Tuesday, February 4, 2014

...and so it ends.

We are home. I think I speak for everyone on the trip when I say that we are all exhausted, enlightened, and ready to go back ASAP. After everything that we experienced, you would have to be crazy not to want to hop on a plane and do it all over again. Sitting here in my room back in oh-so-lovely Parkland (certainly very removed from the opulence, grandeur, beauty, and history of Vienna) writing this blog post, I can't help but feel like the entire trip was one giant dream - It's still a very surreal feeling coming back to the humdrum routine of everyday college life after having had the experiences and adventure of the past three weeks. My mind is still set to travel mode, and not having the narrow cobblestone streets and ancient buildings of Europe right outside my door to explore and lose myself in is, quite frankly, a major bummer. Classes, routine, and responsibility just don't quite hold the same charm.

Looking back on the things we experienced over the trip, the sheer volume of what we did is rather mind-boggling. We wandered the hills of Salzburg; we explored the ancient cobblestone streets of Prague; we ventured into crypts and castles, palaces and cathedrals; we walked the Berlin wall; we stood in the room Mozart was born in on his birthday; we ate in cafes and restaurants that were frequented by some of the greatest musical minds the world will ever know; we walked the banks of the Vltava (Moldau), Danube, Spree, and Salz rivers; we ate food and pastries unlike anything available at home; we attended a Mozart high mass in the cathedral which it was likely written to be performed in; we attended concerts of two of the best orchestras in the entire world... and so the list continues. If asked to name the highlight of the trip, the only response I could possibly give would be "the whole thing". This trip reminded me why I love traveling so much, and made me that much more anxious to get out and explore the world - I have definitely been hit smack over the head with a serious case of wanderlust.

And the music. Oh my goodness, the music. The sheer brilliance of the music we experienced and were immersed in still blows my mind. If you ever find yourself doubting the sheer genius and beauty of Mozart's writing, go hear the Camerata Salzburg play his music in the Mozarteum on his birthday. That is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is performances like that which justify why it is that we musicians do what we do, and why we work ourselves to the bone in the name of an intangible (and often verging on the esoteric) art. 

Needless to say, spring semester is going feel particularly lackluster after the experiences of the last three weeks. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat some Manner wafers, drink slivovice out of my Leipzig stein, and cook myself some gulasch while listening to Brahms 4.

Danke schön, Europe. You are beautiful.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

