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ASQ Poland Recap

ASQ in Poland

Outside the High School for Music in Krakow

It would be pointless to attempt to conceal that it’s more than two weeks now since the ASQ’s return from our invigorating, unforgettable and soon to be repeated (one hopes!) Polish tour.

Untoward ending:

UNITED AIRLINES dropped the ball in canceling our non-stop return UA 902 from Frankfurt to San Francisco with less than 12 hours electronic notice while failing to protect transit options (5 full-fare paying passengers, including the cello). Lufthansa from Warsaw to Frankfurt and ended up coming home from there in an otherwise un-coordinated and free-form manner through a variety of Munich, Washington Dulles and Houston, arriving in some cases without baggage. United Airlines did not make the mistake of emailing their usual solicitation for our opinion about “our most recent UAL itinerary” – no surprise there…

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Last minute sound check un the Sukkenice in Krakow. Just a “small” sample of the stunning art on display at the National Gallery.

Picking up on the continuation of our trip…

The Gdansk concert at the Baltic Philharmonie was memorable in every sense. The audience was wonderfully attentive, including many children and students. I was pleased to introduce our encore of the Shostakovich 1st Prelude and Fugue (Zak’s transcription) with my heartfelt appreciation of our short but unforgettable visit to this arresting Baltic city and, in particular, my personal gratitude for almost 3 hours spent in the brand new European Solidarity Centre’s Museum. For a very recently published and related article, check out Rick Steve’s syndicated feature article. I heartily endorse his experience as described therein. I certainly plan to return.

Sandy's Birthday Bash

Lining up some of the flavored vodkas to “help” celebrate Sandy’s birthday

Our post-concert celebration at a nearby up-market hotel and restaurant complex involved some local vodka as well as a selection of local beers and an excellent variety of traditional Piroshki (wonderful stuffed pastries with typically savory combinations of spicy vegetables and sometimes meat too). Simple but very satisfying and entirely appropriate. I was personally gratified to forge a spontaneous friendship with a wonderful Polish cellist, Krzysztof Karpeta, principal of the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra. We sat up until 1:30am trying each other’s cellos, playing Bach while comparing our respective bows and instruments.

The ASQ and our film entourage had an early departure the next morning but we did not escape the touching requests for autographs from our devoted cab drivers who expertly delivered us to the Gdansk train station in good time for our express train, bound for Vienna with a stop in Warsaw — where we disembarked right on schedule at half-past noon. Somehow we came unglued from each other, straggling through an improbable variety of alternative exits from the platform and surfacing in all the wrong places – including in nearby shopping centers! Finally after nearly 20 minutes of unnecessary stress and strife, we congregated in the station arrival hall and convened once again with our trusted fleet of matching black BMWs, spiriting us away once more to the Regent Warsaw Hotel and just a couple of hours to unpack and nap before plunging back into our anticipated rehearsal madness.

Bernd Musing of Arcus Bows with Sany

Sandy with Francis Kuttner’s Egger cello and Bernd Musing of Arcus Bows. Bernd is “helping” decide which Arcus bow to use for the Brahms Piano Quintet in Sunday’s lunchtime recital at the Royal Castle.

A 10 minute chauffeured trip back downtown to the Philharmonic delivered us to our back-to-back rehearsals with our old friend, Spanish clarinetist Joan-Enric Lluna freshly arrived from Geneva — and then on to our “newest” best friend, the renowned pianist, Boris Berman. We were all done by 7:30 allowing enough time to move on to the evening’s recital of Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert in the adjacent large hall of the Philharmonic by Chinese pianist, Zee Zee. Instead however, after a long travel-day for everyone and on top of two back-to-back rehearsals, we crumpled. Back at the hotel, we were greeted by one of the ASQ’s favorite bow-makers, Bernd Müsing of Arcus Bows, who had just arrived by car from Würzburg. We enjoyed a quick and fun supper together and then turned-in early for a much needed good night’s sleep.

