A blog by Enquirer classical music writer, Janelle Gelfand
Getting it done!
11/16/2003 05:49:00 AM
On Friday at a tour-ending party thrown by music director Paavo Jarvi in Osaka for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, musicians' sentiments were unanimous: the tour was hard work, but worth every minute.
They were partying before getting on another plane -- this one to Sendai in Japan's north, followed by a long bus ride to Yamagata, the final tour destination. The hall there, which seats only about 1,500, could not accommodate all the players on its stage, so 12 musicians were going home early. The rest would be back in Cincinnati late Sunday night.
"I feel sad because I've had so much fun, and it's been a lot of good memories," says Catherine Lange-Jensen, associate principal second violinist. "I'm sad not to play these things anymore."
Anthony McGill, associate principal clarinet, was struck by the quality of the concerts in the orchestra's first international tour with Jarvi.
"The concerts have been getting better and better. I've never been a part of performances like this," he says.
Christopher Philpotts, principal English horn, was feeling a sigh of relief that the tour was ending.
"I'm exhausted," he says. "The last concerts we have done have just been sort of a whirlwind."
Despite the fatigue, he thought the orchestra's playing Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique Friday in Osaka's Symphony Hall had never been better.
"Have you ever sat behind the orchestra and watched Paavo?" he asked. "It's always different. He's always watching me, and I'm watching him, and it kind of makes it playful and fun. So even though we've done this now six times, there was nothing staid about it."
For violinist Stacey Woolley, the concerts were the highlight.
"This is what we describe as a working tour," he says. "There was very little time to do much else but play the concerts, sleep and forage for food. But the concerts, all the more so, have become the highlight. It seems the very best concerts were in the venues that were the most important: the Suntory Hall concert and tonight in Osaka, as well as Yokohama. I think it's not an accident that those are also the better halls."
Stage manager Thomas Thoman experienced each hall from a different perspective.
"In each one of these cities, their hall has a personality," he says. "For us (stage crew), the whole tour experience is fulfilling in a different way. It's really a privilege."
Violist Sari Eringer-Thoman, his wife, felt that the tour was one of the orchestra's highest points since she joined 28 years ago.
"Musically, it was very rewarding," she says. "I can't wait to do another one. I'm excited and I think it's the start of something good."
Although my work during this tour was equally taxing, it was a momentous occasion and I'm glad I could be there. Following the Cincinnati Symphony around Japan was challenging for several reasons, including the language barrier (there is still not that much English spoken here), the jet lag (it's that 14-hour time difference) and the intense travel schedule.
There were other challenges, too. Each hotel had a different way of connecting to the Internet, and one's laptop didn't always work -- despite the best intentions of my IT colleagues in Cincinnati. Only one hotel had high-speed Internet -- I was usually handed a computer "line changer" at the desk to use in dial-up, and I still have no idea how it worked. The Osaka hotel didn't even have those; I was told to run down the street to the Internet café, which had limited hours.
Because of the necessity of filing stories before running to catch a train or a plane, my work days averaged about 18 hours, and I often got little more than four hours' sleep at a time. And every day, I had an aerobic workout, running to make the bullet train (the Shinkansen), jogging up and down subway stairs, and being pushed along with the throng into a jammed local train at rush hour – usually while carrying a bag and a laptop.
Because cab rides could cost $100 or more just to get across Tokyo, there was also the nerve-wracking challenge of finding the right subway lines, and making it to the concert on time. But somehow, once I made it to the hall, the concerts were energizing.
A few times between assignments, I managed to catch a bullet train and go off for a few hours to explore Japan. It is a fascinating country. From Kitakyushu, I took the bullet train to a local train to a ferry, to see Miyajima on the Inland Sea. One of the most beautiful places in Japan, it has a fantastic shrine on stilts that seems to float on water (luckily the tide was in; otherwise, it would float over mud).
One of the most unusual things I did was to attend an art exhibition opening in Kyoto, for a young artist named Tomoharu Miyazaki. Here's the background: A year ago, when I visited Japan, I spent the day with a violinist, Atsuko Konishi. She invited her artist friends for lunch; afterwards, Atsuko and I played sonatas for piano and violin, while Miyazaki sketched us.
A gallery owner was so impressed with his musical sketches, that Miyazaki was offered an exhibition. On Sunday, I joined about 35 visitors for the opening, which included music played by Konishi and a flutist. As passers-by heard the music through the open door, a small crowd gathered to listen on the street.
And there, along with his suite of other musical pictures, was I, seated at the piano. Is there any greater honor?
Thanks for going along with me on this fantastic journey with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Back in Tokyo
11/13/2003 03:43:22 PM
On Thursday, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra flew from Fukuoka back to Tokyo, to appear at the Metropolitan Art Space, a contemporary hall in the northeast corner of Tokyo. We had spent three days in Kitakyushu, where the musicians had a day off on Wednesday. Most either slept, practiced their instruments (walking down the hallways of the hotels sounds like a conservatory of music) or strolled around the town.
For the trip back to Tokyo, my little group and I backtracked our steps, but this time we took a Shinkansen and then a subway, back to the Fukuoka airport.