One more post about the Las Vegas Rhapsody

     I think Kai summed it up perfectly when he stated, "I simply have no words" to describe the...the exceedingly unique? experience of the Las Vegas Rhapsody. Firstly, the concert was held in the world-famous Musikverein. This is a concert hall exuding grandeur and elegance; this is a place for gold leaf and red velvet and ceiling paintings and fur coats and fine wine and statue upon statue of naked women. But tonight, electric blues and pinks lit up the organ, the orchestra played chord progressions we've all heard a thousand times, and a man wearing a cream colored suit jacket and grey slacks (WHAT??) walked out and started singing like he'd just stepped out of the worst American 1940s mockumentary I'd ever seen. The hall was soon dripping with so much cheese I wasn't sure if I could see through it into the reality I'd once known. I envisioned any moment tux-clad waiters filing through the doors carrying trays of wine and offering cigars or those really long cigarettes used by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. 
     The performance consisted of a Viennese orchestra and a Japanese pianist accompanying the unfortunately dressed German singer, who sang American show tunes in their original English. Despite the guy's terrible fashion sense and skewed vision of American culture, he had a pretty good voice and his rhythm was awesome. And the orchestra was incredible! Whenever I took a moment to focus on their sound soared through the hall, I could understand why this venue was valued acoustically, though I admit I was frequently too distracted by the oddness of the singing to pay too much attention to it. 
     To give you an idea of what this performance consisted of, here are some highlights: 
     -"A Gal in Calico" featured a section where the poor man decided to imitate a Texan drawl. I tried so hard not to burst out laughing, but I couldn't stop giggling so I had to hide my face as the polite Austrian man next to me kept looking at me like I was nuts.
     -He made a joke about still being young during "I feel so young" and nobody but us laughed.
     -"Chim Chim Cheree" was inherently funny just because it's just really not meant to be lounge music, and that's what it sounded and looked like. Also, a few words got lost in translation.
    -There was one song where he just started oooohing and for about 4 minutes I wasn't sure if there were words.  At first I was absolutely mortified that it would be "My heart will go on" from the Titanic. Thankfully, it was not.
    -There was a very unique arrangement of "My Favorite Things" which was in 5. It was cool but kind of creepy, and it didn't necessarily make me think of my favorite things.
     -At one point he described Las Vegas as "Lights, fun, and happy times!" 
    To top everything off, after the first encore, someone decided a second encore was a good idea. So out walks the singer, the pianist, and...wait...the conductor? With a CLARINET?? I turned around and looked at Kai behind me with terror written all over my face. What was this man with the crazy hair going to do to my poor instrument?
     "I've got the world on a string" was the song of choice, and from the moment the conductor blew his first note into the clarinet, I was cowering. He played with a  wheezy tone that was so thin, I swear that all you could hear was air sometimes. His jazz improv was highly questionable, and screeching was frequent. I heard notes I didn't know existed. The piece ended with our jazzy maestro trilling on a note that dissappeared about halfway through so that as the piece ended, all you could hear was his keys clicking. We clapped like we never had before. Oh, what a night. 

Oh happy days and fun times in Vienna

For our last day in Vienna we decided to go to the Museum of Fine Arts to look at more works of art. As we started looking through the museum, we realized that it would probably take a week to actually look though everything. The bottom floor of the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Hapsburg treasures just kept going on and on. I finally had to speed my way thigh or I would not have enough time to see the art work on the second floor. I made my way up and was awed by room after room full of renaissance paintings of masters such as Raphael, Strozzi, and Caravaggio. The was even a whole other section of the floor dedicated to works by Flemish painters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. I stood right in front of The Art of Painting by Vermeer....wow!! Afterwards we ate a a delicious fancy Viennese restaurant named 3 Hocken. I had some of the best meatloaf and mashed potatoes I have ever had!

Everyone had been waiting in bated anticipation for the performance of Las Vegas Rhapsody we would be seeing that night. To see a performance of show tunes arranged by a Japanese jazz piano player for orchestra and a German vocalist singing in English in the Musikverein was going to be a crazy performance and we had no idea what to expect. Well I have to say it was a performance I am still processing a day after. The orchestra was fabulous with a conductor who had hair like Einstein and the vocalist loved to sing in falsetto and even make weird noises such as breathing heavily, sighing, or just singing vowels instead of the actual. Some songs that performed were Chim-Chim-Cheri (Mary Poppins), I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, Luck Be a Lady, and My Favorite Things, just to name a few. I had my mouth open in disbelief the whole time becuase I could hardly take in what I was watching. Then at the end after the 1st encore where the vocalist sang Send in the Clowns (which was really good!), he came back up for a second encore, but all the sudden the conductor comes out with an instrument case. He brought out a clarinet and began in with a rendition of I've Got the World on a String. I could not believe what I was witnessing!!! It was the most surreal concert experience, but what a way to end this tour. We started with Gospel Singers and ended with Las Vegas....wow....we will be talking about this for a long long time!!! 