The last two days of our Polish tour began early and featured a pair of noon-time concerts in the breathtaking mirrored and acoustically sparkling rooms of the Royal Castle, the whole of which was entirely re-constructed between 1977 and 1989 according to the paintings of Canaletto (painted between 1770-80). We performed both concerts on the Ellen M. Egger string quartet made in 1987 by instrument maker, Francis Kuttner, and Arcus S-8/9 bows by our bow-maker, Bernd Müsing, both or whom were present for both performances in this unique space. What a treat for everyone present!!

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Post-concert dinner at the Hotel Copernicus, Krakow

We loved our reunion with Joan-Enric, as well as our new-minted collaboration with Boris. Such kindred musical-spirits are unmistakable and irresistible, especially when encountered under such happy circumstances. These were “festival” performances indeed, with creative connections to be revisited soon and often. Saturday wound up with an elegant reception hosted by the Ambassador of the United Kingdom at the Philharmonic. Sunday’s finale was a distinguished reception, hosted at the residence of the Spanish Ambassador, in honor of our collaborator, clarinetist Joan Enric Lluna, and of the distinguished young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno who performed the Shostakovich Concerto #1 that very evening with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Another great program under the direction of the young Armenian conductor, Sergey Smbatyan. What a festival and great way to remember our last evening in Warsaw.

Alexander String Quartet in Poland

In our own shadow in the lobby at the Jaggielonian Library, site of the specially curated manuscripts and scores

This trip to Poland was exceptional – everyone agrees – and how often does that happen?

We’ll hope to return before long — certainly we made wonderful new friends and were welcomed and assisted by exceptionally talented and experienced administrators who’s polished efforts behind the scenes make it possible for so many artists of all stripes, including the ASQ, to step forward and shine. Our gratitude goes to everyone at the Ludwig van Beethoven Association. Their efforts helped reveal the beauty and urgency at the core of the great music of Beethoven and his successors — including many Polish giants — to so many contemporary audiences today.

Our thanks to US Artists International who with funds provided by the N.E.A. and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped support the ASQ’s trip to the 19th Annual Easter Beethoven Festival. Thanks also to Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and to San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music for their help and guidance. Also to the Krakow-San Francisco Sister City Commission who graciously provided helpful advice and support and to the DocFilm Institute at SFSU for following and documenting an unforgettable tour. Lastly to all of our Polish friends and supporters, you have our enduring admiration, our gratitude and a special place in our hearts.

ASQ April East Coast Tour

This week, the ASQ prepares to head back to the East Coast for concerts from April 18-26 in Pennsylvania and New York!

Alexander String Quartet

Saturday
April 18, 2015
7:30 pm
Alexander Chamber Music Society
Ann’s Choice Chapel
Warminster, Pennsylvania

Tel: (215) 357-8449

Program:
Mozart Quartet in B-flat Major, KV 589, “Prussian”
Shostakovich Quartet No. 4 in
D Major, Op. 83
Beethoven
Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131

Thursday
April 23, 2015
2:45 pm
Aaron Silberman Concert Series
Baruch College, City University of New York
Engelman Recital Hall
New York, New York

Tel: (646) 312-5073
Web: www.baruch.cuny.edu/
or www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac/

Program:
Mozart Quartet in B-flat Major, KV 589, “Prussian”
Brahms Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51 No. 1

Friday
April 24, 2015
7:30 pm
Baruch Performing Arts Center
Baruch College, City University of New York
Engelman Recital Hall
New York, New York

Tel: (646) 312-5073
Web: www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac/calendar/

Program:
Mozart Quartet in F Major, KV 590, “Prussian”
Shostakovich Quartet No. 4 in
D Major, Op. 83
Beethoven
Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131

