Berlin! and my first 3 weeks of studies and exploration

Has it been almost 3 weeks already? I arrived in Berlin on Saturday, May 26th, flying in from Paris (which was quite easy because they are both within the EU meaning no stopping at customs) and have been living in an apartment complex in the southern suburbs of Berlin ever since. My immediate impression was that Berlin is a beautiful, green city with a lot of park areas and rivers/canals. I’ve come to know the city well since then and I have new opinions of the different areas within the city, but Berlin is just as gorgeous as when I arrived.

In case you do not already know, I am in Berlin studying composition with Professor Samuel Adler of the Julliard School for six weeks. The program, which is being hosted by the Freie Universitat Berlin, includes private lessons with Prof. Adler twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), as well as composition masterclasses on Wednesday. Additionally, I am studying conducting with Dr. Emily Freeman Brown, a professor from Bowling Green University in Ohio (she is also married to Prof. Adler). I couldn’t be happier with the set up of the composition program as well as how amazing both of my teachers are.

In my almost three weeks working with Prof. Adler, I have already completed a three minute flute solo titled Mind the Gap which will be performed on July 4th in a concert featuring the music of my colleagues from the Freie Universitat program. The title of the work was inspired by my time in London: to get from our hotel to downtown London, I was required to ride the tube for around 45 minutes, and at every stop a voice would remind us to “Mind the Gap.” Besides hearing it and joking about it all the time in London, it fits the piece because of the acrobatic way I’ve asked the flautist to perform large leaps, in particular major 9th’s. In the time since the completion of the flute solo, I have begun work on two scherzi for brass octet (to be a part of my Pacific Suite composed in 2010), the current one being a jazz-influenced fugue in a bright tempo, and in my final two weeks I plan to begin a song for voice and string quartet setting text from the Medieval collection of songs Carmina Burana (these will be English translations and not any of the songs set by Orff).

Besides working daily on composing and conducting, I’ve had the chance to get out and explore the culture of Berlin (and Germany) by attending concerts, operas, and live showings of Euro 2012 soccer matches (basically the World Cup but for European countries only). My first concert experience was at the Philharmonia, the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic, seeing the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin performing a concert featuring a Honneger cello concerto and Brahms’s 4th Symphony under the baton of Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I was thrilled to see the 4th Symphony in concert, especially performed by such a talented ensemble, and the rest of the program was amazing as well. Concerts since then have included the Berlin Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (conducted by Herbert Blomstedt) and two very unique occasions. The first was a brief performance of three works by Prof. Samuel Adler followed by a long discussion of major events in his life. I have never been more impressed and amazed by what one person has been through in their life and I feel even more honored that I am able to study with such an intelligent and inspiring man.

The second occasion was a performance of the Hindemith/Brecht opera, Lehrstück. The performance was easily the most interesting event I have ever taken part of: the audience of around 50 people were seated at tables in a room and provided with free soup, coffee, and vodka. We were soon notified by the chef that our table of 5 composers from our program was the worker’s table and we would be asked to peel and slice potatoes and carrots. The opera began as we worked: members of the audience turned out to be highly trained opera singers and performers who interacted with each other and with audience members. Without going into too much detail, my friends and I performed our task of peeling and slicing, were asked to serve the vodka to the other tables, cleaned dishes, took part in a communion of art (with a baguette and grape juice), and were gifted with a bottle of vodka for ourselves. Seeing as though I don’t speak German at all, many of the opera’s concepts and themes were entirely lost on me. This said, I was fully entertained by every moment of the work, and we even made friends with a British artist and and British composer who happened to be at the same performance.

In addition to the concerts and opera, I’ve been out exploring the city and its major shopping areas. I have also been to the very impressive soccer fanmile that stretches from the Brandenburg Gate throughout the Tiergarten. Set up there are massive TV screens and endless stands of currywurst, pretzels, and beer for fans to watch every match of the Euro 2012 tournament. I have yet to be there for a match featuring the German national team, but I plan to as soon as I get the chance. The fans in Berlin show a massive amount of nationalistic pride for their team: every time the team scores, fireworks and loud cheering can be hear in every part of the massive city, even as far out as my apartment complex. It is a very exciting country to be in because I am a big fan of soccer, though it’s taken me about a week to convert from being a fan of Spain to a fan of Germany (though I still would like to see Spain win the whole tournament).

I feel as though I’ve exhausted myself writing about these first three weeks all at once, but I will continue to update the blog as my program continues and as I keep experiencing more events, concerts, and happenings in Berlin. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and check back again for more photos and stories! Below you will find a photo gallery of some parts of my Berlin travels so far.

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