Here's an interesting cultural observation about Japan: it's becoming a nation of coffee-drinkers. There are Starbucks in every city, and French pastry shops are everywhere. At every concert, one sees patrons downing steaming coffee cups.
"It's because they want to be more European," a Japanese music critic told me.
For a few more observations, here's a top-10 list of why Japan is different from the U.S.:
10. Very few "Western" toilets
9. JAL planes have a camera mounted in the nose, so you can watch take-off.
8. Japanese bow instead of shaking hands. The deeper the bow, the more respect is implied.
7. Strange taste combinations in hotel coffee shop, like rice omelettte with beef curry sauce.
6. Planes are always on time.
5. People wear surgical masks in public if they have a cold.
4. You get a wet towel before eating, but usually have to ask for a napkin.
3. Elevator music in malls and train stations is tinkly, "music box" music.
2. When you cross the street, the signal light plays "Coming Through the Rye."
1. The best sushi in the world!
Kitakyushu: Getting There
11/11/2003 03:18:56 PM
It was Monday, a travel day for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which was flying south to the island of Kyushu, to play in a small city called Kitakyushu.
For the musicians, that meant taking a charter bus to the airport, flying to Fukuoka, then getting on a bus for the last leg to Kitakyushu.
For me -- and several others trailing the orchestra, including a pre-schooler and a baby -- it meant using the subway and the train to get to the airport, and then deciding how to get from Fukuoka to our final destination on the other end. This because of a rule in the musicians' contracts that stipulates no non-CSO employees are allowed to ride their buses.
A small group of us headed out of the ANA Hotel in Tokyo with our carry-on bags and computers, as a light rain began to fall. We found the subway station, and then walked for what seemed like miles in subterranean tunnels, up and down stairs (not fun with a carry-on and a laptop...) Our group included Judy Martin, a CSO violist, and her husband Allen, a retired CSO player who was thus not allowed on the bus, my husband Michael, Mary Ellyn Hutton from the Cincinnati Post and myself.
We found the Ginza line of the Tokyo subway, but it was jam-packed for rush hour, and we barely made it on with our bags.
Thankfully, it was just two stops to Shimbashi train station. So far so good. Battling jet lag and literally no sleep the previous night, I was sweating in the hot subway. But which train line to take? We stood there confused, looking at all the signs in Japanese, until a kind, elderly gentleman noticed us and led us all the way to the train ticket machines. He even showed us how to use them, and found out that the express train left in about 10 minutes.
Who should we run into just then but Gillian Benet Sella, CSO harpist, her husband Uri and their two adorable children Adam ("I'm four and three-quarters," he said) and baby Tamar, 9 months. Their paraphernalia included a stroller and diaper bags. I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself.
Now we were two musicians, two spouses, two critics, one critic's spouse and two kids. We traveled in a pack to the platform, where a train conductor almost put us on the slow train, that would have involved a change. Luckily, someone noticed that it was the wrong time of the express, which was coming in 5 minutes. We waited.
Finally, we were on the train. We seemed to be making a lot of stops, that were not on any of our maps. Moment of panic. No, someone figured out, we were on the right train.
The train went above ground, and suddenly, it was going down narrow streets like a streetcar. We had a nice little trip through crowded Tokyo neighborhoods, and arrived at Haneda Airport.
There we met up with the symphony musicians and conductor Paavo Jarvi at the gate. Instead of a small commuter jet in Japan, you get a 747-400. The run was about equivalent to New York to Dayton.
Our flight was a bit choppy; the weather in Kyushu has been rainy. We landed. Then we had to decide whether to take a subway to another train to get to Kitakyushu, or climb onto a bus for a 90-minute ride.
No one had the heart to do the former. So we all climbed aboard a bus. The kids were terrific. We never heard a peep.
A day in the life of a critic in Tokyo
11/9/2003 06:12:39 AM
Sunday, Nov. 9
7 a.m.: Wake-up call. Write and file a blog! Just time enough for coffee in room.
8:45 a.m.: Walk over to Suntory Hall with symphony stage crew, to watch them unload three big trucks loaded with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra equipment, instruments and wardrobes. Quite a production!
10 a.m.: The crew is setting up the stage while I take pictures and interview players, who are straggling in to warm up for a noon rehearsal.
Message from percussionist Bill Platt to wife Kazuko in Cincinnati: "Hi!"
11:20: Paavo Jarvi, music director, arrives to check the bells that will be used in Symphonie fantastique. The bells, owned by NHK Symphony in Japan, are A-OK. The show can go on.
11:45 a.m.: I leave the hall to go have $75 Japanese lunch with important music critic from the largest daily newspaper in Japan, The Yomiuri Shimbun, with 10 million circulation (no kidding!). Between nibbling on little pickled things and raw fish, we have a lovely conversation. I notice that neither of us eats the one that has tentacles...
1:45 p.m: Walk to Suntory Hall for CSO concert. I'm supposed to pick up my ticket, but no one has it. The people at the press table give me a nice seat anyway, upstairs where I love to sit.
4:30 p.m.: CSO concert goes into overtime because of four encores.
