Berlin Wrap Up

Guten Tag!

It’s a little bittersweet but I have returned from my amazing 2 month European trip which included 2 weeks in London and Paris with the USC Trojan Marching Band and 6 weeks in Berlin with smart/friendly/amazing composers while studying composition with Professor Samuel Adler. My time with Adler provided me an amazing opportunity to work with one of the most intelligent and accomplished living composers, and I have truly grown immensely from the experience. Adler set high expectations from me and, because of this, I was able to complete a piece for solo flute as well as two movements for brass octet (a fast jazz-fugue and an even faster scherzo) in the brief 6 week program.

I have already been home for a few days and I have begun mixing up the events of my last three weeks (since my last blog post) but let’s try to recap: Germany lost in the semi-finals of the Euro 2012 to Italy, Spain beat Italy in the final, I had a very nice/expensive/hipster dinner with the other composers and a vegetarian cuisine restaurant, I had my piece for solo flute premiered, I finished two short movements for brass octet (to be a part of a larger set of 5), I visited the city of Leipzig (where Bach lived and composed as well as Mendelssohn and the Schumann’s), I attended an amazing concert in the Thomaskirche at Leipzig (the church Bach was cantor at), I visited the royal palaces at Potsdam, I went to the Deutsches Historisches Museum and The Story of Berlin (both amazing museums), I failed to get tickets to a sold out West Side Story, got invited to more free concerts by Adler, and I’m sure that there’s even more that I’m missing. To say it shortly, I had an amazing time and I learned a huge amount in a very short time.

The premiere of my flute solo was a great experience: we worked once in a rehearsal with the performers the weekend before the Wednesday (July 4th) performance and again with them a few hours before the concert. Aaron Dan (http://www.berlincounterpoint.com/) was a wonderful musician to work with and produced a very accurate and musical performance of my piece; I could not thank him enough. The pieces by other composers went brilliantly as well and overall the night was a great success. It was the perfect way to finish our time studying and being in Berlin. The concert even took place in a historical synagogue that was trashed on Kristallnacht (a night in November of 1938 where Nazis attacked all Jewish places of worship and business across the country) and later reconstructed.

Now that I am home and finished with my amazing summer in Europe, I get to look forward to moving apartments in a few weeks and applying to graduate programs all fall, a daunting set of tasks. Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels, I plan to continue updating my blog over time with more about my pieces, things happening in my life, and reviews of concerts or albums that I love (or hate!).

Tschüss!

 

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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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Europe Part II: Paris with the TMB

If I had to describe both London and Paris is short, London was expensive and Paris was a whirlwind. In one day alone in Paris, I climbed a couple thousand stairs while visiting 5 different monuments, but I will talk about this more later. The thing I probably loved most about the city besides the beautiful monuments was the amazing food: crepes, wines, sandwiches, and amazing little desserts.

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Mine was the middle one, I believe it was called a Bolero

After taking the underground/underwater train from London to Paris (we did not see any sharks, unfortunately), the group I toured with was too tired to really go see sights so we settled for eating amazing crepes and the desserts pictured above from some local stores. After a night of rest the whirlwind tour began! Following a nice walk around the parks at the Louvre (the museum itself is closed on Tuesdays), we picked up our two day museum passes and went to the Musee d’Orsay. This was a perfect museum for me because I love impressionism, in particular the work of Monet. After the Orsay was the Hotel des Invalides, home to a rich tradition of French military history and the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, the largest tomb I’ve likely ever seen. The collections of guns, armor, and cannons was extremely impressive. After this our group ventured to the famous Notre Dame where we toured the inside of the massive cathedral and saw the underground crypts there. We barely missed the last call for the tour of the towers so we went off to a very nice dinner in a very French area (read: not touristy).

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a picture in front of Notre Dame

The second full day in Paris was completely insane, in a mostly good way. Picking up where we left off, we climbed the spiraled 250 stairs to the top of Notre Dame to see great views of the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower, all locations we would hit by the end of the day. A short walk away was La Conciergerie, the location Marie Antoinette was held during the French Revolution. The Eiffel Tower was our next destination, with somewhere around 730 stairs to get to the final elevator that took us to the top. The views here were amazing and definitely worth the work out. Our next stop was the Arc de Triomphe, another 284 stairs to get the views which were again worth the effort. We also saw a military procession at the Arc featuring a military band, a cool sight to see. Our last monumental stop for the day was the Louvre, by far the best museum I have ever been to; I don’t think any museum in the world can compare. We went to most of the major masterpieces held there including the Mona Lisa, the Venus, and a wonderful Greek statue of a winged Nike. After getting kicked out of the museum at 10pm, we headed to the famous Moulin Rouge to look at the massive lines formed outside and the bizarre surrounding shops. Overall, this day was packed full of amazing sights, long treks up stairs, and good laughs with friends to pass time on the stairs (somewhere around 2,525 by my math, not including the Louvre which was massive as well).

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in front the Eiffel Tower

My final two days in Paris were much calmer and enjoyable; everybody from the TMB had left for home except for me and a friend. Together we toured the WWII beaches of Normandy including Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Our tour guide provided us with deep insight to the events leading up to, during, and after D-day. In my last day in France, my friend and I decided to keep it relaxed by visiting the lavish Galeries Lafayette to shop for gifts, taste wines, and gawk at the extremely nice designer products made in Paris.

