Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Place of Genius

Here is a dispatch from Dr. Jon Hallberg exclusively for the tour blog! This entry covers the orchestra's time in Stockholm.

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

Our tour by the numbers

Here is the last post from Jon Hallberg that will appear in the Pioneer Press, but he will be sending us a few more notes from his trip exclusively for this blog! So stay tuned for those!

piece from Copenhagen concert on the web

If you missed the Performance Today program on Minnesota Public Radio that featured a piece from our tour and an interview with Nikolaj Znaider, you can find it here.

From Oslo to Hamburg

Our diligent correspondent from the road, Dr. Jon Hallberg is continuing to share with us his reports from the tour! Everyone arrived home safely on Saturday and are all recovering from their jet lag.
Click here to read Jon's latest message from the tour on the Pioneer Press.

Friday, December 5, 2008

a visit with an old friend

This morning (their time) the orchestra departed from Gothenburg and tonight will perform their last concert of the tour in Stockholm at the Stockholm Konserthus.

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.
Leslie Shank

Thursday, December 4, 2008

pass the violin, please

Today the orchestra is in Gothenburg, Sweden and tonight they perform at the Gothenburg Konserthuset.

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!

Dale Barltrop

Uf Da

Dr. Jon Hallberg has posted another dispatch from the road on the Pioneer Press!
Click here to read about getting to Oslo, Norway with a pilot named Ole. Seriously.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our tour so far

Below is a message from Bernhard Scully, principal horn, about the first couple of days of the tour:

For those of you who don’t know me, I am the new principal horn of the orchestra, having joined last year. This is my first international tour with the SPCO and I am having a BLAST!! We’ve only been in Europe for five days and have already played three concerts in three different cities…Copenhagen, Oslo, and Hamburg. Tomorrow we’re off to Gothenburg, Sweden, and the next day (which is our final tour day) we play in Stockholm. I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to play in all these wonderful concert halls for all these amazing audiences with this incredible orchestra! Everyone has been so wonderful to us and I have enjoyed every minute so far.

Saturday evening I joined a bunch of my colleagues for a delicious feast at a local Danish restaurant. I had a mallard dish and a special Danish cheese plate, accompanied by some tasty Danish Christmas Ales. These Danes surely know how to put a great meal together. It was a wonderful way to start off the tour… good food, good friends, and great discussion!

I had the whole day of Sunday to take a nice stroll through Copenhagen (and attempt to get over my jet lag). It is a very quaint and lovely city with many small winding streets. The streets often lead into bustling squares with street musicians, vendors, and myriads of other activities going on. It has plenty of small shops, exquisite restaurants, and the people are as nice as can be. I had a great lunch that day with Tim Paradise, principal clarinet. We went to a Turkish restaurant to have some healthier fare (balancing out the beer and meat).

After lunch and a great conversation ranging from the relationship between European and American politics to him giving me some great wine recommendations, we decided to do some more walking. We just happened to come upon a bunch of SPCO musicians, including the new president Sarah Lutman! Everyone was watching Father Christmas light the huge Christmas tree at the center of the town square, right by the famous Tivoli amusement park. As Santa climbed up and up the ladder, he finally reached the top of the tree. He then lit a gigantic flame that lighted the star along with the rest of the tree’s decorations. It was an amazing sight and I was lucky enough to capture the whole thing on video which I will enjoy showing to my young daughter when I get home.

Our concert on Monday was a thrilling experience. The concert hall was beautiful and it was a pleasure to begin our collaboration with Nicolai Znaider once again. The audience packed the hall and everyone was buzzing with excitement. I felt the concert went very well, especially considering how tired we were from the traveling and jet lag so far. It really got our tour off to a great start. After the performance, Paul Straka (second horn) and I went out to meet up with some more horn players from both Denmark and Sweden for some beers. We tried beers that ranged from Belgian Cherry Ales, to ales made by Trappist monks. One of the perks of being a horn player is the incredible camaraderie we maintain with one another. The instrument does something to bond us together, whether we live in Europe, America, or wherever! Both Paul and myself enjoyed a marvelous evening of music-making, good beer, and great company. How could you ask for anything more?

Next entry… Oslo and Hamburg… stay tuned!!


Bernhard Scully
Principal Horn, SPCO

Hear a piece from the Copenhagen concert

If you want to hear a piece from our concert in Copenhagen, be sure to tune in to Minnesota Public Radio's Performance Today program this Friday, December 12 from 11:00am until 1:00pm. They will play a selection from the concert as well as a little bit of the interview they did with conductor and violinist Nikolaj Znaider when he was here back in September. Performance Today can be heard on MPR's Classical 99.5 FM.

Tonight the SPCO performs in Hamburg, Germany. They will be at the Laeiszhalle Hamburg.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Greetings from Oslo!

Below is a message from Leslie Shank, assistant concertmaster:

This is Tuesday so it must be Oslo! After making Copenhagen our home for a couple of days, we took an early morning flight to Oslo. As we landed we could see the ground covered with snow and thought it could be Bemidji. The drive into town took us through curving roads surrounded by snow covered fir trees. We had very little time to take in the sights before we had to leave for the hall, so Lynn Erickson and I ventured out in search of Christmas presents and souvenirs. We ended up at the harbor, watching the ferry boats come in to port. I grew up in Seattle and suddenly realized a similarity in the two cities. In fact, many Norwegians settled in Seattle.
We played our second concert of the tour, and had another standing ovation. It is exciting to see such enthusiasm from an audience hearing us for the first time!
I hope we will return soon!
Leslie Shank

A day off in Copenhagen and first rehearsal

Tour Doctor Jon Hallberg has posted two more dispatches with the Pioneer Press! We're so glad he's finding the time to write such vivid descriptions of what our SPCO is up to!

Click here to read about the SPCO's free day in Copenhagen, and click here to read about their first rehearsal on the tour.

From the US to Copenhagen

Throughout the tour Dr. Jon Hallberg, the tour physician for the SPCO and frequent medical correspondent for Minnesota Public Radio, will be sending dispatches from the road which will appear in the Pioneer Press. Click here to see his first report about getting from here to there.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hello from Copenhagen!

The SPCO departed for Copenhagen, Denmark on Friday, and tonight will be their first concert of the tour! The concert will be at the Musikkonservatoriets Koncertsal.

Below is a message from Principal Bassoonist Chuck Ullery:

Hello from Copenhagen. Elsa Nilsson and I spent most of today, Sunday, visiting Elsa's cousins in Malmo, Sweden. Thank goodness they all spoke English! A bridge that opened in 2000 connects Malmo with Copenhagen, and has caused a lot of growth in Malmo, as many more people commute to work in Denmark.

Our hotel is in a wonderful area for walking, and bicycles are everywhere. The days are noticeably shorter here, which, together with the jetlag, leaves me still slightly disoriented, but I'm sure that I will recover before the rehearsal tomorrow morning. I'm really looking forward to our first concert tomorrow night.

Sorry that this note can't be longer, but I'm using my iPod Touch, and one-fingered typing is laborious!

Chuck Ullery

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Get to know Nikolaj Znaider

Our conductor for the tour will be world-renowned violinist Nikolaj Znaider. Perhaps you remember him from our September 18-28 concerts.

Here's a little information about him:
Celebrated as one of the foremost violinists of today, Nikolaj Znaider is regularly invited to work with the world’s leading orchestras including, Vienna, Berlin and London Philharmonics, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and London Symphony Orchestra, and enjoys artistic collaborations with acclaimed conductors including Daniel Barenboim, Sir Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Gustavo Dudamel, Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Vladimir Jurowski, Christian Thielemann and many others. A conductor as well as violinist, he was recently named principal guest conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

Born in Denmark to Polish-Israeli parents, Znaider studied with the eminent Russian pedagogue Boris Kushnir and drawing on this eclectic background his playing has been heralded in the Strad Magazine as “extraordinarily intelligent, soulful and impassioned, yet without a hint of indulgence.”

A keen recitalist and chamber musician, Znaider has shared the stage with the foremost artists of today such as Daniel Barenboim, Leif Ove Andsnes, Yuri Bashmet, Yefim Bronfman, Lynn Harrell, Lang Lang and Pinchas Zukerman. His next recording on the Sony/BMG Masterworks label will be Korngold and Brahms Concertos with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Valery Gergiev.

Znaider plays the “Kreisler” Guarnerius “del Gesu” 1741 on extended loan by The Royal Danish Theater through the generosity of the VELUX FOUNDATIONS and the Knud Højgaard Foundation.

Click here to see his web site.

To read the reviews from his concerts with us,
Click here for the Star Tribune's review
Click here for the Pioneer Press' review

Monday, October 13, 2008

And away we go!

Welcome to the blog site for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's 2008 Scandinavian tour! We hope you'll check in often for updates as we get closer to the tour. While we're abroad, we hope you'll look here each day for news, photos, and dispatches from the road!

Here's where we'll be going:

Dec. 1, 2008: Musikkonservatoriets Koncertsal in Copenhagen, Denmark
Dec. 2, 2008: Oslo Konserthus, in Oslo, Norway
Dec. 3, 2008: the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, Germany
Dec. 4, 2008: Gothenburg Konserthuset in Gothenburg, Sweden
Dec. 5, 2008: Stockholm Konserthus in Stockholm, Sweden

And here's what we'll be performing:

Copenhagen and Oslo:
Stravinsky, Concerto in D
Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5
*** Intermission ***
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7

Hamburg, Gothenburg, and Stockholm:
Stravinsky, Concerto in D
Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5
*** Intermission ***
Beethoven, Coriolan Overture
Beethoven, Symphony No. 4

The conductor and soloist for these programs will be violinist Nikolaj Znaider. If you came to our Spetember 18-28 concerts, you got a sneak peak at Nikolaj and some of what we'll be performing with him on the tour.

Here's what the local press had to say about the SPCO's concerts with Nikolaj:

Click here for the Star Tribune's review

and click here for the Pioneer Press review

More to come, so check back soon!