5 p.m.: Bring several Japanese guests from GE Aircraft Engines backstage to meet Paavo. They are impressed. Paavo is charming.
5:30 p.m.: Am invited to attend a press interview crammed into a small room at the hotel, where Paavo is being interviewed by writer from a major Japanese record magazine.
7:15 p.m.: Supposed to meet president of Japan Arts, the presenter for the symphony tour, but he is a no-show. Just realized, I have no idea what the weather is like outside today.
7:30 p.m.: Crash.
11/8/2003 02:23:15 PM
It's Sunday morning, and last night, I went to Yokohama to see the CSO perform in Yokohama's spectacular Minato Mirai Hall. I could have easily taken the train (plus two cabs) to get there. Given my jet lag (at about 3 p.m. Saturday, I badly needed a nap...) I opted to take a cab with two others for the 45 minute trip from Tokyo. (Don't even ask what that cost!)
Unfortunately, cab drivers here speak almost no English, and the concert halls have different names in Japanese. It was only by luck that we knew the hall was connected to Queens Tower shopping mall, and so were able to find it.
One's first impression of the port city is the air pollution. The weather here has been unseasonably warm, and the air was heavy with pollution.
The musicians were already at the hall, warming up their instruments, and going out in twos and threes to find dinner (yes, McDonald's was just across the street).
Then, there was the most touching moment. A large, gorgeous floral arrangement, with the most beautiful orchids I've ever seen, sat on a table in the musicians' lounge. It was addressed to "Mrs. Sutyak, from the Uenishi family."
The flowers were in memory of Geraldine Sutyak, the symphony cellist who died unexpectedly last month. Martha Uenishi, now 25, was Mrs. Sutyak's former cello student when the family lived in Cincinnati.
I met the Uenishi family at intermission, including Martha and her lovely parents. Her father, Kenji Uenishi, is president and general manager of GE Aircraft Engines. Big CSO fans, they had spent $500 to see the concert, and are going again today to the concert in Suntory Hall, Tokyo.
The world gets smaller every day. And by the way, they gave me a ride back to Tokyo!
Midnight in Tokyo
11/7/2003 07:26:48 AM
A few minutes ago, I awoke in a post-flight fog, and raced downstairs in my hotel to see if the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra musicians were arriving. They were due to check in at 11 p.m., after one of the toughest days on the tour.
At about 11:30 p.m., they came through the lobby, looking surprisingly wide-awake for the kind of day they had. The tour presenter, Japan Arts, was ready at a special table with their room keys. As they headed for the elevators, most smiled and stopped to say hi, but everyone was intent on one thing: bed.
They had gotten on a plane in Sapporo this morning -- after playing their first concert there Thursday night -- and had flown to Tokyo. At the airport, the 103 musicians plus staff members boarded four buses for a 2 1/2 hour ride to Mito, to play a 6:30 p.m. concert. Now, another 2 1/2 hour bus ride later, their day is finally over.
"He got me through the day," says violist Marna Street, nudging fellow violist Bob Howes.
The CSO arrives in Japan
11/3/2003 10:30:25 AM
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra left Music Hall at 7:30 a.m. Monday for the Greater Cincinnati Airport, connected to a JAL flight to Tokyo, and then hopped a plane to Sapporo, in the northernmost island of Hokkaido, Japan.
They arrived at their Sapporo hotel at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Japan time.
They'll have a day to recover before their first concert on Thursday, in Sapporo's Concert Hall.
"We know that they're there, safe and sound," says CSO marketing director Dianne Cooper. Other than that, communication has been sparse. The CSO's Fran Blasing, on the road with the CSO, e-mailed me that there was no AT&T in Sapporo, and she had to borrow a hotel laptop.
I will meet up with the orchestra in Tokyo on Friday.
Maybe I shouldn't have seen Lost in Translation last week. (That's the Bill Murray movie about two jet-lagged zombies who bond while floundering around sleepless in Tokyo).
On this whirlwind trip following the orchestra around Japan, I won't have any time for jet lag.
After you take a 13 1/2-hour flight, you land -- and set your watch ahead 14 hours! So, what time is it? I'm still doing the math...
Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Japan as a tourist, also during November. My first impression was how crowded a country Japan is. But as I got to know it a little better over two weeks, I was impressed at how much the Japanese value nature and culture. They mob the beautiful gardens and shrines at this time of year, when the fall colors are absolutely brilliant.
I'll never forget visiting Nara, a stunning parkland near Osaka, full of roaming deer, historic temples and shrines and the great Buddha inside the world's largest wooden building. That day, one saw dozens of small children, dressed in gorgeous kimonos, surrounded by generations of relatives. I knew something was up. Turns out, it was Children's Shrine Day, a special day for 3, 5 and 7-year-olds to visit the shrines.
I have other wonderful memories, including a Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto, my favorite city, and a concert by the NHK Symphony in NHK Hall, Tokyo (our orchestra is playing in two other Tokyo halls this trip).
And I have never eaten so much raw fish in my life.
Stay tuned for my impressions this year, as I follow the orchestra on trains and planes!