Joseph Foley, practicing in Chongqing airport.
It was great to catch up with the musicians of Pacific Symphony on the China tour, many of whom I hadn’t spoken to since the European tour in 2006 (which I covered for a newspaper), some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Here are a few of my interactions.
Waldemar de Almeida, cello: “Wally” has been in the orchestra for more than 30 years and has lots of stories and a thick accent (he was born in Brazil). Anyway, one of the most amazing things I found out about Wally is that he was a member of the venerable Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva in 1964-65 and played under the baton of legendary conductor Ernest Ansermet there. He even made some recordings with them, which I vowed to listen to when I got home.
Eric Byers, guest principal cellist: I recognized Eric for a couple of days before I could place him. Then I realized he was the cellist in the Calder Quartet, a group I had heard perform many times. I fell in stride with Eric at a train station or airport one day and we chatted about the tour. He was impressed with the logistics and magnitude of the thing. The Calder Quartet, he explained, was a for profit organization, so all its traveling is done as cheaply as possible, including the hotels. The group might have a gig at Wigmore Hall in London, but all it has to pay for everything is the not-so-huge performance fee, so the group makes do with budget travel and lodgings. Eric was enjoying and admiring the comparatively all-arranged, luxury travel of an orchestra on tour.
Josephine Moerschel, viola: This was Josephine’s first extended trip away from her two daughters, ages 2 and 4. Turns out she is married to the violist in the Calder Quartet, and dad had his hands full in her absence, sending her S.O.S.s even as we spoke. By the end of the trip, Josephine was saying she’d be bringing home her husband a bottle of duty-free scotch to help with his recovery.
In the video below, you’ll get just an inkling of what the bass drum sounded like — the fidelity isn’t great — when Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony played “Daphnis and Chloe” in Wuxi Grand Theatre in China recently.
I wrote about it here.
I finally got laser tagged in Beijing.
All I was doing was trying to get a photograph of bassoonist Andy Klein, on crutches, being helped off the stage of the National Center for the Performing Arts there on Tuesday. It was right after Pacific Symphony’s performance of “Daphnis and Chloe,” which opened the concert. Some other Symphony musicians had come to Andy’s aid, as he struggled to get off the riser and into the wings. The audience sat in silence watching. No music was being played. Sitting in the balcony, I raised my smart phone to get a snap (I am a reporter, after all), and, presto, the red scribble of a laser pen flashed on my screen. That’s Chinese for “Oh no you don’t.” The usher who immediately came to my seat told me as much, in the nicest possible way.
So, we don’t have a shot of Andy coming off stage. We do know, though, that Andy fell on the uneven pavement at the Forbidden City earlier that day, wrenched his knee and had to be taken to the hospital. His first concern, apparently, was making it to the concert that night.
There was some bad luck going around in Beijing. Clarinetist Joshua Ranz had also landed in the hospital with a serious case of food poisoning. (Tour physician Dr. Larry Snyder took him there.) Josh, who later told me it was the worst and most epic case of food poisoning he had ever had, was unable to play the concert. (Taylor Marino and Peter Nevin stepped in at the last minute to cover Josh’s parts on E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet.) He wasn’t certain what had caused him to get sick, though he had his suspicions. (And it wasn’t fried scorpion, which another musician tried from a street vendor.)
Compliments of donor Charlie Zhang, the hard working tour staff (and guests) enjoys a duck dinner in Beijing. Pinchas Zukerman was in particularly fine form.
We were in and out of Chongqing in less than 24 hours, arriving mid-afternoon Sunday and departing Monday morning for Beijing. The concert came in between. You’ll get no summing up of this mega-city from me. Fair to say, the jaws of everyone on this tour dropped when we saw it, or began to see it, because it goes on and on. Downtown, or what we thought was downtown, was like Manhattan on steroids. Depending on how you count, some 30 million people live here.
“I don’t like days off when I’m on tour,” Carl St.Clair told me, seated in the back of a van on the way to a press and fan event in the early evening. He had spent his entire Saturday in Wuxi, a free day for everyone, in the hotel, resting, refreshing, staying focused.
The event was held in the well-stocked gift shop of the concert venue. St.Clair was greeted and treated as a celebrity at the event, cameras clicking. He asked two Chinese Pacific Symphony musicians — violinist Angel Liu and Shelly Shi, both of whom speak Chinese — to join him at the microphones. A translator got St.Clair’s words across to the gathering.
The mothers of Pacific Symphony pose backstage at our concert in Chongqing on Sunday night. Happy Mother’s Day!
We rolled into Wuxi (pronounced Woo-she) at a little after noon Friday, having left our hotel in Hefei at 8:30 a.m. Wuxi is on the way back to Shanghai on the train line; we had passed through it on our way to Hefei. Now we were taken to the Hyatt Regency there, the tallest building in the city, the lobby on the 43rd floor and our eatery on the 65th. My hotel room wasn’t ready when we arrived, but when it finally was, I had a ridiculous view of the city.
While we were waiting for our rooms, Pacific Symphony president John Forsyte strolled by and asked if I’d like to take a walk. A concierge directed us to a local park that was crammed with people and activities, John and I standing out as the only Westerners. This boy and his mother (I would guess) took a liking to me.
Thursday and Friday were what orchestra tours are all about: Getting a boatload of musicians (or in this case a trainload) somewhere far away and giving a concert.
Thursday morning found us in Shanghai. By the afternoon we were in unglamorous Hefei, arriving at 3:15 p.m. or so. As the buses left for the concert hall at 5:45, there wasn’t much to do anything except check into our rooms and grab a meal at the hotel restaurant.
I don’t want to sum up a city of 6 or 7 million people after only a few hours experience there. But the reader will insist on something. Let’s go with “gritty” and “bustling” and perhaps throw in “working class” and leave it at that, knowing that the description is overly generalized. I did like Hefei.
The first rehearsal of the tour — and last, I hear — in the afternoon, after an hour and twenty minute drive from the hotel to Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre. It’s a post-modern building, formidably austere to my eye, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.
Rehearsal began with announcements from Symphony vice president of artistic and orchestra operations Eileen Jeanette, a busy woman on tour. This being the first gathering of everyone together since the tour started, she introduced the tour physician, Dr. Larry Snyder, who stood on stage just behind her. Among other sundry items, she announced the location of the concert after party at the hotel (“the first drink’s on us”), the hour of luggage collection the next day (it will be sent on its way to Wuxi while we go to Hefei) and the nature of our pre-concert meal (a boxed dinner that had been previously tried and approved of by the New York Philharmonic no less, Eileen said).
Rehearsal was interesting. The orchestra hadn’t played together since Saturday, but was completely familiar with the program, having performed it five times in March and rehearsed it again last week. But the hall was new to everyone. I heard differing reports after the rehearsal, depending on where the musicians sat there, but most thought the situation onstage less than ideal.
A day of travel and a concert for an orchestra on tour. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
More about Wednesday as time permits.