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 :->)

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:

 

 

The Zulu Hitchhiker

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Did you ever find yourself in a situation that seemed to be trying to tell you something, but you never discovered its secret? This encounter, during our vacation in South Africa this past April, remains an enigma.

The day after visiting the Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift (a few hours’ drive northwest of Durban), Kerry and I set off in our barely adequate rental car from the lodge (think serious 4X4 territory in a Hyundai!) We’d been sleeping in a traditional Zulu beehive hut perched on a ridge overlooking an astonishing valley, where monkeys scampered around on our straw roof and the surrounding vegetation, no civilization in sight. But the middle of nowhere is always somewhere to someone, right? We bade farewell to the friendly manager of the lodge, Bruce, and his associate, Naya, crunching and creeping along the pothole-ridden dirt roads leading back to the “highway” (I say this in the most euphemistic of terms, where pavement was an unexpected and rare blessing.) About 10 kilometers (7 miles) down the gravel path past Elandskraal, we saw a pretty young woman, dressed in brightly colored fabrics, hair tied up in a scarf, holding a pink pocketbook, walking down the road. We had encountered numerous hitchhikers over the preceding days, but up to this point, we hadn’t stopped. On impulse, I suggested we give her a ride, at least up to the main road, where she might be able to catch a bus to her destination. Wherever that might be.
We came to a halt. The woman jogged over to our car and let herself in the back seat, and I asked her where she was headed. At first she just smiled and said nothing . So I pulled out the map we were using and showed it to her, asking, “Are you going to Dundee? Are you going to Ladysmith?” and pointing at each place as I said it. And she stared at the map as if I had given her a bowl of spaghetti and asked her the circumference of the Earth! I inquired about Dundee again since it was the nearest town, but she shook her head. Finally, we heard (I think this is what she said) “Near Ladysmith,” which was 60 km away and the direction we were heading anyway. So she sat very quietly in the back seat with a small smile on her face, and we drove on. I speak a few languages and get by in a few others, but Zulu is not among them…. Every once in a while, I would ask her in English where she wanted us to take her. She didn’t seem to understand, but we managed to exchange names – hers sounded like “Nympha.” It slowly dawned on us that she may never have seen a map before, but she seemed happy with our route. Kerry drove down a rather bumpy (but, wonder of wonders, paved) road leading towards Ladysmith, stopping now and then to avoid the cows and goats wandering in and out of our lane. Eventually I had the idea of calling the lodge and asking Naya, who spoke Zulu, to translate for me and find out where we could take our passenger. I reached Bruce, who put me through to Naya, and then handed my iPhone to the back seat to have Nympha talk to her. At first, she seemed reluctant to take it, then finally put it to her ear. As she spoke to the woman at the lodge, her whole expression changed. She looked irritated, unhappy, tense. After a moment she passed the phone back to me. Bruce was on the other end. “She says she wants to go to Dundee,” (we had just traveled 25 minutes in the wrong direction!) and so we started to turn the car around. Suddenly Nympha grew agitated, put her hand on Kerry’s shoulder, and pointed forward, in the direction we were already going. We didn’t know what to do, but ended up turning around and driving back anyway. It seemed worse to whisk her 60 km away from home because of a misunderstanding. We all sat silently, driving east again, back where we had come from, past the livestock, past the scrubby landscape, and pulled over at the intersection with the main road to Dundee, where a few other people were standing around and where traffic came by in all directions. I pointed north and said, “You want to go to Dundee? It’s that way, I hope you get a ride! Good luck! Goodbye!” Our passenger got out of the car slowly, looking at me with an unfathomable expression in her eyes, then turned away. We drove off, back towards Ladysmith again, wondering what had just happened. We imagined various scenarios. We imagined she was just enjoying the ride – a friend told us that Europeans never pick up Zulu hitchhikers. We imagined she hoped we would take her in and give her a job and a new home. We imagined a secret lover for her in Ladysmith. We wondered if she was running away from an abusive father or husband. But all she had to do was to tell Naya at the lodge that she wanted to go to Ladysmith, or wherever, and we would have taken her with us. Then we asked ourselves if picking Nympha up, driving west then backtracking, had taken us out of the path of danger, of a traffic accident. Or if it led to an encounter that changed her life. Or if it was just weird and puzzling and meant nothing. It felt all the more surreal, discussing it in our high-rise Durban beachfront hotel room that evening, overlooking the Indian Ocean and surrounded by creature comforts.

We will never know, we can never know – and we will probably never see our Zulu hitchhiker again. So why can’t I stop thinking about it, why do I insist on assigning meaning and mystery to a random encounter? Or was it random at all?

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…