(Over)view from the rooftops of Paris

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I’ve just had the pleasure of spending a couple free days in Paris between performances with the OPL at the Opéra Comique.  Our Sunday show fell on my birthday, so Kerry and I stayed afterwards and indulged in an Ethiopian feast at one of our favorite restaurants in the Latin Quarter.  We found a very cute studio through the airbnb website (if you don’t know it, it’s a bit like Craigslist, but you are better protected from scams.)  The view out our window (7th floor, luckily with elevator, which is by no means a given here!) is lovely –  a double rainbow greeted us upon arrival, crowning the Jardin des Plantes right across the street.  Yesterday the master craftsmen at L’olifant Paris whipped my horn back into shape and gave me the opportunity to try some beautiful horns and mouthpieces.

It seems a good place and time to bring a little perspective to the goings-on of the past and future couple of months, especially because I haven’t written a blog for a good long while.  The “doing”/”being” ratio has tipped more to the “doing” side, as it often does when I don’t pay attention to seeking the inner stillness and reflection necessary to feel whole.  Mind you, I love pretty much everything I have been doing lately – playing great music with the orchestra every week, preparing and presenting concerts with the American Horn Quartet, taking Pilates lessons, going to plays and dance productions, and all the normal bits of everyday living.  A huge bonus lately has been to have so much time together with my husband, sadly lacking this time last year with all the traveling.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself walking around in a bit of a daze, not taking everything in.  Other than while playing music, when the habit of years of laser-like focus kick in, the edges seem a bit blurry to scenery, conversations, even the taste of food (for those of you who know me well, that’s a clear sign that something is amiss!)  Even this morning, I had originally planned to go to a museum but feared just drifting by the exhibits without appreciating them.  I go through this cycle often, not realizing it’s happening for a while.  This classic Far Side cartoon says it beautifully:

 

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The trick – the art – to living is in balance (being married to a Libra will teach you a thing or two about that as well!) – especially that between the inner and outer life.  The next few weeks are just as activity-laden as the previous ones, including more performances in Paris, an AHQ tour to the States, Götterdämmerung on Wagner tuba when I return, then brass quintet rehearsals and a Britten Serenade performance etc….  But I am going to do my best to find the inner stillness and perception to be fully present in the big and small moments, including the ones that don’t have a website link attached. But there just may be a double rainbow in the offering.

 

 

 

 

Modern-Day Traveling Minstrel

I’m heading home right now from 2 wonderful weeks as guest principal horn of the Beethoven-Orchester Bonn, performing and recording a CD of works by Gustav Mahler (Adagio from Symphony #10, the symphonic movement Blumine, and Das Klagende Lied.)  The train route between Koblenz and Trier winds alongside the beautiful Mosel River – forested hills rising from one bank, vineyards sprawling on the other.  The sun sparkling on the water’s surface is a welcome sight after our unseasonably murky May. Charming old wine villages with their tell-tale crooked timber frame houses compete for attention with castle ruins on the hilltops and tiny mountain chapels.  A few weeks ago, on my way home from another guest principal horn gig in Mulhouse (Mozart, Schoenberg, Webern, Schubert), my husband and I visited the Montagne des Singes (Monkey Mountain, hosting a colony of 200 free-roaming Barbary apes) and wound our way through the lovely countryside of Alsace.  Of course we had to stop for a delicious glass of Gewürztraminer and pot of creamy Bibelekäs.

One of the perks of this life as a traveling minstrel is the down time provided by the journey.  Though it’s a train that will have me home this afternoon, I feel a connection to the troubadours of old, slinging their harps and pipes and drums over their horses’ backs, or their own, traveling for days at a time in this same region of Europe to reach the next court, festival, or market town, singing for their supper.   One of my favorite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay, features itinerant musicians and artisans in many of his books, focusing on their personal journeys as great events unfold around them.  Sometimes the musicians themselves are the movers and shakers, even princes of lost lands.  But more often than not they are mere mortals whose talents take them into the fray of excitement and danger.  My life’s not very dangerous, really (unless you count the possibility of throwing out my back lifting suitcases over my head onto luggage racks, and working with conductors) yet I feel the sense of adventure when the next voyage approaches.  The coming 3 months include trips to Burgundy, Bonn (again,) Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Osaka, Tokyo, Oregon, Texas, England, Scotland, Japan (again,) Bangkok, and Dubai, many of these destinations for gigs.  I’d like to meet the horse that could carry my hornpipes and me on this itinerary!

