Philadelphia Youth Orchestra Tours Brazil
July 29, 2007 at 5:06 PM
The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, our chaperones, and Maestro Scaglione pose before the famous Sugarloaf, Rio de Janeiro
Basses, left, and celloes, right, lined up in their flight cases.
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!
The hole left an impression of the light bulb in my brand-new case!
The second violin section in rehearsal.
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.
Cristo Redntor statue at Corcovado
The next day we made our obligatory visit to the Corcovado Hill with its iconic Cristo Redentor statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! As we rode the cog train on the way up the steep mountain, we got to hear our first taste of live Samba music! A band of four musicians joined us on the train, playing: a small instrument like a banjo, a drum, a washboard/screwdriver combination, with the last one singing and dancing. The music was so exciting, it had us all clapping and jumping around in our seats. At one point, the singer invited us to dance samba with him. Of course we couldn't refuse!
PYO and samba musicians mixing it up on the cog train.
PYO members dodging the hang gliders at Copacabana Beach.
After a couple days off from performing we were pumped for another concert. This one was in the town of Petropolis where we performed as part of the Petropolis Winter Festival. There met our piano soloist Sylvia Thereza for the first time and rehearsed the Schumann Piano Concerto with her for about an hour. It was astounding how well she fit with the orchestra after so little rehearsal. She's only a little older than some of the kids in PYO, so she was a real inspiration to us.
Our first rehearsal with Brazilian pianist Sylvia Therman.
Next day, we were bussed to the stately Rio Teatro Municipal for our second performance with Ms. Therman.The Rio Teatro Municipal, despite its ordinary-sounding name, was the fanciest and classiest venue of our tour. The audience members themselves were also different from the other audiences we had encountered on the tour. This was the high-society crowd of Rio de Janeiro, and there was no clapping between movements. Although I would not describe our reception as cold, it was clear that these people were more reserved and less outwardly responsive to our playing. In fact, the atmosphere in this hall was similar to what we were used to back at home.
The next morning we returned to the Teatro Municipal for our last official concert in Brazil -- a children's concert for several school groups, middle school through high school. This concert was our most informal, and we narrowed down the repertoire a bit to appeal the best to their interest and attention span. We played the Overture to Handel's Royal Fireworks and Brandenburg No. 2, the first movement of the Tchaikovsky, and the last movement of the Eroica. For most the kids in this audience, this was their first time seeing a classical music performed live – or hearing classical music at all. The response we got was amazing – these kids loved our music! We were so glad and honored to be the ones to present this genre of music to them for the first time. After the concert they rushed up to us outside the hall, asking us to pose for pictures with them.
Mobbed after the children's concert. We loved it!
Photo credit: David Cline.
Philadelphia Youth Orchestra onstage at the samba school.
Photo credit: Ryan Jin Touhill.
PYO members dancing at the samba school. Left to right: samba student, violinist Coral Pistilli, samba instructor and me.
Throughout our trip, we ate at marvelous restaurants, but I regret the strict instructions from our chaperones not to eat any raw vegetables or fruit that doesn't peel. Too bad, because the fruits and vegetables offered at every meal looked beautiful. While in Rio, I tried my first taste of octopus (which was backed up by some encouragement from my friend Mike Dahlberg, PYO's principal cellist – "You're in a new place, you have to try new food!" he chided.) Then I tried rabbit, with support from my friend violinist Sabrina Tabby, Genevieve's twin and member of our quartet, Seraphina. Though I'm not sure I'm adding either of those to my list of favorite foods (the octopus still had all the suction cups on it!) I'm glad I tried them!
At that night's farewell dinner, while standing in line at the buffet, I was astonished to see that the woman standing in line behind me was none other than violinist Sarah Chang, in town herself for a performance. Of course, it is less astonishing that Ms. Chang would have joined us for dinner if you know that, like us, she is a native Philadelphian, and has even soloed with our orchestra in the past. Still, her surprise appearance that night caused a flurry of excitement, especially among our orchestra's violin section, if not the brass players, who were heard murmuring among themselves, "Sarah who?"
Photo credit: Charlotte Weisburg
Exhausted but happy, we embarked on the 20-hour trip back to Philadelphia where our parents were scheduled to greet our bus from Dulles Airport in a sun-baked Home Depot parking lot. During the ride, I remembered my parents' original reticence about the trip and how they had questioned whether this experience would be worthwhile. I knew that as soon as I saw them I would be able to tell them a resounding "yes!" True, I had not practiced my solo music for two weeks, but in exchanged for a little backsliding in that department, I had gained new insight into the camaraderie of orchestra playing. Our youth orchestra performs a fair amount of concerts each year, but our regular schedule of rehearsals and concerts are nothing like the intense experience of an 11-day, 7 concert traveling tour.
It was satisfying to reflect on the ways we had been able to communicate through the music we played. Throughout the trip we were isolated from our audiences verbally—none of us could speak Portuguese, and could only talk to them through miming. But concert after concert, we finished feeling that we now shared a special bond with these strangers. Our Brazilian audiences were the most responsive and enthusiastic audiences we had played during in our brief careers. Their warm response to us was a wonderful reward for our hours practice and travel. I came home feeling that I could more than justify the sacrifice of time and the expense of the trip because of this singular affirmation: music really is the universal language.
From Pauline LernerThat sounds like so much fun! Thanks for posting the photos and youtube segment. A few other things I'm sure you learned are the thrill of being inside some big (orchestral) music and the nonverbal communication between musicians and audience during the performance. Music is one of the best things to share.
Posted on July 29, 2007 at 9:44 PM
From Joe FischerCongratulations !!!
Posted on July 29, 2007 at 9:51 PM
What great fun your trip was !!!
Thrilling and so lovely !!!
Thanks,I shared in your joy--GREAT REPORT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From Albert JusticeAll I can say is wow! Caeli... I'm jealous--take me next time so I can practice my Portuguese.
Posted on July 30, 2007 at 5:23 PM
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! ;).
From Raphael RochaGreat that you enjoyed your trip to Brazil. Too bad i couldn't see your concert and also Chang's. Maybe next time.
Posted on July 30, 2007 at 9:58 PM
From Ruth KueflerThanks so much for taking the time to share this!! Sounds like it was an awesome experience. Love the photo with Sarah Chang. :)
Posted on August 3, 2007 at 1:51 PM
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Caeli Smith is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Biography
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