Monday, 21 March 2011

YTSO – Sunday, March 20th, Day 8 in Sydney, Australia

Even though many of us were out late last night, breakfast was still 7-9 am.  I got up around my usual time and headed down to eat and hang out with people.  There was no morning rehearsal today, which was nice, but we did have rehearsal at 12:30 for a couple of hours to finalize some details with cues and such.  I had REALLY wanted to go to the beach, but it was pouring outside during breakfast so I wasn’t sure what to do.  Some people had planned on going to Wildlife World, which is a zoo about a 20-minute walk from the hotel.  I hadn’t seen any koala bears or kangaroos yet, so I decided to go with them and hoped that it wasn’t closed this time! 

I walked over there with a group of people and got there slightly before 10:30.  Luckily I had brought my student card, so I got a significantly reduced rate to get inside.  The first animal we saw was a snake, and I got to pet it, hehehe.  There were all sorts of neat animals in there, from bugs to spiders (yuck!) to fish to a HUGE crocodile that was super awesome, as well as the cute koalas and kangaroos.  I took a lot of pictures. 

I picked up some souvenirs before racing back to the hotel to pick up my instrument and run over to the SOH for rehearsal in the concert hall.  It seemed that everybody was running a bit late, because as I got there a bunch of people came out of the elevator and still more people were just walking in the door to the hotel.  I made it to rehearsal just fine, though.  We changed the order of the program a bit to put the Berlioz first instead of the Grainger, which I think was a good call.  The Roman Carnival Overture is pretty flashy, so it’s a great piece to start a concert.  Everything else was the same except for that.  We played mostly starts and stops so the techies could get everything going smoothly, and it gave us another chance to watch the videos before the concert since we couldn’t necessarily be looking over our shoulders at the projector screen during the grand finale.  I went back to the hotel with a few friends and relaxed in the hotel room for a bit before going out for a little walk by myself.  It was nice to be alone for a little bit and just think the whole week over to myself.  This has been such an incredibly special experience and I don’t want to forget a moment of it. 

We had a “light supper” at 5:00 (actually it was the same size as the other suppers we had, but nobody was complaining!).  I chatted with people for a while afterwards, because it was the last evening meal we’d be eating together.  That was sad.  Somehow, it was strange to imagine that it was almost over.  We tried not to think about it, though, and just enjoy ourselves while we were together.  We watched Perlman Shreds Mendelssohn again (gets me every time…) and showed it to Tamas, the cello mentor.  I went upstairs to get changed for the concert, then met people downstairs to walk over to the opera house one more time.  It’s a beautiful walk along the harbour… I’m going to miss it. 

I’m going to miss everything. 

We were in the Red Room by 7:15, where everybody was taking pictures with each other, mostly using our phones.  I’m glad I got pictures with people because I haven’t done near enough of that since I got here because I was too busy enjoying myself!  Finally, at 7:50, we were called onstage to play the concert.  There was some cheering, then we all headed up to take our seats onstage in the concert hall. 

The audience was PACKED.  It was a sold-out concert, and boy can you fit a lot of people in that hall!  This concert was very different from other concerts, because instead of asking you to turn off your mobile devices and prohibiting photography and video, they encouraged you to take photos and video in order to remember it and show it to others.  I thought that was so interesting, and a neat idea for a YouTube Symphony Orchestra. 

The concert went without a hitch.  Everything went so well, all the pieces were wonderful, the soloists were on fire, and the ensemble was fantastic.  I’ve never felt so connected to people when I play in an orchestra as I have this week.  It was an incredible feeling, friends from 33 different countries who’d known each other only a week, all making music together.  Truly priceless. 

My favorites are still Britten and Stravinsky.  I sang the fugue a whole lot during break, of course.  After the Stravinsky, I felt the post-performance letdown starting to take over, but I couldn’t possibly let the tears come while I was onstage.  Schubert’s Rosamunde was our encore, and after that, it was over.  Really over… how strange.  Months of anticipation all leading up to this one week and this one concert, and it was over so incredibly fast. 

