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

No comments: