are still many glaciers working their magic between the highest peaks of Europe. In different parts of Europe you might also notice the sounds of the birds. In both Italy and Switzerland the bird calls are like Italian baroque music with plenty of embellishment. It reminds me of the difference between “bye” and “arrivederci!”

Happy cows in Lauterbrunnen

Happy cows in Lauterbrunnen

Lauterbrunnen is a narrow valley sandwiched between monster mountains that shoot up vertically to the 12 and 13,000 foot level. It’s a popular place for base jumpers and para-gliders. We didn’t see any of the former but we saw a lot of the latter. We would often spot them twirling and swirling to one of several landing spots in Lauterbrunnen and neighboring Interlaken. Small gatherings of cows with bells are common. This resulted in Lisa singing parts of Mahler’s 1st symphony for a couple of hours! Hay is gathered in giant marshmallow shaped coverings and there are huge fields of dandelions. A narrow, though fast-rushing river streams down the valley and from our hotel balcony we can count four waterfalls. Snow is still on most of the mountain peaks and has even fallen on the day of our arrival. This is part of the trip where we’re glad to have a coat!

Bobsledding at Schilthorn

Bobsledding at Schilthorn

The local cuisine is hearty. There is plenty of dairy, cheese, meat and potatoes. A local dish called “rosti” is so popular with Lisa, she ordered it five times in five days! We dine at a couple of restaurants high in the Alps and I wonder, “Is there a reason why this should taste better at 10 or 11,000 feet?” Maybe it’s the hiking involved to get there. Of course the scenery is amazing! The air is clear, and from atop Jung-Frau and Shilthorn, where they filmed most of the 007 movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, you can see Italy and Germany. We took time to take pictures with James Bond and check out the obligatory collection of Swiss watches. The watches are pricey, but I needed a Swiss Army knife, so I got that instead.

Hiking to Murren

Hiking to Murren

We’re in and on the Swiss Alps on the birthday of both Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Brahms was a true nature-lover and knew the Alps from his youth. His biographer, Jan Swafford, wrote “The melody for the finale of the C-minor symphony actually traces the shape of the Alps as Brahms viewed them during a hike.” I tried to see the melody, but I must have been on another trail! Mendelssohn was also a frequent visitor to the Alps, and the scenes from his watercolors that we saw in his home in Leipzig took on a little more meaning. With all these connections with classical music’s great composers, we are still reminded they were people too.

Honegger 20 Franc note

Honegger 20 Franc note

In Switzerland, the Euro is out and the Swiss franc is in. But who can complain when you see on the 20 franc note the face of composer Arthur Honegger! I hate to part with the bill, but that Swiss chocolate is calling. The language in Switzerland is not the German we have worked on knowing. You might hear German words, but the accent is more Gaelic. Somewhere back in time, the Scots and Irish no doubt settled in this area. They must have wanted a hiking challenge! We learn the important words (usually food related!) and the hotel staff is entertained.

We enjoyed a day taking a boat cruise on Brienz Lake by Interlaken. The views are gorgeous and we’re entertained by a couple of young fellows from Japan who “ooh” and “aah” at every new photo opportunity. The chalets all face the lake and make you wonder what life might be like living in such a place.

Boat ride at Interlaken - Lake Brienz

Boat ride at Interlaken – Lake Brienz

Waterfalls and the streams running down from the mountain tops give a sense of perpetual motion in Lauterbrunnen. Our walks take us over Lauibach, Staubbach, Geissbach and other “bachs”. This narrow swath of land has more bachs than Johann Sebastian and for someone who was a father 24 times, that’s a lot of streams! Some are so powerful you can understand the possible danger if caught in the rushing water. Like the edge of the peaks we frequent, we keep a healthy distance.

Getting to the top of the Alps usually involves a tram, a train or a funicular. One of the trains to “The Top of Europe” is so slow we quietly began chanting, “I think I can. I think I can…..” The tracks and lines are carefully maintained, so we were happy not to have to get out and push! They like to say that the alpine town of Murren is the birthplace of alpine skiing. It’s here where we enjoyed a curried rosti dinner while soaking in the view. But the restaurants in Lauterbrunnen and Murren come with furs or blankets for those sitting outdoors. At 11,000 feet we happily wore our jackets and the blankets provided by the restaurant at Hotel Alpenruh!

With Alain Moirandot and Randall Cook

With Alain Moirandot and Randall Cook

We spent a day in Basel, one of the centers for Renaissance and Baroque music. One of it’s illustrious citizens is an old Curtis classmate, Randy Cook. In a former lifetime, Randy was a terrific oboist. He moved his focus to the baroque oboe and the gamba. He then began making baroque oboes. We spent several hours together enjoying the stories about his colorful career, trying one of his beautiful baroque oboes and hearing him play four different gambas. One dated back to 1550! We were drawn in to their unique voices. Randy’s longtime partner, Alain Moirandot, is one of Switzerland’s leading authorities on antique books and owns his own business. Their house has a great collection of art and old things. Alain happens to be a great cook, too. It was the first time I had ever eaten manta ray cheeks! Alain is also a great storyteller and with their guest, Christoph, we heard entertaining stories using several languages! Randy gave us a couple of CDs I know we’ll love hearing. It all made us wish we could stay longer.

My plans to meet Heinz Holliger fell through. Mr. Holliger lives in Basel and is probably the most famous oboist of the 20th century. His solo career was substantial and he is responsible for dozens of new works. He also composes, and it was for this reason that his secretary said he was out of town. It was a disappointment.

Mozartplatz in Salzburg

Mozartplatz in Salzburg

We enjoyed two days in Salzburg, birthplace of Wolfgang A. Mozart. Salzburg must be one of the most picturesque cities in the world. We climbed to the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress and took advantage of a 360* view. From high above the city, we thought we could make out the spot where the nuns contemplated “How do you handle a problem like Maria” from the opening scene of “The Sound of Music”. The Alps framed one side of the city and green rolling hills were seen in all directions. From the fortress we could see the buildings Mozart called home through his teenage years. The fortress is site for a nightly concert featuring the Mozart Ensemble Salzburg. On this warm evening, we heard them play the Mendelssohn Quartet Op. 12, the Allegro from Mozart’s “”Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, a Haydn piano concerto, a Dvorak Waltz and a couple of Strauss waltzes. The Mozart, Dvorak and Strauss were particularly good. The funicular got us down to Salzburg in a hurry. Our lodgings have features reminiscent of Mozart’s time, and the hardware on the bathroom door looks like it could keep out any intruder.

The two Mozart museums are really worth seeing. One is where he was born and lived for about eight years, and the other is where he lived before striking off on his own. About 1/3 of his life involved “being on the road”. Making the most of a child protege required a lot of travel. A map outlined the dozens of cities Mozart saw before his 18th birthday. It helped him learn several languages and that maybe bathing wasn’t such a bad idea! An original copy of his flute sonatas is on display. Not bad for someone who was 8 years old!

Mozart birth house

Mozart birth house

We took another boat ride. This time on the Salzach River. The tour guide pointed out a home lived in by Herbert van Karajan, famous conductor for much of the 20th century. At the end of the excursion, the captain played a Strauss waltz while the bow thrusters blew to the starboard and the stern thrusters blew to the port. This resulted in the big boat twirling around in circles. It was almost enough to make you dizzy!

Dinner was at a Greek restaurant close to the hotel. I mistook ouzo for water and nearly choked. Travel has it’s surprises. Next stop? Praque!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.17

 

Italy

The landscape changes a lot from a window on the train. The Italian Alps still have snow and the curvy tracks slow down the train and give you a chance to enjoy the view. We noticed the houses all have red-tiled roofs and they’re not in nice neat rows like we might have seen in Austria. Clay courts for tennis are a common sight and various lakes and rivers are noticeable. Lumber yards, waterfalls and tunnels are especially common. The train station in Venice is crowded with people from all over the world. Before our time in Venice is through, my red University of Utah baseball cap causes an unexpected meeting with a family from Holladay, Utah. I usually just wear it so Lisa can help spot me in a crowd. We also have a system in place for an emergency whistle if that fails.