Putting together the AHQ “Tour de France”

Geof, Charlie, Kerry, and I have just returned from playing concerts and giving master classes on our mini-France tour which included stops in Mulhouse and the beautiful Loire Valley.  The preparation phase for this tour was, by necessity, spread out over several  months, with the initial correspondence well over a year in advance.  It’s an enormous undertaking to assemble even a 1-week tour like this – since we don’t have an agent in France, Kerry made the initial contact with several potential venues and professors.  After we had received positive feedback, he and I worked together on all the details of dates, venues, contract negotiations, itinerary planning, etc.  Sorting through literally hundreds of e-mails in French and handling the ridiculous minutiae of French bureaucracy was a challenge, especially because we are both involved in so many other projects at the same time, often away from home.  Invoices, purchase orders, program details, stage setup, contact addresses, phone calls with bad connections in rapid French, a last-minute cancellation, the wrong personnel listed on the publicity for one venue, no street address for another hall, GPS programming, merchandise gathering… and that’s just the non-horn-related parts!  You either need the patience of a saint or a lot of extra hair to tear out during this process (I fall into the latter category.  Or used to.)

But of course, the reason for all this is the music.  The new jewel in our repertoire is Walter Perkins’ arrangement of music from Porgy & Bess (in four movements with a fifth, “Summertime”, as an encore.)  Walt sent the score, Geof made printed parts, and we had an initial reading last autumn – after which we switched a few parts around to fit the quartet better.  Then we met for 3 days in February and a weekend before the first engagement in the end of March to put the whole program together.  Finally, the fun part!  We generally start off by getting the general feel of the pieces and the program, making sure everything flows, then we dive into excruciating detail to make sure every chord is in tune, every articulation matches, every entrance is clear as to who gives what, every nuance has a chance to find expression.  Often, it’s me coming into a piece for the first time and the rest of them reviving something that has been in the repertoire and done a certain way for over 20 years, but in the case of Porgy & Bess, it’s fresh for everyone.  Here are two clips from our concert in Cholet:

On the road finally, we fell into the usual whirlwind of packing up the tour van, driving to the next location (with the invaluable assistance of Geof’s wife Sherry), meeting our hosts, being whisked off to give a master class, fitting in a nap when possible, having the sound check in the hall, getting a pre-concert snack, giving every ounce of concentration and energy during the performance, going out for large and late dinners afterwards with great wine, getting up the next morning to repeat the process again.  It’s an intense and beautiful experience.

On this particular tour, we planned in an excursion to Chambord Castle on our way through the Loire Valley.  This provided us with a backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot. Some of the shots were more serious than this one: 

and this one:

Here was our favorite:

It’s important to find time during the tour to relax and recharge before the next burst of energy.

Here are a few pictures of highlights from the tour:

Virginie Maillard, our gracious hostess in Mulhouse, led her students and the workshop participants in a horn choir at the beginning of our concert.  The felt hats she made for everyone were priceless.

After our concert in Cholet with the friendly and enthusiastic Prof. Jerome Percher.  Afterwards, Geof ended up literally giving him the shirt off his back.

Charlie imparts his wisdom about low chops to a student in Mulhouse:

Kerry is the MC for all of our concerts, and giving the whole presentation in French didn’t phase him one bit! 

My folder…

posing under an advertisement for our concert in Sainte-Hermine

After playing for the Journée du Cor in Mulhouse, the Festival des Veilées Musicales in Saint-Hermine, another Journée du Cor in Cholet, we ended the tour by performing the 1st movement of the Schumann Konzertstück with the Brass Band Pays de la Loire followed by a 30-minute program on our own.

After all the hard and often tedious work of putting together a tour, I have to say that the thrill of performing and the enthusiasm of our audiences and the students we teach make it all worth it.  (Remind me when I’m sitting here grinding my teeth organizing the upcoming 2013 AHQ tour in America :->)

The Big (and small) Picture

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Last May, Kerry and I were featured artists at the Brass Explosion Festival in Singapore.  Part of our residency involved giving master classes, something I have always found to be a joyful challenge.  My approach has usually been “person-centered”  – listening to each student, watching movement, sensing energy patterns, waiting and seeing what comes to me to say to help.  This intuitive approach can bring surprising results, but it helps to have a “method” of some sort to organize the time and situation.  While eating Singaporean hawker fare and drinking fresh-squeezed lime juice in the glorious heat, an idea sprang into my head. I decided to try it out on that afternoon’s wonderfully receptive guinea pigs!  Its work-in-progress name was “macro-micro-macro,” but now I call it “focusing the lens.”  (I’ve just named it that now.  Perhaps it will stick.) 

Bringing a new piece to life can be a daunting, though exciting prospect.  Many people dive right into the smallest of details before they’ve given themselves the chance to experience the feel of the music, the way it flows, what they want to say, by means of the notes on the page.  First step: focus on the big picture and don’t worry right away about minutiae.  Be gentle during this process, as you would be with a child at play.   The important thing here is to discover your connection to the music, to imagine what it could become, with the full and glorious force of your creativity.

