Saturday, March 12, 2011

California Tour Journal: Part 4 (final)

Day 9: Palm Desert

Today was a fairly uneventful day, especially compared to the previous few days. We had a three-hour bus ride to the next stop on the tour, Palm Desert, and it turned out to be pretty scenic. We started out following the famed Pacific Coast Highway (aka California State Route 1), and I really enjoyed the views it afforded us.

We made our way through the San Fernando Valley, around the north and east sides of Los Angeles, and finally out east of the city into the desert. The mountains are really beautiful out here. I think many colleagues were surprised to see snowcapped peaks in California (Kalifornia). We also passed a giant (really) wind farm that had the cameras on the buses clicking.

We arrived in Palm Desert around 2PM, but were told the hotel rooms weren’t ready. Luckily, since our hotel is also a casino, we were able to take advantage of the traditional casino-style buffet. For $16 we had all we could eat (which turned out to be a lot). I think the guys I ate with were impressed that they could get so stuffed for so cheap. Ahhh, America.

I ended up not getting my room until around 4 o’clock. I had enough time to sleep for an hour or so before hopping on the bus once more to head out to the theater for this evening’s concert.

So, if last night’s hall was bad, tonight’s was really bad. It’s just really not a good thing when an orchestra that is accustomed to a hall with a golden, velvety sound that carries on forever has to perform in a hall with a sound that I would describe as … cardboard-esque. After each wonderful note played by this, one of the world’s great orchestras, was a reverberation that lasted approximately -.2 seconds. That’s right. The sound actually had negative reverberation. Not sure how that even works, but it was true. It sounded like our instruments were pointed into a bucket of stale mop water, really.

By concert’s end, we were ready to get out of there. I hitched a ride back to the hotel/casino/buffet with Hans, ordered some room service, and went night-night. I miss Kristi and Eli.

Day 10: Costa Mesa

The buses weren’t scheduled to head out for Costa Mesa until noon today, but the trombone section decided to get up early and make a little side trip of our own. Hans rented a car when we were in Santa Barbara so that he could go golfing and do a few other things on his own, and he won’t have to return it until Saturday in San Diego. Mark and Hans had heard there was a good music shop in the LA suburbs, and we thought it might be fun to go check it out and maybe try out some instruments.

We had to spend quite a while squeezing 5 trombones into the surprisingly small trunk space of the Nissan Altima hybrid, and then proceeded to squeeze ourselves into the seats. It was all knees and elbows in the back seat, where I was joined by Dietmar and Christian for the two hour drive to ‘The Horn Guys’ shop.

We had fun conversation on the trip, and were treated (once again) to bright sunshine and scenic views as we drove through the mountainous desert towards Los Angeles. Traffic was lighter than expected, and we made good time. We spent a couple hours in the store, trying out lots of different trombones yet knowing we couldn’t purchase any, mostly because we wouldn’t have been able to fit them in the car!

We asked the storeowner for a lunch recommendation, and luckily just next-door was a Thai place that he gave glowing recommendations. I must say, there’s no way I would have ever gone into this place, but it turned to be very good. We stuffed ourselves with delicious and spicy food (for roughly $7 each) and piled back into the car to head towards Costa Mesa.

I had the evening free, so I took a nap shortly after checking into the hotel in Costa Mesa. I spent my evening walking around, but there wasn’t much to see in what seemed to be a mostly financial district.

Day 11: San Diego

Another day, another bus ride. This one was not bad, only two hours long and in scenic country. Our destination was San Diego, the final stop in California. After arriving at our downtown hotel, I got together with Kyle Covington, principal trombonist of the San Diego Symphony. He took me down to the beach at Coronado, where we took a quick stroll, chatted, and had some coffee at a local café. I found myself constantly using quotes from my favorite San Diego movie, Anchorman.

But seriously, folks, the city is beautiful. As in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, the surrounding countryside, marvelous architecture, and sunny weather combine to create what must be a fantastic place to live. I also echo what I’ve heard my whole life about California… it is very, very relaxed and laid back. Even in these large cities, one gets the impression that everything moves at a much slower pace and that nothing stressful ever happens here.