One of the "Dueling Orchestras" in St. Mark's Square

One of the “Dueling Orchestras” in St. Mark’s Square

Getting to St. Mark’s Square (near our home for a few days) requires a boat ride of about 30 minutes from the train station. The sight of a beautiful city coming out of the water makes a big impression! It’s hard to decide which side of the boat to stand on, the view is so amazing. The big square at San Marco is bordered by an imposing palace, museums and high-end shops and restaurants. Vendors get in your face trying to sell roses, trinkets, extenders for taking selfies, flying toys, purses, etc. The wheels of our suitcases bumped over the cobblestone roads and occasional passageways. Lisa has memorized the lefts and rights to our B&B, a suggestion from Rick Steves. Our host is “Riccardo”, who grew up in Venice and operates the B&B where he grew up and still lives. We get “Sister’s Room”. She lives in Lebanon. The building is 480 years old and is being outfitted for an elevator, but for now we tackle the stairs 16th century style. It’s a tough haul to the fourth floor, but we made it.

Interpreti Venezia

Interpreti Venezia

On our first night in Venice we went to a church well known to Antonio Vivaldi to hear a concert of his music and other Italians. The eight person group is called “Interpreti Veneziani”, and they performed the “Four Seasons” and “alla Rustica” by Vivaldi, the Tartini Cello Concerto with Davide Amadio, the Paganini Caprice No. 9 and an encore by Corelli. Four of the eight musicians took turns in the solo role and each one was excellent. The music had variety, personality and terrific energy. We can imagine it being one of the highlights for our time in Europe. On the morning of our second day we saw Tom Hanks filming a scene on the balcony of St. Mark’s Basilica. We heard it was a sequel to “The da Vinci Code”. It helped us put “due e due” together when we were remembering a crowd scene on the same square the night before! We look forward to it’s theatrical release.

Doge Palace ceilings

Doge Palace ceilings

We toured the Doge’s Palace, a building with amazing works of art. The rooms are huge and they are ornately decorated with statues on the ceilings, pink and white exterior walls and floors that could have used a level. We also toured the Murano Glass Factory on the island of Murano. It gave us an opportunity to see several glass blowers and see their stunning showrooms.

Glass-blowing at Murano Glass

Glass-blowing at Murano Glass

Venice was home to two musical priests. Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi helped bridge the gap between the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and “The Red Priest”, Antonio Lucia Vivaldi, was one of the great baroque composers, predating both Bach and Handel. We tried to see all the churches where they worked. The orphanage where Vivaldi composed and where the young ladies performed still stands. High above the main floor, behind metal grates, these young musicians were admired for decades by the people of Venice and visiting music lovers. Unfortunately, Vivaldi’s final days were away from Venice and he died in poverty.

Monteverdi memorial and grave

Monteverdi memorial and grave

What would a trip to Venice be without a gondola ride? The city’s rising water levels have damaged a lot of the lower floors, steps and gates along the canals, but taking a ride with an experienced gondolier is still fun! Ours could stop on a dime and negotiate the tightest opening. We didn’t get the deluxe package you can see elsewhere. It can include someone playing the accordion and another singing some Italian love song. The gondoliers all wear striped shirts, own their own boat and must go through a long apprenticeship before taking on customers. I’m still wondering how it is they stand in the back, untethered, and never fall in the water!

Evening gondola ride

Evening gondola ride

We enjoyed an orchestra concert at the Malibran Theater with the Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice conducted by Michel Tabachnik. The orchestra played Brahms Tragic Overture, the Webern Sinfonia Op. 21, “Livre pour cordes” by Boulez and Symphony No. 4 by Brahms. The orchestra played with a lot of emotion.

The Teatro La Fenice is an opera house that has been built and rebuilt a few times during it’s lifetime. Opera premieres by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner and Stravinsky all happened here along with the debut of Maria Callas. Though the opera house’s schedule did not allow for us to hear an opera, we did enjoy taking an extensive tour and witness part of a rehearsal. One thing you might notice about Venice is that you never see a car or bicycle. The only thing on wheels are the dozens and dozens of dollies you see making deliveries to the restaurants, homes and businesses. Without normal street traffic, the canals can easily get backed up, but the boat captains and gondoliers are so adept at maneuvering their crafts, there must be very few accidents.

La Fenice Opera House

La Fenice Opera House

Besides the stores selling glass, gelato and purses, one very popular sight are all the stores and vendors selling masks. Venetians love to celebrate Carnival, and it lasts for ten days! It usually takes place in February and visitors flood the islands to take part. The origins go back to the early 1600s during the time of a great plague. The masks worn by the doctors included long noses to help them keep a safer distance from their sick patients. It was common for us to see children wearing colorful masks. For some parents, coming back in the middle of winter was not an option. We enjoyed many good Italian meals. They know how to cook Italian in Italy, but who would have thought Lisa could get all that pasta and pizza without gluten?

Teatro La Scala interior

Teatro La Scala interior

A “workers’ holiday in Milan affected our travel slightly, but we managed to take part in a couple of important events which helped kick off the 2015 World Exposition. At Teatro La Scala, we heard the opening night performance of Verdi’s “Turandot”, conducted by Riccardo Chailly and attended by Prime Minister Mateo Renzi, his wife a daughter and a substantial entourage. I don’t think they were as interested in being there as we were. There was an actual “red carpet” and film crews everywhere. La Scala is a beautiful opera house and the performance included some dramatic costumes, sets and lighting. The orchestra played in a perfectly understated way and Chailly seemed to manage the soloists, choir and orchestra like an experienced magician. The voices were all good as was the orchestra.

Upon exiting the theater, our box seats had us funneling out of the theater ahead of the prime minister. Somehow we ended up on the red carpet. All the photographers appeared ready for their cue to start shooting. It made me think of that Oscar winning movie with Roberto Benigni, “Life is Beautiful”, when he gets mistaken for someone famous and the paparazzi start following his every move. We escaped that brush with fame and made our way through the rain to the queue for a cab. Unfortunately, the workers’ strike meant cabs were few and far between. Eventually we were able to hail a cab and make it back to Hotel Johnny, our home for two days.

Toscanini - Verdi hangout in Milan

Toscanini – Verdi hangout in Milan

On day two of the Expo, the Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle was playing at La Scala. They played Janacek’s Sinfonietta and Bruckner’s 7th Symphony. They used 11 trumpets in the Sinfonietta and a lot of extra brass in the Bruckner. Playing 1st oboe this time was Albrecht Mayer who James Hall and I met ten years ago in Berlin. He is a big name soloist and, like flutist Emmanuel Pahud, is often absent from Berlin Phil. performances. It was a treat to hear Albrecht. His playing had beauty and personality. As in the two previous Berlin Phil. concerts we heard, the strings and principal horn and trumpet stood out for their excellence.

Turandot exhibit at La Scala Museum

La Scala has a terrific museum which features the opera house’s outstanding past. Tributes to Toscanini, Verdi, Puccini and all the greats make for an enjoyable visit. One tribute was to the great Italian actress, Eleanore Duse. Because Duse is in Lisa’s family tree, we wondered if she might be part Italian. She looks a little like my mother-in-law, so maybe!

The last part of our Italian stay would take place at Lake Como, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Carved out by ice age glaciers, the lake looks like a distorted stick figure with no arms. Leonardo da Vinci came here from his home in Milan. Operas were composed here by Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Puccini. Felix Mendelssohn painted pictures of the lake. Films like “Star Wars II” and “Casino Royale” used the lake as a backdrop, and Madonna, Sting and George Clooney have called it home. The Alps rise up from near the lake’s edges and pastel villas be-speckle the shorelines. We rode the ferry that connects places like Bellagio, Lenno and Varenna, where we stayed for two days. Even two overcast days couldn’t take the beauty away from this magical place. We might wish for a couple more days. Well, maybe the next sabbatical!

