Thursday, May 14, 2009

Our next foreign adventure - Ireland!

In July we'll make our debut in Ireland ( we're excited about that!) on a European tour which also includes Germany and France - that's after we appear at our Gala tomorrow night, run to Southern California for a few performances, do our series of Orlando concerts in the Bay Area and our Chanticleer in Sonoma workshop in June.

Monday, May 11, 2009

China Scrapbook

Now that we're safely back, we'll start putting up some of our favorite candid photos from our time in China over on Facebook.

Album 1
Album 2

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May: Hong Kong

Beautiful Hong Kong harbor from the famous Star Ferry going from Kowloon (where our hotel is) to Hong Kong. We've loved it here - we wouldn't mind coming back and many of our audience members said they'd like that too!

We made the best of our short time here today - taking the Star Ferry, going up Victoria Peak, eating local delicacies, generally soaking up local color, and picking up our new suits.

The Sha Tin Town Hall's Auditorium was the site of our Hong Kong concert.

We enjoy the standing ovation at the end of the concert. Lovely hall, great audience!

Warner Classics had organized CD sales - the autograph table attracted quite a crowd, including some of the singers we had seen in the workshop last night, lots of young people, and some very cute kids.

It's been an intense and amazing tour and it's hard to believe that this was our last show. It felt like a very successful venture and- we'll say it again- we felt that we barely scratched the surface and we'll be more than happy to come back to this part of the world again if we get invited. Many thanks to Catherine Hsu and Pei-Wen Zhao for organizing the tour and taking such good care of us. And thanks to you blog-readers for following us along. Hope you got that we had a great time! We'll fly back to San Francisco tomorrow arriving before we left and picking up the day we lost on the way over. We'll next be seen at our Annual Gala next Friday ready to share our China stories with any of you who may be there. See you....

Saturday, May 9, 2009

May: Hong Kong

Our first event in Hong Kong was a walk across the street to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre for an a cappella workshop which the presenter had organized. It was good to be by the sea and to see the sky and have more air to breathe and sing with.

We had come from Shenzen - a short bus ride away which involves going through two checkpoints bag and baggage, one to leave China, the other to enter Hong Kong. We left China with no incident and amazingly quickly given the hordes of busses and people passing through the checkpoint. Sorry - but you don't defy signs saying No Photography... The Hong Kong checkpoint seemed to be very concerned with swine flu and there was a health form to fill out. Then, half of us went through and back to the bus, but the rest of us were collected and turned around and led into one of those small rooms in the back which one has heard about...then the rest were found and brought back. As it turned out, they had been alerted the day before to our passage through the checkpoint and wanted to check on our employment visa. Perhaps not everybody got the message, letting the first half go through without question, but with the wrong stamp in their passports. It all took about half an hour to sort out, they were very nice, and we were on our way.

Our two hour workshop started with us singing "Credidi" by Juan de Lienas and introducing ourselves. The audience consisted of two a cappella groups who wanted to work with us, as well as interested members of the public. Everybody participated in
a series of exercises with us.

The first group up were the Hong Kong Melody Makers who had two different formations, and sang "When you wish upon a star" and Louis Armstrong's "What a wonderful world" in very jazzy arrangements.

Matt responded to their questions on various issues particular to a cappella singing including tuning.

We demonstrated a little about underlying accompaniment by singing some of "Walk in Jerusalem."

The next group were the Hot Potters who sang "When she loved me" and "Through the Eyes of Love". Among the other issues discussed were the announcement of pitch, the relative merits of tuning forks and pitch pipes, and how close to stand to one another.

We think a good time was had by all...

Out into the warm and glittering Hong Kong night, a number of us wearing new shirts we managed to purchase between arrival and the workshop. The hard thing, as everybody knows, is NOT to shop in Hong Kong. We're enjoying it so far!

May: Meanwhile in Guilin

We parted from our patrons in Beijing and they went on to Guilin. From these photos they sent, it looks like a good time.

Too bad there's not a new concert hall there for us to sing in - but the point of going to Guilin is to escape the massive urban environments and appreciate the magnificent and ancient landscapes.

Our patron tours are organized by La Fugue in Paris which has done trips for us to Verbier in 2007 and Vienna-Prague-Budapest last year. Their specialty is surprises along the way - ie events not listed in the itinerary - such as this dinner in a cave and tea in front of one of the world's most beautiful landscapes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

May: Shenzen

We received beautiful bouquets - roses and orchids -during the huge applause at the end of our concert in the Shenzen Concert Hall. A great hall - and what an acoustic ! really superb- as it turns out by Yasuhisa Toyota, the acoustician who did LA's Disney Hall. The audience was one of the most quietly energetic and attentive anywhere ever. Not a peep out of them, just a very studious focus all along, and an eruption of appreciation at the end.

We always go straight into the hall and onto the stage, so often we don't see the rest of the hall until the end of the concert. In Beijing we never saw the public entrance to the national theater - it was too far, and the security too intense.

The titles announce our concert, and continued announcing the numbers as we went along.

The Shenzen Concert Hall, designed by Arata Isosaki and opened in 2007 ( same year as the Suzhou Grand Theater) - attached by a bridge to the Shenzen Library. It seems that every important city in China has a new performing arts facility.

An interesting feature of this hall to us were the two musical instrument stores in the lobby. The Baldwin piano store was heavily frequented before the show, and kids were having their pictures taken with the pianos. As always there were a lot of small children at the concert who seem to be completely focussed. The rule is that you have to be at least 1.2 metres or at least 6 years old to be allowed in although clearly that rule is not inflexibly enforced.

Exiting into the sultry Shenzen night (there's a tropical feel here, very different from the dryness of Beijing) for our post concert dinner. The red lights are on the elevator shaft.

We had a fantastic Cantonese meal offered us by Xu Xiao, Artistic Director of the Concert Hall (on the right). It was especially agreeable to be eating outdoors.

We hope we get to come back to this hall. Meanwhile we're off to Hong Kong, and we leave you with this thought from a poster in the lobby.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

May:Beijing to Shenzen

On the move again for the three hour flight to Shenzen- our last stop in mainland China.

On the way to the airport we stop off in the artistic zone of 798 -former warehouses and factories which have been made into galleries and studios for artists. We met our patrons at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Chinese Art for a tour and lunch.

Under a portrait of the museum's founders, Guy and Miriam Ullens, we start our tour of the exposition. We had met the Ullens first in 2000 when we performed for them in Venice. Shortly before this museum was to open two years ago, they hosted us to a magnificent evening in Verbier where we were performing. Having heard a lot about the museum on that occasion, we had been looking forward to seeing it, as well as a little bit of the rest of 798.

The exposition now showing (they change every two and a half months, which is amazing given the size of the installations) is a very sombre look at man's propensity to build monumental edifices, their inevitable decline, and the return of everything to nature. The departure point for the artist was the Nanjing-Yangtse bridge which began as one of the most grand and ambitious engineering achievements and which is now viewed in a different light. The yellow object in the first picture, the first piece in the show, is a ship which has sunk. It's a powerful and disturbing exposition.

This room sized piece puts us in another sunken ship. Real ( former) water buffalo on the floor...

We had a delicious lunch with the patrons in the museum, and a last chance to spend time with them before they go off to Guilin to get a sense of ancient China and we to Shenzen-the very modern special economic zone. It was great to have them with us, and to share this singular experience. We thank them for coming!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May: Beijing

While we spent our day visiting the Olympic stadiums, the Forbidden City, having massages and so on,

our patrons had a busy day beginning with Tai Chi in Beihai Park and continuing on to a particularly steep part of the Great Wall.

After the ascent and descent of the Great Wall, lunch at a new lodge called The Commune at the Great Wall by Kempinski. It's a collection of beautiful modern buildings by Asian architects, including a restaurant, with a very European revolutionary-chic affect.

Back we went to "the Egg" - this is the spectacular view from the second floor promenade outside the theaters - for our second concert "Sounds of America."

This was a different evening from last night in the National Concert Hall. Our friends in the hall felt that it was sometimes like being at the rodeo with us on the bucking bronco! The house looked good to start with, and after many arrivals all through the first part, it seemed like a sell out. At least half of the audience were children and young adults who were incredibly vociferous even before we started.
We tried not to let the amount of audience activity ( walking around, talking, visiting, lasers zapping the would-be photographers and cell phones, and so on) get in the way. The quiet numbers seemed to work very well, and at those points ( Shenandoah, Summertime, Deep River) we felt as if we had established a musical connection. During the jazz arrangement of Summertime which, in the style of that kind of arrangement includes finger snapping for us, finger snapping broke out in the audience. If they get to clap during the gospel, why not! The yelling after each number got louder and louder, until the final ovation which was absolutely raucus. The Chinese encores got even more deafening applause this time. There are questions to which we may never know the answers - what brought all those kids there and what were they really responding to, does the ambient audience noise level mean anything either way? In any case, kids went out singing in falsetto, it was actually fun and will no doubt join the list of our most memorable evenings.

After this lively evening we left the Egg to discover an almost full moon and a heavenly spring temperature. The day was capped off by dinner with our patrons at Face - a Thai restaurant in a recently restored school house, furnished with very beautiful old Chinese things.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May: debut in Beijing

The National Theater in Beijing, next to the Great Hall of the People, and very close to Tian'anmen Square - the historic center of Beijing.

We arrive underneath the building

It's an intimidating building, and would be easy to get lost in. Of course that wasn't allowed to happen.

2019 seats - really a gorgeous warm acoustic.

After they got there in various stages , settled in, and coughed* a fair amount, the audience was pretty attentive - including of course the conversations, which we presume were about the performance. An interesting thing is that if you raise your camera it will be lasered by red pointers operated by the personnel distributed around the hall. A cheap and effective solution which worked very well... hence no pictures of our performance. This was our joint performance with The Shanghai Quartet. The audience appreciated Chen Yi's piece, but really came to life for the Chinese folk song set. The people who started clapping in time were hushed by the others, and there was a certain amount of singing along and it was all very active and brought the concert to a nice conclusion.

*Beijing is a dry place. There's lots of coughing. We are trying not to participate as we are told that at the checkpoint between Shenzen and Hong Kong on Saturday, there will be heightened health surveillance.

After the concert there was a gala reception at which the Youth Chamber Choir of the Chinese National Center for the Performing Arts, directed by Lingfen Wu, sang three Chinese songs for us - two in arrangements by Chen Yi.

We responded with "Journey to Recife" and "Way up in Jerusalem."

Then friendly exchange breaks out. Professor Wu meets Gabe. She explained that choral music is indeed relatively new to China.
Before l990, she said, mostly revolutionary songs were sung in groups. Then when Chinese musicians began to come back from abroad ( as she did from the Moscow Conservatory) they began introducing choral music.