I did cry a bit once I got offstage, I couldn’t help myself… it was one of the best weeks of my life, and suddenly the moment we’d all been waiting for had come and gone.  What an incredible memory. 

AND I PLAYED IN THE CONCERT HALL AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

 After the concert, they had set up an after party in the Studio, where we had our first rehearsal.  I was in the first group they took over there.  There were streamers and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and festive decorations everywhere.  Music was playing, the bar was open, appetizers were everywhere, and the most wonderful musicians and friends were there to spend time with.  For the first little bit, we all just hung out and walked around talking to each other.  Then, they roped off a section of the floor and a CONTORTIONIST CAME DOWN FROM THE CEILING.  It was like Cirque du Soleil RIGHT THERE in front of us.  We went crazy, naturally, it was so cool!  It served as a great introduction to all the dancing that followed afterwards.  Everybody was having a fantastic time and it was the perfect way to wrap up an incredible week. 

The celebration ended at about 3:30 in the morning.  Boy, Google, you really know how to throw a party! 

Thank you for everything, YTSO.  It’s been absolutely unbelievable and I can’t believe it’s over.  I’ve made the most wonderful friends from all over the world and played some fabulous music with them.  I’m… speechless.  I miss you guys already.  Much love to you all and please keep in touch! 

See you, Sydney.  It’s been a blast! 

YTSO – Saturday, March 19th, 2011, Day 7 in Sydney, Australia

It’s funny how at the beginning, it felt like I’d been here forever and I’d known all these wonderful people for ages.  Now that it’s nearly the end, it feels like it’s been a couple of days.  I guess that’s a testimony to how amazing this experience has been… we’ve all been getting to know each other and becoming a real orchestra.  It’s incredible.  I wouldn’t give any of this up for the world. 

We had full orchestra dress rehearsal this morning starting at 9:30.  Well… it sort of started at 9:30.  That’s when we were in our seats, but like any tech rehearsal, there was a lot of waiting around while the techies figured out what they needed when for lights and audio.  We went quite late, finishing around 1:30 instead of the projected 12:30 end time, but it was definitely necessary to get everything in top condition for the concert at 3:00.  The concert was a matinee aimed at students and musicians who wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford to come to the full concert, but still wanted to see it live.  It also gave us and the tech crew a chance to perform for a critical audience and make sure everything is in top condition for the live streaming on Sunday.  I can only imagine how stressful it would be to run the show from the top with no stops for the first time at the Grand Finale! 

After dress rehearsal, Tristan, Anne-Rose, and I went walking down the harbour to find somewhere other than the Green Room to eat.  We found a cafĂ© that was very close to the opera house, and ate sandwiches that were far too expensive.  Our waiter did, however, notice our Sydney Opera House name tags and asked if we worked for the opera house.  We said we did, and he told us that there was a discount for SOH workers.  YESSSSS!!!!!  10% off! 

We walked the three minutes back to the opera house to get changed and warm up for the concert in the Red Room, which is the ‘green room’ for the concert hall.  As you might have guessed, it’s red (or at least the carpet is).  It’s LOUD in there when 97 people are all playing their instruments, so generally we never hear the announcements giving us our 10- or 5-minute call to the stage, heh. 

It’s kind of humorous just how many of the violists have black Bam cases.  I think at least half the section had them, and a couple of others had different Bam cases… awww, we MATCH! 