Boat ride on Lake Como

Boat ride on Lake Como

Next….the Swiss Alps!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.16

 

More Germany and Vienna

Munich is a large city in the southern part of Germany. We noticed the ethnic diversity right away. There are a lot of restaurants, five and six-story buildings, and bikes you should keep an eye on. Lisa would have a run-in with one, but recovered nicely. We started off with some great Indian food. We would return the next day for the buffet. Equally impressive! Our accommodations were at a hotel across the street from a cemetery, so it was quiet enough. The train station was also close by which helped us get around easily.

Though we had been up early and on the train for a while, we were excited to hear the Munich Philharmonic with Paavo Jarvi conducting and violin soloist Joshua Bell. Jarvi and Lisa were in school together and like most of the conductors we’ve seen, he looks much the same. Maybe all that flailing around helps keep a conductor young! The program included Nielsen’s Masquerade Overture, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique and the Symphony No. 1 by Shostakovich. Joshua Bell was really fabulous. He makes it look so easy, though it couldn’t possibly be. His bow arm becomes a blur in some of the technical passages and as always, he sings in the most expressive manner. We really enjoyed the musicians Herman van Kogelenberg on his wooden flute and cellist Michael Hell. The string playing was full of energy.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

On our second day in Munich, we took a train and a bus to the Bavarian Alps to see the great castles of King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II was close friends with Richard Wagner and many scenes from the Ring Cycle are painted on the castle walls. Walt Disney was undoubtedly inspired when he saw the Neuschwanstein Castle on the edge of the Alps. Its fairy tale appearance would remind this southern Californian of boyhood trips to Magic Mountain and Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Large tour groups would enjoy a beautiful day with us. King Ludwig must have been in good shape. The two castles we toured are very tall and there are a lot of stairs!

François Leleux's oboe class

François Leleux’s oboe class

By chance, I stumbled upon the announcement of an oboe class recital at the Munich Hochschule , where Professor François Leleux teaches. Mr. Leleux is recognized by many to be one of the great oboe players of our day. It might not be possible to hear him play during our time in Europe, but maybe hearing nine of his students would be the next best thing! We found the school and met with François before and after the recital. He was most gracious. His nine students played with terrific musical expression. Even the flute player (Lisa) I was sitting next to was impressed. It was easy to imagine all the young oboists would have careers in music. François thought one student in particular might have a solo career.

Trains in Germany usually run on time. People use them and they’re generally clean and smooth running. These things don’t matter much when they suddenly go on strike! This would affect many travelers on our long trip back to Berlin. Fortunately, Lisa managed to get us on one of the few trains leaving Munich. We made a switch in Hannover and got to Berlin before sundown. Our new hotel in Berlin was pretty bad, but we enjoyed a Croatian meal right next door.

We spent much of the next day at Potsdam, home to Frederick the Great and at times Johann Joachim Quantz and C.P.E. Bach. Between the three of them, the flute went mainstream! King Frederick and his teacher, Quantz, performed regularly in this terrifically ornate palace. The rococo style is especially celebrated. This was a King who loved the arts and ruled his Prussian Empire for 46 years. The keyboard and flute that were used by Bach and Frederick were on display. They looked to be in excellent condition.

Berlin Philharmonic

Berlin Philharmonic

We returned to Berlin to hear the Berlin Philharmonic again. The program featured a new trumpet concerto by H.K. Gruber and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Andris Nelsons conducted. The Mahler showed why the Berlin Philharmonic is such a great orchestra! It’s ranks were enlarged. Maybe having 30 violins can make a difference, but we’ve heard this orchestra sound amazing when there were only 18. In a couple of concerts we’ve heard, the orchestra was without either of their principal oboists and in the Mahler, without either one of their principal flutists. What seems to be apparent is the playing in the string sections. If you pay attention to the violins, you notice that their bows go the same direction, they use the same part of the bow, they use the same amount of bow, their left hands are synchronized, their use of vibrato matches, note lengths match, silences match and even the sway of their bodies match. There is a sense of fearlessness! It’s as though they are hugely prepared and have something to prove! You notice all this from the first stand to the last!

We returned to Leipzig in hopes of hearing the Gewandhaus Orchestra with David Zinman. Unfortunately, Zinman was sick. His young replacement, Omer Meir Wellber, led the orchestra in Haydn’s Symphony No. 87, a Dutilleux Cello Concerto and Schubert’s 4th Symphony. Our view was obstructed and I took advantage of that and enjoyed just listening. The cello soloist was Truis Mork and he was excellent. The orchestra played with precision. The conductor was more of a distraction.

The train strike ended in time for us to get to Vienna as scheduled. Our place is on a quieter street not too far from the cultural center of the city. It’s not uncommon to run into a statue of Mozart or Brahms or see their name on a menu. All the great composers from the past lived in Vienna or spent considerable time here. It’s a beautiful city with impressive buildings at every turn.

Mozart statue in Vienna

Mozart statue in Vienna

We heard the Vienna Philharmonic play an 11:00am concert with Ricardo Muti conducting. We had seen Muti in Berlin, so we were excited to see how things would go with a different orchestra. He conducted the same two first half pieces, Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style and Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony. Our seats were behind the tympani and last two rows of first violins. My seat was such that I was able to stand for most of the performance. It was interesting to see the tympani player in action. In the first piece his sticks were two pieces of wood without felt or anything to soften the sound. It seemed more like the butt end of a set of snare drum sticks. Regardless, he controlled them to perfection. The wind playing was truly spectacular. The flute and oboe were so in tune, so of one mind, the horn solos just glorious. The Brahms 2nd Symphony seemed like it was another one of the thousands of pieces that audiences heard first in Vienna and have continued to love for more than 100 years. The applause and shouts of “Bravo!” for Muti continued for several minutes, even after we left our seats! We said hello and bravo to the principal flutist as we exited the hall.

Musikverein

We returned to the Musikverein for an evening performance of the Webern Symphony Orchestra with Christoph Eschenbach conducting. There is a lot to notice about the hall, it’s acoustics, the busts of famous composers, the artwork on the ceiling, etc. But I pointed out the ten glass chandeliers to Lisa. They all are shaped like the bell of an oboe! This student orchestra played Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6. There were many good things and the students enjoyed their time in the spotlight. A clear cool night made it nice to walk back to our apartment.

Tonight it’s Rossini’s “Italian Girl in Algiers”. It should be a fun send-off, for tomorrow at this time, we’ll be in Italy! Now, how fluent in Italian can I get before we get to Venice? Stay tuned!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.15

 

Germany

Europe has a lot more cafés, cobblestones and graffiti than the U.S., but one thing that can be hard to find is a restroom. In the Brussels train station there must be about 25 track lines, but a men’s room? Only one! And trying to find it was a challenge while waiting for our train to Bonn. The answer? Hop on another train and hope it has a restroom and it doesn’t leave too soon. Such was the scenario on the way to German soil. Fortunately, I successfully completed my mission. Otherwise I’d be writing this blog entry from Paris and as beautiful as Paris is in the springtime, we have non-refundable tickets for hotels and concerts and Lisa probably wasn’t interested in going alone!

Beethoven's birth house

Beethoven’s birth house

Bonn, Germany is, of course, the birthplace of Beethoven. It’s a beautiful old and new city. Substantial car-free zones dominate areas close to Beethoven’s house. Many people enjoy walking along the shops and restaurants and along the Rhine River. We did too. The Beethoven museum was really special and Lisa and I enjoyed the listening library where everything he was known to compose has been recorded. I listened to his two trios for two oboes and English Horn. On the recording was Heinz Holliger, perhaps the most famous oboe player of the 20th century. If I’m lucky, we may get to meet him in Basel, Switzerland next month. Thierry Fischer has introduced me to his secretary. In this business, sometimes it helps to know the right people! Bonn is also a college town and students were out in force during our visit. A huge lawn several football fields long was the the site of young people playing frisbee, soccer, lacrosse, etc. Several were trying their luck on a tightrope that had been strung up between two trees. It was nice to be enjoying 70F weather and the students must have thought the same thing. The monument of Beethoven and the church where he spent his early years is close by and in excellent condition.