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posing at Pointe du Hoc, the cliffs where the U.S. 2nd Ranger Division attacked the German stronghold

Though brief, my time in Paris was thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll have to return later in life for the foods, the wines, and the beautiful sights of the city. For now, I have just arrived in the picturesque suburbs of Berlin where I have started my summer studies in composition. I have a lot to look forward to in the coming six weeks including wonderful foods and beers, more sights, and concerts to attend in downtown Berlin.

London with the TMB

I’ve completed the first leg of my two month exploration of European capitals, a very busy 6 day visit to London. I’m not sure where exactly to start because I experienced so much in so little time, but the trip was extremely worth while. Luckily, the weather remained cool and cloudy without ever being rainy which made for great conditions to get around and see the sights; the people I spent time with made it an even more special trip.

On my first day in town, the Wednesday after arriving on Tuesday the 15th, I decided to join some friends from the trumpet section of the USC marching band as we hit up major London landmarks. In just the first day we saw parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, and Harrods; in addition, we finished off our day with a pub crawl funded by the USC Alumni Association of London (thanks guys!). We got lunch at what I think was my favorite pub from my time in London, a place called Waxy O’Connor’s in Piccadilly Circus (for lunch I shared a steak and Guinness pie and a bacon, brie, and cranberry sandwich with a friend alongside a couple brews to get us through the long day).

Westminster Abbey
At Westminster Abbey

On day two we took the tube to Wimbledon to see the famed lawn courts. After getting distracted by some odd geese in a beautiful park near the stadiums, we made it to the courts just in time to take our pictures, see the gift shop, and jump back on the tube for a tour of the London 2012 Olympic Village. There we saw the stadiums and land that will be used for the Olympics, an impressive sight. Following this we booked it back to the tube for our first performance, a gig in the middle of a large square in the financial area of Canary Wharf. It took the crowd a little while to understand what watching an American marching band was like but in the end they thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Wimbledon
Outside Wimbledon

Friday was a busy day of more tube traveling (I guess that’s what happens when the trip planner gives us a hotel in Zone 4 near Harrow), seeing the London Tower and Tower Bridge, and a performance at Potter’s Field Park (directly across the Thames from the London Tower). I really enjoyed the London Tower experience because of extent of its history and the amazing artifacts and architecture at the location. The crown jewels were stunning and a tour by a Beefeater provided a massive insight to the history of the tower.

London Tower
With a Beefeater at the London Tower

A day off from performances, we had Saturday entirely to ourselves. A scheduled tour of the parliament building proved to be a huge eye-opening experience into the history and tradition of the nation; I don’t believe I’ve ever been more impressed by the interior of a building (though I have yet to make it to Italy for the churches) and again I found the historical background to the traditions of the location to be wonderful. The rest of the day included a visit to the Tate Britain (one of my lesser favorite locations I visited) and then one of the most exciting nights of sports viewing I’ve participated in. Saturday was the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, and what better place is there to watch the match than a packed bar in Chelsea? Being a part of that crowd was exhilarating and to win the match in penalties made it even more memorable.

Parliament
In line for the Parliament tour

Our final day of exploration was Sunday, which also included our biggest performance of the trip: an hour long gig on the steps of Trafalgar Square leading up to the National Gallery. The morning began with a tour of the National Gallery which contained awe-inspiring masterpieces from all over Europe. I don’t believe there was a room that did not impress me but, as usual, the French impressionists struck me the most and the medieval altarpieces and Renaissance paintings stood out as well. Following the performance, I continued to visit new areas in London including the eclectic Covet Gardens where I finished off the night visiting a few pubs to celebrate a successful trip to London.

Trafalgar Square
At Trafalgar Square

It’s currently 1am and I’m now in Paris ready to really kick off the second part of my summer travels. I’ve already had time to get some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had (baguette panini’s, dessert crepes, and a chocolat mousse dessert called a Bolero, I believe), and tomorrow I pick up my museum pass in order to see as much as I can in my short time here. I’ll post updates as I continue from Paris to Berlin, my final destination where I will be for the following six weeks. I look forward to writing again about my amazing cultural experiences across Europe!

Travel Blogging: London, Paris, and Berlin!

This has been slowly sneaking up on me for a little while now, but tomorrow I leave on my trip to London, Paris, and Berlin for the next two months! I will be enjoying the first two cities with members of the USC Trojan Marching Band as we play at various pre-Olympic festivities in London. Following seven days in the English capital, we head to Paris to see the city and explore, including a day trip I will take to the WWII beaches of Normandy with a friend of mine. My final destination will be Berlin to study composition under Dr. Samuel Adler for six weeks—something I am sure will be an invaluable experience for me.

At this point in my life, I have never been further east than the state of Indiana. In 2008 I traveled with my high school wind ensemble to China for ten days and my family has taken me on vacations including Mexico and Hawaii, but this is my first real opportunity to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture(s). Unfortunately, my foreign language studies from high school fail me in two ways for this trip: I never got any good and the only language I studied was Spanish. Armed with city guidebooks and a polite American demeanor (whatever that means), hopefully my language barrier will not become too large of an issue for me! (I’m not too worried about London at this point, and I’ve heard Germans speak quite good English as well.. we shall see.)

As I explore these amazing European capital cities, I will do my best to share my experiences here in my blog. I’ll share about everything from food I eat to places I see and concerts I attend. I’ll even post pictures and hopefully share some funny stories. Hopefully I can keep these posts as up to date as possible so check back to hear more from me!