At about 2:50, we headed onstage for our first YTSO full orchestra concert.  We were joined by the Sydney Children’s Choir, who performed Grainger’s Arrival on Platform Humlet with us, and also sang some Mozart with opera star Renee Fleming via webcast.  Everything went really well, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to perform for an audience before the live broadcast.  It was longer than I had anticipated it being, about 2 hours and 45 minutes, because there were a few videos shown as well as all the music.  It gave the audience a chance to connect a little more with the musicians and get to know them a little better.  Everything went pretty much without a hitch, which was wonderful.  Funnily enough, it didn’t really feel like a concert.  It felt like a dress rehearsal, and there just so happened to be a couple thousand people watching us…
After the concert, we all headed back to the hotel to get changed for the jam session at the Basement, a bar that is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  There were three seatings for dinner since they couldn’t fit all 101 of us in there at once, and mine was at 7:30.  Nina told us that in the YTSO 2009, something similar was thrown together at the last minute and was a HUGE success, so they figured they’d make a bigger deal of it this year.  Basically, it’s a chance for YTSOers to show off what else they do as well as jam with other musicians from the orchestra.  I had signed up for a 5-minute spot to play some fiddle, but I didn’t have a violin, just my viola.  It would have been okay to do it on viola, but I thought it would be better on an actual fiddle since that’s generally how I play fiddle tunes.  Ronald had his violin with him, so I asked if I could borrow it for when I played.  He let me use it, but reminded me jokingly that he had a concert the next day, so to please be careful with it…

First, the orchestra’s pianist played some Chopin and Liszt, which was followed by the cello quartets playing the Beatles (woo!).  I was up next, so I played some Cape Breton tunes and told them that if they felt like dancing to please do so, and sure enough somebody hopped up on the stage!  I had a great time up there.  A few other people played after me, including Stefan, the soloist for the Mendelssohn concerto in the concert (he played the Bach E major prelude and it was excellent!), Paulo (one of the soloists for Mothership, from Brazil) played electric guitar, Valeria (from Russia) improvised on viola with Paulo, Marco (from Venezuela) played some Piazzola on flute, accompanied by the YTSO percussion section, and Ali (another soloist, living in New York) played an electric violin piece he wrote after a dream about Australia.  Everybody was fantastic and it was so great to see what else people can do! 

The jam session came after the performances.  They had put together a little jazz combo including John on bass (one of the Mothership soloists, from Australia), Feargus (percussionist from the UK), and anyone else who felt inclined to join them.  Qantas held a competition a couple of weeks ago in which the prize was to come to Sydney and play at the jam session for the YTSOers and anyone else who bought a ticket.  An electric guitar player won, so he was up first.  He was great, everybody enjoyed it very much.  A few other people got up and played as well: Valeria, Federico (a violinist from Uruguay), Ali, Marco, Su (guzheng soloist from China) and more.  It was very loud, but so much fun.  I had such a wonderful time with everybody… what a great idea. 

YTSO – Friday, March 18th, 2011, Day 6 in Sydney, Australia

After what’s becoming my customary huge breakfast in the morning, we headed over to rehearsal for 10:00 instead of the usual 9:30.  Rehearsal being later did not, however, mean I slept in any more. :P The weather has been somewhat disappointing, unfortunately, it’s been sunny in the mornings but then clouds over and generally is pouring by the time the afternoon is done.  I think the cruise on Sunday with the gorgeous blue sky and bright sun gave me unrealistic expectations for the weather.  Not that I’d have had much time to enjoy it, but it would have been nice to hit the pool in the sunshine.  Ah well, next time! :P

We rehearsed with the full orchestra until 1:00.  MTT gave us a new piece, an entr’acte from Rosamunde by Schubert, as an encore.  It will be dedicated to the victims of natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.  Everything sounds pretty fantastic… I love all of these pieces.  Every single time we play the Britten (because usually it’s last before we take a break), I sing the fugue theme the whole break.  It’s either that or the Danse Infernale from Firebird that I sing, but generally it’s the fugue.  I love it.  The piccolo is so freaking CUTE when it states it for the first time, and as the fugue unfolds it gets more dramatic.  What a masterpiece… it’s an incredible piece of music.  I don’t think the ending could be any more epic. :D

