Tuesday, December 9, 2008
A Place Of Genius
Hands-down, the best located (and possibly the coolest looking) hotel of the tour is here, the First Hotel G, in Gothenburg. In every other city we have to board a bus for a 20-40 minute ride to the airport. But not here. Instead, we take the escalator down from the lobby to the street level, turn right, go through a door…and enter the train station. We’re off to Stockholm today via rail. Few things on this trip have generated as much buzz as the anticipation this ride has. Flying is old hat. A bus? Ugh. But a European high-speed train that cuts a six-hour drive from the west coast to the east down to three? Awesome.
There’s no security to pass through today. We leave our belts on; our computers stay in their bags; bassoons and violins stay in their cases. We simply walk into the train, find our large, wide seats, and gaze out the windows. We leave the station exactly on time. As the train pulls away, it’s almost imperceptible; it’s silky smooth and eerily quiet. We watch the Swedish countryside fly by, often at well over 100 mph. The landscape is grey at first, but soon it’s blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Lakes, pine trees, farms, and the occasional villages hold our attention. We stop just three times in three larger cities before we arrive in Stockholm.
Stockholm: a city of islands and bridges and spires and water and gold. It’s breathtaking, kind of a northern Venice. Most of our rooms aren’t ready yet in the modern First Hotel Amaranten, so we’re almost forced to head out and explore this place. Several of us first make our way to the impressive city hall, right at the water’s edge. It’s here, in this modern yet old brick building with its enormous clock-tower that the Nobel Prize banquet will be held in days. We can’t get in since preparations are already underway to get the place set up. We snap a few exterior shots, then head across the Centralbron bridge to Gamla Stan, the famous old town.
This little island is magical. We’re met by narrow cobble stone streets, shops, and Christmas crowds on this Friday afternoon. Snow is gently falling and Swedish (electric) candles greet us from every window. I was here ten years ago, and my instinct suggests we turn left, up a narrow alley. At the top of the incline, we enter a small city square, full of holiday stalls selling Tomten elves, Glogg, baked goods and handicrafts. A shop over here is selling hot chocolate, thick as a melted candy bar. Restaurants ring the square, and here, in the middle, is the small Nobel Museum, a place celebrating “cultures of creativity.” We step inside to warm ourselves and soak up some of the genius of the people who’ve been awarded Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and physiology, economics, literature and peace.
The sun is setting (or has it already set?) and it’s time to check in to the hotel, get settled, perhaps nap, and prepare for the concert. At 5:45 we board the tour’s final concert bus. It winds its way through a few dark streets and deposits us outside a non-descript blue building, the 1920 Filharmonikerna i Konserthuset, or Concert House. (We never do get a real look at the exterior.) Backstage, it’s like any place we’ve been. But inside the hall, about the size of the U of M’s Ted Mann, it’s unlike any hall I’ve ever seen. It’s a thing of blended beauty. The floor is covered with a sea of red velvet chairs; the walls are a rich yellow-orange; two balconies wrap around three sides of this space and appear to held up by gold leaf Corinthian columns; art deco details abound. One can almost imagine Albert Einstein accepting his Nobel Prize in physics here—which he did. Tonight, the SPCO occupies this famous stage and fills this air with their beautiful music. Next week, on December 10, Nobel laureates and dignitaries and Swedish royalty will take their place. How cool is that?
Dr. Jon Hallberg
Monday, December 8, 2008
Click here to read Jon's latest message from the tour on the Pioneer Press.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Below is a message from Leslie Shank, assistant concertmaster, about her time in Gothenburg.
Gothenburg was special to me because I had a reunion with a friend from my school days at Juilliard and Aspen. We hadn't seen each other for twenty years, so there was much to catch up on! He has been concertmaster of the Gothenburg Symphony for 21 years. He gave me a tour of the hall, a beautiful hall built in 1935, using lots of Canadian Cyprus. The acoustics were great! He showed me the Stradivarius that he plays on, which is owned by the orchestra, and I had the great pleasure of playing a scale or two on it before our concert. There were quite a few members of the Gothenburg Symphony at our concert, and we had a great time visiting with them at the reception following the concert.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Below is a message from Dale Barltrop, the SPCO's principal second violin. Becuase of a technology glitch, his message comes to us a bit after the fact.
Greetings from Oslo! After three days in Copenhagen, most of us have managed to adjust our body clocks and get enough sleep to prepare for the next 4 days and 4 concerts. Our first concert was last night in the concert hall of the Copenhagen Music Conservatory, a very intimate space, despite its large size and vast balconies. We played to a sold out audience and the concert was broadcast live on Danish National Radio. Our Danish-born soloist and conductor, Nikolaj Znaider, who enjoys "star status" in Denmark, drew a rousing response from the audience after his Mozart concerto. However, it was the Beethoven 7 that really brought the house down. We received a standing ovation and the typically European "rhythmic clapping" that we have come to enjoy over on this side of the Atlantic.
It was an exhilarating concert – the first of any big tour is always a mix of excitement and nerves, the latter possibly increased by the live broadcast! It was a great feeling to start out with a bang and I think it certainly set the tone for the remaining 4 concerts this week.
It wasn't without its drama however... Our fearless concertmaster, Steve, somehow managed to break his E string in the slow movement of the Beethoven (a feat usually reserved for fast and furious movements!). During the pause between the 2nd and 3rd movements there was an awkward pause as it soon became clear that no one had a spare string on stage with them. As Steve's fiddle got passed back down the line, Elsa gallantly offered her violin to Steve, and Shane, one of our violin subs, in turn gave his fiddle to Elsa, taking Steve's instrument off stage while the concert went on. Unfortunately, Shane never made it back onstage as there was no appropriate time to make a re-entrance. AND even more unfortunately, I realized after the concert that I had a spare set of strings in my pocket the whole time!! Oops.
Anyway, the audience couldn't seem to get enough, even after we played our encore. Upon finally leaving the stage, we came back to the green room where they had an abundant supply of beer awaiting us! In my excitement to drink it, I promptly spilled some all down my concert pants. If the men's wardrobe trunk reeks of beer tonight, I won't be popular.Arriving in Oslo this afternoon was almost like coming home already! Fresh snow on the ground and a crisp bite in the air.
However, it didn't feel so much like home when it got dark around 3:30pm. It's now 4:30pm and it is thoroughly night time already. In fact, we haven't seen any sunlight at all since arriving in Scandinavia, but it has not dampened our spirits one bit, perhaps because we were treated to such lavish breakfasts in Copenhagen, which definitely helped ease the pain of those first sleepless nights.
Well, I'm off to explore Oslo with a Norwegian friend. Adjo!