Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Orvieto pictures

To see a big version of any picture, just click on it.

The Duomo:

and inside:

The view from one of the rooms at the music school:

Me and the gang:

Two old men that Capella thought were awesome:

And finally, sunset over a piaza. This was taken as Capella and I were sitting at a restaurant's patio, sipping wine, munching bread, and waiting for our food. It was a fantastic meal.

À la recherche du temps perdu

I'm home in Toronto after two months of being other places, mostly.

At the end of May I went to Halifax for two weeks to be a student at a chamber music festival. I stayed with the parents of a friend at the Conservatory. Brenna's father used to be a fisherman and now runs his own seafood distrubution company. He thought sleeping until 7:30 was lazy, didn't drink or smoke, and drank about 5 cups of coffee a day. Her mom baked the most amazing rhubarb pies. I had a great time.

I played in a masterclass for my old teacher from McGill. I got more nervous to play for him than any other performance in the past year or so. One of my yoga teachers in Toronto happened to be in Halifax then, too, and she came to the class and loved it. A weird collision of worlds.

I came back to Toronto, and then went to Boston for two weeks. Saw just about everybody that might be reading this. Time flew.

I bought a new camera, and this was the first picture I took:

I think it captures Tony pretty well. I haven't figured out how to rotate pictures yet.

I went back to Toronto for about 16 hours and hopped on a plane to Italy. Just before I left Halifax I had received an email inviting me to go teach and play chamber music at a little festival in Orvieto, a small medieval town up on cliffs about an hour north of Rome. Since my only plans were to sit around in Toronto and play weddings, I said yes, even though it wasn't terribly well paying (or, really, at all- they bought my plane ticket, and food & lodging).

On my flight over I had a five hour layover in Zurich, which was just enough time to go have breakfast at my aunt's house, and meet my three-week old niece. Oh my goodness, she's amazing. I'm in love.

I had an amazing time in Orvieto. There were only five students, not much younger than me- a violinist who just finished her junior year of college, a cellist who just finished college, a pianist in the middle of her master's, another pianist who was a meteorologist in Dublin, and a singer at the end of her bachelor's. I played in two groups and coached a third. There was also an Italian violinist who joined us for a string quatet, and who didn't speak much English. As I told the director when she asked me how rehearsals were going, if I had to pick a foreign country where I didn't speak the language to have a music festival in, I would pick Italy. For the non-musicians reading, all of the common musical terminology is Italian, so I only had to learn a few more words and stop trying to use adjectives (try finding 'leprechaun' in a phrasebook...)

Italy: famous for espresso.
Orvieto: famous for its giant Duomo, and its white wine.

A great combination.

I really enjoyed getting to know the town over the three weeks. The first weekend I went to Florence with two of the students, and I liked it and had a great time, but the next weekend I passed on a trip to Rome and spent the weekend walking around Orvieto. It's a big tourist town, both for Italians and foreigners, so it was fun to start to feel like I belonged just a little. The first time I went to my usual cafe and the barista said, "Espresso?" and smiled was very exciting for me.

Capella came and stayed with me for the last week. Fantastic.

For the final concert I had been asked to play a sonata with one of the pianists, but only after I had arrived. I hadn't brought any music with me, of course, so Capella would have to email it. I already had pdf files for a sonata by a rather obscure Dutch composer, Julius Roentgen, so I had Capella send that. Who should happen to be in Orvieto for only the night of that last concert, see a poster, and decide to come to the show? Roentgen's grandson, Julian. He introduced himself at intermission and told me, "I opened the programme and saw my name!"

After the festival we went to Budapest for five days to see the city and some of my relatives. We saw a lot in a few days and had a fantastic time. My three favorite pictures:

After a long meal at Uncle Miklos' house. Man, I was stuffed. But it was impossible to say no to more food. I finally realized that the only way to end a course was to leave a little bit of food on my plate. I wish I had figured it out sooner...

Detail from a fence along Andrassy Ut, where many countries now have embassies. We had spent the morning at the Sechenyi baths, a thermal bath house with about 15 indoor and outdoor pools of different temperatures, shapes and sizes. Made friends with a Hungarian couple about our age when we got to the 18 C pool at the same time, and realized how cold it felt at the same time... We walked from one end of Andrassy Ut to the other because it was Monday and all the museums were closed. Stopped at the opera house and took a tour. It's a beautiful building, built towards the end of the Hapsburg empire. Afterwards we took the subway back to the baths and met my aunt, who drove us home.

One of the diminishing number of Eastern European cars in Hungary. They're small, but not quite as small as a friend thought when she first saw this picture...

And now I'm home again. And sitting in my pajamas, sipping tea, and being lazy. Perfect.

Monday, May 14, 2007


One of the cellists in the opera orchestra had a housewarming barbecue tonight, Sunday being the musicians' Saturday. It was a great little party, plenty of stuff to grill, lots of beer and cocktails.

What this party had that most other barbecues lack was a $4 million Stradavarius violin. I'm not sure why, but someone had it in transit from a dealer in New York to a buyer somewhere else, and brought it to the party. To begin, people were playing it in a bedroom at the back, and not knowing what it was, I thought it was just uncontrolled music geeking. Then it got brought out into the kitchen, and passed around. It surprised me how hard it was to have a converstaion about anything else while anyone was playing it.

I played a few open strings and a scale, and I think they were the nicest sounding notes I've ever played. So warm and clean, and so consistent all the way up the strings, and from the low to high strings. Sigh...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Photo update

Some recent goings on that have been photo-documented:

Niagara Falls. On ice...

