Summer Update, Part 2

So...

I was home from China for a day. It was supposed to be two days, but as I said earlier, we had to spend the night in Chicago because United Airlines would not hold our flight for 10 minutes (!) - and there were 21 of us! Unbelievable. Far be it from me to try to understand the workings of the UA think tank. I will say that the customer service folks at United were very pleasant and helpful. A silver lining on a rather gloomy cloud.

After that one day, I was off to Atlantic City, to serve as Music Supervisor for a fourth production of "Movin' Out", at Harrah's casino at the Marina. The work was hard but very enjoyable. I think the company is very good. This production will be in AC for 10 weeks, and then tour the country and Canada, playing a lot of the smaller venues that the First National tour could not play. The band sounds great, our two piano men, Matthew Friedman (who did it on the first tour) and Kyle Martin (who is new to the show) are both excellent, and it was lots of fun collaborating with David Rosenthal again on the music and of course with Twyla Tharp.

The thing that struck me most about the two weeks or so in AC was the joylessness of the place. You walk through the casino and see hundreds of people at slot machines, and no one is smiling! Very strange.

Great outlet shopping, though.

After my AC adventure, I returned home for "Daddy Camp". My wife Marty is the Director of the Massage Therapy program at Harrisburg Area Community College. She was heading into the last week of her program's first seesion, so it made sense (especially after my virtual absence for the previous month) that I take the kids on a week of adventures. We had a great time. Monday, we drove to New York City to see an open dress rehearsal of the American Ballet Theater's production of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" with our friend Marilynn Kanenson. I don't know if there is any prettier music out there. And the dancing was beautiful. Tuesday, we went to Baltimore's Port Discovery Children's Museum, a marvelous educational playground for kids. We were met ther by my sister-in-law Nancy and her two children, and spent the next two nights with them in Northern Virginia, while during the day we did the Washington, DC thing, visiting several Smithsonian museums and the main monuments. Friday we capped off the week with a visit to Hershey Park. We had an absolutely perfect day, and had a blast.

I love my family, if you haven't guessed yet.

So now it's back to work. In the next few weeks I have three programs - two with orchestra and one chamber music (see Upcoming Events...). Then I get some real vacation with the family at my parents' Cape Cod house. It should be just in time.

Be back soon.
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Summer Update, Part 1

How time flies....

It's summer, and I'm at Barnes and Noble Bookstore with a venti coffee of the day, a spinach and artichoke strata, and my laptop. My daughter Sara is doing a one-week tennis camp about 25 minutes from my house. It starts at 9 and ends at 12, so the issue has been: do I go home in between and work, or stay out near the camp for the three hours. Today I chose the latter, and I am taking advantage of this chunk of time to update my hopelessly lagging blog.

It's been quite a busy stretch since the season ended in May. I should say a word about that last concert first. We premiered a new trombone concerto by Scott McCallister, played brilliantly (and I do not use the term lightly) by our Principal Trombone, Brent Phillips. What thrilled me was not only the piece, an excellent addition to the repertoire - beautifully structured, varied in content, perfectly orchestrated, dazzlingly difficult for the soloist, and audience friendly without dumbing down to anyone - but also the incredible and spontaneous response from our audience. This was no obligatory standing ovation, but rather the sincere expression of elation at the presentation of an exciting, gripping, and visceral new work. (My friend John Clare has an excellent interview of Scott at Composing Thoughts.) This was followed by a performance of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony, in which the orchestra showed once again that it can hold its own with some of the elite orchestra's out there. A great experience, and one that left me optimistic about the future of the HSO, and profoundly grateful to be here at this point in time.

The next day was the wedding of one of my oldest friends, Jeff Gardner, in NYC (I've known Jeff since kindergarten!). A whirlwind trip, but one I would not have wanted to miss.
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Jeff and Federica

The next day I left for China. This was a tour, organized by Bob Cheung of Harrisburg, to benefit the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. I was the supposed draw, although I think the trip itself was enticing enough on its own. I call it the "It's good to be Stuart Malina China tour." The trip spanned 12 days, including 2 full days of travel (actually, there was an extra night, as we missed our Chicago connection coming home...), and there were 33 of us in the group.

I will not make this a travelogue, but suffice it to say, the trip was amazing. The highlights for me:

1) The Great Wall. What can I say? I went to China expecting the Great Wall to be incredibly cool, and it far exceeded my expectations. It boggles the mind to think of how this structure was actually built. We had to take a gondola to the wall, and then exhausted ourselves walking the relatively short span we covered. How did the workers do it, carrying enormous stones? Even without the Wall, the natural scenery was gorgeous. We had a spectacular clear day at the Wall - apparently very rare, but it was very hot - certainly into the 90s. Amazing.

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2) The Terra Cotta Warriors outside the city of Xi-an. I know... predictable. But, again, I was unprepared for the vastness of this archeological discovery. To think that three peasants were trying to dig a well, and they found this.

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3) The China Conservatory in Beijing. Not the Beijing conservatory, but the one in Beijing that has a focus on traditional Chinese musical instruments. We were given a private tour, and a performance by eight young virtuosos of instruments like the pipa, the erhu, and the hammer dulcimer. It was unbelievably inspiring, and the music was soulful and stirring.

4) The silk embroidery masters at Suzhou. Again, an amazing thing to see great artists at work. The embroideries were expensive (far beyond my wallet) but so beautiful, and the ladies who were creating them were inspiring.

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5) The Chinese garden, also in Suzhou. I want to retire there (I fear that plan A - Charleston, SC - will be too expensive)....

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6) The whole shopping experience. It makes you crazy, and you always feel like you're being ripped off, no matter what price you end up with, but I like the bargaining game. By the way, the Chairman Mao watch I bought the first day (35 yuan, down from an initial asking price of 180 yuan - $5, down from $26. I was immediately told I shouldn't have paid more than 20 yuan - $3) still works.

7) The people. It sounds trite, but we are all indeed very much the same. The Chinese people were by and large extremely welcoming, friendly, warm, and generous. I should add that the folks on the trip, most of whom I had never met before the first day, were great travel companions. To a person, I look forward to seeing them again.

I've left out so much. There wasn't much I didn't enjoy. Bob Cheung did a brilliant job of organizing and leading the tour. The local guides were for the most part wonderful, and at the worst very good. The pace was literally blistering, but that allowed us to cover the amount of ground we did in a very short time. And although I did miss my family terribly, I was able to see them and speak to them daily, from the other side of the globe, on my laptop. iChat is absolutely incredible!

I was happy to return at the end of the trip. But I wasn't home for long.

To be continued.....
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