Saturday
April 25, 2015
8:00 pm
Emelin Theatre
Mamaroneck, New York

Tel: (914) 698-0098
Web: www.emelin.org/events-view/classical

Program:
Mozart Quartet in B-flat Major, KV 589, “Prussian”
Shostakovich Quartet No. 4 in
D Major, Op. 83
Beethoven
Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131

Sunday
April 26, 2015
4:00 pm
Howland Chamber Music Circle
Howland Cultural Center
Beacon, New York

Tel: (845) 297-9243
Web: www.howlandmusic.org/

Program:
Brahms String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36 with violist, Toby Appeland cellist, David Requiro
Brahms String Sextet in B-flat Major, Op. 18 with violist, Toby Appel and cellist, David Requiro

On The Road in Poland

Packed into our van en route to Rzeszow with Hannah and Robert a warren, our DocFilm Institute team.

Packed into our van en route to Rzeszow with Hannah and Robert a warren, our DocFilm Institute team.

The trip to Rzeszow was challenging but fun. Our departure from Krakow’s Hotel Pod Roza was delayed because of a street marathon which route ran right in front of our hotel. The fact that the route was evidently a shortish circular one bringing the runners around every 15 minutes or so only dawned on us after a couple of passes. Not to worry – it was an otherwise lazy day, the first in fact to date on this itinerary where we merely had to travel. The Sunday morning traffic was otherwise light but having packed up the van – a virtuoso tour-de-force by our driver “Kaz,” (for Kazimir), we shoehorned ourselves into the remaining space for the 2 hour high-speed drive. We were headed down to the southeastern extremity of Poland in the southern Carpathian mountain district, a popular vacation destination directly bordering with both Ukraine and Slovakia. Our hotel comprised both very modern wing incorporating a convention facility and was connected to a perfectly maintained communist era block.

The "old" pre-1980 section of the Prezidentie Hotel where we spent two nights.

The “old” pre-1980 section of the Prezidentie Hotel where we spent two nights.

We stayed in the latter while the film crew were established in the modern center. The contrast was truly insightful, providing a glimpse into the local economy as well as a reminder of how far this country has come since the late 80’s. Rzeszow is proudly possessed of a beautiful modern Filharmoni complex where we were delighted to perform the next night. Meanwhile we each explored the nearby old-city center as well as some of the hostelries and taverns surrounding the old town hall square. The juxtaposition of at least three ultramodern shopping centers in this small city, alongside the mostly pedestrianized historic city center and a healthy supply of communist residential cinderblock style housing high-rises presented a multi-faceted impression. The audience for our program the next evening was rather younger than many and the hall memorable for it’s offset geometry and superb acoustics. Without a printed program (by design), our concert was narrated by a gracious local TV celebrity. She introduced the quartet, providing a description and brief analysis of each work between pieces. Once more we received a standing ovation and were delighted to offer Shostakovich before heading back to our hotel to change and venture back into the old city center on foot to enjoy a beer and some fine traditional Polish soup. As has been the case for many of these concerts, the start time was 7pm, quite early and thankfully allowing time to venture out afterwards for a bite to eat and a little socializing – sometimes even with the locals.

IMG_3633We continued early on Tuesday morning, leaving a half hour earlier than originally planned for our trip to Warsaw. Kaz once more chauffeured his trusty 8 passenger Fiat people mover and once again demonstrated his stunning skills in packing so much sound and video equipment into a vehicle in addition to the quartet’s essential baggage and instruments. Sequence is everything and based on his previous experience, he tweaked the plan slightly and managed to make a little more room for this almost 6 hour trip. In the absence of a motorway route to Warsaw, we encountered motorized farm equipment and tractors aw well as 12-16 wheeled commercial freight trucks on our northbound route. It was a thoroughly entertaining ride, affording a little time for napping, catching up and a break for lunch and a BP service station which offered a superb restaurant quality meal in remarkably short time. Traffic intensified as we approached Warsaw and our luxurious hotel – the Regent Warsaw. We were happy to install ourselves for an hour or so into our new digs and shake out some of the road-warrior kinks and cobwebs. Our rides to the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall awaited at 5:20 precisely – a fleet of three elegant black BMWs taking us to our appointed rehearsal with Russian/American pianist Boris Berman. We arrived a few minutes early, in time to catch the tail-end of an impressive rehearsal of Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw, programmed in the Festival for Saturday evening. It’s a performance scheduled for the main hall of the Philharmonic for Saturday evening that we certainly wont want to miss!