Bob and Beethoven

Bob and Beethoven

Eisenach was the next stop on our “musical journey” and Lisa would later say that it also seemed like a pilgrimage. We spent long hours in the Bach home and museum. One of the staff members gave a terrific demonstration on the five keyboard instruments that Bach would have used during his lifetime. One was a pump organ that required a teenage assistant. We loved the sound of the harpsichord and clavichord. It was also nice to read that one of Bach’s favorite instruments was the oboe. The Bach family lasted for generations as a musical influence. Their large three-story house was active with the collecting of instruments, the writing out of instrumental parts for any number of religious musical offerings, private lessons, practicing, etc. J. S. Bach was also a father twenty times, so all those kids must have been a challenge.

Bach's birth house

Bach’s birth house

Dresden has to win the award for the “Most Improved” city in Germany. The Allied bombing in February of 1945 destroyed almost everything, but the rebuilding gives credence to the city’s nickname, “The Florence on the Elbe”. Statues of composers like Karl Maria von Weber, Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss were easy to notice and the most amazing mural adorns the side of the old palace, home to kings for centuries. We heard the Dresden Philharmonic play a very dark Prokofiev Symphony #3 and Stravinsky’s “Firebird”. The principal harpist, Xavier de Maistre, who went to school at Julliard also played the Gliere Harp Concerto. We went to see “Tosca” on our second night in Dresden. The tenor, Andeka Gorrotxategi, was fabulous and the solo clarinet and cello near the end of the opera equally good. Unfortunately, the musicians names were left out of the program.

Inside Dresden Semperoper

Inside Dresden Semperoper

In Dresden, and later in Leipzig, we would witness marches or speeches condemning the neo-Nazi groups in Germany. The country is very sensitive to allowing that to happen again!
Leipzig is another beautiful German city. We had a great flat for three days not far from the St. Thomas Church where J. S. Bach spent much of his adult life. We visited the church and museum and took a great self-guided walking tour to see Mendelssohn’s house and museum, the Schumann house and other sites related to Grieg, Wagner and Mahler. We tried to get tickets for a Lang Lang piano recital, but tickets prices were about $120 a piece. We declined. However, we did hear the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. They performed Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony and Schumann’s 3rd Symphony. Blomstedt is 87 years old, tall, lean and with big hands. He doesn’t use a baton. He has a full head of silver hair, bushy eyebrows, wire-rimmed glasses and he likes to wear his pants high. He still loves the music and the players responded to his energy. Sadly, the players names were not mentioned in the program. The music-making was exceptional and the collaborative effort extremely apparent. It was fun to be a part of this sold-out concert.

Evening at the Gewandhaus

Evening at the Gewandhaus

We went to a great instrument museum in Leipzig. It contained some wonderful old instruments, including the first fortepiano built in 1726. The audio guide let us hear these instruments being played. You could hear the change from the harpsichord to this new piano. The evolution of the oboe was fascinating to me too. Little by little more and more keys found their way onto the oboe, but I still wonder…..has it made it any easier? I might get my answer when we go to Basel. I’m meeting up with a baroque oboe maker and trying out new baroque oboes. That’s my idea of fun!

The next morning we went to a children’s concert billed as “Peter and the Wolf”. A woodwind quintet from the Gewandhaus Orchestra supplied the reduced version. Even with German narration it was entertaining.

Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig

Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig

Berlin is a much different city than 25 years ago. We’re staying at a nice hotel not far from the Tiergarten and the Philharmonie. We’d take advantage of both before the weekend was through.
Ricardo Muti conducted the Berlin Philharmonic on our first night in town and our seats were in the front row! I sat about ten feet from the spectacular first stand of basses and the fourth stand of violas. They were probably the norm! Lisa and I knew Muti’s conducting while he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, so this was fun for us. The program included Schubert’s “Italian” Overture, Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 and “Aus Italien” by Richard Strauss. The orchestra was excellent in every way! A young woman was playing 1st oboe and sounded superb. Her name was not mentioned in the program. I’m going to try and find out her identity.

Front Row at the Berlin Philharmonic

Front Row at the Berlin Philharmonic

We heard the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin conducted by Kent Nagano. The main piece was Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The horn playing of Paolo Mendes was a stand-out.

On our last day (for now) in Berlin we went to the greatest of instrument museums and two recitals. The first was a group from Italy called “La Morra”. This three-person ensemble played Italian music from the 15th and 16th centuries. One woman played two recorders (not at the same time!) and clavichord. Another woman played the viola d’arco and had the most beautiful singing voice. They were most accomplished. We also heard a group called Concerto Melante performing on historical instruments. The music came from the 1700s and included a piece Wolfgang A. Mozart would have composed as a young boy. The musicians were outstanding. It was something special to hear a flute and an oboe from that time period. Their sounds were unique. We’re both wondering….. Shall we get one of each?

La Morra

La Morra

Next stop? Munich.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.14 (I. & II.)

 

London

I.

The London Eye

The London Eye

London is big, it’s old, and it’s a place my older brother has called home for more than 45 years. Lee went to the Royal College of Music and continues to be involved as clarinetist and librarian for several different groups. His wife, Mary, has had a distinguished career as a cellist and continues to play with the string quartet, Fiori Bianchi. Their home, not far from the Balham underground stop, is filled with things musical and artistic. Old radiators make their gurgling noises and help keep the house warm. Mary’s pottery can be seen in most every room of the house. Their English garden is beautiful and home to several happy birds whose songs help us begin each new day. For more than two weeks it will be home.

With many major and minor orchestras, the theatre, relatives and sights to see, our schedule would be busy. And then we have to find time to enjoy Lee’s cooking or a favorite restaurant. The temperatures are still cool in March and April and I’m glad I brought a coat with a hood. Even if it doesn’t rain, there’s always the threat . We use what are called “Oyster” cards to travel by the underground, train or bus. In certain places, at certain times, the mass of people can mean you don’t get a seat. “Sorry!” is the more common expression when bumping into others. We’re getting to know the Northern Line, making sure we stand on the right on the escalator and when the buses run late.

 

Lisa with Rachel Brown

Lisa with Rachel Brown

One of Lisa’s projects for the year is to study baroque performance practices. Coming to London made it possible to work with one of the greats, Rachel Brown. Rachel’s expertise and energy has made this musical language come to life in ensembles like Collegium Musicum 90, the Academy of Ancient Music, the Kings Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and many others. Lisa’s two-hour plus lessons filled her with excitement about music as a kind of speech and the element of dance that formed the basis of so much early music.

We went to Waterloo and the Southbank to hear the London Philharmonic Orchestra play twice. Their Mozart Symphony No. 36 made a huge impression. Their performance was complete with excellent ensemble and beautiful dynamic phrasing. The violin sections seem especially virtuosic. With five competing orchestras in London and the threat of that number being reduced, every performance must have energy and “something to say”. This orchestra was good at saying it! We also enjoyed Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, a new concerto for 4 horns by James Horner and “Sheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov. A young Russian pianist, Dmitry Mayboroda, made a splash with the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1. He wasn’t shy about playing three encores too!

 

Billy Elliot musical

Billy Elliot musical

Lisa and I enjoyed seeing the musical “Billy Elliot” and the play/musical “Shakespeare in Love”. The West End was packed with theatergoers and busy restaurants. There are also signs, “This area is known for pickpockets”. I moved my wallet to a front pocket. During the week we noticed the theaters and halls allowed people to bring chips, ice cream and wine back to their seats. I’m not especially keen on someone munching a bag of Doritos during one of my performances.

The four us enjoyed a nice trip down the Thames River to Greenwich. The Trinity College of Music is there along with the Royal Naval Academy. The observatory is a popular place for tourists and we could be in a spot where one foot was in the western hemisphere and the other in the Eastern hemisphere. We ate fish and chips for lunch. It wouldn’t be the last time!