Second step: after this initial “getting-to-know-each-other” phase, now is the time to zoom in on details. Tackle the basics first (get the notes, in tune and on time, of course) through slow practice, identifying a few elements or passages each time that need attention.  You can be creative during this part of the process, changing rhythms or articulations on the tricky bits, playing legato passages excruciatingly slow to feel one note moving to the next, isolating large intervals and practicing them out of context, exaggerating dynamics (especially the soft passages!) Use a metronome.  Be efficient and pragmatic – if one fingering doesn’t work, try something else.  Use what tools your teachers have given you and see what works for you personally.  During this step, be critical, in a cerebral, detached way, never beating yourself up for perceived mistakes.  You’re building a bridge from your initial vision to performance readiness, and putting in the time and awareness at this stage will keep the bridge from collapsing.  It takes time, awareness, attention, diligence.  During this stage as well as the next one, I find recording myself to be immensely useful.

Step 3:  many creative artists are loath to go here, to step back from the “micro” level and back to the “macro” – the big picture.  We’re afraid to trust the work we’ve done up to this point, afraid of relinquishing control over any aspect of our performance, and end up screeching along with the brakes on.  This is the time to bring your initial fascination and vision to life through the fine-tuning of all the little details you’ve worked on so diligently.  Rediscover the flow, make the phrases mean something in relation to each other, tell a story.  Love the music even more because you know it intimately.  Present the whole piece to your audience so they can enjoy it – let them think it was easy!  Most people come to a performance or watch a YouTube video to be entertained and moved.  As for the few who listen to a whole concerto then focus in on that clammed Bb at 3’24” – you will always have them among you.  Don’t let self-judgment or the judgment of others paralyze the artist within. 

In Singapore, working with a student that afternoon last spring on this “method,” it was beautiful to hear, and watch, the transformation in his music-making.  It takes courage to engage in the process of creativity, but we were born to it.  At every stage of practice, rehearsal, and performance, remember your ability to focus the lens.

Virtuoso Horn Duo – Dark and Stormy Night video

Wow, I never expected to let this blog lapse for so long!  There are many reasons for that, some of which I hope to address in an upcoming post.  But for now, I wanted to share this video.  The Virtuoso Horn Duo is in the middle of a project right now performing concertos with the Orchestre de Chambre du Luxembourg (OCL) and is also preparing for a Valentine’s Day recital with our fearless pianist, Lauretta Bloomer, at the Foyer Europeen in Luxembourg.  

 

Here’s my first attempt at iMovie, a little slideshow of pictures to accompany Kerry Turner’s “‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night” from our 2007 CD:

 

 

What I Did Last Summer… Part 1: Singapore and Australia

 

 

It’s a bit daunting for me to try and sum up our summer 2010 adventures, but I might as well plunge in and just start writing this blog!  After much preparation and rehearsal, we embarked in July on the performing part of our travels.  With husband Kerry and pianist/friend/soul sister Lauretta in tow, we made our first stop in the almost magical land of Singapore.  On each visit to Singapore, I’ve been struck by the way so many diverse cuisines, religions, and languages live practically on top of each other, harmoniously, like a crazy multicultural patchwork quilt.  The purpose of our brief stay there was to get over our jet lag on the way to Brisbane (more about that later) and to try out our Virtuoso Horn Duo recital program before presenting it at the International Horn Symposium. 

 

Shortly after arriving at our comfortable hotel, we met up with our friend Jamie Hersch, who plays horn in the Singapore Symphony and is a fine soloist in his own right.  We went out for some local food (Kerry and I opting for Mee Rebus, a Malay jungle noodle dish we first ate 6 years ago at the Singapore Zoo.)  Afterwards, we went for a walk and ended up at the Raffles Hotel, sitting outdoors and enjoying a Singapore Sling from the cocktail’s birthplace.  The next couple of days were spent rehearsing at Top Brass, the hosts of our recital, as well as taking long walks through different parts of town – Little India, Arab Street, Chinatown, Boat Quay (oh, that Indian restaurant!!) , and other neighborhoods, great and small.   Kerry is very much in his element in the tropics – it was a delight to watch him blending in with the local scenery like an exotic bird among exotic birds.  It was also exciting for me to introduce Laurie to one of my favorite cities.  Our recital was a joy to play and the audience enthusiastic.  Afterwards, we were treated to a delicious Turkish dinner down the street from the Sultan Mosque, under a crescent moon, with old and new friends.