For our own rehearsal, we had been eagerly anticipated working with Mr. Berman. We have known Boris by reputation for many years – a world-renowned artist and pedagogue, he is one of the many treasures of Yale’s School of Music, although an appointment there post-dating our own association with that august institution in the early 1980’s. This was our first meeting and as is bound to happen from time to time, he was not feeling well. Nevertheless he put his discomfort aside and soldiered through as we enjoyed getting to know each other through Brahms Op. 34. At times it was difficult to know who was suffering more, Boris or Zak who also has been wrestling with a serious cough/cold but the music-making was all there as we discovered a shared and sympathetic affinity in our approach to this beautiful work. After essentially a play though with just a few comments and tweaks, we called the rehearsal, heading alternatvely back to the Regent for most and for me, a chance to sit down with our miraculous “Mira,” the lovely and essential coordinator of all things logistical. Over coffee, we reviewed the schedule for the next two days including train schedules, logistics personnel, ground transportation and so forth and then found time to drop in on the opening of the evening’s Festival concert in the Main hall of the Philharmonic. The program presented the music of Mascagni on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of his death, performed by the Polish Orchestra conducted by Massimo Caldi. The orchestra, the music and the venue impressed this listener powerfully. What a sound and what gorgeous artistry to celebrate a frequently sidelined composer!

The trip to Gdansk began once more with our dedicated fleet of cars taking us to the central station in Warsaw where we had an appointment to “met our maker” – the luthier I mean, in the person of Francis Kuttner, maker of the fabulous quartet of Strad model instruments that we play on, better known as the Ellen M. Egger Quartet. Francis has been in Paris on business and was delighted to make this excursion to join us for a part of our exciting tour of Poland. Together we boarded the express to Gdansk for the 3 hour trip to the historic city and home of the Solidarity movement. We were met by a pair of cabs which took us swoftly around and then into the old city and our lovely hotel adjoining the Gdansk Baltic Philharmonic Hall which sits on an island all its own. We checked into our rooms with just enough for a quick and delicious lunch before being whisked off again to the Music Academy. We gave a four hour masterclass for the string, piano and wind students of this fine institution. The Academy graciously provided refreshments for the afternoon, no doubt to ensure we didn’t nod-off but the level of playing was so arresting and constantly engaging that there was no chance of any such distraction. The generous supply of tempting chocolate biscuits, coffee and tea were shared with the students, faculty and audience alike as we all celebrated the wonderful chamber repertoire, terrific instruction and talented hardworking students. What a great afternoon!

Sandy's Birthday Bash

Sandy’s Birthday Bash!

The evening was ours to enjoy without encumbrance and we took the opportunity to relax and explore separately and together, eating fine Baltic cuisine and sampling excellent Polish beer and even a vodka (possibly two)? The next day’s rehearsal in the Philharmonic Chamber Hall was a revelation of just how fine a simple room can sound when the materials and proportions are just right. Seating just about 200 people, the room was am acoustic dream come true. Moreover, the hall was all of a 30 second walk from our hotel… how convenient is that? Zak even sprinted across the cobbled courtyard in the light rain without a coat or umbrella! The moisture was welcome for ourselves and expecially the instruments too which all seemed to enjoy the bonus humidity. Zak had spent the early afternoon with Francis making some adjustments to the setup of his fiddle and Paul too had taken advantage of a few minutes of some focused attention from our favorite luthier on this viola. all in all, such a picturesque setting surrounded by water and ancient maritime buildings and vessels, this has proven an unforgettably beautiful venue.