Kyle came with me to the orchestra’s rehearsal and was eventually able to secure a ticket to the concert itself. The concert went well, although we were yet again battling a sub-par performance space. The acoustics on stage were atrocious, and some colleagues told me that it wasn’t much better in the audience. The audience seemed to disagree, with huge ovations and applause after almost every movement. The trombones also had a good run of Brahms’ 2nd symphony; the final D-major chord was in tune and loud (yet not obnoxious). Hans and Mark were listening off-stage and both said it was very good.

Tomorrow we leave the state of California. I will definitely miss it. The whole visit to the Golden State has been wonderful - even greater that I thought it would be. It leaves me wanting to come back again with Kristi and Eli in tow. In fact, my enjoyment of the trip has been made somewhat bittersweet because I haven’t been able to share it with my family. Well, at least now I have some idea of where we should go and what we should visit.

Days 11 & 12: Toronto

Yesterday was the type of tour day that makes you not want to go on tours. Blechhh… Get up. Check out of hotel. Get on bus. Go through airport. Get on plane. Fly 4 hours. Get off plane. Go through airport. Get on bus. Check in to hotel.

The one silver lining was that Maestro Bychkov invited the whole orchestra to dinner in one of the grand ballrooms of the hotel in Toronto. We had about half an hour after arrival to scrape off and put on our jackets and ties. But the food was totally worth it. The Austrians tend to eat quite sensibly… unless it’s free. Then they become suspiciously American-esque! We all had several plates of wonderful breads, meats, pasta, salads, and of course chocolate desserts. I thought I would burst, as did everyone at my table (mostly low brass players).

I had a restful night’s sleep - or more accurately, a buffet coma – before I rose this morning just in time to shoot an email to Kristi and get downstairs to check out. We had a quick rehearsal before our 2PM concert. I always enjoy the final rehearsal of the tour because everyone is in a great mood (we’re going home soon!) and there are lots of heartfelt thanks to hand out. It’s the time when the orchestra gets to show our appreciation to the stage managers, tour organizers, travel agents, and orchestra leaders that have (usually) made the tour a success.

Bychkov also gave a warm and heartfelt address, where he talked a lot about what a major musical and personal milestone it is in his life to have spent 3 weeks living with our orchestra. It was very moving to hear him talk about how much he has enjoyed conducting us, and how much he will miss us now that the tour is finished.

The concert went well, and it was nice to be in a real symphony hall again… one that was built for the expressed purpose of hearing orchestral music. We were sitting directly behind the horns for some reason (always a mystery to me), so I couldn’t really hear myself think during the climaxes of the Wagner. But the Bartók doesn’t have that much horn stuff in it, or at least not at the times we’re supposed to play. I thought it went well… probably the best we’ve ever played it. It was a good way to end the tour.

We’re now on the bus, headed to the airport. I’m excited because I get a business class seat for the first time in a long time. But I’m even more excited because I’ll see my sugar booger and lil’ buddy soon!

I guess this has probably been my favorite VPO tour overall. Great cities, great concerts, and nice weather… not bad! I had some free time to sightsee and shop and eat good food. And I got to spend time with some friends along the way, both from the orchestra and from the cities we visited. My next major tour will be a full year from now, which is weird to think about. Eli will be 3! We’ll be traveling to various places in Scandinavia, then on to Chicago and finally New York.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my first attempt at a tour journal. I know it was long, but a lot of stuff happened on the tour! Give me feedback, and let me know what changes you’d like to see in the next tour journal. Bis dann!


  1. Behind the scenes video is ALWAYS a crowd pleaser--particularly for us music geeks.
    Great posts Jeremy! It was descriptive enough to remind me of my time in Southern California.
    Hopefully I might catch the orchestra in Chicago!

  2. I should tell you, the San Diego acoustic were awful (I had a very difficult time not falling asleep, and I am still a teenager). The philharmonic sounded like a recording on an ipod set to a very low volume. There is the consideration that the people there were not used to anything different (I am coming from Santa Barbara, which yes, was not much better.) By far though, the Costa Mesa performance was the best.