Hannah's 31 "Best Of" list

This trip has been a whirlwind of delicious food, great museums, mind blowing performances, and experiences of a lifetime. I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of the winners in my mind:

1. Most intriguing museum- A tie between Vienna fine art museum and the Pergamon museum in Berlin
2. Most entertaining museum- Haus der musik. Enlightening and fun!
3. Best dinner- U Flecku in Prague
4. Best goulash- 3 Hacken in Vienna
5. Best döner- That place in Salzburg. Added spice and cheese makes all the difference!
6. Easiest transportation- Leipzig: we simply walked everywhere! Easy Peasy.
7. Coolest castle- Salzburg!
8. Creepiest crypts- St. Stephen's in Vienna
9. Best walking tour- Gabi in Salzburg and Herman(?) in Vienna
10. Best Hot Chocolate- The cafe with the composer tea in Leipzig (best cocoa I've ever had.)
11. Worst hot chocolate- at the hostel in Salzburg (what was I expecting it came out of a machine ><)
12. Best concert- hard, but I'd have to say Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg.
13. Most fun concert- Salzburg Camarata at the Mozarteum
14. Concert that made me go "what?" The most- Las Vegas Rhapsodie in the musicverein
15. Best opera- Bouris Goudanov
16. Performance that made me cry ( in a good way!) - Onegin
17. Best gummies- Salzburg
18. Best scenery- Salzburg
19. City that made me think the most- Berlin
20. Most beautiful city- Prague
21. Most interesting city- Berlin
22. Best Hostel- a tie between say cheese in Leipzig and the Wombat in Vienna
23. Person who enjoyed the most pastries - Hannah E.
24. Person who enjoyed the most food- Kaichi :p 
25. Person who took the most (and best) pictures- Dr. Powell
26. Most prepared- Annalise
27. Best blog posts- Melanie! 
28. Best sausage- A tie! Between the sausages from the market stands in Salzburg and the ones on the way up to Prague castle.
29. Most excited about dead people- Kai
30. Most exited about unicorns- Melanie
31. Best ninja skills- Caleb

I think 31 is a good place to stop! I know Salzburg is mentioned quite a bit in my list but really all the cities were so wonderful and different in their own ways. Leipzig and Salzburg were quaint and stuffed with history but Berlin had just as much history and was a hip bustling city! All the cities had their own amazing attributes to offer and I wish we had more time in all of them. We are all exhausted though from everything we have been doing, I think we will sleep very well on the ride home. Hopefully we will get home with plenty of time to watch the game! Go hawks!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Las Vegas in Vienna

We finished up our European concert tour last night with the strangest thing I've ever seen - noto necessarily strange in a bad way, but really bizarre. I called Las Vegas Rhapsody completely bizarre, yet totally enjoyable.

This concert is essentially a meeting of the minds of a German-born, New-York-Based singer with a flare for the weird and a genius Japanese pianist. They perform arrangements of showtunes with an orchestra, and make quite a show of it. The singer wore a cream suit jacket with charcoal pants, and the pianist, according to those who could see him, wore skinny pants and bright red socks. The orchestra was great, and the conductor looked like Einstein with a chrome dome. More on him later.

This concert featured several interesting numbers - the second movement was an orchestral piece, except with the singer harmonizing in ooh's and ah's over the music for three minutes. My thought was that he has trouble being on stage without performing. Once he came on stage after the intro piece, he never stopped making sounds. Sounds is a good way to put it - he did an arrangement of "You Go To My Head" that mostly consisted of what I can only describe as respiratory beatboxing...which is comprised of sniffing and uncomfortable grunting, essentially. Then he did some songs that featured bird call whistles and really terrible southern accents. There was a version of "My Favorite Things" that was actually really cool, where the orchestra played in 5 the whole time while he sang in 3. This arrangement was also essentially a sombre war march with minor and scary timpani. My personal favorite part was that in between songs, he'd do little explanations and introductions in German, but as soon as he said the English titles of a song or a show, he was all-American. For example: "Las Vegas! Fun, lights, happy times...!"

The audience sat straight faced through this entire thing as if they were watching some grand work of art.

We cracked up every few minutes.

The whole thing culminated in two encores. In the first, the conductor brought out his clarinet and accompanied with the piano to "I've Got The World On A String." It was...slightly awful. I'm almost positive the conductor hadn't picked this clarinet up in about 30 years. There are two clarinet players around the blog somewhere - I'm sure one of them will review.

