Month: June 2015

China Tour Blog #11: Last Call — Beijing Airport

Peter Cosbey (cello), Mike Fedyshyn (trumpet)

Peter Cosbey (cello), Mike Fedyshyn (trumpet)

4 AM. A rude awakening after a boisterously successful final concert of Esprit’s first tour to China. Most of the orchestra had had two hours of sleep, but there was a 5 AM bus call which means you have to be checked out and on the bus by that time.

Mimi Mok (tour manager), Orly Bitov (cello), Margaret Jordan-Gay (cello)

Mimi Mok (tour manager), Orly Bitov (cello), Margaret Jordan-Gay (cello)

Our volunteer translator/PA’s were waiting in the lobby for us, even though they had also been part of the lobby party two hours previously. They wanted to accompany the orchestra to the Nanning Airport to say goodbye. Sally, leader of the volunteers, asked me how to say goodbye, but meaning ‘see you again’ rather than a final farewell, so I suggested “à la prochaine”. It was a little tricky for her (her first language being Chinese) and she kept repeating it over and over until she remembered it. Each PA was so sad to be joining us in the lobby for the last time.

Claire Scholtz (oboe), Mark Duggan (percussion), Blair Mackay (percussion), James Ormston (clarinet), conductor Alex Pauk

Claire Scholtz (oboe), Mark Duggan (percussion), Blair Mackay (percussion), James Ormston (clarinet), conductor Alex Pauk

On the bus, it was an unusually subdued bunch as almost everyone was too tired to talk. Maria Pelletier, personnel manager of the orchestra on this tour did a roll call for the final time. The musicians yawned their responses and the bus took off.

There were many hugs and some tears and final photos taken with our PA’s when we stood in line to check our luggage. Some final goodbye gifts were exchanged as we made our way through Nanning Airport Security. Everyone slept on the plane.

At the Beijing Airport, we circled the baggage claim conveyer belt, taking photos of each other. Alex and I were on our way to Pingyao (a 2,800 year a preserved ancient walled-city southwest of Beijing) while most of the orchestra was on its way back to Toronto. It was a very happy group of musicians knowing that they had performed really well, had been recognized as such, and they had had a great time to boot!

Doug Perry (viola), Aleh Remezau (oboe)

Doug Perry (viola), Aleh Remezau (oboe)

Janet Horne (violin), Mark Duggan (percussion), Leslie Newman (flute), Maria Pelletier (flute), Bob Venables (trumpet)

Janet Horne (violin), Mark Duggan (percussion), Leslie Newman (flute), Maria Pelletier (flute), Bob Venables (trumpet)

By then, everyone was awake and chatting excitedly about the tour, recalling favourite stories with each other. There were big smiles all around. We had eaten Chinese food several times a day (heaven help you if you didn’t like Chinese food!) and several of us had even chosen Chinese breakfasts on the road, although I have to admit eating Chinese food with a

Karen Moffatt (viola), Sandy Baron (violin), Maria Pelletier (flute)

Karen Moffatt (viola), Sandy Baron (violin), Maria Pelletier (flute)

chaser of coffee was a little weird! We had performed energetically and enthusiastically under the very strange twelve hour time difference (jet lag at its worst?) and we had learned to navigate the very dangerous road crossings in Beijing and Nanning! We had even eaten street food together at the night market!

Each of our concerts in China was wildly successful, with cheering packed houses, including that opening concert in Beijing even given the percussion snafu! (see Blog #3: Esprit’s Heroes). Yes, most of the percussion had arrived in

Mary McGeer (viola), Bill Cannaway, Lisa Chisholm (bassoons), Diane Doig (horn), Mike Fedyshyn (trumpet), Parmela Attariwala (violin), James Ormston (clarinet).

Mary McGeer (viola), Bill Cannaway, Lisa Chisholm (bassoons), Diane Doig (horn), Mike Fedyshyn (trumpet), Parmela Attariwala (violin), James Ormston (clarinet).

time for the baton drop on that first concert (we were all quite nervous) and in fact, the last instrument to arrive that night was the glockenspiel, which was handed to Alex exactly ONE MINUTE before he was to walk on stage. The final handover happened right there onstage with Alex thrusting the errant glockenspiel into the waiting hands of our percussionist just as he walked on stage for our first ever performance in China! An indelible memory!

