Montreux, Switzerland


Dear Readers,

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant. Waiting for the UBS orchestra’s charter flight to Naples, I am enjoying the croissant I swiped from the first class section of the airline lounge before being informed that I actually belonged in the business class area and would therefore have to demote my things and myself to the other side of the lounge. Having done so, I now realize that there are no such munchables on the business class side – and that appears to be the only difference. This is a most lovely croissant.

Where ignorance would not pay off is in Naples these days. I’ve been informed that a mob war is in full swing. I’ve never experienced a mob war and don’t particularly desire to do so, but the whole orchestra is on its way there today, my ticket is in my bag, and the plane takes off in an hour. Extra security has been added to the tour for now, and that will supposedly make us all safer. It’s a bummer; I’ve never been to Naples and was looking forward to exploring on my day off (today). Since it is apparently very dangerous to enter any side streets, even in a large group, even if it looks fine, I am anticipating a nice stay in my hotel room and a couple of jaunts up and down the main street outside. Better safe than kidnapped or shot. As soon as we arrive at the airport in Naples, the conductor and I will be officially briefed on security matters. I feel almost like an international spy.

Now I’m on the airplane. This is a charter flight; it’s been a while since I was on one of these. The flight attendant is currently informing us of “new” airline regulations regarding liquids on board. All bottled liquids, as well as gels and lotions and creamy products such as yogurt must now be placed in clear plastic bags. I have to chuckle as I imagine the flat splatting noise and sticky mess of a single-serving-yogurt terrorist attack.

Wow! To exhaust some excess fuel, we’re circling Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. Since it’s on the other side of the plane from my where I’m sitting, and everyone has crowded around those windows, I can’t get any pictures – but in the gaps between craning bodies, I can see that we’re incredibly close to it. We’re parallel with the peak and not more than half a mile removed. Every rock, every contour of snow, is visible from this distance, and the view over the surrounding landscape is expansive. So this is what it looks like from the top of Europe. Not bad! It’s mildly ironic that this chance to see such beauty comes at the expense of contributing to its destruction.

To continue my running commentary, it seems that real, metal knives are permitted on charter flights.

We’ll be on the same plane with the same crew till the end of this weeklong European tour. The remaining cities are: Naples (of course), Barcelona, Stuttgart, and Vienna. With the whole orchestra, administration, and tour coordinators fitting neatly into one vehicle, it feels very much like a field trip. There’s an air of excitement as people chatter happily, friends catch up, and people compete for a spare seat in the cockpit during takeoff and landing. One flight attendant worked the last UBS tour as well; he got an extra round of cheers and applause before takeoff. Maestro Blomstedt is sitting at arm’s length, contentedly eating his lunch as he chats with the executive director of the orchestra. I am perhaps not taking the greatest advantage of the onboard social scene, but I am enjoying the atmosphere and the hubbub as I write this entry and listen to one sonata after another on my giant headphones in the process of deciding my ’07/’08 recital program.

Since my last entry, I have been in Switzerland. I spent several days in Zurich, working with the Tonhalle Orchestra and David Zinman in my last scheduled engagement of Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto. (I will get back to it soon enough.)

Now we’re being informed of pickpocketing and thieves in Naples. Certain neighborhoods, small children, the old city, the area around the train station – we’re to watch out for all of them, even if we’re in groups, even in the daytime. We are also supposed to leave our wallets and watches someplace safe when we head out.

Sigh.

Back to my activities of this past week: I hadn’t worked with David Zinman since we recorded together, back in 1998. I also hadn’t worked with the Tonhalle Orchestra, though I’d played in that hall. This new experience – with this orchestra and conductor together – was terrific. I’d forgotten just how great a collaborative musician David is; I didn’t have to say or ask for anything during rehearsal, because he was on top of it all before I even realized half of what needed to be adjusted. I grew up during his tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, so my idea of an orchestra’s ideal sound and my model of a clear conductor’s beat and musicality came from him. David worked with me a lot when I was 10-18, coaching me from a conductor’s perspective on concerti I was learning or polishing up, and teaching me much of my basic approach to working with orchestra – what to listen for, what to react to, what to expect, and how to interact with the musicians. That, added to the fact that we’ve combined forces in a range of musical contexts, led to my feeling very much at home, even though I was an ocean and several countries from my apartment. Professionally, it was very comfortable. Musically, it was liberating. Personally, it didn’t hurt that the Zinmans’ standard poodle Sinbad was ever-present backstage to lean calmly against his nearest admirer.

At the end of the signing after the second concert in Zurich, I met a honeymooning couple from Qatar. Beautiful henna ornamentation covered the wife’s hands and arms. I don’t think I’ve met anyone from Qatar before; it’s nice to know how far one’s audience extends in the world and to be reminded that, through music, one can unwittingly take part in someone’s happy occasion, even if only for a passing half of an hour.

From Zurich, I went on to Montreux, to meet up with the UBS Verbier orchestra and maestro Herbert Blomstedt and to switch repertoire to the Dvorák violin concerto. There are two overlaps in this situation: I worked with the orchestra and Blomstedt this summer at Verbier; and I played the Dvorák with Blomstedt this summer at Tanglewood. Now it’s all coming together in one location – or rather, five.

I’ve written enough already, and our plane is curving around Mt. Vesuvio to land in Naples. I’ll fill you in on the rest of this tour later.

Yours from Montreux – no, the Geneva airport – the airspace above Naples? – Mt. Vesuvio? – baggage claim? – the taxi? – in front of the TV watching the New York City Marathon? – let’s just say, wherever you consider me to be,

Hilary