In the afternoon, we had dress rehearsal for the string ensemble concert.  I only played in two of the pieces, the Tchaikovsky (4th movement of Serenade for Strings) and the Jacobsen (an arrangement of a Persian piece, which is AMAZING and I love playing it), so I had a longer break.  Most music for string orchestra is written for less instruments than we have (there are something like 33 violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos, and 8 basses, but for most pieces I think we used, so most people only played in one or two pieces (except Matt, a bass player from the US, who was somehow wrangled into playing every single piece in the program!).  I ate in the Green Room in the opera house after full orchestra, then I went outside to enjoy the warm (if cloudy) weather before I walked back to the hotel.  I gave Mom a phone call, which she hadn’t expected because she thought I was rehearsing, and gave her an update on what I’d been doing.  I had brought my concert blacks with me because I expected to just stay at the SOH from 9:30 am until the end of the concert, but I took them back and hung them up before changing and heading back.  It was nice to have a little break for a while, I had had afternoon rehearsals every single day except Sunday.  I took a shower and even had a little nap before going back to play.  Ahhh… lovely.

Dress rehearsal ended at 5:00, at which point I went outside again to take some pictures of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney skyline.  I hung out in the dressing rooms backstage before the concert in the Playhouse, which I think seats about 300 people.  The concert was sold out, and the audience was really enthusiastic.  It went very well, particularly considering we’d only been rehearsing about half a week with people we’d never met before!  

After the concert, we headed back to the hotel to get changed and eat some dinner.  The hotel’s buffet is unbelievable.  Everything is delicious and there’s always so much food… boy, do they ever take good care of us.  I could get used to this. ;) After supper, the viola section met to go out together with Roger, our mentor, in celebration of being awesome.  We went to a German pub not too far from the hotel and talked about everything from university to summer programs to how Roger got the job in the Sydney Symphony.  He’s originally from the UK and played in the London Symphony.  He said it’s VERY demanding playing with them.  Often they’ll have two rehearsals, then a concert, then a recording session, and it just goes on.  If you’re going to play in an orchestra like that, then it’s basically your life.  There isn’t much time for anything else.  It was really interesting to hear about what it’s like playing in one of the most famous orchestras in the world! 

The string ensemble concert (as well as the other ensemble concerts, percussion, brass, and woodwinds) will be up on YouTube in the near future, so you should definitely check it out.  One of the pieces, Ascending Bird (the Persian piece), will be played in the final concert.  Keep watching for more information!  

Friday, 18 March 2011

YTSO - March 17th, 2011, Day 5 in Sydney, Australia

As I was typing in the title for this post, I was trying to figure out what day it was.  I looked up in the corner of the computer and saw that it was the 17th today, so I figured it must have been the 16th yesterday.  I then realized that I had already posted about my day on the 16th, so I was very confused... I must have made a BIG mistake!  Oh yeah... Canada is a day behind... it IS the 17th.  Heh.

I've been forgetting some cool stuff that happened in the past few days.  Two days ago, as we were playing the Mendelssohn (which is conducted by somebody else), MTT came and sat RIGHT BEHIND ME when I was playing.  I hadn't noticed, but Mauricio nudged me and said "Look behind you!", which I did, and in my brain I was going WHAT OH NO DON'T MAKE ANY MISTAKES SARAH

Whew.  Crazy. :D

So, this morning was three hours of orchestra rehearsal, but today we were in the concert hall!  It's a pretty different space to rehearse in, it's much less dry than the Studio because a) there's lots of wood, and b) it's huge.  It's beautiful in there!  About halfway through, some media people came in and we played them some Stravinsky and Britten.

After full orchestra, a couple of friends (Omar from the US, viola, and Tristan, violin, from Paris) and I went for a walk to see what we could find for lunch.  Everything on the harbour is really expensive, though, so we ended up just going back to the Green Room in the opera house.  Someone from a radio station found me up there and asked if I'd be available to do a radio interview.  I agreed to do it at 3:00 since there was a string ensemble rehearsal at 2:00, so I went and played some Tchaikovsky and Jacobsen.  I went back up to the Green Room to talk to Mike, the radio guy, and play some Bach for him as well.  We talked about the viola, about how I got into YTSO, and my experience so far.