Michael Sproule, Joanna Zabrowana (violins), Mimi Mok (tour manager), Bardi Gjevori (horn)

Michael Sproule, Joanna Zabrowana (violins), Mimi Mok (tour manager), Bardi Gjevori (horn)

Since many of the musicians had never before been to China, they had said they didn’t have a clue what was in store for them. The trip had greatly exceeded their expectations!

Michele Verheul (clarinet), Bob Venables (trumpet)

Michele Verheul (clarinet), Bob Venables (trumpet)

The musicians had all withstood the challenges of being on the road in China with good humour and a sense of adventure. Not a crabby musician in the bunch. They had really risen to the occasion, had performed dynamically, and had peaked at the performances. The audiences were raucously appreciative and the orchestra loved that.

Peter Cosbey (cello), Gordon Leung (Stage Manager)

Peter Cosbey (cello), Gordon Leung (Stage Manager)

A new bond had developed in Esprit given all these shared adventures in exotic China. Also, a bond had developed between our orchestra and its Chinese hosts. Nanning wants Alex back to help train its orchestra. Of course, they also want Esprit back for more high octane performances.

Alex, Stephen Sitarski (concertmaster)

Alex, Stephen Sitarski (concertmaster)

Our next high point will be the opening concert of Esprit’s THIRTY-THIRD season in Toronto in our fabulous Koerner Hall on October 4, 2015.

Come hear what all the noise was about!

– Alexina Louie

China Tour Blog #10: Esprit Sizzles! Alex Pauk, Rock Star!

The orchestra was feeling pretty pumped from an unbelievably successful tour. This final concert in the Guangxi Arts Institute Concert Hall was a highlight. It was the orchestra’s night to put on its best (last) show and the musicians delivered!

IMG_20150604_223904029The queue for the hall started an hour and a half before the concert was to start. It was a wild scene as people were desperate to get a seat. By the downbeat, unfortunately no more audience members were able to be squeezed in. The ‘traffic directors’ were putting them on the stairs. We were sorry that we had to disappoint so many people who could not get in.

Alex with Evan, our 'accidental interpreter'

Alex with Evan, our ‘accidental interpreter’

Even Evan, my ‘accidental’ interpreter, could not get in. I asked Sally, our head volunteer, to call him to find out if he was going to get into the hall. Apparently he was somewhere in the line so I asked her to go out there and drag him in so he could have a seat. Evan had become the interpreter for my two hour lecture a few days earlier. He is a young composer studying in Nanning and I really wanted him to experience Esprit!

Esprit sizzled! Violist Doug Perry said that’s what happens when the orchestra bonds. There is just something that happens through osmosis. No one says anything, they just know it. And that translates through the energy of the orchestra. The orchestra was in the ‘zone’ for that final concert as was Alex. Fireworks happened. The audience went wild. And for Canadian new music! – Daniel, Pauk, Louie and Schafer. By the last piece, Falcon’s Trumpet by Schafer, the people that packed the hall were really wondering what to expect next from this Canadian orchestra. The distinguished guests, Festival delegates and general audience members were looking around and over their shoulders at the orchestra which was surrounding them in true Schafer fashion. Bob Venables soared as the trumpet soloist. It was wonderful to see the astonished faces in the crowd as they kept looking at the musicians surrounding them.

Trumpeter Robert Venables in Schafer's Falcon's Trumpet.

Trumpeter Robert Venables in Schafer’s Falcon’s Trumpet.

There were cheers at the last note of Murray’s concerto. Then mayhem. Hundreds of people brought out their cell phones and were taking pictures of the orchestra. From the stage we were looking out at a sea of cell phones!

Alex and I after the concert with Esprit's great volunteer PA's from the Institute - Eric, Luke, Sally and Safira.

Alex and I after the concert with Esprit’s great volunteer PA’s from the Institute – Eric, Luke, Sally and Safira.

Then pandemonium on the stage! Audience members came up to take selfies with their favourite musicians! Our PA’s were delirious! Our youngest orchestra member, Aleh Remezau, our oboist, being the youngest (and cutest?) musician was besieged by a line of girls who wanted their photo with him. But there was an equally long line of young women who all wanted their photos with Alex as well. Alex Pauk, rock star!

