Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

After twenty-four hours of travel including two subway-rides, two flights with a long layover in between, three train-rides winding through wine country, and a midnight shuttle, we had finally arrived in Vianden, Luxembourg. It’s a town of about 1700 people and dates back to medieval times. Change has been minimal in the past several centuries and there is a real castle situated atop a large hill at the center of the town where some of our concerts were held. Surrounded by history and breath-taking scenery, I would live with Carter’s Woodwind Quintet, Tower’s Island Prelude, Mozart’s Piano Quintet, an aria from Bach’s Cantata 204, and Cimarosa’s Gloria Patri Initially, I felt like I was in a sink or swim scenario but managed to fall in love with Vianden and all of this music along the way.

Getting to know the oboe again was challenging and exciting all at the same time. At one time, I had been a bigger oboe-dork than most. I had slept, ate, and breathed cane shavings and Ferling etudes, but I’d fully abandoned it only to be thrown back in to the mix full-time now with six (plus!) hours of performance, practice, and rehearsal daily. It was, to say the least, an upset to my daily routine. I was lucky to be with my supportive and patient partner, but meeting Bert Lucarelli in Luxembourg was a true and timely blessing.

I enjoyed watching him working with other students. It was obvious how much he cared about the music he was teaching and that he wanted them to take joy in what they were doing. He somehow made the most boring interval excercises interesting. In chamber music coachings, he showed an appreciation and depth of knowledge in all aspects of music making often speaking to string players about bowings or singers about diction, and not just how to play the oboe well. Most memorable, was a coaching on the Cimarosa Gloria Patri in which he worked with a young soprano who was struggling with confidence and command of the stage. By taking her in his arms and nearly dancing with her while she was singing, he showed her that she needed to “be” the music, something more than just executing the notes with solid technique, intonation, and efficient breath control.

In my four lessons, we worked on fundamentals: tone production, breathing, vibrato, technique, and shaping a line, but what I took away will keep me thinking for a lifetime. His manner of delivery was frank, but all of his comments were gently couched and easy to swallow. He spoke eloquently on the Bach Partita in regard to phrasing and style debunking some “myths” about the right way to play baroque music and Bach in particular. I will always remember playing duets from Bach’s orchestral works at the ends of my lessons and how he could make the oboe sing.

Apart from lessons, Dan and I had a great time at the festival. It was an amazing place to celebrate our anniversary together. The accommodations were more than adequate and the hospitality that we experienced was second to none. And the food! Spreads of cured meats,
yogurt, pastries, breads, cereals, and fresh fruit for breakfast were followed by three-course, sit-down, full-service meals everyday at lunch. We sampled local delicacies like whole roasted river trout along with French and German classics like Beouf Bourgignon and pan-fried schnitzel with potato salad. I, of course, also sampled the local wines – one of my favorites was a Rivaner from the local vineyards. It had delicious fresh apricot fruit balanced with a crisp mouthwatering finish that made me want to eat every last bit of my luxurious lunches, eventually putting on ten pounds over the course of our time there. In fact, I had to buy a new suit before I could return to work.

Both Dan and I played more concerts in two weeks than we had initially bargained for, but performing again was exhilarating for me. We had some great coachings with many amazingly talented people and played in some beautiful old churches and, most exciting, the castle on top of the hill at a concert for local and foreign dignitaries. The festival ultimately fostered a familial atmosphere and a good time was had by all. New friendships were made and romance blossomed all around us. We departed fully satisfied.

The final leg of our vacation consisted of four days in Germany to visit some old friends: Maria, Elyse, and Dwayne. It was so fantastic to become reacquainted with them and to catch up on life together. We travelled all over the Western part of Germany together with day trips to Cologne, Bonn, and Munich. Together, we climbed church steeples, enjoyed walks along the Danube, gawked at Van Goghs and Breughels, heard a Bruckner symphony and a Mozart concerto, saw Beethoven’s and Hindemith’s violas side by side, and generally tried to get as much out of our time in Germany as we could, cameras and iPhones in hand. Both of our Facebook pages brimmed with photographs and glowing status updates regarding the fabulous time we were having.On one of our last days staying with our friends, we spent the afternoon busking. Music was everywhere in Germany and we were inspired by our trip the previous day to Munich where we saw people performing on virtually every other corner. One group had actually wheeled a grand piano onto the sidewalk from a nearby department store. Sans piano, Dan with his viola and Elyse and I with our oboes took to the streets with Mozart opera aria transcriptions, the Dvorak Terzetto, and Bach Solo Suites. We found a nice spot in the marketplace in Ulm and made enough cash to pay for lunch and to feed our recently formed cake and ice cream sundae addiction.

We were also introduced to local delicacies like pretzels, Weißwurst, and heffeweissen downed for breakfast. Dwayne and Elyse sent us home with every flavor of Ritter Sport and we ate many a Döner kebab, the Turkish version of the gyros sandwich. It was headily flavored with garlic, onions, and a generous dollop of tangy tzatziki sauce. On our last night with our friends, Dwayne and Elyse, we ate a meal worthy of kings and queens at a quaint little inn in the old part of Ulm: fresh summer vegetables, charcuterie, mounds of potatoes prepared in three different ways, roasted dorade, grilled arctic char, and rack of lamb all paired with local wines while overlooking a little cascading stream. We finished with cake and ice cream sundaes, of course, paired with a lovely local Eiswein of Weißburgunder! The complimentary shots of schnapps that the waitress brought were almost too much for us… almost. One of the only phrases I learned in German, “Das hat geschmeckt,” means “it was delcious!”

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, but we made many memories and can't wait to return!

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