Nicola Tesla. The man invented just about everything. Anything you think Edison invented, Tesla thought up first. I'm rubbing his toe for good luck.

You might not be able to tell, but I'm way too stressed out about having to play Strauss the next day without a chance to look at the part beforehand that I can't even smile normally for a picture. Capella, on the other hand...

About a week and half after we drove to Niagara Falls I had a recital at school. Went fine, I guess, but the main thing I was looking forward to was the excuse to have a party at our house after and use our chocolate fondue fountain. Our friend Shay gave it to us for a wedding present. At first I thought it was a pretty silly present, but then I realized it's the coolest idea ever. (Thanks, Shay!). Here's me waiting for the chocolate to flow over the top and fountain-ize (sorry that the picture's sideways):

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Scavenger Hunt

1. Answer the phone. That's 40 points right there. It's the opera. Can you play Elektra? Starting in about 36 hours?
2. Meet your wife at the Zipcar over by the Gladstone Hotel.
3. Drive up to the Toronto Musicians' Association office, a few minutes north of downtown. Find a parking spot. Tear up your cheque for $225 when they tell you the student rate is only $100. Smile.
4. Drive back into town to the Canadian Opera Company office. Sign a contract, pick up music and paperwork for Canadian Immigration.
5. Drive to Niagara Falls. Speak slowly and clearly to the US Customs agent. She hates her job, and if you mumble, she'll make you open your trunk, like the guy in front of you.
6. Go to Niagara Falls State Park. Take your picture with the statue of Nicola Tesla (10 pts. bonus if you rub his shoe.) Admire the frozen mist that builds up on the cliffs. It looks like a glacier, or sand dunes.
7. Drive north. Be amazed at how easy it is to get a work permit, and how nice the guy at Immigration is.
8. Bonus points if you can find a Niagara region winery that's open at 6 o'clock on a weekday in the off-season. You drove all that way, after all.
9. Park the car. Walk home. Order a pizza, and put some fingerings in your part. Rehearsals start tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Things Canadians Call 'Sweaters'

1. Sweaters
2. Sweatshirts
3. Hockey jerseys

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mike Dukakis rides again

Capella and I took the subway this evening to go to downtown to a concert. After we sat down I looked aimlessly around the car, and noticed that the man whose foot I almost tripped over on the way in looked an awful lot like the mayor. I subtly told Capella, who subtly turned her head and looked. We still couldn't decide if it was him or not, so when we got off, we stood up early and took the door by where he was sitting. He also got off then, and we overheard another passenger ask if he was the mayor, and proceed to give him advice on something.

Very exciting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You can almost see Lake Ontario across the expressway

It's spring.

Which means that all the nasty snow/ice has melted, and the streets are gross and grey, which matches the sky, and coincidently, my mood today. Not only did I roll up the rim and NOT win today, there's more.

I had an audition today for a summer festival in Germany. I felt great on the way there, I felt great warming up, I felt great when I walked into the room. One measure in, I felt terrible. After three lines, I wanted to leave the room and walk back in and start again. Why? Kind of a long story. But let me try to explain.

Because this being a German festival, they had supplied a pianist (that's not an obscure musician joke, just how they roll.) I'm not sure why they have that custom, because I think it sucks.

Also in the "this being a German festival" catagory, they required the Stamitz concerto, one of the cruelest jokes ever played on violists (and there's been plenty). Violinists play their first Mozart concerto when they're 10, and you know what? They sound good, because Mozart was a genius. Stamitz, more of a "quietly competant" kind of guy. So when Euro festival time comes around, violinists get asked to play the same Mozart concerto they've been playing for 15 years, and violists have to drag out Stamitz, where the best you can hope for is not to sound too awful.

All this to say that the pianist started out too slow, and I was too underprepared to cope adequately (like, insist on a faster tempo at the first entrance) and fished and flubbed my way through the exposition. Didn't get to play my Bach (of two solo pieces, one was Stamitz, and one auditionee's choice. So the Bach I could actually play, and beautifully, at that), was embarrassed enough at myself to not play the excerpts at my best, and am now going to watch season 2 of 24, thanks to my friend whose cat, B, I'm feeding this week.

It's been hard to concentrate enough to write this, as I've got the stereo cranked next to me. It's necessary because ever since I left the audition room, my brain's been playing the Stamitz concerto on a never-ending loop. And it plays it way better than I did. Apparently it has no qualms about rubbing salt in wounds.

The title, if you're wondering, has nothing to do with the story. Just one more thing putting me in a foul mood today. (the expressway, not Lake Ontario.)

Friday, February 23, 2007


In a weird coincidence, I ran into Ron Sexsmith on the third floor of Casa Loma last night.

Turns out not so weird once I learned that he, like me, was there to play for the Conservatory's Mozart Unlaced gala. I was too surprised to say anything other than hi.

The event was a little silly- lots of people with money not listening to the best students at the Con playing and singing at various places in the castle. They didn't pay much attention to Sexsmith, either. But there was a chocolate fountain loaded with 20 pounds of chocolate (I asked) and a scotch tasting bar with some nice 10 and 15 year scotches, which made up for it.

Song of the week (I kinda lapsed after the first, I dunno, one, but here's number 2): Gold in them hills by Ron Sexsmith (link opens up the music video. I'm not crazy about the video, or this version of the song, really- just imagine it with only guitar. And listen to the words...)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doctor Who

Daleks vs. Cybermen.