Sandy Blogging

Writing this post

To add dimension to this excursion, I had spent nearly three hours that morning at the landmark Solidarity Museum, a stunning monument, memorial and historic informational institution providing testimony to Poland’s struggles of the past century. The beautiful and inspiring new building designed by a Gdansk based firm Fort Group, was officially opened just last year. As my photos attest, though they hardly do justice, the architectural structure which houses a library, offices (of President Walesa and many more), restaurant, gift shops, conference, lecture and meeting facilities and an impressive indoor garden is stunning. The exhibition itself is dynamic, and engrossing from the start. I can hardly say to finish since after three hours, I felt I was only beginning to grasp the significance of the story that is being told. It’s a place demanding a return visit for which I’ll allow even more time.

Gallery

From Gdansk to Rzeszow!

Zak Checks in From Poland

 

 

Poland Continued

Sandy Wilson

Sandy writing this blog on his birthday!

Our arrival in Krakow just after dark on Tuesday evening was spot on time and every bit of baggage arrived with us too — what a relief! Clearing customs without incident, we loaded up a pair of cabs while enjoying the welcome chilly breeze. It was brisk but refreshing with the unmistakable waft of spring in the air. Having spent what amounted to 24 hours hermetically sealed-up while transiting in and between planes and various airport lounges, the relief of fresh open-air was welcome. The twilight on our approach had enabled us just to make out the greening fields and red-roofs of the surrounding arable fields and farmsteads; something of the southern Polish topography that we’ll look forward to enjoying later in our visit when much of our ongoing itinerary within the country will involve travel by car in daylight. Meanwhile however, the short 20 minute taxi-ride into the city yielded some entertaining banter as the various quartet and film-crew members entertained each other, beginning to relax after a long day’s travel. We volunteered a few serious but mostly silly interpretations, on the unfamiliar language on the suburban signage.

Balloons over Krákow

Balloons over Krákow

The approach to our hotel in the Historic Quarter involved a clockwise circuit around the traces of the old city wall, weaving between trams, busses, cabs and pedestrians, yielding impressive views of the floodlit castle to our left and the various steeples, spectacular gables, towers and landmarks of the old town to our right. We eventually turned off and wended our way in toward the heart of the city on ever-narrowing cobbled streets giving way finally to a pedestrian only precinct and the intersection of our own Pod Roza Hotel on the Florianska street. Our welcoming and attentive logistics personnel from the Beethoven Association stayed with us just long enough to oversee the check-in to our gracious accommodations and we were left to settle in for the night.

A sumptuous breakfast in the hotel’s light-filled winter-garden dining room was the perfect way to start our first full day in Poland and, a FULL day it certainly was. We elected to walk over with our guide to the local music high school, just 6 minutes by foot, for a rehearsal from 12-3. Our concerns were primarily to touch up on the problematic spots in the demanding program for the first evening’s concert and to ensure that we all felt rested, that the instruments (and the musicians) were settled and acclimatized to the new weather, and that there were no nasty surprises. Everything checked out well and with that under our belts, we returned to rest for a while at the hotel and get a bite to eat. We dressed for the concert and headed out again at 5:30 to walk all of 3 minutes in the opposite direction now, to the beautiful Sukiennice which houses the National Museum of Krakow and where we were to play in the spectacular Cloth Hall.

The Alexander String Quartet and Maestro and Mrs. Slatkin

The Alexander String Quartet with Maestro Leonard and Mrs. Slatkin

What a venue! The stunning 19th Century canvases of Polish artwork which surrounded performers and audience alike left us speechless. Seeing such an overwhelming array of exquisite work on such a monumental scale, all by artists who’s names remain unknown to most of us was a humbling, almost intimidating experience. We knew we had to give our utmost in this setting but in that, we were met by the most welcoming and distinguished of audiences we might ever wish for. The assembled audience included many celebrated Polish and American dignitaries, renowned academics, musicians, students and musicologists and music lovers.  Included in the very front row were US Consul General, Ellen Germain, Krzysztof and Mme Elzbieta Penderecki who is the President of the Beethoven Association, and our presenters, as well as guests, Maestro Leonard and Mrs Slatkin.