We saw a terrific show on the history and recreation of the first performance (in Prague) of Mozart’s “ Don Giovanni”. In the month ahead we’ll get to see that exact spot where Mozart conducted the orchestra. A plaque designates that spot. The hall still stands and is still used by the people of Prague.

The London Sinfonietta with, Thierry Fischer conducting, played at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on March 28th. We met before the concert for tea. After an exhausting Pierre Boulez program a week earlier, Thierry seemed especially relaxed and personable. He got us tickets and would introduce us to one of England’s pre-eminent flutists, Michael Cox. The crowd was large and appreciative. The all-modern program was typical of this orchestra. The review the next day would call it an “excellent performance”. From the audience, Thierry’s conducting seemed clear and helpful especially considering the complexity of these late 20th and21st century works. The audience brought him back three times.

Thierry Fischer, flutist Michael Cox

Thierry Fischer, flutist Michael Cox

Lisa joined Mary and the other three members of the Fioiri Bianchi String Quartet for an evening of flute quartets and quintets. The members of the quartet have all played for royalty and with the leading orchestras of London. Joan Atherton was even one of the musicians in the London Sinfonietta concert we had just heard. However, it’s not as much about the music as the food, and Lee has a reputation for never making the same thing twice! He made some delicious Indian food that everyone loved!. I was the sous chef. It was a lot of fun.

Quintets with the girls

Quintets with the girls

We had some great meals at a dim sum restaurant, a neighborhood pho restaurant and a Lebanese restaurant. Mary’s daughter Susie, grandson Alfie and son-in-law Philip joined us for a plum chicken dinner. Susie helps manage the career of conductors like Thierry Fischer, and Philip is an acoustical engineer. He’s helped build concert halls in Glasgow, London, Norway and Egypt, to name a few. We became a little more familiar with the science of sound. Alfie was entertaining us with tales of British humor. He spent the night.

I spent part of an afternoon trying new oboes at the Howarth Oboes store. They’re getting better and the temptation to go further into debt is great. After time trying oboes in Los Angeles, Paris and London, I feel the need to take stock. After all, a new oboe is tax deductible!

We heard the Royal Philharmonic play an all-Beethoven concert at Cadogan Hall. Of the four principal winds, only one was a regular. A player switching between orchestras is a common occurrence in London. Principal clarinetist Katherine Lacy and guest principal bassoonist Joseph Sanchis were two of the stand-outs. The program featured Beethoven’s 2nd and 4th symphonies and the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 with Freddy Kempf. Mr. Kempf was spectacular. You could see why he was a prize winner at the Tchaikovsky Competition.

 

Handel House

Handel House

We enjoyed visits to the Handel House and Westminster Abbey. Handel lived for more than 30 years at this home on Brook Street and is buried in Westminster Abbey. The house has been renovated beautifully. Replicas of his harpsichords are present (one of which he spent the four weeks composing “The Messiah”), along with the paintings he would have displayed. Though his roots were German, Handel was known as “a Londoner”. A plaque identifies the Handel House, but in a strange example of contrast, next door is a plaque identifying the house of Jimi Hendrix. They would have been neighbors except for 200 years of time. Westminster Abbey can be overwhelming. Besides Handel, grave sights, plaques and dedications can be seen for composers like Purcell, Vaughn Williams, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, people like Isaac Newton, Robert Browning, Winston Churchill and kings and queens going back more than 800 years. Our limited American history pales in comparison, as does the family and political intrigue of royal succession. The enormous church, surrounding churches, Big Ben, the Eye, Parliament, etc. are good backdrops for a lot of picture-taking.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Lisa and I enjoyed a concert at St. John’s Square with the London Mozart Players. This program included the first movement of the 40th Symphony by Mozart and the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20. Howard Shelley talked, played and conducted the program. It was very exciting. Afterwards, we said hello to Michael Cox again.

With less than a week remaining in London, we are faced with the fact we’re not going to get to everything. Sold out performances by the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House have altered our plans. Besides, Lee probably has some dishes he wants to try out on us!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes
 

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II.

The challenge of traveling to a foreign country can be great. One might think another English speaking nation would be no problem, but the accents and vocabulary can create issues. In the U.S., you can imagine a boy saying to his mother, “Mom, I’m going to the park to play soccer with my friends Alex, Nick, Josh and Cody!” In the U.K it would be more like, “Mum, I’m going to the common to play football with my mates Alastair, Nigel, Giles and Colin!” Whereas we have the hood and trunk of a car, the Brits have the bonnet and boot. When asking a server at a fish and chips place in Greenwich, “Where are your restrooms?…..Your bathrooms?…… Your toilettes (with a French accent)?” and still getting a puzzled look in return, my brother suggested “Try loo!” The young woman quickly pointed the way.

Lisa and I went to hear concerts featuring the English Concert and the Academy of Ancient Music. The latter group played Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion and one of the stars was Rachel Brown on baroque flute. As Lisa had spent several hours working with her, Rachel’s beautiful playing meant that much more. We really had the sense of the music “speaking” in that true baroque style.

Family day on the Thames

Family day on the Thames

One of the fun things about coming to London is seeing family. Besides spending all the time with brother Lee and sister-in-law Mary, we got to see a niece and her husband, their two beautiful daughters and my oldest nephew. We enjoyed lunch together and a walk along the Thames River. The girls fed the “royal swans” and ducks. Mary pointed out a mandarin. Miraculous! Everyone seems well.

Easter included time with Mary’s son, Andy, his two sons and Andy’s girlfriend, Corrine. We dined on roast ducks and a dessert called “Pavlova”. Everything was delicious. We all took a walk in the Common. Corrine’s dog, “Sydney Dog”, played soccer, or should I say football, most of the way. The trees are starting to show their leaves and the temperatures are getting warmer.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Lisa and I went to hear the Saint Luke’s Passion by James MacMillan, which had some exciting moments. There wasn’t a lot for the reduced orchestra to do, but the choirs were especially good.

We took a break from the concert schedule and made a trip north to the seaside town of Whitby. Whitby is famous for fish and chips, the ruins of a huge abbey and, for Lisa, ancestors. The Chapmans lived for centuries in this coastal town as ship builders, sea merchants, sail makers, etc. We spent time in the local library and discovered there were a lot of Stephenson’s living in Whitby, too. We took pictures of paintings of Chapmans that can be shared with family in California. We also enjoyed the Victorian photographs of Whitby native Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and the paintings of George Weatherill. The fish and chips lived up to it’s reputation.

Old shipping village of Whitby

Old shipping village of Whitby

On our last night in London we went to hear the London Symphony Orchestra. Gianandrea Noreda led the orchestra in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto and the Faust Symphony by Liszt. The violin soloist was Leonidas Kavakos and he was fabulous. We sat in the seventh row. His Stradivarius violin drew us in immediately and the energy in the faster material was electric. The woodwinds did a great job of keeping up in an accompaniment which is very difficult. The trumpet and horn playing stood out in the Liszt symphony. It’s an orchestra that uses dynamic phrasing expertly. The strings sound like a great collection of virtuosi. The fugue in the last movement was really thrilling. It was a good way to finish our musical journey in England.

LSO at the Barbican

LSO at the Barbican

Now, Germany!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.13

 

Amsterdam and Bruges

Slanted Amsterdam house

Slanted Amsterdam house

Amsterdam leans. It leans left, it leans right, it leans to and it leans fro. It’s like a city designed and built by Dr. Seuss! Our first stop in the capital city of the Netherlands put us in a house built in 1663 on the street Leidsegracht along one of the many beautiful canals that run through and around Amsterdam. The home’s owners were Elizabeth and Dick, an archaeologist and an engineer that had known each other since childhood. Their long lives together had taken them to places familiar and exotic. Art treasures were everywhere in this seven-story home. Our room was on the sixth floor, which required scaling the most narrow of stairways. The Dutch people of 1663 must have been lean and strong-legged. Outside our window was the canal and occasional boats filled with sight-seers, bicyclists, walkers retracing the steps over the same cobblestones walked upon by perhaps Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Bernard Haitink or a young Anne Frank. A small green bench sat outside our front door and was a popular spot for photographs following the recent movie, “The Fault in Our Stars”.

