Friday, December 26, 2008
So this post is definitely way overdue, but I wanted to contribute something regarding my experience in St. Petersburg. I was certainly excited about the idea of going to Russia the moment I found out I would be able to participate in the Kulmusik ensemble, but I would have never guessed that I would come away from the experience so enriched.
One can really feel the history of such a place just upon entering the city with the way the old buildings and monuments were set up, and the canals added a sense of flare atypical of American cities. The difference in the culture was also very apparent just by taking a walk down a few city blocks. For our part, we had a rather busy week with many rehearsals in preparation for the concerts, trying to find some time to see the city a bit more, discovering and eating Russian food among other things. I think my favorite part of the week was seeing the Russian Ballet. In particular, the ballets by Russian composers were truly incredible, and to see them performed in that hall by some of the premiere Russian dancers was an unforgettable experience.
On the musical side of things, I felt very honored to have the opportunity to play for an international music festival abroad. We had a great program which seemed to be received very well by our audience, and having our ensemble come together to pull off this tour was very rewarding. Just having the opportunity to work with some of our esteemed faculty was a reward in itself, and all of us in the group became very tight throughout the week. Playing with the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic was also an unbelievable experience for which I'm very grateful to have had. It was an entirely new level of musical maturity which I had never had the opportunity to perform with until this trip.
To sum things up, my trip to St. Petersburg was one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life. I was able to grow so much as a person and musician even though it seems like such a short amount of time that we had over there. Working with the members of our ensemble was amazing and I would just like to thank each and every one of them for adding so much to this already great experience.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
So this post is certainly long overdue. The truth is that I haven't been able to decide where to begin. It was a very busy week, what with the stresses of travel, at least three hours of a rehearsal a day, two concerts, tasting Russian cuisine, sight seeing, and maybe sleeping and practicing just a little (maybe). Regardless, it was a truly unforgettable experience. I forgot how young America is; visiting St. Petersburg was like taking a giant step into the past. Ancient churches, palaces; there was history around every corner. The most interesting thing for me in this regard was visiting the Hermitage, the art museum there which used to be a palace for the former monarchy. It was overwhelming to stand in the same room where the last meeting of the counterrevolutionary government was held just before the revolution.
The musical side of things was just as rewarding, if not more. It's a fascinating experience to work so hard for something for so long and then to have it finally come to life, which it did in ways I couldn't have predicted. I don't think it truly hit me that I was playing a concert at an international festival in Russia until I was on stage performing. The other concert that the students had the pleasure to participate in was a concert with the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, conducted by Ithaca College's own Jeff Meyer. That was an eye-opening experience as well. Their emotional approach to music was very moving and I found it interesting to compare it to how many American musicians approach music.
Needless to say, I came away from this trip with rich memories and an irreplaceable experience that has factored into my musical development. I can't be thankful enough for being given the opportunity to travel to Russia to play in this ensemble with such wonderful musicians, as well as the opportunity to work closely with the faculty.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
It's now Sunday morning, November 30. It took us just about 24 hours to get home, and luckily this time we didn't have any delays or mishaps (save some scary turbulence for a little while over the Atlantic). Here's a brief recount of our last days in Russia:
When I left off it was Thursday. In the morning, Dr. Meyer arranged for us students to take a walking tour through St. Petersburg with a well-versed English-speaking Russian, Eugene. The tour took us through a large open area which we were told was used originally for military training. An "eternal flame" burned there continuously to honor fallen soldiers. We then moved onwards over the Neva River, the main waterway that runs through St. Petersburg as an historic relic of trade and the place of inception for the nation's navy. On the other side we toured the home of Peter the Great, who founded the city approximately 300 years ago. He lived very modestly in a log cabin that was essentially 25 ft x 50 ft in area. The home was encased in a brick building to preserve it as it was, complete with furniture and personal belongings inside. The tour was much appreciated and helped give me a historical perspective on the city that hosted us for a week.
Shortly afterward, we had to head back for rehearsal with the St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra. The musicians performing in this group were very well-trained musicians. Their technical facility on their instruments was evident and they played with a great level of musicality. From my perspective as a horn player, it was interesting to note the subtle differences the other horn players exhibited in their own playing. For example, they used a rather wide, quick vibrato during sustained notes. Their hand position in the bell was more closed than I am used to playing myself, and resulted in a more subdued tone. The principal horn's sound was beautiful nonetheless... an inspiration to me as a model musician. His name was Alexander (Sasha) Chevnosky... I wish I was able to converse with him more, but as you might expect, our conversing was limited to "bravo" and a series of facial or hand gestures :) The concert was the following day and was well attended and very well received! It was admirable to observe Dr. Meyer transcending the language barriers to run rehearsals, and ultimately, a successful concert. It's also interesting to observe the reactions of the Russian musicians while playing "Death of Klinghoffer," a series of choruses from the opera by the contemporary composer, John Adams. A trumpet player behind me said in broken English, "Is good music, but is crazy!" Amazing how they would not have an oppurtunity to perform this music if it weren't for Dr. Meyer's direction of the group.