It was an illustrious gathering to be sure in a stunning setting and happily, much of the evening was recorded and captured on film. The program was warmly received and we were delighted to offer as an encore, a transcription by Zak Grafilo of the first of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues in C Major. It was a relief to have completed the first program of our tour on the first day of the trip. It was probably the most physically and mentally challenging undertaking of the trip, dealing with travel fatigue while conjuring the extra concentration and focus demanded to deliver the challenging program well. 

With just a moment to walk the 3 minutes to our hotel where we secured our instruments, we were driven to the beautiful home of US Consul General, Ellen Germain, who hosted a relaxed and gracious reception in her Krakow home in honor of the ASQ and the Beethoven Association. It was a lovely gathering, providing an opportunity to unwind and visit in the company of many new and even some old friends, while celebrating the wonderful music that brought us all together! The “Sister-City” communities of Krakow and San Francisco seemed particularly well-met in this lovely and convivial setting, reflecting on a great deal in common. Our sincere thanks to Mme. Germain.

Another super breakfast kicked off our 2nd full day. Quartet members and SFState DocFilm Institute colleagues congregated spontaneously, even if it seemed by previous appointment. An important contributing factor to our coordinated orientation must be that we have quickly discovered that Krakow is a city of superb coffee — and pastries — a destination could surely not be outdone by the likes of Vienna or Florence. We all seemed inclined to linger over yet another coffee as we plotted the activities of the day ahead. My own voluntary assignment was to swing through a traditional street market with cameraman Warren Haack. Whenever visiting a new city, country or culture, I tend to search out authentic street life featuring the local residents, check out the less “spectacular” land-mark churches, synagogs, mosques, anything to escape the kind of self-conscious tourist-centric historic city center where our hotel is based. I had scoped it out the day before so we were able to efficiently navigate the scenic five minute walk through the northern ancient city-wall gate, off the Florianska, finding our way into the compound of tented market stalls. Here is where everyday transactions flourish among farmers, merchants and peddlers of all colors dealing in the everyday necessities of Krakow’s city dwellers. The exposure afforded tremendous insights into the local economy, the standard of living and the common values of Poland’s real people — not the movers and shakers but rather the salt of the earth kind of folks who make an honest living, sometimes in the most unsophisticated of ways. As a Brit., born in the mid-20th century and who came of age, studying, living and working in western Europe, I was particularly interested in and affected by my colleague Warren’s reactions to the scene. Warren is close to my age and although very well traveled in the southern hemisphere, this was his first visit to Europe. We found ourselves compelled to take frequent off-camera breaks to debrief each other on our impressions of this lively street scene. Warren’s spot on assessment in my view was that these people are hardworking, live close to the land and within their means, eating wonderfully fine fresh food – (and incidentally, consistently non-GMO).

