Wednesday, March 9, 2011

California Tour Journal: Part 1

I just arrived home from a 12-day Philharmonic tour that took us to Germany, California, and Canada.  Though it was probably the best overall tour I've been on, I am very glad to be back and not traveling abroad for at least a couple months. 

I thought I would share the tour with you in a different way this time.   Each night of the tour, I sat down and wrote a 'journal entry' for the day, and now I will post my tour journal over several posts.    I tried to write it as if I were my own personal journal, recording my feelings at the time along with descriptions of concerts and other activities.  

I will refer often to a few things:
Bychkov= Semyon Bychkov, the conductor for the tour
Wagner= Richard Wagner's Prelude to Tristan and Isolde
Schumann= Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2
Brahms = Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 2
Bartók= Bela Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin Suite

If any other references are unclear, please comment or message me and let me know.  Hope you enjoy this glimpse into my touring life.

Day 1: Köln
The tour got underway this morning with a pleasant and short flight to Cologne. I hated to say goodbye to Eli and Kristi, but I’m looking forward to the tour nonetheless. I am really enjoying the music we’re doing, and especially enjoying playing principal on the Schumann and Bartók. I’m also really looking forward to seeing California, and I feel like I’ll really be able to say that I’ve seen it because once we fly to Oakland tomorrow, we’ll only be using buses to get from city to city. I’m hoping we go down the coast as often as possible.

I’m free today, because the program for this evening’s concert is the Mahler. I hope I get to hear it at some point… probably in California somewhere. We arrived at the hotel around 2 in the afternoon, and I spent some time practicing. Our hotel is much more centrally located this time, so I thought I’d take a bit of a walk around the city. Wow, it’s cold! I made it over to the famous Kölner Dom, which has an amazing, if somewhat intimidating, front façade. The spires seem to go on forever. I read somewhere that it was the tallest building in the world before the completion of the Washington Monument. I walked around inside for a while, but in the fading daylight wasn’t able to see much. 

The view from my hotel window

I also made it down to the banks of the Rhine. 

We fly out pretty early in the morning, and I’m hoping I can get some sleep on the way to the Pacific coast of the US. California, here I come!

Day 2: Flight to Bay Area
We loaded up the buses early this morning and took an hour drive to Dusseldorf, where we caught our charter flight to the Oakland, CA airport. The flight was pleasant and non-eventful. Every member of the orchestra had either 2 or 4 seats to themselves, and most everyone slept a lot. Since it was a charter, the whole plane got business class service. They kept feeding us and feeding us! I don’t think I’ve ever had so much to eat on a flight before.

We had some amazing views on the way. First was the always beautiful view over Greenland, where the snow appears to be a mile deep and the mountaintops just poking out of it.

We made our way over Canada’s Northwest Territories before turning south to fly near Calgary and then Seattle before heading into the Bay Area. As we made our way over Alberta and into northern Washington, we had a spectacular vista over the mountains. The air was crystal clear and the sharp peaks were a sight to behold.

Things got progressively less snowy as we approached northern California, and we looked out over lush, green rolling hills. Faintly in the distance I saw the Pacific Ocean, and before long we were making final approach. Someone yelled, “There it is!” I looked out to see the San Francisco Bay under bright sunlight approaching off our right wing. It was a breathtaking sight, with the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and downtown San Francisco clearly visible. I spent the entire last 20 minutes of the flight with my forehead stuck to the window, as did many other colleagues.

San Francisco Bay
It took me FOR-E-VER to get through the passport check, mostly because there was no separate line for US Citizens. The entire orchestra (except for me) had to submit their customs declaration, visa forms, and all 10 fingers to be scanned. The poor border agent sighed in relief as I walked up, “Oh, good, you’re American. This’ll be quick.”

The bus ride to Berkeley was nice. It was a very sunny afternoon, and the orchestra members seemed to really appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Our hotel in Berkeley is super nice. It’s an old-style hotel, but it’s been recently renovated, and for some reason I was given a suite. I’m not complaining.

We're in California!

We piled all our junk on Christoph.  He likes it!

