One must always expect surprises when traveling to Europe. Linda and I bought a new carry-on bag specifically to European measurements to avoid having our carry-on luggage taken in Amsterdam to be put with checked luggage. So it came as a big of a shock this time when the KLM folks told me mine had to go in the checked luggage! I believe it due to my having a CPAP machine and a small briefcase for my scores combined with a very full flight which led to their demand. I was to meet my soloist in Budapest airport so loathe to part with it as there was a two hour wait for his plane to arrive from Paris. However, when time came to get on the plane, my bag was overlooked and I happily took it onboard with me. Wisely I placed my other two small bags under the seat so no one complained.
When I arrived in Budapest, there was no way to determine what gate Rocco would arrive at. So I settled in for a nap at the exit expecting to catch him. At the appointed time, no sign of Rocco! Growing rather anxious, I finally exited into the arrivals hall and located our driver. The arrivals were listed there and I discovered Rocco’s plane was an hour late. My driver spoke little English but I conveyed to him that we must wait. Finally (two cigarette breaks later – he was growing anxious and about to go for #3) Rocco appeared. Our four hour car ride to Satu Mare, located in the NW corner of Romania near borders of both Hungary and Ukraine) was one of fitful napping for me as my own snoring would wake me up to hear the abysmal rock music on the radio. Upon arriving at Satu Mare, our driver asked which hotel we were staying at? This small detail had not been conveyed to me by the orchestra staff and we actually stopped at a hotel only to discover it was not the right one. A phone call finally produced the correct answer and we arrived to also discover the time zone was an hour later. Not having eaten dinner we found Gemelli’s fast food literally next door. As Rocco is a vegetarian, they ended up making him his own pizza.
Monday morning the rehearsal was at 10:00 and again no one had mentioned where it was to be held! I had expected someone from the orchestra to meet us at the hotel but fortunately my inquisitive wife, Linda, had researched the city a bit discovering the orchestra performed in a concert hall which was part of another hotel. It was literally a block down the street as we were in the center of the city.
I met the Concertmaster, Dan Racéau, and also the librarian Katalin. To my surprise their harpist was there to play the Monti-Czardas, Rocco’s showpiece where he displays his amazing talents. Although the orchestration included harp, I had never had an actual part for my set. I told her we didn’t need her only to discover on her stand (after rehearsal of course) a part Katalin had produced! So the next day I requested they bring her back for the final general rehearsal. The first rehearsal revealed what I had expected – the jazz-rock rhythms of my Concertino were going to require some work from the strings. Also expected – missing players (a trombone, tuba, and bass clarinet) – the string section was small at 29 players but they read the Parry Overture well and naturally knew the Brahms. The hall was quite pretty, seated 320 and had an excellent acoustic.
Katalin recommended a nearby restaurant for lunch called Daemi which was across the central square park. We managed to wander into the “Festival Salon” which only does group events but were kindly directed to the nearby stairs to descend into the actual restaurant. Amusingly the booths had an inscription “Irish Pub” possibly inspired because they had Guinness on tap. Food was excellent; “background” music was so loud and annoyingly repetitive that we never returned. That night we discovered the City Bistro which was to be our lunch/inner sport of the week. Good food at cheap prices (and less annoying music as well). I usually ate plenty for about $7 a meal!
Tuesday morning I finally met the Director, Rudolf Fatyol. He asked if I spoke Italian (which I do in a limited fashion) and proceeded to say about three sentences to me and walked off to his office! I never saw him again! It was the Secretary and the Librarian who took care of our business and any other needs.
Rocco hit it off well with the clarinet players of the orchestra, understandably. At dinner he got a call from the principal, Robert, who had brought us a particular Romanian beer that he likes called Ciuc. We discovered the orchestra leaves the hall open in its lobby for the players to enjoy a Ping-Pong table. So we sampled the beer and chatted with several musicians while watching the game.
Satu Mare is a small city without much of interest. I did visit an 18th c. Catholic Church whose claim to fame is two sets of relics of saints I’d never heard of. So my days were primarily a morning rehearsal 10-1, lunch at 1:30, some reading or score study, a two hour nap, and dinner at 7:30. Rocco can be a rather quiet person so I fear the burden of making conversation fell largely to me. Apart from a discussion about possibly recording my Concertino with the Oregon Sinfonietta, I was sometimes hard pressed to come up with subjects. Amusingly I found reminiscing about some of my different experiences guest conducting was the most fruitful in maintaining a conversation. Linda made photos of the family for me to take but Rocco is not very talkative about his own wife and two grown children.