As I said, our journeys home went smoothly, and we arrived back in ithaca at 10 PM (it felt like 6AM to us). I luckily was able to stay awake the whole way home, which allowed me to more or less get back on schedule to EST. All in all, this was a wonderful trip and collaboration between students, teachers, and international colleagues in music. I'm very thankful to have been given the opportunity and to be a graduate student studying at Ithaca College. It was an experience I will never forget.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
My apologies for not writing more frequently while actually in Russia. For whatever reason, the hotel's computers would not allow us access to the IC weblog site. Either way, I kept my blog on my computer and am posting it here now. Here was an entry intended to be post on Wednesday:
Well, it’s been a few days since we’ve been in Russia now. After a long and arduous journey to get here, it all worked out in the end. We arrived on Monday evening around 6:00 PM (we were originally supposed to arrive at the same time the previous day) – having lost a day in the Helsinki airport, we were all quite anxious to enjoy some fine Russian cuisine and see some sights. Dr. Meyer arranged a reservation for all of us at a local restaurant a few blocks from our hotel (which is a gorgeous hotel by the way). The owner set up a “family style” dinner with several plates ranging from cheese samples, to herb salads, to fish and nuts, to lamb… the list goes on an on. The night ended at a local café that proved to be a worthwhile investment of our time. While there, I was challenged by a Russian couple (in very broken English) to a game of foosball. When asked what color I wanted to be, I naturally responded “Well, it would only be appropriate for you to be red…” They enjoyed my joke.
Tuesday was the day of concert. I spent the free hours of my day walking about 2.5 miles down the Nevsky Monastery/Cemetery. The main purpose of this trip was to see the graves of Russian composers such as Tschaikowsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glink, Borodin, Balakierev, and Mussorgsky (to name a few). Later on in the afternoon we had our dress rehearsal and subsequent concert in Glinka Hall—a truly remarkable space that was classically preserved in its appearance and had acoustics like no other. We all often commented how we could hear things in our own music making in this hall that we couldn’t in previous performance venues (that’s a good thing!). Our audience filled about 30 to 40 percent of the concert hall’s seating; they were a truly appreciate audience. After a successful and well-received concert we all moved onto a traditional Russian cuisine restaurant that included a performance by a band of four folk musicians. I was truly moved by the performance of a folk ballad that I hope to link up here in YouTube I the near future. All in all, the performance and the collaborative efforts between faculty and students in making this all happen was an inspirational experience. We’re all extremely fortunate.
Today (Wednesday) we spent some time at the local outdoor marketplace by the Church of the Spilled Blood. The photo included with this post is the Church top. Following that, the students rehearsed with Dr. Meyer and the St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra for the latter half of the afternoon. It’s quite the experience to be making music with people who you can hardly communicate with verbally, yet through the international language of music, we’re somehow able to make it all work. Truly amazing…
Following, rehearsal we hurried off to the Russes Ballet at the famous Marinskii Hall across from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The dancers and musicians were of the highest class and quality and I thouroughly enjoyed the performces of three, one-act ballets (Chopin, Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scherazade”). And here we are back at the hotel for the evening. Tomorrow is a walking tour that Dr. Meyer set up for the students. Looking forward to that. To all my family and friends—love and miss you! If anyone from Bolton Center School in Bolton, CT is reading, here’s your shout-out from RUSSIA! PRACTICE and maybe someday you can have an opportunity like this one presented to you. Dasdivanya (that more or less means, “goodbye”)!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
As I begin writing this, I am currently somewhere in the air between Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia. Unfortunately for us—in a string of mishaps spanning the day—our plane is being diverted back to Helsinki Airport. Here’s a brief history of our trip thus far:
22 November 2008
8:00 AM: Meet at Whalen Center. I am not feeling well at all due to a late night DP Dough calzone. I have Brian Hoeflschweiger to thank for that. We depart by 8:30 on a charter bus to NY.
12:00 PM: Our bus driver puts too much trust on his GPS and we wind up on a Long Island parkway that we don’t belong on. We inevitably meet our first underpass that the bus is too tall for, and must stop in the middle of a busy parkway. As if this wasn’t dangerous enough, the driver had no choice but to start backing up, blindly against traffic. Within minutes a state trooper is on the scene and is escorting our bus over the lawn back to the highway. We’re back on our way.
2:30 PM: Arrive at JFK after picking up the cello flight cases.
6:00 PM: The plane to Helsinki was a 747… not terribly spacious, but what you’d expect for an economy class international flight. I was able to sleep for a total of probably 3.5 hours at given times during the flight. “Blog-worthy” intercontinental flight news included Sally Lamb’s spiked blood pressure and temporary “blackout(!)” She was okay after a while of lying down in the back of the plane with her husband, Dave.
23 November 2008
9:00 AM (with time change and flight time): We finally arrived at our connecting airport in Helsinki, Finland. The plane took off, and then after some turbulence we were told we’d be heading BACK to Helsinki to await further instructions. This flight was now officially canceled and we’d have to wait until a 4:30 flight to St. Petersburg (it was only 10:30 when we re-landed in Helsinki).
11:30 AM: After getting some food we shopped around in the airport (using a €17 voucher generously given to us from Finnair). I got some holiday shopping done, and then headed back to our gate to take a nap. We’re hoping our flight will leave at 4:30 – the weather is increasingly snowy and windy.
6:00 PM: The snow and wind was so bad in Helsinki that the plane that was scheduled to land here to had to be diverted to a different location. It’s unknown what time we will be here until… or if we will even be able to leave this evening.
11:00PM: Stuck in Helsinki till the morning. All of our rehearsals seem to be (as of right now) canceled for tomorrow (Tuesday). We still are not even sure of WHEN or IF we can get to Russia tomorrow - this snow storm has crippled much of the transportation in the part of the world (including trains!). Luckily we are in a hotel about 30 minutes from the airport and doing fine for the time being. It's been a LONG day (well, two days really.... non-stop). I've slept a total of 10 hours in the last 2-3 days or so and it is much needed at this point. We all just can't wait to get to St. Pete's and start rehearsing and performing. Our provost has proven to be a fearless leader and someone who gets things done... Kathleen Roundtree has impressed us all! More news (hopefully good) tomorrow...