July 29, 2007 at 5:06 PM
Every summer, countless American youth orchestras, choirs, and bands embark on international concert tours designed to give young musicians some exposure to the world outside their own comfort zone, and for the musicians themselves to act as ambassadors for our own musical culture. Dozens of my own friends have gone on tour with their youth orchestras, and I've heard how exciting it is to travel and play together in foreign cities. So, this fall, when I learned that the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra would be touring Brazil in early July, I was dying to go. I'm particularly interested in Brazilian music and culture, having studied capoeira for several years. And who would pass up the opportunity for a music-filled trip to of the most exciting countries in the world with fifty of their best friends?
But my parents said that orchestra tour would be expensive and that I wouldn't get that much out of it because intensive orchestral playing wouldn't be good for my technique. Finally they agreed to let me go—reluctantly—after I proposed to pay for the trip out of my own savings. I was thrilled. Ours was to be a fairly intensive tour—seven concerts in eleven days, playing quite a bit of new repertoire from our regular season. To prepare us, our conductor, Maestro Louis Scaglione, called for a month of intensive rehearsals, as much as six hours a day on weekends, after our regular performance season ended.
Like most youth orchestras, we're a little spoiled because our usual audiences are predisposed to love us unconditionally. Our farewell concert in Philadelphia's swanky Union League was packed with the usual mix of parents, grandparents, board members and friends. Under the baton of Maestro Scaglione, we performed one of the several programs we would use on tour: the overture to Mozart's opera La Clemenza di Tito, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with our concertmaster Francesca dePasquale as soloist. We got our usual standing ovation, and felt pretty good about the performance. Our conductor and chaperones assured us that the Brazilian audiences were going to love us, too. But I had to wonder what kind of reception would we get from a hall filled with total strangers.
We flew as group, directly from Dulles Airport in D.C. to the now-infamous Sao Paulo airport. Because we were on a commercial flight, there was no crating for the instruments, so the cellos and basses were placed in the hold, in flight bags, along with the rest of the luggage. This caused some anxiety, particularly among the cellists who are used to bringing their instruments on board and buckling them into seat belts. We small instrumentalists felt lucky to be able to carry our instruments into the cabin with us. When we landed, we learned the cello belonging to my friend Genevieve Tabby was missing. It had traveled on its own to Rio de Janeiro!
Fortunately, the errant cello was soon located and returned to our hotel in the wee hours of the next morning, just in time for Genevieve to perform with the rest of her section in the first concert of our tour, in the Teatro Municipal of the city of São José dos Campos.
That first concert in Brazil turned out to be one of the most exciting nights of my life! The venue itself seemed rather strange to us at first, from a cultural perspective. Instead of being in a fancy concert hall with wooden and red velvet chairs, the auditorium was situated in a shopping mall. The hall itself looked like a movie theater, with big, comfortable reclining seats.
During our performance, the audience behaved more casually than audiences at home. Although they were attentive, they seemed more physically relaxed than the audiences we are used to. They behaved as if they were watching a movie or a spectacle, rather than somberly partaking of classical music. They tended to clap between movements and express their appreciation without reserve—which didn't bother me a bit. At the end they leapt to their feet and cheered. My friends and I looked around at each other across the stage, amazed and delighted that they liked our performance so much! We are used to playing for audiences who are pre-disposed to liking us -- our parents and friends – yet no audience had ever reacted this warmly to our playing.
The next day, after some sightseeing, we boarded our busses for a trip to the city of Santos where we gave an evening performance at the Teatro Coliseu. While we were warming up in the girls' dressing room backstage, my friend and fellow violinist Charlotte Nicholas noticed a strange, burning smell. We looked up and saw smoke rising from my brand-new BAM High-Tech violin case. I snatched the case away from the vanity lamps by the mirror, but it was too late. A huge and very odd-looking hole had burned its way into the exterior of my case!
This concert had a younger audience than the first, and a group of adolescent boys in the first few rows kept pointing at the girls in the orchestra and whispering and laughing as we played. We weren't sure what to make of their behavior, but after the concert we found them waiting at the stage door where our buses were parked. They kept pointing to names on the printed program and trying to match us with our names. They were quite friendly and we attempted to hold a conversation with them, but since our Portuguese was even worse than their English, we all ended up laughing.
The second violin section in rehearsal.
Photo credit: Jared Cartwright.
The next day, we gave a late-morning performance at the Teatro Cultura Artistica in Sao Paulo. This was our concertmaster Francesca's final solo with the full Tchaikovsky. (She would play the first movement at our last concert at the Samba School.) We were so proud of her for performing the entire concerto four times in such a short span. She's an amazing technical player with great stamina and clear musical ideas.
It was night when we checked into our hotel in Rio after a six-hour bus trip. In the dark, the stately Hotel Gloria with its big, dark rooms seemed creepy. Our first hotel had been modern and shiny, but Hotel Gloria , a faded old beauty, was classy. It was the biggest hotel I've ever seen– there was a heliport on the roof, and enough room for the entire
orchestra and our chaperones to be distributed throughout only two floors. In the bright light of morning, our rooms seemed much less intimidating, and we ran through the halls to each others' rooms, excited for the great day that we had planned. By now our chaperones were undoubtedly weary, but we were as rambunctious as ever, just getting our second wind!
Later that day we made our way to the Copacabana beach (what's a trip to Rio without a visit to Copacabana?) We spent the afternoon away from our instruments, frolicking in the surf, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and dodging the hang gliders landing from their flight off a nearby mountain.
Thanks,I shared in your joy--GREAT REPORT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Also, I can relate to the audience's response... The times I've seen live classical, it was as cool if not cooler than going to a Rock concert--I think cooler.
Indeed, the next time I see a solo violinist, I'm sitting way back in the dark corner somewhere with my box of tissue!. ;p) (p.s. If you ever repeat this I'll say you're lying! ;).
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Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
Caeli Smith is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Biography
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