Saturday, August 5

Well, I'm off to Toronto tomorrow. My lack of updating this site transcends simple 'I was busy,' and for that I am deeply regretful. However, I've appealed to the Culture to make some updates so hopefully Vavatch will be seeing a new lease of life.

When I get back you'll be able to see much more updates here, since Thinkquest will have finally finished!

9:52 PM | permalink | discuss

Sunday, July 30

I've been procrastinating for a while, but here's the next instalment of the Prague tour report (I really have to get this done or else I'll completely forget it - I didn't take any notes this time).

Day Three (I did days one and two in the last report, I just forgot to mention it)

Actually, on Day Two after dinner, the conductor told us 'We'll be giving you free time now, but I'd like you to remember that we have a very busy day ahead of us tomorrow and you should make sure that you're rested.' So we promptly went out and found a bar. While I was a little apprehensive about going in at first, since it looked pretty off, it turned out to be fine and the fact that beers only cost 50p helped no end. Points to note: the barman didn't understand what I meant by 'Budweiser' or 'Budvar', although he did understand 'Beer' and five fingers held up.

Day three kicked off with a shower in the charmingly brown waters of the hotel's water supplies (I was later informed that we were lucky to get brown water at all, considering that most people didn't get any hot water) in the over-exposed confines of our shower that had no curtains and faced a tower block. Typically, our view outside the hotel room was of a ramshackle garage.

Typically, the breakfast was a bread roll and jam - nothing special, but it foreshadowed the evils of the packed lunch that would follow. Soon after breakfast was a short rehearsal at another hotel (the hotel we were staying in wasn't large enough for our 54-strong orchestra to rehearse in) where we looked around in the manner of uncivilized savages at the vast expanses of bars, restaurants and bowling alleys (!), things we felt we could never sample (and yes, that's another story entirely).

The first rehearsal on an orchestra tour can be a trying affair. Apart from the fact that pretty much every instrument is out of tune from the combined effects of heat and vibration (mine wasn't, but then my violin never goes out of tune - I hardly ever have to tune it apart from fiddling with the adjusters, which is a good thing considering that it's a right bastard to get it done right using the pegs), everyone realises that:

a) They can't play all of this hard Czech music by Smetana and Dvorak.
b) They have a concert in approximately 5 hours.

A word about the music we played - it included Vltava by Smetana, a great piece written about the river that goes through Prague, and various parts of Dvorak's New World Symphony, as well as his Fourth Symphony.

While I was only leading the Second Violins (i.e. I wasn't in the First Violins) I honestly believe we had a much harder job in Vltava than the First Violins, who had the play the tune. The Seconds have to constantly play arpeggio-type chords for maybe ten minutes, and although they weren't that difficult per se, they were pretty demanding, and I'm sure that many other Seconds had a hard time. All the Firsts (spit) have to do is to play a relatively easy tune. Pah!

Considering that Vltava can be seen as the Czech's national song, we really did have to get it right, which put a fair bit of pressure on me since there were several sections where the Seconds were effectively on their own with the tune, and pretty much no-one else in the Seconds could play them (or could be bothered playing them). My confidence wasn't helped by the fact that at a previous concert, the conductor had said 'Well done! I think this time I heard three people play in that section, and two (out of 10) of them were from the Seconds.'

So. After the rehearsal was a packed lunch on the coach, on our way to Castle Ploskovice. The packed lunch slowly became a symbol of all the wrong that existed in the tour, a distillation of pure evil on the part of the people who'd prepared them. We got two bits of acidic-tasting bread, a chicken (the best part of the packed lunches for the entire week, bar none), and an adequate tasting wafer snack and drink. Most people managed to stomach it on Day 3, but as will be revealed later, that state of affairs didn't continue.

Castle Ploskovice was a strange experience - I'd actually seen a programme on TV about it vaguely a few weeks ago, but in reality it was pretty poky and the rooms weren't particularly big. Not, I mused, the sort of castle I'd settle for if I was Emperor of Austria-Hungary, summer residence or not.

Much more enjoyable was the walk around the Castle grounds and a quick laugh at the horribly outdated tourist brochure that claimed that the opening up of the Castle to tourists was a testament to 'socialist ideals for the furthering of educational and cultural exchange.' Even so, I emerged from the experience feeling distinctly left-wing and feeling that a worker's revolution against the food preparation staff (after all, we do control the means of musical production - ho ho ho!) wouldn't be a bad thing.

The purpose of the visit wasn't just for relaxation - we were scheduled to have two concerts in the Castle (I have photos, to be posted early next week) and the acoustics were absolutely fantastic. Incredibly enough, we did have an audience as well, most of whom stayed for the entire concert.

A quick note: All of our concerts were free - we are by no means good enough to charge the public for our concerts, although we are good enough so that the public and other tourists enjoy sitting down and listening to us for a while (hopefully, I feel, not for comic entertainment).

10:30 PM, we finally make it back to Prague and have a boat trip on the Vltava, along with a buffet. Since we'd been bereft of decent food for about three days, I launched myself into it and had three servings, neatly circumventing the queue by using that trademark Adrian logic of going around the other side of the table and finding that there were, in fact, plates and cutlery there as well. That's me - I think outside the box. Maybe I should put that in my CV or something...

Some great pictures were to be had on the boat - Prague looks like a fairytale city at night, lit up, which is quite surprising because if you travel 5 minutes from the river then you'll reach a graffiti-stained, broken-window wasteland whose only shops are bars, groceries and unreliable-looking Internet cafes.

12:03 PM | permalink | discuss