Returning to the hotel to pickup instruments and colleagues, we made our way to the fine music-centric high school where we had been invited to conduct an open rehearsal in the superb atelier concert hall. We set up on the floor with the audience (rather than elevated and removed on the stage) amongst the assembled students faculty and neighbors who came to watch us rehearse our program for the 2nd evening’s concert. It was a delight, during our frequent breaks to field lots of perceptive questions and comments from fellow musicians young and old, whether experienced or less so, whilst we got on with the essential work at hand, hosted within a generous and enthusiastic cocoon of curious and supportive well-wishers. No time to loose, we headed back once more to the hotel to rest briefly, snack and change for our second evening at the Sukiennice. A very different and somewhat unusual program for Thursday, we featured early and late Beethoven, including the Op. 131 to close the 1st half! It was was a “first” for us to bookend this monumental work and something that in hindsight felt quite surreal. The concert finished with the Brahms C Minor quartet and to close. Spurred on by thunderous and rhythmically unified applause, a hallmark of European audiences, we offered another encore. Tonight, it was Zak’s disarmingly beautiful transcription of Brahms’s beloved  Op. 118 # 2 Intermezzo, originally for piano. This evening’s completely chronologically sequential and ultimately very satisfying program came off beautifully although curiously for my colleagues and I, it was an unanticipated surprise to find ourselves mustering strength and focus anew in order to perform another huge and romantic work on the 2nd half. Having successfully recovered from the spending of such emotional effort on the Op. 131, typically the final work on a program, it proved a welcome and insightful learning opportunity, in particular because we will perform in similar sequence next week in Warsaw’s Royal Castle. Now we’ll know what to expect.

Happy and deeply gratified by such an enthusiastic response to the evening’s program, there were still more treats in store as we moved on to an unforgettable post-concert celebratory dinner hosted by Mme. Elzbieta Penderecki, President and General Director of the Beethoven Association and Festival. We gathered at the stunning restaurant of the inimitable Hotel Copernicus, situated on one of Krakow’s oldest and most noble streets in the shadow of the Royal Wawel Castle. We were treated to some of the finest cuisine, spectacular wines and convivial company as we once again gave thanks in the tradition of bringing people of cultures, generations and nationalities together through the universality of great music.

We spent a greatly anticipated and yet still, unimaginably magical Friday morning. We were transfixed, finding ourselves at the Library of the Jagiellonian University where we had been invited to examine several manuscripts as well as sketches of Ludwig van Beethoven’s late quartets. It was stunningly impressive to have these priceless treasures at hand. Some of the works that came to hand included a combination of sketches and/or complete manuscripts of Op. 74, 127, 133, 130. 131. These treasures were presented on a felt covered table in a private showing where we spent every minute of time available to us marveling over the markings, the corrections, notes in margins and a few seemingly undecipherable scribblings. We each had many particular passages and measures that we were hoping in manuscript would reveal decisive answers to the countless hours my colleagues and I have spent in debate (or worse) over more than three decades of digging for resolution. We were so honored and yet bemused to behold these troves. It seems entirely appropriate that not a single tormented argument from these three and a half decades, most of which seem entirely obscure in hindsight were resolved and no one was vindicated. Perhaps we’re just doing what is inevitable as we continue to mine for meaning in Beethoven’s masterworks.

Alexander String Quartet with Krzystof Penderecki

Alexander String Quartet with Krzystof Penderecki

Alas we were torn away to our next appointment which was to play an informal program of music for the students, teachers and parents at the remarkable International School of Krakow. We were hosted at the delightful campus on the outskirts of town playing for students from 1st through 10th grades for an hour. We were delighted to present several selections from Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and were invited to field some significant and probing questions from students of all grades, as well as several faculty. It was a great pleasure to be welcomed, along with Maestro Krzysztof and Mme Elzbieta Penderecki at this impressive school. Although there are many superb musicians resident in Krakow, many of whom would probably happily to volunteer their services to visit the ISK, exposure to native English speaking musicians is less common and therefore greatly appreciated. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and signed countless autographs, and consumed lovely home-baked treats in the process!

I’m wrapping up this 2nd installment on our Polish blog at breakfast this morning. This is our last full day in Krakow, City of Kings and Poland’s earliest capital city and we’re preparing our last commitment, a masterclass at Krakow’s Music Academy. We’ll be met and escorted by foot to hear no fewer than seven string quartets performing most of the Op. 18 quartets as well as some Prokofiev and Borodin. Evidently Ludwig v. Beethoven is alive and well in Poland!