I had planned on going back to the hotel to the pool, but it was kind of cloudy, so I decided to go to the tower with Anne-Rose.  On our way down to the lobby, we met another group of people who were going to Wildlife World.  We figured we'd go with them, so we walked to Darling Harbour with Marta (viola, Poland), Marzena (violin, Poland), Leyan (violin, USA), and David (cello, Spain/Austria).  Once we got there, we found that it was 15 minutes until closing!  We were disappointed, but at least we got to hang out with each other for a while and see the city a bit, too.

And, it just so happens that Leyan holds the 2007 world record for solving a Rubik's Cube in the shortest time.  I asked him about it, and he agreed to show us.  Have a look! 

Anne-Rose and I headed back to the hotel so we could go to the Woodwind Ensemble Concert at 6:00.  It was excellent, all the performers were wonderful!  Some of the mentors performed as well, which was fantastic.  Everybody was amazing!

The concert ended around 7:45, so we walked back to the hotel for supper.  Nicolaj, a violist from Denmark, gave a presentation after supper about health for musicians.  A physiotherapist joined him to talk about injuries and keeping your body healthy.  Nicolaj had a serious shoulder injury that meant he could hardly move his arm, but he's just fine now.  He shared what happened to him and the physiotherapist gave some suggestions to us about posture and lifestyle.  It was very interesting and informative.  Thanks, Nicolaj! 

Since it was St. Patrick's Day, I had planned to go out and celebrate a bit, but I was SOOO tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open.  Apparently it was crazy out there, though, even before it was dark there were tons of excited people in green shirts and big hats.

Happy St. Patty's Day, everybody!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

YTSO - March 16th, 2011, Day 4 in Sydney, Australia

Business as usual, haha.  Got up, ate, and headed over to the opera house for rehearsal in the morning.  MTT was happy with our progress, which was very good to hear!  After rehearsal, a few friends and I went to do an interview with the YTSO people for the channel.  If you haven't already, you should check out the daily highlights on, they will give you a better idea of what we've been up to! 

After full orchestra rehearsal was lunch, then a string ensemble rehearsal for the String concert Friday night.  I only play in two pieces since most of the pieces are for small string orchestra, the Ascending Bird arranged by Colin Jacobsen (it's a Persian folk song, a very cool piece!) and the 4th movement of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.  In between the pieces, when other ones were being rehearsed, I went outside and walked around the Opera House while talking to Mom on the phone.  It was HOT outside, but very windy. 

The weather in Sydney seems to be a bit temperamental.  It will be beautiful and sunny in the morning, then cloudy and windy in the afternoon, and by the evening it was pouring rain.  I went to the Sydney Symphony concert at the SOH in the evening, and at intermission it was raining really hard!  Luckily, it wasn't too bad afterwards so when I walked back I wasn't soaked. 

The symphony concert started at 6:30, which is much earlier than concerts in Canada start.  They played a Mozart symphony, Stravinsky's Ode, Tchaikovsky's Little Russian symphony, as well as a commissioned bassoon concerto.  It was a great concert, and the concert hall was PACKED with people, even in the choir seats around the stage.  It's such a beautiful venue with amazing sound, and I can't wait to play a concert there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

After the concert, I went back to the hotel as fast as I could so I could make it in time for supper.  I did make it in time, and there were still a few people there to hang out with.  We did some youtubing after supper and watched the daily highlights, as well as a few of our favorite videos.  This was one we watched:

I could not stop laughing.  So great. 

Also, as I walked back from the concert, I noticed the lovely projections on the opera house sails.  Here's a picture:

YTSO - March 15th, 2011, Day 3 in Sydney, Australia

Well, it was another great night's sleep in the hotel's amazingly comfy beds (woke up a few times, but that's to be expected when you're trying to sleep when your body is used to being at school).  I bounced out of bed, was ready in about 20 minutes (!!!) and went down to the delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel.  We had to be up a little earlier today since we were taking a picture of the orchestra on the steps of the Sydney Opera House at 8:30 am.  I took the shuttle bus over there with my friend Anne-Rose, a violinist from Holland.  Once we got there, everybody lined up with their instruments on the steps of the opera house and stayed there for a while as the cameras got ready.  We took some of us just smiling, others of us waving, and then MTT suggested we play the Vivaldi a minor all together so we could be playing for some of the pictures.  All the string players went at it, and then he stopped and said "Can we get some brass and woodwinds in there as well?  Play some crazy stuff..."  We then played the Vivaldi a minor violin concerto complete with glissandos, blasts, and squeaks.  MTT's next request was for some of the string players to play either down a fifth or up a minor second, along with everything the wind players were doing. 


