Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Rumours of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Things were pretty crazy when I got back from Vienna, what with rehearsals and mad last-minute practicing for the competition. But then I had to most ridiculous day ever on Monday. I was at school practicing, and had a lesson, but since it was the first day of the spring vacation the school closed at 4. Crazy, I know. So at 4 I headed over to the gym to get in a little working out, since it's also supposed to help with stress relief. I finished at about 6 and hopped on my bike to go home. It was dark and rainy, but that's not very unusual for Amsterdam. I was taking my usual route home, and lo and behold I get hit by a car! It was totally ridiculous. I was on the main street and the car was coming up on one of the side streets, and I saw him coming so I was keeping an eye on him. He started to slow down as he approached the intersection so I thought "great, he's going to yield like he's supposed to" and I keep on going. Then as soon as I'm in the intersection he just speeds up and runs right into me! I was completely in shock - shock that I had actually just been hit by a car. But luckily for me, I'm used to getting in all kinds of accidents so I got out relatively unscathed. Over the years I've learned how to fall properly :) Just some bruises (hip and shoulder), scrapes (shoulder), and a super swollen toe. I'm not sure how I banged just my one toe, but I did and now I have to walk funny for 2 weeks. But the absolute best part is that I was pretty OK, my bike was OK, and my viola was OK. So I got back on my bike and proceeded on my way. And I shit you not, about 4 blocks later a frikkin scooter trying to run a light runs right into my front wheel. By this time I was just in total disbelief. And after very bitchily pointing out that he was totally in the wrong I got his details (so that he could pay to have my bike fixed) and locked my totally kaput bike up to a pole. I then hobbled over to catch the tram home.
The next day was the first round of the viola competition, and I'm not sure if getting hit by a car helped or hampered my chances. If anything, it gave me something to keep my mind off the 'big day'. I actually played quite well. I was really happy with my performance, but unfortunately didn't make it through to the 2nd round. The level was really high, but I can't really say how I compared since I didn't hear anyone but me play. I'm not sure if it's particularly kosher to say either, but I was kind of happy not to move on. It's sort of stupid, but the 2nd round was at 10 am and I was already so overtired and just sore...... I ended up spending yesterday in bed, popping pain killers and watching downloaded tv. I think was actually more sore yesterday than on Tuesday, but today I'm definitely feeling better. Although I seem to have sprung another bruise! Very strange indeed, but who can say whether it was from the car or just from me. The viola festival is still going, even though the competition is over, so i'll be busy for another couple of days with that. Saturday night is the big final concert where we're all playing a piece for solo viola (Nobuko, natuurlijk) and and orchestra of violas (the rest of us - including violists from most of the major orchestras in the Netherlands) by a composer from Haarlem. The first rehearsal is tomorrow morning, so we shall see how this crazy viola piece works out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wien: alles andere Tagen

Well I'm back home safe in Amsterdam, and recovering from Vienna. Really the only recovery necessary is the fact that I had to get up so darned early to go to the airport this morning so I'm a wee bit tired. But back to Wien. On Sunday we went out for a bit of sightseeing. Moody really wanted to take me to the Nachmarkt, but it ended up being all shut up. Hard to say whether it was the fact if was Sunday, or if it was just closed for the season, but everything was closed. So we ended up wandering through the rain to a little cafe where the waiter was rude and the food was ok. Ah, Vienna. Then we went our separate ways - Moody went back to his place to get some practicing in and I went exploring. I was on a mission to find as many composer's houses as I could. I started with the Mozarthaus, where he lived for 2 years when he composed the Marriage of Figaro. Then I went to the Johann Strauss haus, where Johann the younger lived and the very apartment where he composed the Blue Danube. Then I wandered over to the "Schubert commemorative rooms". Because though he didn't actually live there, he died in that apartment (it was his brother's place). But by then I was cold and wet and needed to practice so I headed back to Moody's place to dry out, warm up, and practice a bit myself. That night we headed to the Wiener Staatsoper to see Salome. We got last minute standing room tickets, and it was really great. I wouldn't want to stand for a long opera, but Salome was a very manageable 1.5 hours. Moody started talking to Emannuel (the guy standing next to him), and so we invited him out for a drink after with us. We went to this old cafe that was started by a Czech couple after the war. It was a very cool old bar, fairly unchanged by the years. These types of places are quite common in Vienna, where they really like to preserve things as the way they have been for hundreds of years. Tradition! Moody and I commented several times that it's a strange concept for us North Americans, since even if you live in an old building ideally it has been gutted and completely remodelled and renovated to be totally modern. But in Vienna they like to keep things just as they were for the last 100 years or so. It's good and bad - it's nice that these traditions are so important to them, but at the same time it seems like sometimes they are just being crushed by the weight of all this tradition because it doesn't allow them to explore new options.