Poland — Day One

Zak at AirportThe weekend preceding our two week European trip was about as intense as they come. Coming off a week spent in northwestern Pennsylvania in subzero weather, we returned to a week back home in San Francisco packed with preparations and distractions. These included a wonderful expansion campaign launch for one of our favorite San Francisco causes, the venerable 100+ year old Community Music Center and a fine celebratory concert to get the ball rolling at the ever spectacular home of Gordon and Ann Getty. More mundane distractions however included an unscheduled visit to our fine Ellen M. Egger Quartet luthier (our “Maker”), Francis Kuttner to revisit and fine-tune a few modifications, occasioned by exposure to such dry atmospheric and freezing conditions of the week before. Almost all of us had a variety of medical/dental appointments and to boot, the week was crammed with make-up teaching at SFSU and including two chamber music recitals featuring our students in the Morrison Chamber Center’s Instructional Program.

I think we all escaped the classrooms on Friday evening to get an early stab at packing logistics, not missing the always anxious check that we have all technical supplies and the sheet-music. The latter must include pre-discussed un-programmed encore options in our folders for the ensuing two weeks (eleven programs with just a few overlaps and no duplications)! I know my preparations included a stiff martini along with family-night supper and a home movie!

Paul in Frankfurt

Paul being interviewed in Lufthansa’s Senators Lounge in Frankfurt by Hannah Anderson of SFSU’s DocFilm Institute. Traveling with the ASQ on the current itinerary and filming a documentary film for future release.

The kickoff trifecta three concert weekend in our hometown is a phenomenon we have come to take in our stride and while not entirely “routine,” we’ve learnt to carve out and preserve some dedicated downtime at home to pace ourselves. The past weekend’s programs were all-Mozart with our friend and collaborator Robert Greenberg. The first on Saturday morning was with San Francisco Performances at SF Jazz for the 3rd in our “Mozart in Vienna” series including his D and E flat major “Prussian” quartets. The audience is familiar and wonderfully welcoming and appreciative of these informal presentations. We dress informally and chat at the intermission and end of the programs with friends and regular attendees – a tradition now in its 22nd season! We even had opportunity on Saturday to talk directly to the audience as Bob Greenberg interviewed the quartet members about the Egger quartet of instruments that we’re traveling with, yielding as usual, some surprising answers and a good deal of hilarity. Dim sum lunch with friends frequently follows and thereafter in this case, a run around town dealing with last minute haircuts, dry-cleaning, prescriptions and other travel necessities.

Sunday’s trip up to UC Davis’s Mondavi Center was a familiar run too, loading up a rental van for the weekend with five guys and a cello. In this case, in addition to the last Prussian quartet in F major, K. 590, we included an exciting first collaboration with guest violist, Charith Premawardhana playing Mozart’s last chamber music composition, the E flat Viola quintet, K. 614 from 1791. This was a first for us ALL though certainly not the last. We’ll present this program once more at SF Jazz for SF Performances on May 9th. Once again Bob Greenberg presented these works with us incorporating his inimitable insights with a generous dollop of humor and pathos.

Fred and Warren Haack

Fred with Warren Haack, executive sound engineer also from the SFSU DocFIlm Insititute, traveling with the ASQ

The program was repeated in the evening without Greenberg but incorporating a post-concert discussion between the audience and the 5 musicians. These afterglow chats yield ever evolving perspectives and appreciation of the relationship between performer and audience. The insightful comments and probing questions from the audience keep us all on our toes and provoke very thoughtful and illuminating discussions.

It was good to get home and finally to bed having dropped everyone off and returned the rental car. Only last minute packing to accomplish on Monday morning and then a run to the airport for the non-stop to Frankfurt.

The flight was uneventful and on schedule. A relatively light load with quite a few empty seats and and excellent crew. We’re as well rested as possible and now, ready to continue to Krakow in a couple of hours hopefully to sleep well before our first performance tomorrow night.

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