Thursday, September 08, 2011

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Prague July 16

We started this day with more random driving through the streets of Prague in an effort to find the Dvorak Museum. It seems several of the main roads were closed for construction, so we ended up driving more than we would otherwise have had to do. We found this bilboard explaining how things work, in case anyone was wondering.

The Dvorak Museum was a nice looking 2-story building. Kip and I headed up the stairs skipping the shop on the main floor. Up there we found the most amusing museum activity ever. They had white sheets of paper with Dvorak's head photocopied onto them and a set of colored pencils for us to make our own Dvorak-headed drawings. There were several hung around the room. We all especially liked Dvorak with a 6-pack in a speedo. Jae (clarinet-tootelary) made her own version of that one.
We next visited another Mozart Museum, I think it was the home of one of his girlfriends. It was a beautiful building, but not a very extensive museum.
We were then given some time to wander downtown. We ate lunch at another cafe, then wandered the streets with Kara and her daughter looking for souvenirs. I found some scarves I really liked.
Eventually we went into a chocolate/candy shop. I bought some hard candies I recognized from my youth. They're hard candies, circular, with bright colors outside and pictures inside, sometimes even words. They are incredibly strong flavored (we just finished them tonight). The picture shows the guys making them at the candy shop. They start out wide and fat, like saltwater taffy in consistency. Then the guys roll them thinner and thinner and finally cut them into rounds and I guess they let them dry then. I wish I'd bought more. The candy shop also sold chocolate, so we bought some. Unfortunately, the bassoonist's daughter bought and ate some too. She was hit with a violent allergic reaction. (Who knew there were nuts in hers? They don't lable things as well there as we do here.) She ended up in the hospital.
We went from there to Dvorak Hall for our dress rehearsal.
It is a beautiful place. I was thrilled to get to perform there. But as a real, professional performance hall, the rules for using it are more strict than they would be at a local cathedral or church building. Our rehearsal time was fixed. We could not go over. For our concert that night we were performing with a vocalist. He is an opera singer originally from Portland who lives now in Prague. Our rehearsal was spent entirely on rehearsing his pieces, which made sense because we hadn't played them at all before. But I was a little sad that we didn't get to run any of our other pieces and get my head out of tourist mode and back into performance mode. At the end of our allotted time, we were kicked off the stage and sent down to the dressing rooms.
We dolled ourselves up in our concert blacks and got ready for the performance, even the percussion section. The Bassoonist (Kara) rushed back from leaving her daughter at the hospital just in time to join us as we got onstage. She left our hostess Julia with her daughter. We were all amazed at her ability to come play under such stressful circumstances. The concert hall was packed as we went onstage. And the whole hall erupted in applause. Just because we walked onstage. This wasn't Kansas anymore, was it?! We walked in in little groups, and each group got more applause. It was kind of nice. They were very enthousiastic with applause after our performances, also. It almost seemed like they would have stayed all night if we'd had enough music to keep playing for them. But at last Liz in the violin section got the hint and walked off after our second encore and the rest of us trailed after. We didn't want to leave such an adoring audience, but the time had come.

Back at the hotel we had a late dinner and then wound down with an impromptu dixie-land-band practice. They were practicing for the concert scheduled the next day, but the hotel staff convinced them to come down to the piano in the lobby, by the bar, to play. We all sat and ate pretzels and drank pop and enjoyed the music.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Prague July 14

We were supposed to be outside loading the bus at 6am, followed by a 6:30 breakfast and then 7am departure for Prague. Kip and I pushed the limits, of course, and showed up to drop our luggage at 6:20. Martin the bus driver wasn't pleased, having already built a puzzle of luggage under the bus and closed up the compartments. Oh well. Someone else came right after us and got the same dirty look.
Off we went to Prague. More sleeping on the bus, of course.
And trying to take pictures of scenery through the bus windows. More joking and goofing off from the back of the bus, also. We had a lot of fun back there.
As we pulled into the city of Prague, we stopped at a corner and two men waiting there jumped onto the bus. It was pretty unusual. It turned out they were our tour guides for Prague. Otto and Charlie. Charlie was hilarious. Otto wasn't bad, just not quite as funny. Charlie would say things like, "the roads we want to drive on are closed so we are going to drive all around until we can find a way to where we want to go." Or, "there are some men marching. I don't know why they are marching but they are marching." He gave us a great description of Czech food, dumplings in particular, and we were all sad when there were no dumplings available at dinner that first night.
After picking up our guides, we headed out of the city to tour a former prison called Terezin.
There had been over a thousand Jews imprisoned there. Hundreds died there, the rest ended up sent to other prison camps. The town near the fortress was used to house thousands more Jews in a sort of limbo state before being shipped to places like Auschwitz.
We toured the fortress prison first. It was sad seeing the way the prisoners were treated. As we got back on the bus I said that I felt like I should hug a Jew. Guy said he felt like being hugged. I was glad we could be there for each other.
Next we went to a building that had been a home for Jewish boys ages 10-15. We watched a movie in super-comfortable seats and most of us fell fast asleep. I woke up coughing about half way through and stayed awake for the rest. It was very sad to see the children, so young and full of life, and to know that they had had everything taken from them, their homes, their belongings, even their families. And that for the majority of them in the film, their lives would be taken from them, too. After the film we walked around the building a little. The wall of the rooms on the main floor were covered with lists of names of the people who had come through there and where they had died. One of our clarinet players found several relatives' names. There were also pictures the kids had drawn there. They looked so much like what my kids would draw, it really got to me. And then I read a poem a boy there had written about how the roses had buds on them and when they bloomed he would already be gone and I just lost it. This isn't what a 10-year-old kid should have as his reality, the knowledge that his life was going to be taken from him. It was a tough tour for me.

