Sunday, January 31, 2010

January: Budapest, Palace of Arts - the Bela Bartok Concert Hall

The Musikverein, the Rudolfinum - add the Bela Bartok Concert Hall (opened in 2005) to this list of great halls in which we'd like to perform any time! This is the hall, from the stage, photographed by Michael.

Two years ago we appeared here in the smaller Festival Hall which went very well, so this time we were invited to sing in this hall which was a major treat. So - three of the world's best concert halls in one week, plus two opera houses in which it was a pleasure to sing. Quite a week. We're good for a day off tomorrow.

When we arrived on our bus into Budapest, we didn't know that all this snow had fallen yesterday and that Budapest had been pretty much shut down. That's the second time in a week that we were a day ahead of or behind a weather catastrophe - Frankfurt airport closed the day after we came through on our way to Vienna... We leave here via Frankfurt for Amsterdam on Tuesday...

The trip from Brno took about 5 !/2 hours and there was some uncertainty about the traffic ahead in Budapest, AND the concert started at 7.30pm so to be sure of having lunch we stopped on the highway, at the only choice we had..

Gregory tries out the international language of McDonalds and, of course, it works.

One minute you're ordering McDonalds by the side of the road, the next you're practicing your Hungarian in a magnificent concert hall. Jace is as usual in charge of addressing the audience in as much of their native language as possible. They responded quite quietly - which could mean they didn't understand, but (because he always manages - as he did in Chinese last May -to achieve a high degree of authenticity) probably means they were dumbstruck that he made the effort!

Matt did a pre-concert question and answer, fielding such questions as how did we get our name, do we all get along, did we include Ligeti because we were coming to Hungary... (the answer to the latter is no - it was on our tour program this year anyway.) About 150 people came to the pre-concert talk.

From the moment we set foot on the stage we knew we were in for a great experience.

The audience was very concentrated and appreciative - of all the repertoire, with of course a particular shout out for the Ligeti in Hungarian. Lots of them lined up for us to autograph CD's. Given what the Zullos of News York wrote in to the blog yesterday to the effect that there are no standing ovations in Budapest, we feel especially complimented that there were some people on their feet!
As we said, we have a day off here tomorrow - the famous Gellert Hotel baths are close, as is a pastry shop we found last time, Hungarian goulash yet to be discovered, more sights than you could see in a day, and who knows what else! This is the view from our hotel - apparently there are tennis courts on the other side of this park, but some of us will probably stay close to home.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

January: Brno, the State Theater

It would take a lifetime to be able to understand the political, historical, social and cultural complexities of this part of the world.  We don't even have time to skim the surface.  But it was interesting to note the difference in reactions from the Czech and Slovak audiences.  There are about one million Hungarians in Slovakia, which was very apparent in the lusty response to our Ligeti piece in Hungarian.  ( Not usually a piece which elicits shouts of approval..unless there are Hungarian-speakers in the audience.)
We didn't actually give you the complete story of the reception in Bratislava last night.  Just before the American representative had compared us, as distinguished products of San Francisco culture, to Big Brother and the Holding  Company, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, the Intendant of the Slovakian National Opera welcomed us to the theater, saying ( through a translator) that they had had apertifs by"a Rossini, appetizers by Donizetti, main courses from Verdi and Puccini, and NOW, thanks to us, a spectacular desert featuring "all the musical fruits."  Being compared to Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and fruit in one evening - who could ask for anything more! 
We had, mercifully, a later start today, time to relax over breakfast. You could almost hear the hunting horns in our breakfast room!

The trip today was short and uneventful - just under two hours to go from Bratislava to Brno.
Andrea and Bedrich Plehac (father and daughter - of the Bohemia Ticket Agency) have organized this little Bohemian tour for us. It's been a huge success. Andrea has accompanied us all along with charm and efficiency! On the bus she and Brian discussed tomorrow's itinerary for going from Brno to Budapest, which will take longer than we'd like, it looks like, because the traffic in the city itself risks being bad on a Sunday.

We pull into Brno right on time. It was snowing prettily when we set out, but it didn't get in our way.

Adam waiting for a hotel room key...a rare view of him without his camera attached to his forehead.

Today we had time between our arrival and the 4.30pm departure for the theater (the concerts in this part of the world are at 7pm) to see a little of Brno which is lovely - even with a few shocks from the collision of old and new architecture.

The Brno State Theater, built in the l960's. The opera house is named, of course, for Janacek.

In Vienna and Prague we were in orchestral concert halls. In Bratislava and Brno we have been in opera houses - a whole different vibe. The stage of the Janacek theater is HUGE... and of course rather than rows of double basses as in Vienna, there were rows of spears of various periods and crutches. Made us think of Garrison Keillor's send up of an opera chorus which we sang on Prairie Home Companion a few short weeks ago..

We performed on the front of the stage over the orchestra pit. The metal show curtain behind us added a very lively vibrancy and projection to the sound in the hall. And, we are told, the seats in the house are extraordinarily comfortable.

The opera house seats 1800.

A pre concert snack in the opera house commissary. We were glued to "Private Benjamin" even though it was dubbed into Czech and we didn't understand a word.

We had a standing ovation and two encores from the very warm audience, quite a lot of whom we saw at the CD table where they were very kind and complimentary. "Magnificat" - the early music CD we have along with us is a big seller in Bohemia...

Friday, January 29, 2010

January: Bratislava, the Slovakian National Theatre

Gabe powers those CD cases onto the bus. They're lighter today, after a record sale in Prague two nights ago. We were a bit worried about the trip to Bratislava; there had been snow in the night and the road was closed a few hours before our departure. Though it snowed during our journey the road was clear and after the predicted 5 or so hours we arrived on time to grab some lunch before our 7pm performance.

Bus time is usually quiet-ish (unless it's a 14 hour trip across France in the summertime.)
Matt is working on Daniel-Lesur's L'Annonciation which we will do at our National Youth Choral Festival Gala Concert on March 29.

The golden arches appear through the falling snow.

We cross the border from the Czech Republic into Slovakia (they separated in l993) which took longer than you might think given that we haven't left the European Union. It's our first time in Slovakia. So now Eric has a list of 33 countries he's visited in his 20 years with Chanticleer.

The view from our hotel in Bratislava. The architecture in general is utilitarian, one might say, so a couple of us went off for a quick look at the historic town center.

Matt had a lunch of Slovakian goulash, which differs from Czech and Hungarian, we were told, in that there are fewer tomatoes, but more spice, and it's more like a stew. Matt has a basis for comparison because he comes from Iowa where they have goulash and it has macaroni, hamburger, and diced tomatoes.....He will continue his goulash survey in Budapest in two days, and report.

Arriving at the stage door of the new Slovakian State Theater which houses 3 halls. Our concert was in the 800 seat Opera House. The buildings were begun in l986 and completed in 2007.

The stage is huge and very well equipped. They had a lovely purple scrim for us. Unfortunately the projectors made a fairly loud noise, so we had to give up on that scrim.

We went to no color for a while, then they came up with a very attractive orange. The audience steadily warmed up and got to be very very enthusiastic. The sound in the house is very nice. Jace rendered his one word in Slovakian ("thank you") and we sang two encores. At a post-concert reception we received a lot of very sincere compliments, as well as a toast from the cultural attache of the American Embassy in which he likened us, as products of San Francisco's musical culture, to the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company...oh and p.s. the opera and symphony. Nice company.
We leave tomorrow morning at 11am to go back the way we came, to Brno ( in the Czech Republic) for our next concert tomorrow night. They're coming thick and fast.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January: day off in Prague

We had a day off in beautiful Prague today - eating sleeping sightseeing. Some were still reminiscing about the splendors of their lunch when we arrived at this elegant (despite whatever happened to its sign) restaurant on the river beside the Charles Bridge. Bedrich Plehac, our wonderful and kind impresario, invited us.

Maestro Kolšer was also there, as was Andrea, Bedrich's daughter who does a fantastic job with all the details of moving us around. Maestro Kolšer presented us with a gift - a signed photo of Ema Destinova - known in the US as Emmy Destinn - a great Czech opera singer at the very beginning of the 20th century who sang a great deal at the Met, often with Caruso.

We started with apertifs. We mostly made demure choices - such as a coup de champagne. Cortez chose something called a "Coconut Lips."

The food was delicious and exquisitely presented, and the Czech wine was great!

From the window overlooking the Charles Bridge, we watched the snow fall more and more heavily.A pretty sight, though in the back of our minds (and the front of Bedrich and Andrea's) is the journey to Bratislava tomorrow with our concert the same evening.