Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Krakow (part 1)

So, I haven't posted to my blog for just over a week. Why? I was on an Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra tour -- my fifth, and last. Unfortunately I haven't got any photographs, as I neglected to take a camera with me. Again.

This year, we travelled to Krakow, in Poland, to give three concerts. The programmes were chosen from:

Krzesany was met with considerable distaste by many members of the orchestra; it's an extraordinarily abstract work, with many effects used, and the separation into parts hadn't been done particularly well. Highlights for the horn section included 200 bars rest without cues; an entire page of top As; and the opportunity at the end of the work to stand up with our bells up and improvise, loudly, at high speed. I initially hated the piece, but by the end of the tour I was actually quite enjoying playing it.

At the beginning of the tour, we had a little incident with a member of the section which eventually meant that he didn't come with us on the tour. This caused a bit of a headache for the remaining six horn players, and in particular EH. and myself as co-principals of the section, as we had to shuffle everyone around in order to cover the parts. But we managed it, and it all went pretty well for us.

The tour started with the long trek out to Krakow. We left Oxford at 5 pm on Sunday, and arrived at the hotel at 9:30 pm on Monday (both times CET): that's 29.5 hours on the coach! (Well, okay, we had a couple of stops, but most of them just long enough to get to the loo). I found it pretty miserable: I hardly slept at all, because after a few hours the coach seat literally hurt to sit on. I didn't enjoy it one bit.

When we arrived, though, the hotel was lovely! Big rooms, comfy beds, hot showers, free internet. And the food was nice too!

The first morning in Poland was spent at the hotel, where we had a section principals' meeting. As usual, it consisted of Mr. H. telling us what he had decided and then waiting for us to agree with him. We then loaded up the coaches and headed into Krakow (except we got a bit lost, and started off heading out of Krakow). We parked next to the river, near to Wawel (the fortification that dominates the centre of the city), and I headed off with my friends CZ., CM., CH., ZM., and PG. towards the main square to see if we could find some food. CZ. decided she wanted pizza, so we looked around for somewhere that sold pizza. And we were successful! But it was over-priced and not particularly nice.

At 2 pm we gathered back at the coaches, unloaded them and walked the half a mile or so to the venue: a large, gloomy church. The architecture of said church seemed to be Byzantine, but strangely it lacked the characteristic mozaics and marbles; in fact, it was almost bare of decorations... but I digress. While we set up the orchestra it became apparent that we'd be in for some trouble that evening, as the acoustic was one of the wettest I've ever played in. As soon as we started rehearsing, it was obvious we were in for lots of trouble. The rehearsal was appalling: no one could hear each other and there seemed several different tempos going on, chords were drowning out quiet bits bars later, and generally the whole shebang was chronic.

To make things better, once the rehearsal was done we had to take the orchestra apart again and clear the church, so that mass could be said while we hung around outside in the baking sun for two hours in our concert gear (our hot, heavy concert gear). And then we had fifteen minutes to set up the church again and get ready to play a concert. No suprise, then, that the concert (programme of Cockaigne, Enigma Variations and Tchaikovsky) wasn't very good, and Mr. H. flipped out and sent us all to bed early.

While hanging around waiting to be allowed back in the church, I bought a mug.

The next day (Wednesday) we set off early and travelled to Zakopane, a ski resort in the mountains. We were scheduled to take an hour and a half to get there, but in the end it took closer to three hours, due to getting stuck in roadworks several times. The church we were playing in for this concert was a lot better: the acoustic was nicer, we had more space to set up in, and most importantly of all there were toilets. Unfortunately we had the same need to dismantle the orchestra after the rehearsal and then set it up again before the concert, but at least this time we had plenty of time to do so. The concert programme was Verdi, Kilar, Tchaikovsky first three movements, and Enigma Variations, and most of it went very well: the Verdi in particular was excellent. By the time we got to the Enigma Variations, though, people were getting tired, and the tuning in E.D.U. was fairly pain-inducing.

Inbetween the rehearsal and the concert, we spent a few hours in the town centre, shopping and looking around. Zakopane's very touristy: in the winter, it's one of Poland's most popular ski resorts, and in the summer it's a base for mountain activities such as climbing, mountain biking and white-water rafting. The place was very crowded, and the weather hot, but fortunately there was a nice breeze that made it bearable. Many of the souvenir stalls on the central pedestrianised street were selling carved wooden knives and axes, which I found quite suprising; predictably, ZM. bought one, and spent the rest of the afternoon waving it around and saying, 'Look, I have a knife!' I bought a wooden spoon, for some reason I still haven't quite managed to work out.

As usual, CZ. went shoe-shopping, but I'm happy to say that on this occasion she was unsuccessful.

That's enough for now: I'll finish the saga tomorrow.

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