Time flies when you’re having fun!
“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.
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.
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