The orchestra arrived back at the hotel at midnight and most had run off to the convenience store to buy beer and snacks. We invaded the lobby of the hotel, taking over a whole section, pulling up chairs, and basically setting up a private party right there at midnight. Everyone was high over the great performance they had just given. They shared stories of their experiences during the tour, including the new friends they had made in even this short time.

The last ones straggled off at 2 AM. Bad move. We had to be up in a couple of hours to catch our 5 AM bus to the Nanning Airport. Wired, tired, and mostly not quite over the twelve hour jet lag (day for night!), a 4 AM wake up call sounded surreal.

That’s life on the road with Esprit – a unique orchestra and a great group of people!

– Alexina Louie

China Tour Blog #9: Free Day – Finally!

After the successful Beijing concert and the opening night of the China-ASEAN Music Week in Nanning, the orchestra finally got a much deserved day off!

Some slept, some partied. On our one day off’ some of us participated in a three hour round table discussion followed by an extensive newspaper interview (me!). A small group took a day trip to the Vietnam border, a five hour bus ride! Sandy Baron, violinist, said it was really worth the trip. There is a famous waterfall there, very beautiful and quite spectacular. Behind the waterfall are row upon row of the recognizable carse mountains of ancient Chinese scroll fame. These mountains are some of the most scenic in China. The site is one of the major tourist destinations. These musicians overnighted it in a small local hotel and beetled back the next day in time for the dress rehearsal for our very own Esprit concert in the concert hall of the Guangxi Arts Institute!
3

Gu qin

Gu qin

I spent some time wandering into some Chinese instrument stores. What a wealth of beautiful looking instruments!

On our day off, our PA’s led us to the night market. Now that was extensive, exotic, hot, and noisy, but was it fun! First of all, the whole area was filled with small stalls offering the most exotic of foods. Not only did you have displays of the most unusual and beautiful looking fruit and vegetables, you also had rows of unusual huge shellfish and giant crustaceans.

There were deep fried whole squid hanging from wires for your dining pleasure. Stephen Sitarski sent me his photo of the ‘octopus station’! The octopus booth!The uncooked beast was hanging there in mid-air! There were live frogs and worm-like creatures. You could even find crocodile meat!

The whole area was seething with hungry humanity. It was particularly hot because every other stall featured an open fire charcoal grill upon which the proprietor would throw on a stick of grilled meat, chicken, oversized oyster, or scallop on the half shell, or some other flesh of your choosing, slather it with basting sauce and hand it over to you!

Oysters. Big onesWe were all actually amazed at the things we saw at this market! It was like none other that I have ever seen – and it covered a lot of territory. It was big.

We chose a restaurant and eventually, all the Esprit members who came to the night market ended up there. The restaurant was a casual extension of its charcoal grill. Nothing fancy. Most of our group immediately ordered a beer. Look what appeared – not a lot of individual bottles, but a large glass vessel of beer.

A toast with the 'spigot' of beer at the night market

A toast with the ‘spigot’ of beer at the night market

It was great fun as Alex acted as ‘spigot master’. We ordered some of the specialty dishes of the house including lamb right off the grill. It was succulent and it tasted completely different from the lamb on the Danforth. It had been basted with a Chinese grilling sauce and cut up into bit sized pieces. Then you were to dip it into some dried herbs, which is quite unusual for Chinese cuisine. One herb was like caraway seeds (most unusual) and the other some kind of dried powdered hot peppers (piquant!).

Night Market, Nanning

Night Market, Nanning

We also ordered the regional specialty – the whole fish casserole dish (complete with continual flame underneath) mounded with dried hot peppers and onions and spices. And then there were the wonderful grilled vegetables – another southern regional specialty. In Cantonese we call this vegetable “Gow Choy” – something like large chives. Grilled with a basting sauce, it was a real treat!

Completely happy, completely satisfied, we wandered out into the night.

The orchestra was relaxed and ready for our final concert in Esprit’s first tour of China. In fact, they were eager to ‘show their stuff’.

Fun, Food, and Music – what better combination!

– Alexina Louie