When our time was up there I got myself under control and climbed back onto the bus. We weren't as crazy in the back as usual. We probably fell asleep again, though. We found our hotel and got our instructions for the night. Most of the orchestra was going to a PROMS concert at Smetana hall. Most of the back of the bus was skipping it.
Those of us in the deviant group got to relax in our rooms for a bit. Kip checked out the height of the shower. Then, we got to eat dinner at the hotel at 7pm then head over to the metro station to ride the train into the center of the city.
To get to the train, we rode down a super long escalator. It made me dizzy.
When we got downtown, Guy, Mihail, Kip and I split from the main group of Deviants, and headed to the Astronomical Clock which Guy remembered from his previous visit to Prague (I think he's been pretty much everywhere).
We found a cafe on the square near the clock and ordered drinks. The host of the restaurant didn't seem to like us. He stood at the entrance to the outdoor seating and gave us dirty looks periodically. But it wasn't like the restaurant was full. He just didn't seem to like us. Then one of the drinks got spilled all over the table and splashed onto my pants. We asked him for napkins since our server was nowhere to be seen. We motioned to the spilled drink dripping off the table. He grunted and went into the main part of the restaurant. We waited. And waited. He didn't seem to be coming back, so I pulled the cloth off the empty table next to ours and used it to dry my legs and chair, then clean the table. We had a good laugh about that. He never did come back. Eventually our waitress reappeared and we got our check and left.
We wandered from there all around downtown Prague. It was much colder here than it had been in Vienna. A storm had come in that morning and rained on us as we drove north. At this point it was sprinkling and chilly. We tried to find the main bridge that Guy remembered (the Charles Bridge) but overshot it and ended up outside Dvorak hall, where we would perform the following evening. It was a beautiful building. Down the street from there we found a pizza place and slipped in for something warm to drink. We got hot chocolate, and Guy got something fun to spike his with. The chocolate was so thick it was chunky. It was absolutely delicious. And they had wi-fi which was nice. We thought we'd go back after the concert he next night, but ended up not doing it.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Vienna, July 13

We rode the bus to Schonbrunn Palace. The place is huge, modeled after Versailles but, of course, much smaller. Yet still overwhelmingly large. It was a no-picture kind of place, so instead I bought some postcards with pictures of the most famous princess of the Habsburg family, Elizabeth or Sisi. She was lovely and I knew Anna would enjoy pictures of a real-life princess.
The grounds behind the palace are amazing.
After Schonbrunn, we got back on the bus and headed back into the center of Vienna to the musical instrument museum. Also nice, but there was a lack of piccolo representation. And not enough percussion instruments in Kip's opinion.
We opted to skip the afternoon tour of a Beethoven museum and instead went on a hunt for souvenirs, dragging Mihail along again although you'd think he'd have learned by then. We walked all over the city and found nothing like what I had seen in Salzburg and ended up back at the opera house to meet the others. We were a little early and had been unsuccessful in our efforts, so I darted into the opera house gift shop and found a shirt I knew Anna would absolutely love, pink with a sparkly silver ballerina silhouetted on it. Could have saved a lot of walking if I'd just bought it there first...
From there we headed to the Minoritenkirsche, an old cathedral tucked in among a bunch of government buildings in Vienna. Part of the church was walled off with an exhibit of Da Vinci artwork and as we had a rehearsal, I enjoyed an only slightly-obstructed view of a life-size copy of "The Last Supper" commissioned by Napoleon in 1809. It was really amazing. To think it just happened to be there and we just got to sit and stare at it through our rehearsal! The concert that night went very well. But at the end, we had to be shooed off the stage because the bus driver had a time commitment we couldn't break, so off we went with only one encore and the crowd still clapping happily, although later we realized that that's just kind of how they are in Europe. They clap as you come on, they clap until you leave. They don't just get up and go like Americans.