One half of my hotel suite in Berkeley.  Nice!

I checked my emails and unpacked a bit, and then met the guys downstairs to go into San Francisco. There is a ‘BART’ station just outside out hotel, so it’s über-convenient. We rode the train for about 20 minutes and then found ourselves in downtown SanFran, complete with cable cars, steep streets, and cold wind!

We decided to stick close to the water in the hopes of finding something to eat. It’s funny, because even though we had been perpetually stuffed with food our entire flight and it was the middle of the night to our stomachs, everyone was STILL hungry.

We walked, walked, and walked some more. Our supposed goal was Pier 39, apparently a big tourist site, and we began with Pier 1. When we finally arrived at Pier 39, I realized it was indeed a very touristy place, complete with a billion restaurants, souvenir shops, and photo ops. Another famous trait of Pier 39 is the sea lions that apparently have simply been showing up there since 1989 to hang out on the docks. We didn’t see the see lions when we arrived, but instead picked a wonderful seafood restaurant at which to eat called Neptune’s House. We had a giant platter of seafood as an appetizer, including shrimp, oysters, calamari, crab legs, and crab cakes, and then I had delicious Cajun pasta.

With Dietmar and Mark after our great meal
We were stumbling our way out of the Pier 39 area (stumbling due to full bellies mixed with jetlag) when we heard a mysterious barking sound. We rushed over behind the buildings to see the famed sea lions! We had apparently looked in the wrong place before. We spent a few minutes staring in awe at the hundred or so animals just hanging out on the dock. From the pier we had great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, and it was the perfect ending to a fun evening out.

At Pier 39 - Alcatraz island over my left shoulder

Day 3: Berkeley/San Francisco
I managed to sleep until 7:00 this morning, which is not bad for the first day of western-bound jetlag. I had a nice Skype session with Kristi and Eli for about 30 minutes before I took a long, hot shower and scraped off a bit from the long journey yesterday. After breakfast I returned to the room to relax and do a bit of work. I warmed up in my practice mute, wrote some emails, and finally transcribed the electric guitar solo from the Chick Corea jazz-fusion tune “Hymn of the 7th Galaxy” for our jazz concert in March.

A graduate student from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music named Brandon picked me up from the hotel after lunch and took me across the Bay Bridge to do a masterclass. I was invited by trombone teacher and long-time SFSO principal trombonist Mark Lawrence. I had the privilege of meeting Mark 2 years ago in Los Angeles when we were on tour with Zubin Mehta. He thought it would be beneficial for the students to hear my story and play a bit for me as well.

I thought the class itself went really well. I did a little “blah,blah” and took questions for the first part and then heard several of the students play. Boy, was it fun to work with them! The students were of the high caliber one would expect from the SF Conservatory, but most importantly they were willing to play musically, they were open to new ideas, and they were able to make the changes I wanted. It was just a lot of fun and a great learning experience for me. Hopefully it was the same for them.

As I talked through my audition story, I realized as never before how many San Francisco connections there were during that time. First, it was Mark’s recording of the Malcom Arnold Fantasy that I used as my reference when I recorded it for the ITA audition CD that sparked the whole thing. Then about 2 months before the audition I played in a masterclass at the Eastern Trombone Workshop for Paul Welcomer, 2nd trombonist in… you guessed it… the San Francisco Symphony. And finally, at the audition itself, the other candidate who made it through to the finals with me was Kyle Covington, who had studied at the San Francisco Conservatory. Kyle is now principal trombonist in the San Diego Symphony, and I hope to get together with him when we are there next week.

Brandon offered me a ride back to Berkeley, but after we hit a major traffic jam that would’ve forced him to miss a rehearsal, I convinced him to let me use the BART subway system to get back. It took just a little while, but by the time I got back to the hotel the dreaded jetlag was setting in big time. I decided all I wanted to do was adhere to all the American stereotypes. I grabbed a Papa John’s pizza (hadn’t had one in a long time) and took it back to the room, where I ate half of it while watching TV. And now I will crash.

No comments:

Post a Comment