And the whole thing ended with "Send In The Clowns." So...that happened.

We bookended the trip nicely, starting with Harlem Gospel Singers and ending with this interesting piece of work. We board the plane home in 45 minutes...see you soon, America!

Art and Russian Drama in Vienna

On Wednesday we began our day by going out to Zentralfriedhoff Cemetary to see some composers graves and pay our respects. I especially loved seeing the graves of Brahms, Beethoven, and Mozart (though Mozart's is more of a memorial). We also explored a church nearby with a gorgeous sapphire blue dome ceiling. While walking though the cemetery I even noticed a headstone of someone who was born in Eger and died in Vienna. I have seen my last name around so much here! Afterwards we decided to head to the Albertina, a large palace in the city with art exhibits. I was ecstatic to be able to see paintings by impressionists such as one of Monet's Water Lillies, three pointillism paintings by Paul Signac, a portrait by Renior, and one of Degas' Ballerina paintings. I could have stood in that room for hours looking at the brush strokes, colors, and impression of those paintings. I have always dreamed of seeing paintings by those masters, I love the Impressionists! That evening we went to see the Russian opera Boris Gudenov by Modest Mussorgsky. The opera hall wall beautiful will all the boxes, red plush seats, and even personal subtitles for each seat with an English option. I loved the dark staging of the opera and the music was fantastic. The instrumental parts were perfectly dark and Russian and full of angst. The string basses reverberated though the entire hall and one of the best parts was the bass trombone signaling the death of Boris. The vocals were also spectacular, the voice of Boris was a rumbling powerhouse bass and we all loved the tenor voice of the holy fool. It was a fantastic show, even though there was no intermission. Well for a bit of a funny story to end the blog, afterwards most of us stopped by the doner kebap stand by the hostel for a late night dinner. I was crossing the street with my doner in hand when my left leg gave out and I fell in the street. However, I ended up throwing my doner, kicking off my right show, tucked and rolled, and ended up without a scratch. What could've ended in a face plant on the concrete instead ended with a pretty epic save. Though I must have looked hilarious with my skirt, high heels, fluffy coat, and backpack rolling around in the middle of the street! I just have to say I was upset I didn't get to finish my doner, but oh well!      
I love Brahms!!!

Antibus by Signac

Water Lillies by Monet
At the opera!

The Döner Kebab: King of European Fast Food

I have discovered a new love: the döner kebab. It is essentially the Turkish version of the Greek gyro, and it is 101% delicious. Consisting of meat (sliced off of a giant hunk of meat on a stick), bread, salad, and various yogurt-y/garlicky sauces, it is one of the most perfect sandwiches that has ever been brought into existence, and it is everywhere here. Vienna has a stand on almost every street corner.

I sampled these little bread pouches of heaven in every city we visited. I tasted variations with lamb, beef, pork, and chicken (lamb is the best). I had them loaded with veggies and cheese. I had them filled almost entirely with mondo-sized portions of deliciously greasy and flavorful meat. I had them spicy, I had them mild. I had them with cheese and without. I even had them wrapped up in a tortilla. 

Every single time I was satisfied. Well... Except for in Prague. Their döner are somewhat lackluster compared with Germany and Austria. But regardless of taste, I never payed more than around €3 for a sandwich. Cheap, quick, absolutely delicious. 

-City with the best döner: Salzburg.
-City with the cheapest döner: all of them.
-City with the most döner: Vienna. It's everywhere here. There's even a 24 hour döner shack across the street from our hostel. Perfect.
-City that has no döner stands: Seattle. :( At least not that I've ever seen or heard of... I may have to start up a business. Needless to say, life will not be the same without them so readily at hand to satiate my hunger.

Now, time to go buy one at 2 in the morning before we leave for the airport...