Take the A-train

In July 2008, my friend E. visited from far away for 5 days and you know what that means…


We went to Haarlem (one of the nicest little cities round these parts) and walked around the Hofjes (almshouses) from the last 7 centuries and enjoyed the best frites in Haarlem before going into the St. Bavo Kerk.

We finished up the day with amazing gelato from Gelateria Bartoli and dragged ourselves home.  What a lovely day.


Home again, home again. Jiggety jig.

In February 2009, I spent another gruelling week in a convent in northern Italy. We rehearse in a Renaissance ballroom, sleep in monk’s cells and eat in the fabulous dining room. It’s a tough life.


We had long days of rehearsals but a few hours free in the afternoons and I went for walks in the hills above the convent with lovely views of the Dolomites.


On Friday we flew to Madrid and had a concert there on Saturday in the Teatro Real, THE opera house in Spain.


I prepared for the concert by going to one of my favorite museums on the planet, the Prado. And saw some of my favorite paintings on the planet: Rogier van der Weyden‘s Descent from the Cross:

Hieronymus Bosch‘s Seven Deadly Sins:

and the gorgeous furniture in the main halls:

I also enjoyed my little walk around Madrid, passing right by the Royal Palace:

The concert wasn’t great but was broadcast live on the radio, SURPRISE! Listeners said it sounded good, though. The next morning we bussed three hours to Valladolid for a second concert that night. It went much better, if you could ignore the 4 members of the orchestra turning green and rushing off stage during the applause — big flu epidemic among us. Luckily, yours truly was not affected. The 7.30AM bus ride back to the airport was filled with fun and excitement:


In October 2007  I went on tour again with the Italian orchestra I play with sometimes. We started off in Lonigo, a small town near Vicenza.


The rabble-rousing train station of Lonigo (I’m standing in front of it, gazing at the metropolis). Impressive, no?

Here’s a better view of the city, ahem, town. I had no free time to go visit this church so don’t even know what it was called.

This is where we slept, and ate, and rehearsed. Good thing it was so lovely there, or we might have gotten a little stircrazy.

Ingredients of future nectar, prepared on the premises

Our rehearsal room

and its ceiling

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P is for…




In September 2008, we went to Paris for a mini-break. Our reasons for going were twofold: one, we wanted to go hear Ravi Shankar play his last European concert with his daughter, Anoushka.  Two, we hadn’t had a vacation together since October last year — I mean, alone together, no one else.  Item one, check.  Item two, check check.

The master himself

Well, we had a fab time!  Yay Thalys, it gets you there in a very pleasant 4 hours.  So, down on Saturday morning, back on Wednesday afternoon.  We had amazing luck and stayed in the beautiful empty apartment of some friends of my parents.  So every morning we had coffee in our place then went for croissants at the boulangerie next door.  On Saturday we went to the Musee de la VIe Romantique, the former residence of George Sand, then walked along the Canal St. Martin before meeting up with some composer friends of The Redhead.   Sunday we spent most of the day at the Marche aux Puces, hunting down vintage buttons and old Tin-Tin comics before meeting the friends again and having dinner with our absentee hosts.  Monday and Tuesday we took long walking tours of the Right Bank and of the Marais, after seeing the Orangerie and Notre Dame.

But of course the real highlight was Ravi Shankar.  He’s definitely getting up in years; he toddled on the stage and could no longer sit cross-legged, but he can still burn up his axe.  There were a few moments of doubt when he seemed to be going in a different direction than his daughter, but they resolved themselves with the help of the stunning tabla player.  He gave a “music lesson” on the second night, a sort of lecture-demonstration which worked well in some ways and less so in others; I sensed some rumblings of dismay in the audience when he spoke in faint, accented English for 45 minutes about his approach to playing before diving into musical examples.  But then, boy howdy!  The percussionists showed off their ta-ka-de-mi and he sang melodic bits to his daughter, expecting her to imitate him exactly (which she almost always did).  At the end of the evening, he sang a whole song, phrase by phrase, to the musicians to imitate and by the end, they had learned it in unison.  Most impressive for such a score-bound musician such as myself.

Museum für Sepulkralkultur (jawohl)

Several years ago, I played a concert in Kassel (DE) with my chamber music group. We were booked to play in the Schütz festival there, although we weren’t playing Schütz. We were, however, playing quite a gloomy program to fit in with the venue — the Museum für Sepulkralkultur. Yes, there truly is a museum dedicated only to Sepulchral Culture; I bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing as Sepulchral Culture! (Say it again — Sepulchral Culture — and it sounds really funny.)

To say it was a bizarre place doesn’t really do it justice. We had been afraid that it would be underground in a dark and chilly tomb, but in fact it was a modern and airy building on the side of a hill overlooking the Naturschutzgebiet Fulda-Aue. It was quite a lovely and peaceful place, with many beautiful headstones, “death crowns,” coffins and modern paintings. The piece de resistance, however, is the coffin of Heinrich Posthumus Reuß, 1572–1635. He commissioned the Musikalisches Exequien from Schütz himself and chose to be buried in a copper coffin inscribed with the text of the composition. It was beautiful and not at all macabre. Posthumus, get it? Ha.

The title of the exhibition is “Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin,” which I think is a lovely sentiment. A banner flew from the ceiling above our temporary stage asking, “Ist Erinnerung schöner als die Wirklichkeit?” Something we should ask ourselves more often, I think. Especially those of us intent on documenting all of our past travels. Ahem.

Oh, and the concert was a success!

IDFA 2014 #1: The Great Museum 5/10

Editor’s note:

One of the most wonderful things about living in Amsterdam (a city filled with wonderful things) is the recurrence of IDFA every November. The International Documentary Film Festival provides me (and others, no doubt) with a major hit of our drug of choice, film documentaries. I’ve been an addict since 2010 and most years I make it to an average of 10 films. This series documents (ha) my extremely subjective reviews of each film I saw. Take it with as many grains of salt as you need.

A very very slow portrait of the renovation of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I think this is one of the great museums of the world and was very interested to see how it was shown. Strange style: no interviews, no voice-overs, just fly-on-the-wall long silent scenes. Many shots of people walking down immensely long corridors or of awkward conversations or of cleaners wiping down display cases or of restorers dusting off dusty busts. Not riveting.
Final scene: extreme close-up of a familiar detail in a painting, a king speaking with someone. The camera follows the painting around, catching hundreds of small details: scenes of workers, builders, painters, etc working on the Tower of Babel by Breughel. Such a well-known painting but impossible to concentrate on all the details when looking at the whole. Final zoom-out to show whole painting in context. Beautiful interesting scene, the best in the whole movie.