After the pictures, it was time for rehearsal.  We sounded a lot better than we did yesterday!  Rehearsal ended at 12:30, then we had an hour and a half more at 1:30, then sectionals at 3:30.  WEOOO.  Long day, but definitely a good one.  The violas had another great sectional with Roger in the foyer of the concert hall, a beautiful space with royal purple carpet and a lovely view of the harbour.  He did, however, suggest we sit away from the window so we weren't distracted by the view!

This experience has reinforced the idea for me that playing in an orchestra is not just about following the conductor and playing the right notes at the right time.  So much of it is listening to what else is going on in order to stay together and to start making music.  I really feel like this orchestra is at a level that we can do that, even though it's been such a short period of time. 

Everything is fantastic here, really... the music is wonderful, the people are delightful, and just... wow, everything is so great! :D We've all been taking pictures with our new phones, and I took a video just before rehearsal, so have a look at the space:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

YTSO - March 14th, 2011, Day 2 in Sydney, Australia

Yesterday was the first day of rehearsals.  I pretty much leapt out of bed (I had a fairly good sleep considering the plane ride the night before), got ready, and headed down to breakfast.  They had SO MUCH FOOD of every kind.  They're taking really good care of us, wow! Some of us exchanged phone numbers, which is a bit of a funny story since none of us could figure out what our numbers were.  We were given cards with the numbers on it, but the Sharpie had rubbed off most of it, and when we looked on the actual phones it said "Unknown".  I could still read the number on my card, so I texted it to myself so I could tell people what it was, then gave people the number.  When they called me, I would save their number and then tell them what it was.  Kind of complicated, but it worked quite nicely!  We did find an easier way, though, we just Facebooked all the numbers to each other.

After breakfast, we made our way over to the Sydney Opera House for our first rehearsal.  There was a shuttle bus that could have taken us, but a few friends and I figured we'd walk since it was so beautiful outside.  I think it was about 23 degrees outside in the morning... mmmmmmm.  We headed to the Studio, our rehearsal space, which is a theatre in the round.  After warming up a bit and tuning, it was time to start rehearsing.  We started with the Britten (Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra), then moved on to Stravinsky's Firebird.  We also played the Berlioz and the Grainger, which both have particularly nice viola parts.  Everybody is really enthusiastic and they're all wonderful musicians.  We all had to get used to MTT's style of conducting, but once we got it he was very clear to follow.  I'm so looking forward to the rest of the week and polishing all this repertoire!

After rehearsal, the viola section went for lunch in the Green Room before our sectional at 1:30.  Our sectional was with Roger Benedict, principal viola of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  It was a really interesting sectional, he had lots to say and it was very helpful to have some time together as a section.

I was starting to feel the jetlag catching up to me after that, so some of the violists, DJ (our principal), Caroline, and I went for coffee at a place near the hotel.  I think we all felt a bit more awake after that!  I felt like exploring a little more, so I went for a walk with my Venezuelan friend Ronald.  We found the Sydney Conservatorium, which is a beautiful building that looks like a castle, as well as the Botanic Gardens (but we had to leave after half an hour or so because they wanted to close).  I went back to the hotel and relaxed before supper, then went down to the buffet.  Mmmm... sooo much good food.  And of course good people. 

A few friends and I had planned on going out with a bunch of other YTSOers after supper, but by the time we got down there they had already left.  So, we hung out in the lobby for a bit and talked, and then we were joined by some other musicians and went for another walk around Sydney.  We all practiced speaking Australian (for example: "Ka" instead of "car"), which was good fun.

G'day, mates!

By the way... you can check out for daily video updates!