Breakfast with clarinetist Nancy Braithwaite Wierdsma

Breakfast with clarinetist Nancy Braithwaite Wierdsma

The next morning we met up with Nancy Braithwaite Wierdsma, one of the country’s celebrated clarinet players and teachers. She looked wonderful in her red wool coat and had changed little since our time playing together in the Savannah Symphony 35 years ago. We found a little place for breakfast near an outdoor market. I enjoyed some little puffy pancakes with chocolate sauce. We would see later that the metal form to cook these pancakes was also in the kitchen of Rembrandt’s home. It was nice to think of having this like in common.
Nancy teaches at the Rotterdam Conservatory and her daughter, Amarins, is now actively pursuing a career as a violinist. Before the week was over we would read about Amarins’ solo violin performance in a concert celebrating Pierre Boulez. Conducting the concert was Thierry Fischer. Small world! Between pancakes, we did well to catch up on our lives. But sometimes, old friends are the best!

Lisa and I enjoyed walking about Amsterdam, but it’s something which requires great vigilance! In this city of almost a million people, most of them ride bikes. Special lanes exist for the bikers. Cars yield to the bikers, as must the pedestrians. We would witness the bikers transporting children, other adults, pizzas, flowers, groceries, their cell phones (while they were texting!), a chair, their dogs, guitars and what looked like a kid’s science project! The bikes sit idle along bridges and waterways, fences and trees. But when on the road, the clang of their clangers and the ding of their dingers was a constant sound. Admittedly, they are most directed to the tourists, so we heard it often. We took time for a great falafel and returned to our place on Leidsegracht to pack up and move again. After the shopping in Paris, our suitcases got a little heavier.

My brother Lee and his wife Mary booked a great place by the Prinsensluis Bridge. Our second floor vantage point gave us a great view of this busy intersection. On this canal there sits houseboat after houseboat. Tour boats cruise down the canal where a couple blocks away is the “Anne Frank House”. We can see church steeples, shops and restaurants and the constant stream of people on bikes.

Canal in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam

We all went out for Indonesian food, which was terrific, and then we went to hear the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Mariss Jansons conducting one of his final concerts with this great orchestra. He still conducted with passion and the orchestra rose to the occasion. The concert featured songs by Mahler and Copland with Thomas Hampson singing and the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. The 47-page program failed to list the players in the orchestra, which I found especially irritating. Maybe the players are all household names!

The hall of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

The hall of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Our visit to the Rembrandt house the next day was really interesting. This ample home was used as both studio and school for promising painters. The large studio where Rembrandt painted some of his greatest works was filled with light from a row of windows, armor from the period, vases and sculptures and statues of various kinds. The “school” was not enough to pay the mortgage and eventually Rembrandt declared bankruptcy. Being an artist can be difficult, even for a genius like Rembrandt.

Rembrandt's studio

Rembrandt’s studio

We visited a great Delft pottery store and took a canal boat ride before hitting a Greek restaurant. I tried to order in Dutch, but our server took pity on me. Sometimes their English is better than mine, anyway.
Early the next day we got on the train for the opening day at Keukenhof, after Dubai, the world’s largest public garden. The cool temperatures may have kept the crowds away. We didn’t mind. The windmill, various structures, the winding rivers and the indoor collection of tulips made for a memorable day. With people having their favorite flower, the “selfie” was everywhere. We ate our picnic lunch on bales of hay by the windmill. Some people smiled and took pictures.

Back in Amsterdam, we ate at nearby Winkel. The weekend activity was pronounced. The next morning it would seem like a ghost town. Saturday and Sunday morning are very quiet and even the ever-present sound of people towing their suitcases over the cobblestones was gone. Smoke from the stovepipes of the houseboats was about the only thing moving. Church bells sound, bouncing off the centuries old homes.

Bruges canal ride with Lee and Mary Stephenson

Bruges canal ride with Lee and Mary Stephenson

The four of us left for Bruges, one of Europe’s great medieval cities. Our home for two days was a modern three-story home on Kleine Heiligegeeststraat. Bruges is known as the “Venice of the North” and if the chocolate is as good in Venice as it is in Bruges, we’re going to be very happy come May! Besides the chocolate, which is on every street, there is the lace, waffles, frites and beer. I didn’t get any lace, but tried everything else. There were no disappointments. We enjoyed a fine Belgian meal at The Habit and watched some American TV, “Forever”, starring Ioan Gruffudd. Like actresses Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence, Mr. Gruffudd played the oboe in his youth. Maybe a TV pilot is in my future? Well, we can dream.

Lisa and I were up before sunrise. We headed east to the walled edge of Bruges and the huge windmills on the banks of the wide canal. It was fun to have the large “Markt” almost to ourselves. The early morning trucks were making their deliveries and a biker spotted my bright red University of Utah baseball cap. He stopped to tell us he had been a student at the U. majoring in Finance, fell in love with a girl from Bruges and had lived here for ten years. There was something about his wife wanting to live close to home. Four children later he wasn’t going anywhere. Lisa and I had a quiet breakfast on the big square and went to the post office. The idea of mailing items back to the States seemed like a good alternative to carting everything around for the next eleven weeks!

Morning walk by the windmills

Morning walk by the windmills

After I had another breakfast with Lee and Mary, Lisa joined us for another canal boat ride. Bruges became a great melting pot in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of the houses and bridges we saw were erected during this period. Great painters like the Breughels, Rene Magritte, Anthony Van Dyck and Jacob van Oost made their homes in Bruges. Their bright colors were a signature of Flemish art and their works look just as vibrant today!

Lee and I climbed the 366 steps up the great tower on Markt Square. Of particular interest were the chimes, which ring daily and have so since the 13th century. They rang while we were “in the neighborhood”. I can now understand why the Hunchback of Notre Dame had a hearing problem. Of course the view was amazing. I also spent some time visiting the Dali museum and the museum of Russian ballet photography.

Market Square and tower in Bruges

Market Square and tower in Bruges

We said goodbye to Bruges over some Belgian chocolate ice cream. It was the best!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.12

 

Paris

The 11-hour flight from Salt Lake City to Paris is filled with light meals and intermittent sleep. But it is enough time to read, watch bits and pieces of several movies and TV shows and contemplate the next three months. Did we bring the right clothes? Will we be able to meet the people we plan to meet? Will our accommodations be okay? Will our language skills get us from one place to another? Will the money last? Five days in Paris will begin to answer these questions and more. Getting your luggage in Paris takes a while. It involves a train, passing customs and a lot of walking. Regardless, it’s a relief to see it swinging around the carousel.

Coffee in the park with Maja Bogdanovic

Coffee in the park with Maja Bogdanovic

We took a cab to the apartment of Maja Bogdanovic, not far from the Telegraphe Metro station in the northeast section of Paris. We were met by “Elena”, an old friend of Maja’s. Maja is a concert cellist and was off performing a new work by Penderecki with Penderecki conducting. She has an active career and most recently had performed in Lubbock, Texas, where David Cho serves as the orchestra’s Music Director. David was our assistant conductor in Utah about four years ago. The apartment is on a quiet, cobblestone street and was a welcome home for our time in the city.

We already had tickets for a concert on Day 1. Unfortunately, getting the tickets was involved and confusing. It meant securing the tickets in a spot far from the concert venue. Finding it was challenging. By the time we had made all the train connections, we had missed the Beethoven overture. Sorry, Ludwig! The orchestra was the Orchestre National de France conducted by David Afkham. Our balcony seats gave us a good view of the action and with the Brahms Violin Concerto and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, there was plenty of action! Much of the audience encircles the stage below and the stairways are steep. This “Maison de la Radio” is old, but we already felt we were in Europe. Maybe it was everybody speaking French!