The next leg of our journey took us to Brisbane, a new city for me, on the occasion of the 42nd International Horn Society Symposium.  Both the American Horn Quartet (Geof and Charlie had come directly from Europe and were pretty jet-lagged for the first part of the week!) and Virtuoso Horn Duo were featured artists, so we had a busy week.  The weather was beautiful most of the time, despite it being “winter.”  They should see OUR winters!  Actually, it was warmer there than it is here today in early September… I was able to go running a few times along the river.  Symposium host Peter Luff and his collaborators (especially Armin Terzer, whom I bombarded with emails for months before the symposium!) ran an amazingly well organized week of concerts, master classes, workshops, and other events.  Through past workshops and the master classes and concerts we’ve played over the past few years, so many of the horn players at the symposium were already familiar faces.  Many of the world’s finest players and teachers were present, but of course it was a special sort of thrill to come down to the hotel bar and have breakfast with Barry Tuckwell!  As usual, the hotel bar was the scene for post-concert merriment every evening. Sometimes it got just a wee bit raucous down there 🙂

 

We played in the opening ceremony (a larger horn ensemble piece composed for the occasion and with the AHQ), the AHQ shared a recital with Frank Lloyd which included his collaboration on The Casbah of Tetouan, the VHD shared a recital with Bill Vermeulen and Nicole Cash (both of whom I met for the first time and whose exquisite playing I enjoyed,) the AHQ gave a master class and a warm-up session, we played the Schumann Konzertstück on the final concert with the wonderful Queensland Symphony orchestra, I taught several private lessons… Laurie was incredibly busy too, playing a heroic number of new notes on numerous recitals and differing pianos.  I’m not sure she knew what she was getting herself into when she agreed to come with us to Australia!  If you’re a horn player and have never gone to an international symposium, do make an effort to do so.  I promise you will come away inspired, energized, with new friends.

 

One funny moment – before the AHQ warm up session (at which I once again delivered my lip trill sermon) I was waiting outside the door for the key to show up and fell into conversation with a couple of ladies from upstate New York.  I think they took me for a student until I mentioned that I wished I’d had a little more coffee to be able to help present this session at such an early hour.  They did a double-take, then one of them exclaimed, “Wait a minute… You’re THE GIRL!”  She pointed to me for emphasis then enthused to her friend, “She’s THE GIRL!” 


The last morning we were in Brisbane, we went to see the absolutely unique exhibit of the sculptures of Australian artist Ron Mueck.  Look him up.  Really.  

 

We flew from Brisbane to Sydney, where we were the guests of Tina Brain.  If Tina could bottle up and sell little doses of her boundless energy and enthusiasm, she’d make a fortune!  To say she teaches at the Barker College, a private Anglican school in Hornsby, would be an unfair understatement – she is as much mentor and surrogate parent to her students as instructor.  We had the opportunity to work with some of her students as well as to play a VHD recital, all organized by her.  It was great fun to hang out with her for a couple of days, to hand-feed the exotic birds (including kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, and yellow-crested cockatoos) who visit her balcony, to peruse the old photographs hanging on the walls of her downstairs study of her horn dynasty family – some of which were already familiar to me from Dennis Brain’s biography.  I only wish we didn’t live so far apart.  Anyone who says “it’s a small world!” obviously hasn’t flown to Australia recently.

 

Our last “on-duty” day was back in Sydney, where we gave a master class for Ben Jacks’ students at the “Con” (Sydney Conservatory.)  Ben himself came straight from having oral surgery and very bravely came to hear us for most of the afternoon anyway!   I first met Ben at the Melbourne International Festival of Brass in 2004, and it was great to see him again. 

 

We flew that night back to Brisbane to catch our flight the next day back to Singapore.  I had looked for a cheap hotel near the airport, and we ended up at Brisbane’s equivalent of the Bates Motel, seriously creepy.  Kerry and I went for a late-night walk looking for a place to have breakfast the next morning – the hotel was located in a sort of industrial wasteland – but we did meet a man from Papua New Guinea, which was pretty cool.

 

The three of us, Kerry, Laurie, and I, ended our trip with three nights at a gorgeous resort hotel with a remarkable landscape pool on Sentosa Island, bordered on one side by the tropical beach and on the other by thick, tangled jungle.  I love the tropics, the sultry heat, the impossibly bright flowers and towering palm trees, the relaxed pace, the spices, the weird and wonderful wildlife – each time we have left Singapore behind, I have pined for it for weeks afterward.  Even the storm that lasted most of the second day was beautiful and vibrant. 

 

Coming back to gentler, civilized, grayish Europe was its own sort of shock, but it’s home.  We were back for about 6 days before taking off on our “real” vacation to Andalusia.  Perhaps the subject of another blog…