Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pictures from Wolfgang Sawallisch's Grassau home

Philadelphia Orchestra musician Harold Robinson with former Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Wolfgang Sawallisch at the Maestro's Grassau, Germany home.

Written September 1

It’s been a week, but I wanted to share with my fellow musicians and loyal Philadelphia Orchestra fans my trip to see Maestro Sawallisch. I think everyone in the orchestra wanted to have the opportunity to see the Maestro as we were in his home country. He has not been feeling well for some time and didn’t feel like he could entertain large groups of people. I was very honored to have been invited for an audience. Maestro Eschenbach was kind enough to excuse me from the first concert in Frankfurt, thus allowing me to take a day trip to Grassau where Maestro Sawallisch lives.

It was an ambitious itinerary including train to Munich and then auto to Grassau. I did take German in high school many years ago, which helped a little, but I am far from conversational. Janet Garner, my sweetheart, accompanied me on the trip.

It was an auspicious beginning. Janet and I awoke excitedly and walked the 10 minutes to the Frankfurt train station. In my excitement, I had mis-read the ticket thinking that we had an 8:40 departure. We arrived at the train station around 8:15 and proceeded to Starbucks to wake up a bit. I went to check the board and freaked when I realized that the train was leaving in 2 minutes (8:20). I ran back to Starbucks and rushed Janet along. We ran to the platform in time to see the train pulling away. My heart sunk. Janet went back to Starbucks to enjoy her coffee and I headed for the ticket office. Fortunately, there were many other options to get to Munich and I was saved the embarrassment of returning to the orchestra without seeing the Maestro. We were on another train within 30 minutes and our odyssey continued.

The next challenge was renting the car. We were helped with directions from the Maestro. The car was a 6 speed manual diesel that had a lot of spunk. I was anxiously anticipating the famous German Autobahn where there was supposedly no speed limits. There were posted speeds, but many cars were going much faster. I got the little sedan up to about 170 Kph which I understand is about 100 mph. That was fast enough. Still cars were passing me!

We eventually pulled into the quaint little town of Grassau and drove through to get our bearings. At the appointed time, I walked up to the Maestro’s house, a beautiful estate on a hill at the beginnings of the Alps. He was sitting on the porch, and greeted me with a smile and a hug. His house helper (Lan) was there to join us and provided us with tea and cake.

The Maestro and I spent 2 and ½ hours laughing, reminiscing, and looking ahead at the tour and next year’s schedule. I did my best to share the intense love and respect that my fellow musicians feel for Maestro Sawallisch. In turn, the Maestro sent back all that love and then some. We both were close to tears a couple of times. He sadly reported to me that his conducting and public performing days are over and he is going to really miss making music with his orchestra. I assured him that my colleagues and I would continue to share our joy of music making with him any way that we could.

Finally, it was time to go. Many hugs and warm embraces later, I rushed down the side of the hill with a tremendous summer storm just breaking. The weather seemed to echo my feelings.

There is not much else to report about the trip except that we limped back to the hotel around 1:00 am exhausted but so much richer for the experience.

Hal Robinson, bass

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

written September 2

London will be our final stop on the tour, and while we've all been riding high on the excitement and energy of the concerts, everyone is also a little tired of the travelling and probably wants to do laundry at home... On the musical side, I found the concerts in Essen and Berlin to be especially satisfying. One challenge of performing in different halls every night is adjusting to the acoustics, sometimes without rehearsal. When a hall is particularly "live", or resonant, it can take quite a while to get used to hearing musical lines bouncing back from the far end of the stage or behind the audience in such a different way and speed. I marvel at the ability of those who sit deep within their section to continue to play with precise ensemble and intonation. Both the halls in Essen and Berlin were clear but warm sounding, and it was wonderful to hear so many key instrumental passages soaring out, as well as the clean glow in the tones of the vocal soloists.
On a personal note, my baby Rosalie has adjusted well to the time difference, and even the frequent boarding of buses, trains, and airplanes. Now when we get home will she be cheerfully awakening at 2 am to start the day?!

Juliette Kang

update Sept 6 - we arrived home safely, and Rosie woke up at 2:30 am with a smile...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


As we traveled to Berlin this morning, I could not help but look with great anticipation to our concert tonight in Berlin at the famed Philharmonie – the home of the Berlin Philharmonic. After all, Berlin and Philadelphia are often mentioned in the same breath when speaking of the world’s best orchestras, along with our “Big 5” brethren in the U.S. and the Vienna Philharmonic. It goes without saying that we all give everything in the tank for every concert. But I would venture to guess that our institutional pride kicked in just a little bit more tonight and we put some extra whiz on that Philly Cheese Steak for those Berliners! Nothing motivates like performing before colleagues and we knew that sprinkled in the audience would be members of the BP. The concert was a tremendous success and rest assured – nothing was left out on that stage.

Of the world’s numerous orchestras, only a few elite ones get to enjoy the privilege of regular international touring. Moving an orchestra of over 100 musicians plus support staff and stage crew through numerous cities for 2 or 3 weeks at a time is exceedingly expensive - just imagine the airfares and hotel rooms alone. Planning begins over three years in advance of each tour. Throw in the shipping of wardrobe trunks, double basses, percussion instruments, even a small library of music and it becomes obvious why only a few organizations can tour.

On this tour, our smallest passenger is an impossibly adorable baby named Rosie. Rosalie Kraines is the 5 month old daughter of my stand partner, violinist Juliette Kang. Julie, as we call her, is traveling with her family; husband Tom, who is a cellist, and baby Rosie. On this trip, Tom’s primary role is not to play the cello, but instead to be a pack mule through airports as well as to take care of his daughter while Julie rehearses and performs. For many of us who have already passed this stage in life, seeing this young couple travel all over Europe with an infant, experiencing all the trials and tribulations of first time parenthood, warms our hearts and brings back many fond memories.

I speak from experience when I say it is not easy touring with a baby. All our colleagues are very understanding and supportive with families. But when it’s your baby that’s doing the crying on the plane, a parent just can’t help but feel anxiety. Tom and Julie must have zero blood pressure: they are so calm and unflappable under any circumstances (i.e. Rosie wailed with gusto while our plane sat on the tarmac for 2 hours in Philadelphia, delayed by congestion before our 8 hour night flight to Germany).

And then after a concert, no musician can go right to bed. Most of us have a drink and a snack, if not dinner, and unwind. Not Tom and Julie: while everyone else is heading out to celebrate at Trattoria Delicioso, they are silently doing puzzles by the nightlight or sharing a takeout sandwich while sitting on the floor in the sliver of light from the bathroom with a mug of lukewarm wine while Rosie sleeps. Many of us are marveling at how great Tom and Julie are as new parents WHILE touring abroad. They are creating memories which will last a lifetime. And let’s not forget about Rosie herself: she has been an exemplary baby and is handling all the travel with aplomb. Earlier today, as we watched her set off to explore yet another new city while strapped to her Dad, Paul Demers said correctly, “Rosie is such a good sport!”

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