Bob's birthday boat ride on the Seine

Bob’s birthday boat ride on the Seine

The Brahms Violin Concerto featured Viktoria Mullova on violin and a great orchestra accompaniment. The orchestra was sufficiently understated and the famous oboe solo beautifully played. The soloist was clean and commanding. We might have preferred a more romantic interpretation, but still enjoyed it. The Bartok gave the orchestra a chance to shine and the players delivered. The series of woodwind duets in the second movement and the violins made strong impressions. Getting home went a little better and a day that had started in Salt Lake City almost 40 hours earlier came to a happy, though exhausting close. By the end, Lisa was able to say, “Happy birthday!”

On our first full day, we took a boat ride down the Seine River on a huge double-decker boat. Important landmarks were pointed out in several languages. Cameras were snapping photographs at every moment. The crowds were big enough that I wondered if it was possible to photograph anything without having somebody else in your shot photographing something!

We stopped, as many Parisians do, for a cafe visit. In honor of another birthday, I had some chocolate cake and hot chocolate. The temperatures are still cold and most of the people go indoors. Within a week, the outdoor seating would take preference. We went to a really good instrument museum by the new Philharmonie de Paris and tried to get tickets for a Rossini opera being performed at the Conservatoire. It was sold out. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d say, “C’est la vie!” We dined at a sushi restaurant and enjoyed walking through the streets of Paris.

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The next day was devoted to seeing Versailles. Home to several Kings (Louis) and Marie Antoinette. The Mozart family spent about 12 days there when Wolfgang was seven. He made a sufficient impression for anyone who was once a child prodigy and history’s most celebrated musical genius. Of course the palace and grounds are magnificent, even weeks away from Spring. A poster of a ballet performance at the Versailles Opera House caught my attention. We got tickets, not knowing what to expect. After dinner in Versailles, we returned to the palace grounds to see “Cinderella”, music by Prokofiev. The dance company was Malandain Ballet Biarritz. The music was taped and the program gave no credit for the orchestra or conductor. Whatever group it was sounded amazing! I hoped it wasn’t a European thing (not crediting the musicians).

Malandain Ballet Biarritz

Malandain Ballet Biarritz

The stage was framed by 48 rows of black high-heeled shoes that hung from the ceiling. The step-mother and two ugly step-sisters were danced by men. The mother had crutches and wasn’t afraid to use them! The choreography was clever and thrilling. Headless mannequins on wheels, floor-lengthen wigs, the athleticism, beauty and synchronization was unforgettable! All this in a hall hundreds of years old. Our seats were more like benches and like the inside of Louis XIV’s bedroom, every inch was elaborately decorated! The bows commenced before the end of Prokofiev’s score and added to the energetic conclusion. If two days in France were any indication, our three months could be life-changing.

On the next day, we made a significant trek to La Chambelland on rue de Ternaux. This gluten free bakery had breads and pastries of all kinds. We ate several things there and left with several other items. It was all good. Our afternoon was spent at Père Lachaise, the most commonly visited cemetery in the world! We paid homage to composers Enesco, Bizet, Gaubert, Rossini and Chopin. Flowers covered the gravesite of Chopin, beloved all over the world!

We went to hear the Brussels Philharmonie at the new and unfinished Philharmonie de Paris. The hall is not very attractive and tractor shovels and cranes are scattered about the exterior. The dining/drinking area is without tables. Much of it seems unpainted and aisle ways lead to short walls. There were numerous bottlenecks slowing access in and out of the hall. The concert was conducted by Michel Tabachnik and featured three ballets. They pushed the orchestra back to make room for a dozen dancers. I could have done without the dancers. The choreography had little to do with the music. The music of Webern and Xenakis took up the first half. The Webern was interesting. The second half featured Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, which premiered in Paris in 1913. There weren’t any riots or fistfights this time! The orchestra sounded distant. The choreographer couldn’t decide whether his dancers should or shouldn’t wear clothes and whether pulse and rhythm should go hand in hand with the score. After the experience at Versailles, this was very disappointing. We dined at La Coupole. The best part was the decor. An Art Nouveau style was everywhere. Also common in Paris are people who bring their dogs to restaurants. I’m not sure what’s on the menu for them, but they come any way! On the streets of Paris, cleaning up after your dog seems not to be encouraged.

Debussy's grave

Debussy’s grave

On March 16th we took the Metro to the Passy Cemetery. Debussy, Ibert, Faure and Manet are all buried here. The grave sites are very close together and finding one often means squeezing between headstones. Finding Debussy’s grave was important, as he is one of Lisa’s favorite composers. This cemetery is also close to where Debussy lived. We found that too, however, an Arabian princess now occupies that home and security seems to be tight.

We ate a nice lunch close to the Arc de Triomphe and then walked to one of the amazing streets in Paris, Rue de Rome. This street has dozens of music-related stores and we would leave with about a dozen new items from “La Flute de Pan”.

La Flute de Pan music store

La Flute de Pan music store

Across from this store is the Lorée Oboe Shop. For 50 years I’ve been playing on Lorée oboes, so meeting the de Gourdon family and trying a dozen instruments was especially fun. I saw the photos of my (oboe) grandfather and great-grandfather, Tabuteau and Gillet, respectively. Just down the street was the old Paris Conservatoire where they went to school. We went in and walked about some. The school services the nearby musical community and has a better “feel” than the newer conservatory by the Philharmonie. Still, they both pay little homage to the musicians of the past. We enjoyed dining at a Thai restaurant with Maja. She told us it was one of Vladimir Kulenovic’s favorites.

Bob at the Lorée Oboe factory with Marie-Lea and Alain de Gourdon

Bob at the Lorée Oboe factory with Marie-Lea and Alain de Gourdon

The next day we took the train to Mont Saint Michel. The countryside was really beautiful. Large estates, chateaus, rivers, stone walls, hamlets and green fields could be seen out our train window. The cool weather and the off season kept the crowds away from Mont Saint Michel, one of the world’s great wonders. We could see the monstrous cathedral miles from the town. It’s history goes back more than 1000 years! We had time to visit the island before dark and ate a delicious meal below the abbey. Of course the view and sunset was spectacular!

The Abbey

The Abbey

Our hotel was a long walk away, but we’re getting use to it! Our hotel was outside the city and very comfortable. The next morning we walked again to the shuttle, which drove us to the island. High tide was on it’s way and a new waterway has a substantial crew of workers shoveling and hauling away huge truck loads of sand. This time we made it to the abbey and enjoyed a great free roam around the massive structure. Huge stone blocks have been in place for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s something not going anywhere soon. Gardeners and renovators service the walls, structures and gardens. The fog gave it all a feeling of mystery and amazement.

One of the surprising observances at Mont Saint Michel were the many shuttle buses. These modern day transport systems never had to turn around! The driver could drive from one end, switch a lever, walk to the other end, put his hands on a second steering wheel and drive off in the opposite direction!

Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel

We returned to Paris, said goodbye to our wonderful host, Maja, and left on a train for Amsterdam. Before the end of the day we were in a tall seven story house along a canal in Amsterdam. For a place built in 1663, it was a real treasure!

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.11

 

Return to Utah

The first half of our year-long sabbatical would come to a busy end in Los Angeles. The touring Russian National Ballet Theatre presented “Don Quixote” at the California State University in Northridge. This is a school where a couple of colleagues in the Utah Symphony studied and where on this night, a large contingent of Russian-speaking ballet enthusiasts gathered. The costumes were elaborate and the principal dancers were especially impressive. Unfortunately, the music was not live and the score by Leon Minkus seemed impeded.
We went to Pasadena on Valentine’s Day to hear The Pasadena Symphony with David Lockington conducting and his wife, Dylana Jenson, fittingly playing the solo violin part in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. As a former medal winner in the Tchaikovsky Competition, her approach was convincing and passionate. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony on the second half. It was well received by the large audience.

Walt Disney Concert Hall & L.A. Opera

Walt Disney Concert Hall & L.A. Opera

The next night we heard the L.A. Philharmonic with Juraj Valčuha conducting. Their program consisted of Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes”, the Schumann Piano Concerto with Martha Argerich and “Death and Transfiguration” by Strauss. Ms. Argerich played in an expansive romantic style and we really enjoyed the performance. The L. A. Phil. is an excellent orchestra and within this group, you can’t help but notice players like clarinetist Burt Hara, flutist Julien Beaudiment, hornist Andrew Bain and English Hornist Carolyn Hove. Their musicianship seems infectious.

