Thursday, March 10, 2011

California Tour Journal: Part 2

Day 4: Berkeley

Today was the first real working day in California. We had a rehearsal this morning at Zellerbach Hall, the site of our three-concert residency here at UC Berkeley. The rehearsal went fine, though I think everyone was very tired. Everyone has been commenting how much more difficult it is compared to flying to New York. Those extra three hours from east coast to west coast make a real impact on the severity of the jet lag. In the rehearsal break we were treated to homemade cookies, brownies, and cakes from Cal students and faculty. So. Good. There were these chocolate heart shaped cookies that were sandwiched together with peanut butter in the middle. Wow.

During our first rehearsal
The weather forecast didn’t fit with everyone’s vision of California, and we entered the building under cloudy skies and cold drizzle. When rehearsal was finished three hours later, we opened the backstage door and were delighted and surprised to find beautiful sunny skies! More than once I heard a colleague say, “Ahhhh, California!” Between the sunshine and the ever-prevalent scent of eucalyptus on the Berkeley campus, it was enough to re-energize everyone and put us in high spirits.

Christoph, Mark, Hans, me, and Christian
Several of us went walking around looking for some lunch, and the colleagues fell in love with the campus. The idea of an expansive dedicated university campus is almost non-existent in Vienna, and many of the guys said they feel they missed out on what they consider a huge part of the quintessential college experience. It struck me as we wandered through the many academic buildings, athletic facilities, and various blue & yellow bookstores that American students are very lucky in that regard.

We eventually found a nice restaurant, which was actually the former Presbyterian student center on campus, and then I headed back to the hotel to take a nap as the beautiful sunshine streamed through the hotel curtains. I slept for a couple hours, only because I didn’t want sleepiness to be a factor during the evening’s concert.

The concert was a great one. The Zellerbach sounds much better when full of people, and even though I know everyone was exhausted, they didn’t seem to let it affect the music. The Wagner Prelude to Tristan & Isolde was a thing of profound beauty. The string section had the audience eating out of their hands, pouring everything they had into those wonderful melodies. Lars Stransky played the lead horn part beautifully as well, and by the end, when Bychkov wanted to let the final chord fade VERY slowly into silence, the audience just couldn’t wait to interrupt the silence with applause and shouts of “Bravo”.

The Bartók went well, too. I felt there was a curiously aggressive energy throughout the whole suite. Everyone seemed to be attacking the piece just like in the piece’s back-story when the tramps attack the Mandarin. Matthias Schorn played the many extended clarinet features with excitement and dazzling proficiency. I felt we as a trombone group played well. There are several tricky parts that are quite exposed, and they all went well. I was really feeding off the energy from conductor and colleague alike, and got lucky with the many awkward glissandi in the piece. Afterwards, the trombone group got a great ovation from the audience, which always feels nice. I then really enjoyed being able to just sit and bask in the pair of dances the orchestra performed as encores, neither of which had trombone parts.

Mark, Christoph, and I went out in search of some Mexican food to close out the evening, but everything was closed. We finally found a pizzeria close to the hotel that was still open, and I had a wonderful Sicilian sausage calzone.

Day 5: San Francisco/Berkeley

What an awesome day! We had plans today to take a tour of Alcatraz Island, and it did not disappoint. We left quite early, allowing 90 minutes for a trip to San Francisco Pier 33, a trip that was supposed to take only 35 minutes. The BART system had other plans; there was a track out of service in the tunnel that goes under the bay between Oakland and San Francisco. We ended up sitting at one stop for nearly 25 minutes and eventually arrived at our end station only 12 minutes before the ferry was to leave for Alcatraz.

We all hopped in taxis (there were 8 of us) and sped over to Pier 33 just in time to run straight onto the ferry. As I looked around, I realized not everyone had made it. As it turned out, Christian Poitinger had gotten caught in a throng of people at the BART station and had taken a third taxi. He got to the pier just as the boat was pulling out, but was able to grab his ticket from will call and take the next ferry 30 minutes later.

The weather was absolutely perfect for our journey across the bay. We were treated to breathtaking views in bright sunshine all around the bay.

As we sailed closer to the infamous Alcatraz, I couldn’t help but think how oddly beautiful it was. It was a place of horror, sorrow, and darkness for so long, and yet today the island is somehow picturesque. It sits out in the middle of the bay with surprisingly extensive and diverse gardens all around the perimeter of the island. There are also hundreds of species of waterfowl that roost there.

The self-guided audio tour was amazing. It’s endlessly interesting and well produced, and all the colleagues said afterwards the German version was wonderful as well. I almost can’t describe the feelings I had when I entered the cell house. I have seen television programs about the penitentiary, but none of them can do it justice. I felt at once creeped out and fascinated. The history of the place, now almost legendary, seemed to surround me as I took my first leisurely stroll down “Broadway”, the aisle between B-block and C-block.

This place, which held captive such names as Al Capone and Robert “Birdman” Stroud, gives off an eerie vibe to say the least. It was my first time in a prison of any kind.

One of the cruelest parts of being an inmate at Alcatraz had to have been this view:

To be able to see civilization in plain view, just a mile away, had to have been mental torture for many a convicted criminal. We, however, loved the view!

We still had plenty of time to spare before the evening’s concert, so we went over to Pier 39 for a leisurely lunch. After a long BART ride back to Berkeley, we were all pooped. I think most of the guys took naps before heading to the UC campus for the concert.

The concert was again very successful. I played the first half, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, on first trombone. The trombones only play the first and last movements, but there are nevertheless some tricky spots. The first movement begins cruelly, with pianissimo dotted-rhythm intervals that jump up to a ‘G’… in other words, a cracked note waiting to happen. But it all went fine for me last night, and after the first 20 measures I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Once I cleared that first hurdle, I had the pleasure of just sitting and listening to the rest of the orchestra perform beautifully. The 2nd and 3rd movements are among my favorite in the literature, and I am so glad the trombones have only ‘tacet’ so we can just soak it up. The flashy 4th movement has one last hurdle for the first trombonist. After not playing a single note for about 15 minutes, I had to come in on a high B-flat, also another cracked note waiting to happen. I clipped it in the Vienna performance last week, but it went fine tonight. It’s interesting how things like that can worm their way into your head after you miss it once, and let’s say I was very happy when it worked this time.

The second half of the concert was Brahms’ second symphony, a staple of the orchestral repertoire. I played second trombone with Dietmar on 1st and Christian Poitinger on bass. Again, the trombones play mostly at the beginning and the end of the symphony, and in between get to just enjoy great music. It was a great performance all around, and the trombone section did well on the famous scales and chord in the final minute of the finale. We received an immediate and rousing ovation from the audience, and once again I felt very fulfilled and satisfied with a great concert in the books.

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