ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR #3
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Dear families and friends,
Yikes. I am woefully behind with my letter writing, and it’s almost time for us to come home!! First of all, happy birthday to Xixi (today), and happy birthday to Jack (tomorrow)!! Tuesday was the final day of the festival, and it was a busy one. And it will live forever in Chorale tour history as a very special one – THE DAY WE WOKE UP AND THE BUS WAS GONE…yes, you heard me…GONE!…stolen in the night…and, according to the polizei, likely already in Serbia or the Ukraine, with all new signage on the side. It was a beautiful, brand new, shiny-bright-white bus, with only one small identifying Interbus Praha on the side. A brand new, shiny-bright-white target for the gang of bus thieves currently working in Austria. We weren’t the only victims, with the Alicante’s Province Youth Orchestra from Spain also missing one of their buses. Thankfully, we weren’t planning on heading out until 10am, and by then we had a new bus. Well, not new, or as bright and shiny as our old one, but maybe that’s a good thing! We never leave anything of value on the bus overnight and I must have had a premonition because, as I was getting off the bus Monday night, I grabbed Rocky, our little travel buddy, and took him with me to my room. Up until then he had been faithfully guarding the bus from the front window every night. Wait…maybe that was the problem! Anyway, I’m not sure what prompted me to take him, but I’m glad I did because the thought of him on the bus, all by himself with bad guys, makes me shudder.
After we recovered from our bus-shock, and Mirek and Gita finished with the local polizei, we went into the city to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, built during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph to house the art collections of the emperors and archdukes of the Hapsburg family. The building itself, both inside and out, is stunning with its cupola hall decorated with precious metals, various colored types of marble, and intricate stucco work. Three large galleries feature the glittery goldsmith work of Vienna’s treasures, a large collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, and a very impressive Egyptian exhibit. Our young artists wandered quietly, taking it all in, and worked on the beginnings of their artistic contribution to the collections!
We enjoyed our lunch in the park outside of the museum, and then it was time to go to the Wiener Konzerthaus for the closing ceremonies of the festival. We rehearsed the SCL anthem with the Westlake Youth Symphony Orchestra and all 1400 of our colleagues at the festival. That took a bit of doing, as participants were spread throughout the hall, making it a bit tricky to coordinate voices and orchestra. Even trickier, however, was assembling the 1400 participants for the group photo! There was a short lecture about the Strauss family, given by Johann’s grand and grand-grand nephews – heirs of his youngest brother, Eduard I. They shared the family history, and some interesting tidbits about the rivalries between the generations of composers. We listened to the original version of Johann’s “Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz, composed in 1867. There are over 1,400 pieces of music composed by the family.
We claimed a corner of the concert house to eat a quick snack before the concert, as dinner wasn’t on the agenda until 9:30pm, and then walked across the street for a photo at the Beethoven memorial, completing our Vienna series with Mozart and Strauss. And, of course, we always find a few moments for our favorite activity, Gita Games!
The Summa Cum Laude Gala Winner’s Concert was indeed celebratory. I realize as I am typing this that you are missing the entire middle of the tour, and pretty much everything about our participation in the festival. I will give you a little background here, and promise to catch you up in a subsequent letter! The festival has two tracks – Competition and Celebration. We chose NOT to compete, but to celebrate! Our colleagues in the “youth” category of choral music are high school, college and above, up to age 30, especially in Europe. And they take their competition seriously. They tour only for competition purposes, and are charged by their administrators to bring home a first place – just as a sports team is charged to win the tournament. We prefer to think of our music-making as a team sport, not a competitive sport, so we enjoyed the excellent music of our colleagues, and we presented an excellent program, appropriate for our young American singers. We made fans at every concert; I heard the usual comments from my colleagues regarding the commitment, energy and outright joy our kids put into every performance; and they held their own on every stage. I could not have been more proud of these Festival Singers.
At the Gala Winner’s Concert, we were treated to performances by the 1st place winners in each category and they were as follows:
Mixed Choir – a 1st place tie – Westlake Choralation Choir, New Zealand and University of Pretoria Youth Choir, South Africa
Treble Choir – Bel Canto, Firbank Grammar School, Australia (high school age girls)
String Orchestra – a 1st place tie –Britten Jeugd Strijkorkest from the Netherlands and Huntingtower String Orchestra from Australia
Symphonic Band – 2nd place – Seri Puteri Symphonic Winds, Malaysia
Symphony Orchestra – 1st place tie – New Jersey Youth Symphony, USA and Westlake Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand
Symphonic Band – Westlake Concert Band, New Zealand
The performances were extraordinary. The New Zealand choir took us right back to last year with their traditional Maori performance. And for the staff, the South African choir reminded us of so many joint performances when we were there three years ago. We felt they deserved that first place tie! The Australian girls were beautiful in every way – impeccable singing and so musical. We very much enjoyed all of the instrumental ensembles, as they were each fantastic in their own right. The Malaysian wind ensemble was comprised of all young girls, beautiful in pink, sparkly Muslim head scarves. Their instruments did not make the flight with them, but members of the Homestead HS Symphonic Wind Ensemble from California loaned them their instruments for their performances! The New Zealanders had 124 high school kids, in four different ensembles, three of them instrumental. Yikes.
Following the concert, close to 2,000 people moved to the Hofburg Palace, winter home of the Hapsburg family. The party was in the Great Hall, larger than a football field! It was an incredible sight, and more than a little daunting to our staff as we watched our Festival Singers disappear into the crowd to meet already familiar friends and make new ones. We established the ground rules, with the at least one member of the staff manning our “home base” – strategically chosen at the top of a flight of steps on one end of the hall – at all times, and the rest of us circulating in an effort to track the wanderers: you may not leave the room, under any circumstances; you must always be with a buddy; if in doubt, return to home base immediately; when a staff member says it’s time to go…it’s time to go…no arguments. We were nervous. They were perfect. We swept the room after about 20 minutes, counted heads, and sent them to the buffet, which stretched the full length of the hall and was filled with Chinese take-out-like boxes full of all sorts of goodies, including your fork. It was brilliant. No line, just walk up to the table and pick up as many boxes as you can carry. We sat together on the steps, returning to the buffet at will, and ate together. Then one more 20 minute foray into the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd while I received our diplomas and certificates; one more gathering sweep; and everyone was happy as we made our way to the bus. Whew! Fortunately, weren’t the only ones leaving early.
Today (Wednesday) was an easy sightseeing day, and I will include all of the details in my next letter… which will come to you next week! We’re all off to bed tonight, including me, as we are up at the crack of dawn for our journey home tomorrow.
See you soon!!!