Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear all:

Wow, I’m not sure where the week went.  I’m sitting in at the airport in Tokyo on my way home from Seoul. Because I travelled to Taiwan later than the Orchestra group, I’m on my own for the roundtrip. My connection to Taiwan went through Tokyo and therefore my return does as well.  The main group of the Orchestra had taken a route to Taiwan via Seoul and therefore they are now mid-flight headed directly back to Chicago.  I’m wishing I could be on that flight now!

So, how to share the four concerts we had this week?  What a wide range of experience!

Beijing is a really nice hall with lots of experience presenting concerts.  Because Beijing is the seat of government, there tend to be a fair number of politicians and officials at concerts at the NCPA.  The hall has a vast, lovely although somewhat distant feeling lobby but it has a few nice shops and Donagh Collins and I trolled around looking for gifts to bring home.  Very nice.  As a result of the snowy, icy weather and threats of more, we had a fair number of no-shows at the concert which was somewhat disconcerting but I have to tell you the rousing response to the orchestra made up for any empty seats.  This is the first place we heard rhythmic clapping and a few patrons standing.  Our presenter Chen Ping was overjoyed and hugging everyone—including Maestro Maazel!—post concert.

The next day we headed by bus to Tianjin.  Yours truly sat near the back of one bus with my laptop open and missed a fair bit of the “scenery” but my occasional looks up offered a flat, rather bleak, snowy countryside.  After about 1 hour 45 minutes we began to see tall towers in the distance and as we came up on them there were groups of skyscraper apartment buildings positioned in a rather random way with no seeming connection to other groups of buildings.  In hindsight, now that I know more about Tianjin, these are the beginnings of new developments outside of the main city, waiting for the city to grow out to that point.  It was rather frightening to see all these empty, unfinished towers out in the middle of nowhere but that is ultimately the story of China.  The development is so fast and so premeditated!

The drive in to town was not what one expected.  Tianjin is a port town but the main part of the city is inland. We never did see any water.  We just kept driving along a highway headed toward more flatness until we hit the outskirts of the city. That’s when we hit bad traffic which delayed the trip a bit and left us feeling frustrated on arrival.  Little did we know that traffic would be the theme of the rest of the tour.

After a late lunch and a change of clothes we were off to the fifth press conference of the tour.  Maazel was incredibly flexible and agreed to come to Tianjin a bit early for the concert and attend a 6 pm press conference before the performance!  The true hit of the gathering, though, was Sando Shia who lived in Tianjin for five years as a youngster.  She spoke the local dialect to the media and was the darling of the day.  Todd has a great photo of her on the tour gallery (, as well.

We had a tour of the arts complex between the press conference and the concert and learned that from concept to opening of the complex was only a 3 year process!  This is amazing!  (It took us 10 years to build one concert hall in Seattle and that is normal.)  The complex has four venues, including a concert hall, opera house, and two small theaters.  It also has education facilities and administrative offices.  All very beautiful and all ICY COLD!!!  Apparently when you design and build something too fast in China there are issues of water and ventilation.  They had flooding last year during the rainy season and now with bitter cold outside, they can’t control the heat.  HOWEVER, the hall is glorious.  The space has only 1200 seats and has a good sized stage.  Everyone from audience to musicians said this was a really great musical experience.

The concert we offered was the closing event of the inaugural season in the hall in Tianjin.  They don’t sell subscription tickets, they just offer tickets for sale 2-3 months in advance.  The audience really doesn’t have much experience buying tickets but I learned that in fact 120 years ago Tianjin formed an orchestra for the first time so while the audience part is relatively new for them, music is very important and we could feel that from the audience.

The presenter invited our Chinese musicians and some of the staff to a true Chinese new year’s banquet with traditional regional food.  Three gigantic tables with Lazy Susans were filled with local delicacies that just kept coming.  Apparently the buns we know from dim sum restaurants are famously from this area and we had our fair share that night.  Our presenter is actually a part time Chicagoan and their (husband and wife team) son goes to the University of Chicago.  Rumor has it he is a new intern in our finance department!?  Small world.  The joke on me is that they gave us a gift (many gifts from all presenters, etc. on this tour) of a bust of Ernest Hemingway!  I didn’t know Hemingway lived in Oak Park before that evening, did you?  Our trunks are heavier coming home with this new addition.

The next day, Tuesday, was a travel day.  Now, let’s just remember that the trip from St. Petersburg to Rome will go down in history as the worst travel day ever but this one will be right up there as well.  We left the hotel in Tianjin at 11 am after baggage was collected at 9:30, but didn’t arrive at our hotel in Seoul until nearly 7 pm.  Traffic, bad weather flight delays, immigration slowness, more traffic.  Nothing dramatic or traumatic, just frustrating.  8+ hours for a 1 hour 45 min flight.  The joys of touring.

Seoul, however, is a magnificent city.  This is a great way to end a tour.  Horrible traffic everywhere but perhaps the new year’s festivities extend here too?  Otherwise it is an easy city to visit, great people, yummy food, clean(er) air, really good hall, wonderful presenter.  Again, the weather has us huddling all the time, everywhere but at the hotel.  The streets are fun and easy to navigate on foot, the sites dramatic because the city sits between mountains with a river flowing through it.   Lots of exploration took place, with groups visiting the DMZ (with a few musicians on a bus that crashed!), the beautiful palace in the ice cold, the national folk museum (fun for some musicians and our patrons who had rejoined us), lots of shopping in the antique mall streets.  Did I say Seoul was a good place to end a tour?

Unfortunately, over the course of the tour many of the orchestra have fallen ill.  We started out really well, but slowly various ailments have traveled around section by section.  Dr. Huck was really busy.  I think we will all be recovering for quite a few days now on return.

The programs were again well received and last night, on cue for the final concert, the cheers were accompanied by a standing ovation.  We are so accustomed to this in Chicago but it is not as lightly offered anywhere else in the world.  Rhythmic clapping and shouts of appreciation and all but only this final concert had the additional respect of the standing “O”.

We are all very ready to be home.  More stories abound but this is already too long.

Can’t wait to see you all next week.  Come visit our new Ernest Hemingway bust.  We can have a debate about where he will “live”.

Deborah Rutter Signature