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!”

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wasch Centrem

After a triumphant concert in Hamburg last night, the orchestra piled on to a train for the ride to Essen. One week left on this tour and laundry is now becoming a critical issue.

Now I sit in the elegant “Wasch Centrem” with some colleagues, having found this place with the assistance of a friendly cabbie who spoke no English but who finally understood what we were looking for after a stunning array of hand signals. How fortunate that we have run in to an Australian national who can tell us how to use these machines all marked in German. I never thought I would be so pleased to see a simple Laundromat but when it costs 7 dollars to wash a single undershirt at the hotel: you’d be thrilled too.

The hotel here in Essen is the absolute opposite of the one we stayed at in Hamburg. This one is circa Sean Connery era of Bond movies whereas the one in Hamburg was straight out of MOMA – as in Museum of Modern Art. We loved it there and soaked up as much of the cool stainless steel fixtures and giant flat screen TV’s as we could before departure this morning. Here in Essen, perhaps a few too many cigarettes have been smoked in my room but that’s okay – the Grand Hyatt beckons from our next stop: mighty Berlin.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Postcard-like view

A picturesque view of Lucerne, Switzerland

Greetings from Luzerne!

Good morning from picturesque Luzerne!

Spending a few days in one city is always a treat for the musicians - it gives us a chance to unpack, settle in, and really explore the town. This place is right out of a postcard: a sparkling lake, the Swiss Alps, and charming buildings decorated with flowers overflowing from window boxes. Luzerne definitely makes my top-5 list of beautiful cities.

As for my pre-tour to-do list, I'm pretty much staying on track. "Quiet time" each day, correspondence, a little shopping, practice, and exercise. At the beginning of our journey, I challenged my colleagues, Ricardo Morales, Paul Demers, and Daniel Matsukawa to do 40 push-ups and 100 sit-ups a day with the penalty of missing a day having to treat the others to a drink the following evening. After much complaining and a few days of sore muscles, we are in to Day 7 and none of us have missed a day and are all feeling stronger. Keeping each other accountable makes it much more difficult to skip a day and the exercise helps to stave off the inevitable weight gain associated with a minimum of two chocolate croissants a day -- not to mention cheese, sausages, and beer.

Concerts have all been well-received with full houses and long ovations. What a privilege to represent our fair city in concert halls around the globe! Tonight we give our final performance of three here and then are rewarded with a day off. Perhaps for a change, some more cheese, sausages and beer are in order...

Greetings from Lucerne!

Last evening's concert at the famed Lucerne Festival in Switzerland was full of excitement. The concert hall is situated very beautifully on the edge of the lake, surrounded by mountains. Some of our group chose to stay atop one of the mountains in a resort area, but having done that several times on previous trips, I elected to stay right in town at a very elegant hotel a few minutes walk from the concert hall.

All along the scenic walk along the edge of the lake towards the hall, audience members were arriving in droves and were dressed in elegant formal attire. There were several groups of street musicians and actors that made the short walk very entertaining.

The hall appeared to be sold out, even with ticket prices at $250 per person! The Beethoven Symphonies #1 and #7 sandwiched a dramatic performance of Pintscher Herodiade Fragments which featured the singer Marislo Montalvo. Pintscher himself was in attendance as he is composer in residence for the festival. There was rousing ovation at the end of the concert so we performed as an encore, The Prometheus Overture by Beethoven.

It was fun to visit with the group of "tourists" (many of our loyal followers and board members) They commented on the excitement and thrill of hearing their great orchestra play and be received so warmly in Europe. Being a Philly Orchestra tour groupie is something to consider for your next vacation!

All the best,Gloria dePasquale, 'cellist

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Downtime in Frankfurt

Bass Clarinet Paul Demers, Concertmaster David Kim, and Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa (left to right) check email outside a café in Frankfurt (August 24, 2006).

Tour Begins

Here we are in Frankfurt - one of Europe's major financial centers. This is an unusual city in that the architecture is such a dramatic mix of old and new; historic old churches standing shoulder to shoulder with stainless steel skyscapers. As we walk to and from the hall and through the surrounding pedestrian malls, we run in to colleagues and the same three subjects seem to come up again and again:

1) "How'd you sleep?" (usually not very well due to jetlag)
2) "Have you found a good internet connection somewhere?" (cafe across the street from the hotel)
3) "Found any good places to eat?" (yes - but nothing spectacular)

It's all about sleep, Internet, and food.

We held our first rehearsal this morning at the famous Alte Oper hall. The first rehearsal of the tour is usually a bit rusty as folks still have not changed their body clocks and have been away from their instruments for 2 or 3 days. The hall is lovely with excellent acoustics. Now I sit outside at the Mercedes-Benz Dealership Cafe across from the hotel, with colleagues Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon) and Paul Demers (bass clarinet), sipping coffee and burying our heads in our laptops. Soaking up news from home, blogging, and enjoying the cosmopolitan feel of this wonderful spot.

After tonight's concert, we move on to lovely Luzerne tomorrow.

More later...

Monday, August 21, 2006

And We're Off!

Family, Friends, and Orchestra staff gather to say goodbye to The Philadelphia Orchestra's musicians, as they depart the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia for their plane.

Preparing for the first flight

Today is the day we depart for Europe, flying from Philadelphia to Frankfurt. Preparations for this first long flight have changed quite a bit since the news about the British based terrorist arrests came out a few weeks ago. Musicians are already used to dealing with varying levels of accomodation for our unique and valuable instruments, but these new security measures and the orange alert level are a new thing altogether. Flying as part of a large and well-travelled group certainly makes things much easier than if one is all alone, though.

I have my own personal worries about how my five month old baby Rosalie will handle the trip, especially the takeoffs and landings. I've heard that feeding her while the plane changes altitudes is the best way to lessen the discomfort on her little ears. The TSA does allow "small amounts" of milk or formula. Other than the long flights and disruption of her schedule, my husband Tom and I are really looking forward to experiencing this European tour with her.

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