Thursday was the final General Rehearsal in the morning, shorter due to the nature of primarily being a run-through without much real rehearsal. Surprisingly there were places in the Brahms that required attention. I chose to forgo my nap as the concert began at 6:30 and I didn’t want to be groggy. As is often the case, I had some last minute issues – first with a button on my Romanian vest that popped off when I made the mistake of sitting down with it buttoned (no way to fix it by sewing as it had broken the loop on the button) and then the harpist felt compelled to complain about having to play the Monti because she “lost money” to do so! I was able to shrug that off but the vest issue made me a bit self-conscious of my appearance. Happily I was able to focus on the music making instead. The audience seemed small at maybe half the hall at best but they were generally enthusiastic. The Parry Overture was new to them as was my work, of course. Rocco assured me that they like my Concertino (he calls it a “masterpiece” – and is having all his students learn it, so I’ll revise the piano accompaniment to make sure it’s playable) but none of the orchestra commented on it except the clarinetists!
The concertmaster did say congratulations after the concert and that he hoped I would return to work with the orchestra again. Given the Director’s apparent lack of interest (I didn’t see him at the concert) there is little chance of that. My feeling is that this may be my final concert abroad. Having three orchestras and a music department to run along with the rather minimal monetary compensation, it has become increasingly difficult to schedule guest conducting in Europe. Now that our daughter Laura and her family are living in France, our travels will be to see them.
It was a great pleasure to perform my Concertino again with Rocco, our third collaboration since its composition in 2010. Two of the melodies were used in compositions for each of my daughters’ wedding pieces – Vignettes for string quartet (Becca) and Chanson for violin and horn (Laura). The middle section begins with what could be an ode to Schubert as my first meeting with Rocco he played his music in a recital with piano. I composed that particular melody on the plane ride home from Italy.naturally the audience loved Rocco’s rendition of Monti’s Czardas, originally a violin piece. They would have loved an encore but that was it.
I was generally pleased to have the orchestra give me my interpretation of Brahms – Symphony No. 2. Surprisingly the first oboe inadvertently repeated a measure of her solo in the third movement but disaster was averted quickly. Also the celli rushed a place in the last movement that I was able to prevent from becoming a problem.
Rocco needed to make a plane at noon on Friday so we left Satu Mare at 6:00 A.M. though given we would gain an hour could have safely left at 7:00 and still arrived at 10:00 at the airport. So I arrived at my horel at 9:30 A.M., a bit early for check-in. fortunately they checked me in and I even managed to get a free buffet breakfast before it closed at 10:00. Sadly there was little to offer on the tv in English other than the business channels. In my effort to be streamlined I brought no extra scores to study or books to read. The magazine and book I brought were both finished so I explored the souvenir shop in hopes of a possible diversion for what would prove a long day. I was to leave at 4:00 A.M. the next morning to catch the 6:10 flight to Amsterdam. (Memo to self, always have an extra book!?)
A long nap of 6 hours was the way I spent Friday afternoon. It had been a tiring week of very strange sleep patterns due to the jet lag. Generally I woke up at 3 or 4 A.M. after going to bed at midnight and then sort of dozed until getting up at 8:00. The hotel dinner was expensive as expected but most disappointing in quality. The red wine was surprisingly only passable and the steak rather bland. The highlight of the meal was the Tokaj wine with dessert – that at least was enjoyable!
After watching some exciting business news, I went to be at 10:00 to get up at 3:00 to catch the 4:00 transport for the 5 minute ride to the airport. Plane was delayed about 20 minutes so a long wait of 2.5 hours. Too early to eat (after a week of plenty of food – no need!). connection in Amsterdam always takes a bit of time given how busy the airport is but they have a fast lane if the flight time is close.
All went well in Amsterdam so ten tiring hours and 4 movies later I was back in the great Northwest ready to do the wash and prepare for the next concert coming Sunday, April 9 (see poster on the website).