Indian food with Burt Hara

Indian food with Burt Hara

On February 19th we went to hear the L.A Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane conducting. Mr. Kahane gave a terrific though long-winded talk about Mozart and the Requiem. The orchestra, choir and soloists played through the entire piece following intermission. The string playing was especially good, though the solo voices were not on the same level. Margaret Batjer is the concertmaster of this orchestra and afterwards I took time to seek her out and say hello. We were in school together at both Interlochen and Curtis. It was nice to see her after so many years.
We returned to Disney Hall to hear the L.A. Phil again in a concert celebrating the Chinese New Year. Xian Zhang conducted, Ning Feng was the violin soloist, Haochen Zhang the piano soloist and Jian Wang the cello soloist for the evening. On the program was Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso”, Chopin’s “Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise” and Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme”. The three soloists were all admirable. They joined the orchestra again for “The Triple Resurrection” by film composer, Tan Dun. It didn’t make much of an impression.

With Ariana Ghez and Ben Ullery

With Ariana Ghez and Ben Ullery

Burt Hara got us tickets for the dress rehearsal of “Alice in Wonderland” by Unsuk Chin. Susanna Malkki conducted. Burt was singing the praises for Ms. Malkki. The voices were strong, the sets and costumes colorful and the orchestra made up of L.A. Phil players was excellent. It was a visual treat. I did feel sorry for the young children who came to the rehearsal. For a children’s story, at two and a half hours, it definitely seemed long. We went to another opera the following night, John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles”. The Los Angeles Opera Company supplied a great thrill. The voices were superb and Corigliano’s music made a big impression. Conductor, James Conlon did a fabulous job with the orchestra, choir and soloists.

Premiere of Alice in Wonderland opera with L.A. Philharmonic

Premiere of Alice in Wonderland opera with L.A. Philharmonic

On one of our last days in L.A. we went to hear the L.A. Phil. again. Their associate conductor, Mirga Grazinyte, conducted a program which featured Mozart’s Overture to the “Abduction from the Seraglio”, Stravinsky’s “Petroushka” and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Like all the Sunday afternoon concerts we heard in California, there was a full house. The busy orchestra continued to perform at a high level.
We took about 11 hours to get back to Salt Lake City. The temperatures were cooler, but the beautiful mountains made us feel at home. We kept up our concert-going routine and heard the Utah Symphony with Hugh Wolff conducting. The program featured Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 with Conrad Tao and Copland’s 3rd Symphony. Our seats, high in the third tier, gave us a great view and sound of the orchestra. James Hall did a great job with some of the trickiest oboe solos in the repertoire, and Lisa and I both thought Mercedes Smith sounded good on all her flute solos, as did the ever-reliable Caitlyn Valovick-Moore on piccolo. Kudos should be distributed throughout the orchestra, but one thing that is noticed is what an amazing percussion section exists and the beautiful collective sound of the orchestra. It is nice hearing things from the audience’s perspective. From our playing seats in the middle of it all, it’s hard to fully appreciate the many facets that make up this first-class orchestra. I also made a trip down to Sandy, UT to hear the American West Symphony. It was fun to hear their all-French program and my student, Robin Vorkink, shine on the many beautiful oboe solos.

Lucas Florin in recital

Lucas Florin in recital

Lisa and I spent a lot of time with our students at the University of Utah. Oboist, Lucas Florin, gave a very musical performance in one of his doctoral recitals. Lucas is every teacher’s dream and really captures the attention of his audience. His musical presentation made for a wonderful afternoon and I predict good things for his future.

Our next entries to the “Musical Journey” should come from France or England. In a few hours our plane leaves for Paris, the first stop in a three-month trek around Europe. Our bags are packed and we have concert tickets in nine different countries. It should be fun.

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes

The Musical Journey, Pt.10

 

More Southern California

With Mom in Prescott, AZ

With Mom in Prescott, AZ

February in California would prove to be a stark contrast to our snow-shoveling final days in northern Michigan. When we weren’t going to concerts or working on our projects, we had the time and the good weather to visit family, eat the food and have some fun. The family connections took us to Prescott, Arizona, San Diego California and the nearby towns of Monrovia and Pasadena. We’d see parents, significant others, brothers, a niece, an aunt and uncle, a cousin and his wife and two first-cousins-once-removed. It was great to see familiar faces and share the stories of travel, work and the future.

My brother Tom was just awarded “Best Actor” for theater in San Diego, Dad’s finishing a novel, Terry Kempf just finished and will be working on another motion picture, both filmed in Albuquerque, brother Frank has a new CSI-style textbook that is making headlines in the field of forensics and genetics and little Erin and her big sister Lilia were two of the stars in a recital heard in Monrovia. I never heard the theme from “Peanuts” for four-hands played better!

Sierra Madre cabin

Sierra Madre cabin

The drought in California lasted through the first three weeks of February. Our morning routine usually began with a walk from our little place in Sierra Madre. The weather was so warm, shorts and tee shirts were common. We usually were out from 60 to 100 minutes and covered areas that took us into the streets of Astoria, Pasadena and Monrovia. Hills were always a part of these early morning treks. Going by foot always made it possible to really see the neighborhoods. The often winding and sidewalk-less streets offered views of some amazing homes. Where the bungalow is king in Salt Lake City, the ranch-style home reigns in this area at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Large mansions with imposing gates and high hedges, big Victorian homes with ornate lawns, haciendas, tiled roofs, modern homes, a variety of bungalows, basically, a colorful collection of well-kept homes. The economy is bouncing back and new homes are being constructed, old homes are being renovated, landscape crews are busy working their magic and huge trees are being trimmed. The oak, juniper, and palm trees were as tall as a ten-story building. People walk their dogs and we had days where we saw a quintet of deer, a quintet of pheasants, wild parrots and birds of all kinds that accompanied us on our walks. The temperatures were often in the upper 80s and the blooming wisteria, cacti and bougainvillea were everywhere.
We enjoyed going to the Pacific Ocean and walking about the Santa Monica pier and the long walkway of Venice Beach. The cooler temperatures at Venice Beach didn’t deter the many skateboarders, vendors, people on Segways, bicyclists, strollers or beach-combers. A dozen sailboats could be seen from the sandy shores, people tossing frisbees and footballs and a large dose of homeless individuals. We had a terrific breakfast at the Fig Tree right along the beach.

At The Atheneum with Rosalee and Dennis Byrnes

At The Atheneum with Rosalee and Dennis Byrnes

The restaurant scene in California is the best. We couldn’t try them all, but had a fabulous time at Real Foods Daily in Santa Monica, Lum Ka Naad in Northridge, Cameron’s and The Athenaeum in Pasadena, Paco’s in Astoria and Badmaash and Inaka in Los Angeles. Maybe my next sabbatical will be restaurant-related!

Gate at Stravinsky's home

Gate at Stravinsky’s home

We spent time at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Griffith Park, the front of Igor Stravinsky’s home, Old Pasadena, the Gamble House (an Arts and Crafts house from 1906), The Getty Villa, the Getty Museum, the L.A. County Museum, the farmers market and when we wanted to avoid the horrible freeway traffic, the movie theater. We saw, “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon. This true story had the main character walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which had a stretch high above our lodging in Sierra Madre.

The traffic in L.A. is always an issue. To fit in, I had to improve my evasive, pervasive and even persuasive maneuvers. All the same, it was a relief to be home. There we could see a high-speed chase on the L.A. freeway or a train derailment from the comfort of our living room.

Gamble House in Pasadena

Gamble House in Pasadena

Even when we left L.A at 5:20am to get back to Salt Lake City, the stream of cars coming into the city was constant.
In the next blog entry look for some wonderful musical experiences from our last few weeks in California. The sabbatical would cause Lisa to say, “I feel rejuvenated!”.”

– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes