Thursday, January 31, 2013

Four operas in three weeks

During our time in Europe we were able to see four very different and very entertaining operas.
1. The first one we saw was on our second night in Vienna. It was Der Rosenkavalier. I have one word for this particular opera: long. More than that though, this opera showcased the theatrical ability of the performers to not only sing amazingly along with the orchestra but put on a show too. They displayed their characters with transparency and gave me; as the audience a somewhat realistic view of the story that they were telling, showing off more than their voices.
2. The Barber of Seville was the second opera that we experienced. It was originally an Italian opera that was set in the 1800s. It was put in German (since we were in a German speaking country) and set in the mid 20th century in a Latin setting. Did I mention we didn't understand any of it? Regardless of the language barrier, this opera was very entertaining and fun for me to watch. It has abstract characters and everyone of them had amazing voices.
3. In Bratislava we saw Krutnava. It has beautiful choral pieces, and I really appreciated how it showed off the heritage and traditions of the Slovak people through their song and dance. But the acting left a lot to be desired for me and not all of the solos were amazing.
4. The fourth and final opera we saw was Madame Butterfly, which was a beautiful opera to end our trip with. The tragedy of this opera was made real with the characters and the songs throughout showed the feelings of the characters. It was the perfect was to cap off our trip.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back in America...

Wow. That's all I can say. As I sit here back at PLU in my dorm room, I try replaying events of the past month over in my head but strangely, it all seems like a dream to me...or maybe it's the jet lag talking. Who knows. All I know is that this past month has been the best month of my life. I have never imagined that I would listen and see the best musicians in the world perform right in front of me. We saw the Vienna Philharmonic, Slovak Philharmonic, the Vienna Boys Choir, so many operas, and countless performances. Through all of that, I made infinite memories.

But finally, Prague!!!:

This was one of the most interesting/quirky (due to some of the interesting stores and places around town...) yet gorgeous cities I have ever seen. The gothic church clock tower in Old Town Square was super cool. It's over 600 years old and still working!

We saw to formal performances during our stay in Prague which were a piano duet recital and Madame Butterfly at the state opera. Butterfly was extremely well done, and the mezzo and baritone singers were AMAZING, I could have listened to the baritone all day. The real showstopper was the girl playing Butterfly's son. During curtain call, she climbed on the platform to hop off (both hands held by the ladies who played Suzuki and Butterfly) and did the same thing each time they did a bow. It was the cutest thing ever!!!

I am still reeling over this past month and trying to remind myself on how lucky and blessed I am to have been able to be on this trip. From having a snowball fight on the fortress in Salzburg with Serena, Foster, and Phillip, to taking Elise to the Charles Bridge and getting lost in Prague, it has been quite the whirlwind of a month. I have been so blessed with the opportunity to cross off something from my bucket list, and I hope I can return soon, I know there is so much more to learn and explore!!!

Phillip’s Phantastic Phindings: Prague, and my final thoughts.

Written on 1/27/13

Hello everyone,

I’m safely back at home, sitting at my computer thinking of what to write for you this one last time, now that I have this European experience under my belt. It’s a bit hard picking out particular moments… it certainly was an exciting, whirlwind journey full of wonderful sights and sounds, and amazing experiences that I will never, ever forget.

Sorry that I haven’t gotten back about the concerts in Prague yet… all that travel and walking around really diminishes one’s stamina (“Do I have to think right now? I‘m so tired!”). Well, wait no longer… read below for the juicy details!

On Tuesday, our group went to quite a unique concert. Inside an intimate, historical church in the center of Prague, we heard a fantastic pair of piano players perform an exquisite collection of Mozart and J.C. Bach piano sonatas. Not so unique, you say? Well, listen to this: the pieces were played on an authentic fortepiano! Hearing these compositions beautifully executed on this historical instrument certainly expanded upon my musical experience, and most certainly assisted me in contextualizing these great composers… this is how it would been performed in Mozart’s time. Wow! It was truly a delightful surprise to hear the works of masters on this instrument, with its warm, one-of-a-kind timbre.

The next night, we traveled over to the Prague State Opera House for our last major performance of the trip - how sad, I could have gone to many more. :-) ) Their presentation of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly was a wonderful and fitting conclusion to our trip. Set in early-1900s Japan, this classic, tragic love story (complete with the main character killing herself… it is Italian verismo opera, you know) was superbly carried out; every aspect of this production was wonderful to experience. The singing was on the verge on mind-blowing (and even came on the verge of audience-blowing, with its expressive power), the orchestra was an excellent musical backdrop to the exceptional on-stage acting and drama, and the set was visually stunning. After taking a look at the calendar, I just wonder how this opera company does it… with all the different shows going on at the same time, night-after-night, how can they maintain such a world-class level of quality? I’ll never know… I guess all I can say is “extremely well done.”

Europe was an amazing and unforgettable experience. Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague… all had their virtues and qualities that made each worthy of my time to see, hear, and visit. All in all, this journey was most certainly worth the $4500 I spent. Thank you ACFEA, thank you to our gracious guide Eva, and certainly not least,  thank you PLU and Dr. Powell… thank you for putting together this irreplaceable experience in my life. It has truly broadened my global horizons, and has left me wanting more… I will be back here someday.

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts, my loyal readers; I truly appreciate your patronage.
For the last time (and with a tear in my eye), I say farewell. [ “With such sweet sorrow!” ;-) ]

- Phillip

European Limbo

It became more and more difficult to blog about certain days once the day had passed, and I didn't want to blog out of order. I fold. I am going to start blogging out of order.

I apologize in advance that this post has less to do with the events and performances on the trip and more about what the experience meant to me. And it's horribly unorganized.

 On the flight home, I leaned into Foster and said, "When I get home I'm going to listen to my music SO HARD. I miss my speakers."

        Four and half life-changing years of undergraduate study under my belt, and I hadn't gone on a J-term trip. It was hard enough finding the courage to take out loans for college in the first place. I grew up believing that college was not an option for children of my family's socioeconomic status. My senior year of high school, my guidance counselor (I cannot thank her enough) put it simply, "You're going to college." She set me straight. If it wasn't for her I may not have accomplished everything I did. Thanks to my drive and hard work I now hold a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education - exactly what I set my sights on five years ago. Just before my final semester, my advisor told me, "If you're going to take a trip, now is the time to do it. You may not get another chance."

   I jumped through many flaming hoops to make it happen. I finally traveled overseas, something I legitimately thought I would never do in my lifetime. This trip was a very big deal to me. It didn't sink in even went we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.


        When I was little, I hated Shelton, I hated being home. Nothing excited me more than when the family decided to go out on the rare occasion. I concluded at a young age that I was happiest when traveling. That was entirely true, but why? I just didn't like being home. I had this perpetual feeling of cabin fever. Once I started living in Shelton in 1996 we never traveled anywhere. I was stuck there. I wanted nothing more than an escape.

Laguna Beach, California
        Then I went to college. My world was suddenly larger, though it only expanded by an hour distance from Shelton. I did a lot of growing up. My views on almost everything changed for the better. My first time flying was December 2011. I went to visit California. It was enriching. I loved the change of scenery, different people, completely different atmosphere. At that point I was still a firm believer that living out of a suit case didn't sound like the terrible life TV and movie characters tried to convince me it was.

Bratislava. This guy came up and started copying us.
        But after all this time dreaming of a life on the road, there I was almost wishing I had never left. By the third day in Salzburg all I wanted to do was go home. I sat there one night reevaluating how I felt about traveling. I am now convinced that my soaked, frozen feet negatively colored my opinion of the experience up until I got boots that were actually waterproof. Until Prague, every time we walked in the snow, I was miserable. I got sick in Slovakia probably due to having waterlogged feet 24/7.

On the bridge in Prague.
I met Dvorak. We are a handsome couple.
        Everyone on the trip was so nice, but I felt rather lonely in Salzburg and early Vienna. Then things started turning around. Finally reunited with music of my choice, I was recharged. I clearly needed a palate cleanser. Prague was by far my favorite place. It was probably a combination of the city being a little more modern to my taste and the wonderful new friends I made. And my new boots. A week into the trip and all I wanted to do was go home. By the time we got to Prague, I didn't want to leave.
Best Prague graffiti ever.

       I wanted to stay in Prague but I was excited to hear music from my speakers and to see a special someone. On the flight home, I leaned into Foster  and said "When I get home I'm going to listen to my music SO HARD. I miss my speakers." The members of the trip more or less scattered upon returning to America.

       We were all so tight for the past three weeks, but before I could think... everyone was gone. The airport was full of disenchanting good byes and the lacking luxury of European bathrooms. There were plenty of people in the Seatac airport but it felt so empty.

It was a silly place for this to happen but as I was leaving the bathroom I began to cry. It hit me.

I just realized what happened. It finally sank in: I went to Europe.

Including a dime, I know
        Drove back to campus - I walked into my room and looked around at everything I own. I survived three weeks without it all. What did I need it for now? I had to switch gears quickly as I have a lot of things to do to get my life in order.

I didn't listen to my speakers... I just sat there. I pulled the crowns and euros from my pocket and set them on my desk. they had no value here. I stared at them ignoring everything else. I didn't want it to be over. I wanted to feel like I was still in Europe. I used nothing from my room for a while. Only the things I had with me for the last three weeks.

        From knowing almost no one at the beginning of the trip, I really wish I could see everyone again right now.

        For most of the other students, this trip was a great study away opportunity in the middle of their college experience. I was one of two people on this trip that had already finished what we started four and a half years ago. This trip was something completely different for me. It marked the beginning of new life. I knew everything would change after Europe in many ways. But I didn't think it would hit me like that. This trip was the pivot point between being a student and being an adult putting expensive education to good use. I had been in America all this time being under someone's wing - my parents home, family friends' homes, the support of PLU. But now I'm on my own for the first time.

What hit me in the airport...real life starts now. And I am terrified.
                         I was in limbo all that time in Europe. It's time to get serious.

Right now I just want my red couch time back.
And we never found that instrument shop.
We have to go back.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Erika and the Bohemian Dream

This J-term trip was amazing. Our group experienced multiple once in a lifetime experiences, and went to beautiful and historically rich places. Now that it is over, it feels like a vivid dream, that one has been awoken from to be placed back in reality. I would recommend this course to be repeated and that all music appreciators be encouraged to sign up.


Now for Prague from my perspective!!!

Prague was amazing. As many have told me that it is the most beautiful city in the world, I can now confirm that it is at least the most beautiful city I have seen. The mix of gothic and baroque architecture gives the city a unique flavor. My favorite building of them all must be the astronomical clock tower. It is full of bright and vibrant colors and has been mysteriously chiming for around 600 years. The figurines come to life at the top of every hour, from 9am to 9pm. Needless to say it is an entrancing clock, I went to watch the "show" about three times...

Our second night in Prague we attended a keyboard concert at a church located near the river. Little did we know that we would have the honor of hearing some of the rarest performed music on the intended instrument, piano forte duets. We thought that we were going to hear a harpsichord, but at the first downbeat we all could tell that this was no harpsichord. I was very entranced by the performers fingers as they effortlessly flew over the keys...

The next night we attended a performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. The performance was superb. The Consul and Suzuki singers were my favorite, bringing forth warm and powerful singing, with an effortless feel. Pinkerton did a good job at brining forth the role of a quasi villain... Seeing how the main character, Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), is in love with him it is difficult to call him an outright villain.... The character of Cio-Cio San is written to be a 15 year old Japanese geisha. Even though the singer they had singing the role of Madam Butterfly was a magnificent singer, with a powerful voice, I felt a lack of connection between her and her character due to her very mature voice. I did thoroughly enjoy the opera and would love to see more Puccini works.

Our last night in Prague we went to a Czech folk music and dance dinner show. The night was filled with truly entertaining music and dancing, even some of us brave souls took our chances on the dance floor.

All-in-all I enjoyed Prague very much. It held good food, beautiful architecture, and amazing music.

Prague I love you, and I hope to see you again in the future. (Preferably when warmer too...)

Trip of a lifetime

I've been back in the states for two days now. I've recovered from jet lag and been able to share my stories of my experience with friends and family. Looking back I can't believe how blessed I was to be able to go on this trip and see all the things I did. For almost three weeks, we were going to symphonies, operas, ballets, and shows that people don't generally get to see. But we did; for three weeks! I learned so much by being able to actually see and experience and hear first hand. I was able to watch the conductor; how he took control of his orchestra and guided them and how the orchestra followed, playing beautifully and putting their whole heart into it. I was able to see the tragedy of the operas, specifically in Madame Butterfly, hearing the songs that explained how the characters were hurting. It was beautifully done and exquisite to watch.
Not only did we get to go to all these shows, we got to explore the cities as well. Being able to walk around the old buildings, seeing palaces and museums was amazing as well. It was so cool to have been there, experienced the food the sights and the culture. I'm so thankful I was able to go on this trip!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Things will change. -Maura

     I woke up at 1pm this afternoon in Puyallup. I can thank my (almost) dreamless sleep to the Nyquil I took because of my post-Prague crud, but other than that there are almost no remnants of Europe around me.
     But when I woke up, I felt out of place. There was no Didi or Marissa on either side of me. I was practically ready to put on the pants and coat I've been wearing for the past 2-3 weeks. Everyone out in the world I live in speaks English, making communication both easier and harder at the same time. For heaven's sake...I'm typing this on my own laptop.
And while I'm thankful for these blessings, I can't help but think of how complicated they make life. With my car and computer come responsibilities...
Rehearsals to go to.
Lessons to attend.
Errands to run.
I was so used to just enjoying the company of those around me; excited to see new places and share these wonderful experiences. Eating and drinking new things. The thrill of seeing some of the best musical groups in the world. It just felt like a perfectly natural of a thing to do.

     And now I'm sitting here, with tears in my eyes, wondering how I'm gonna go back to normal. And there's a little voice inside my head....
There is no going back to normal, Maura.
     I would not be who I am and who I'm going to be without this trips. Things change you, and this trip was definitely a giant game changer. I not only came home to the people I love, but discovered a multitude of places, people, and music to love. And I left them.
     So I'm reeling a bit. I will remember everyone and every experience I had on this trip. I will leave you all with this one memory.
     After a long 2-hour concert by the Szymanowski Quartet, Marissa and I were ready to depart and make for the hotel (and our beds...). The Viennese crowds, however, are quite fond of their encores. So after a beautiful Dvorak quartet, we dreaded any encore pieces. But the Quartet came back, and after Andrej Bielow announced what we couldn't understand (in German with a thick Polish accent...), the Quartet played this song. After it was done, Dr. Powell looked at me, both with tears in our eyes, and said "Wow."
This video of the Quartet doesn't even do it justice to seeing it in the Mozartsaal in Vienna. There is no recording or words to describe it.

I love you all. Thank you for this experience, and thank you for your friendship. Thank you for coming home with me, so I can have a little piece of Europe with me. Don't you dare lose touch. (You too, Eva!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bye-bye Prague

We are about to leave Prague; it's bittersweet. This city was beautiful. Last night we went to a traditional folklore show complete with singing, dancing and food: lots of food. It was a great way to end the trip with the whole group enjoying one last meal together. The night before that we went one a dinner cruise and got to see the city all light up. During the day we toured the Jewish quarter and saw the memorials for all of those who lost their life during the the holocaust. It was very powerful.

The John Lennon Wall

On the last day of the trip I tagged along with Karla, Mary and Katie.  They wanted to walk across the Charles Bridge to see the John Lennon Wall.  I have to be honest, I did not even know this wall existed but since I have always been a fan of the Beetles and Lennon I thought it would be neat to go.  Little did I know just how great it would be!  Here is what the Lonely Planet says about the Lennon Wall:

After his murder on 8 December 1980 John Lennon became a pacifist hero for many young Czechs. An image of Lennon was painted on a wall in a secluded square opposite the French Embassy (there is a niche on the wall that looks like a tombstone), along with political graffiti and Beatles lyrics.
Despite repeated coats of whitewash, the secret police never managed to keep it clean for long, and the Lennon Wall became a political focus for Prague youth (most Western pop music was banned by the communists, and some Czech musicians were even jailed for playing it).
Post-1989 weathering and lightweight graffiti ate away at the political messages and images, until little remained of Lennon but his eyes, but visiting tourists began making their own contributions. The wall is the property of the Knights of Malta, and they have repainted it several times, but it soon gets covered with more Lennon images, peace messages and inconsequential tourist graffiti. In recent years the Knights have bowed to the inevitable and now don’t bother to whitewash it any more.

Thanks Karla, you made the last day in Prague really great!

First musical experiences of Prague.

Upon our arrival in Prague we saw a keyboarding recital at a lovely church. I had thought going into it that it would be featuring harpsichord, organ, and piano, and as an organ enthusiast I was very excited. It turned out to be two women playing a concert of four handed repertoire for the pianoforte. This was still very nice and pleasant to listen to, although I do have to admit that I sympathize with Beethoven's frustration of the limitations of the pianoforte. Nevertheless, it was very cool to see this instrument performed love in such a relaxed and beautiful setting.
The following night, we attended Madama Butterfly at the Czech State Opera, the music was stunning, and Puccini certainly exerted his timeless ability to create a tearjerker. It was a nice contrast with the other operas we have seen - each one articulating a different style of production and presentation.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I'm the king of the World, on a boat like Leo!

So I have never actually liked that song much except in joking, but I thought the line to be extremely fitting. Tonight, we had an amazing group dinner in the Danube, touring up current then riding the river down to Charles Bridge. The sun had set shortly after we launched, which allowed us to see the gorgeous skyline. As we went up the river, we encountered a group of seagulls that proceeded to heckle our boat. Later on, ducks charged the boat and tried to broadside us!
On another note, the food was really pretty good. There was a cold salad/meats array, and a spread of hot food with spaghetti off to the side. I tried as much food as I could in small portions and my favorite was the fried cauliflower. I have never seen it prepared that way, and I thought it was really creative. I jut though it was a nice way to semi-end (we still have our folk concert tomorrow night) our wonderful study tour abroad.


Today we arrived in Prague. It is a beautiful city and I'm excited to be able to explore. We got dinner at an authentic Czech restaurant and the food was amazing. Tomorrow we have a walking tour and a piano concert, which I am very excited to see!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Prague Clock! and Pianofortes

Notes from the worlds oldest clock on our way to a wonderful pianoforte recital last night.

And the beautiful instrument from the pianoforte recital.

The recital was played by Petra Matejova and Katarzyna Drogosz and centered around empfindsamstile musik. Pieces by J.C. Bach, Mozart, Kozeluh and Elsner.  Really wonderful!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prague in Pictures

This city is breathtaking.  Likely the most beautiful city I've ever visited.  Here are some photos of our day in Prague.

 The original wall 9th Century.

I should add that Prague is also VERY cold in January!