On Monday I had my Verbier audition, so that kind of dominated the plans for the day. It went well (I thought), but I suppose I will just have to wait and see. We did go for a walk around town and then I went and wandered around Schloss Belvedere. It's a big old Baroque palace that now holds a really nice art gallery, which features A LOT of Klimt. We had originally planned to go see the Küchl-Quartett on Monday night, but both Moody and I felt like a night in so we just hung out and then met up with our new friend Emmanuel for a drink. Hilariously enough, he had gone to the Küchl-Quartett concert. Then on Tuesday we hung around in the morning until we were really starving, and then we went to an Irish pub in the centre to celebrate Moody's deportation. He's had no end of beauraucratic hassles in Austria, and now that his residence permit is finally ready they won't give it to him because they took longer than 3 months to process it (thus making him an illegal resident in Europe). So he has to leave the Euro-zone and then come back. Crazy. He was originally thinking of going to Zagreb (Croatia) but then a friend of his who's a diplomat told him that the Eastern non-Euro countries will charge you up to 400 Euros to enter if they see that you're past your three months. So he's going to London instead because at least in London we know how the beauraucracy works because it's so similar to Canada. Anyways, we went and ate some nice British Isles pub food in preparation for his trip to the homeland. Then we went to the Küchl-Quartett concert at the Musikverein. The Concertgebouw orchestra was playing in the big hall, and their concert was totally sold out so there was a billion people there. The Küchl-Quartett concert was very interesting - they're the principal players of the Vienna Phil, and they play very much in the traditional Viennese style. It was great for the first half of the program (Haydn and Mozart), but not so much for the second half (Shostakovich). They just played the Shosti too......nice. It was both boring and annoying, because they would really shy away from the grating harmonies and try and make them sound as pretty as they could. This is definitely an instance where the Viennese traditions don't allow them to explore new horizons. Anyways after the concert Moody and I were wandering through Stephansplatz on our way to the opera bar when who should we run into but Emmanuel! He was with a colleague of his, heading out for a drink after their meetings. So they joined us to the opera bar for a last night out on the Wiener town. Then this morning I got up at an ungodly early hour to catch the train to the airport. I got to have a nap this afternoon, but it was very necessary because I had a trio rehearsal and then a rehearsal for this Icelandic music day concert I'm playing on Saturday. Now I'm just preparing for the competition next week. No rest for the wicked.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wien: erster Tag

It's been a while I know. Busy like a beaver, as they say. I had a good trip to Groningen last weekend, and played a very fun concert on Tuesday in the Oosterport with a string orchestra + jazz combo. Fun times. I caught the train back to Amsterdam on Tuesday after the concert since I had to be back in A'dam for a class at 10 am on Wednesday morning. I caught the train that runs straight from Groningen to Schiphol airport (which is just one stop from mine), and sat back with my magazine and iPod. I glanced outside and noticed it had started snowing, and thought nothing of it. Then the train stopped at Amsersfoort, and everybody mysteriously got off. Then I noticed the sign outside said that the train was going back to Groningen. So because it snowed 1 cm, it got all the trains off schedule and instead of going to Schiphol it was just turning around at Amersfoort. So annoying. So I had to jump on a stop-trein (one of those slow commuter trains that stops at every station) to Amsterdam Centraal, and then catch another train to my stop. It was very annoying. Nobuko Imai also came again this week to give some lessons, and since I'm missing two weeks worth of lessons with my own teacher due to my travelling schedule I got two lessons booked with her - 1 hour on Thursday and 1 hour on Friday. But luckily for me (and unluckily for them) the person with the lesson after me on Thursday didn't show up, so Nobuko just gave me a two hour lesson. It was pretty sweet. And she gave me the strings off her viola. Not quite literally, but close. She was convinced that I could produce a bigger sound with different strings and so she dug around in her case and found some of her used strings to try out on my viola. She assured me she only used them for a few days, and gave me 3 out of 4 new strings. And she was right - I can produce a bigger sound! Bully for me. Today I got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am to go to the airport to catch my flight to Vienna. My flight wasn't until 7:15, and getting there at 6:15 would have been fine, but so many years of flying Air Canada and getting hassled and treated like shit all the time has made me fearful of flying, so I decided to go almost 2 hours early just because. It puts my mind at ease, even though at Schiphol nobody bats their eyes twice and me and my viola. It was also funny because I didn't have to go through passport control (because I was travelling within the EU), but I still got to shop duty-free and got breakfast on my flight (because I guess it's still technically international). I was actually a little surprised when they said they would be coming around with breakfast, since I'm now used to flights in Canada up to 5 hours where they give you jack and make you pay $10 for a crusty old sandwich. God I love Europe. Anyways, my trip to Vienna is slightly business and slightly pleasure. On Monday I have an audition for the Verbier Festival Orchestra, but since my old pal Moody (fellow Canadian violist) is going to school in Vienna now I'm also taking a sort of mini-break to stay with him and do some sight-seeing. Today we walked around, and then took a tour of the Vienna State Opera House. It was pretty cool - and we're going to try to go see Salome tomorrow night. They sell standing room only tickets they day of for only 4 euros! And they have this big section where there's just these boards to lean against (for all the standers). It's a pretty sweet deal considering how expensive the normal seats are there, though I'd probably think twice about going to see something like Wagner if I had to stand the whole time...... Then we got some street meat from a vendor (I had a Frankfurter, he had a Currywurst), sat in a park, then went to a cafe for coffee and Sachertorte. Yum. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. We're pondering an overnighter to Zagreb (Croatia) on Monday after my audition. Mostly because Moody has to leave the EU for min 24 hours due to some slight deportation issues, but that's a story for another time. Gute Nacht und gutes Glück.