Thoughts on life and music.

What a busy couple weeks! I'm getting really good at slobodan dan, on these days off I manage to not accomplish much besides practicing, eating and watching a movie with the crew. The last couple weeks of work were varied, we played four concerts in two weeks. Our first concert was Beethoven 5 and Tchaikovsky violin concerto with a Turkish soloist named Cihat Aşkin and a Turkish conductor named Hakan Şensoy. The conductor was one of my favorites so far, and not just because he let us out of rehearsal an hour early... He knew exactly what he wanted, and wouldn't let anyone get away with playing less than that. We doubled the horn parts on Beethoven 5, so I got to play the second part with Rebecca while Mattia and Asim played first. I've never played Beethoven 5, it was fun to play such a famous piece. The violin soloist was very accomplished and played the Tchaikovsky concerto well. The audience loved him, but I actually liked his encore better than the concerto. He played an arrangement of a Turkish folk song, and he seemed more musically engaged in those few minutes than he had for the previous hour. I very much enjoyed that piece, I wish I knew what it was.

The next performance a few days later was a production of Carmen. We had one rehearsal and the next night was our one performance. Luckily, I played Carmen last spring with UNLV Opera, so I was familiar with the tempos and various keys in the horns. I had learned the first book, but for this show I played fourth, and the transpositions were a lot funkier. I didn't realize half the pieces would be in H or Bb basso! The performance went well, and the orchestra was obviously very familiar with the music. Apparently the modus operandi is to have one rehearsal on an opera they've played before, which I think is great.

The next week, we played another arias concert with the theater's singers (the same singers who had performed Carmen). Not surprisingly, we played the Habanera... I think the singers here are great, and they all sang wonderfully for the concert. Our conductor was one of the opera's directors, he was great to work with. I think the familiarity between the singers and conductor probably helped spur the process along, we ended up canceling a night rehearsal we didn't really need and the concert was great!

Our last show was a concert with Denyce Graves-Montgomery, an American mezzo-soprano. The concert apparently cost 100KM ($60) a ticket, and was sold out a week in advance! She was a very good singer, and brought a perfect diva flair to everything she performed. We did a few numbers from Carmen (surprise, surprise) and Samson and Delila on the first half, and then a few spirituals and show tunes for the second. It's quite interesting to hear a non-American orchestra try to play jazz rhythms. Obviously people here are aware of jazz, but I doubt many of them played in the jazz band in middle school so the style is more uncomfortable for them. Most of the work in rehearsal was playing "I've Got Rhythm" and "Every Time I Feel The Spirit" rather than the classical arias. We managed to pull it off though, and Ms. Graves seemed happy with the performance! The Americans introduced ourselves to her, and she was very friendly and happy to meet us.

The American ambassador to Bosnia came to the concert as well, and we were able to meet him, his wife, and the director of cultural affairs for the embassy. We exchanged contact information, and the ambassador's wife invited us to Thanksgiving dinner at their home! We're also going to an election night event on November 6 with the embassy staff. Hopefully we can continue to be involved with them, and maybe help the program here get more publicity and funding.

After all those performances, we've had a week of slobodan dan to recover!

The bank is being very Balkan, and says that since their deadline for our salary deposit is October 31, they couldn't guarantee it would be any sooner. So me and Kent have been living on 2KM meals of mashed potatoes, no wine and I dipped into my American bank account so we could go to Mostar.

Kent, Rebecca, Chihiro and I went to Mostar on Friday for a day. Round trip train tickets were only 16KM, and the schedule worked out really well for a day trip. We left Sarajevo at 7am, and got to Mostar around 9:30-10am. We spent the day exploring the city and taking a gratuitous amount of pictures of the Stari Most, the Old Bridge. The river was beautiful and incredibly clear, and the usual trash and plastic bottles we see in Sarajevo were not present in Mostar. We ate lunch by the river, walked by the river, stuck our feet in the river, had coffee by the river and dinner by the river. It was too pretty to go far! We found one of the big cathedrals with a large bell tower, and there were a number of mosques as well. There was one former synagogue site with a sign saying it was going to be rebuilt this year. Religious tension was a huge part of the war in Bosnia, and the original Stari Most was destroyed by the Croatians in 1993 as a strategic maneuver. They rebuilt the bridge in 2004. There were a number of bombed out buildings, and both sides of the bridge had stones painted "Don't Forget 1993" as a reminder of what had happened.

We also found a very nice park, and the newly built high school was beautiful. Kent was happy to see a full basketball court with nets, and a group of guys playing proper basketball (even though he says they were pretty clumsy). It's always nice to get out of the apartment, and Mostar was a beautiful escape from the urban landscape of Sarajevo. Las Vegas is more a big town than a city, I'm still not quite accustomed to urban life.

Overall it was a wonderful trip, and I'm glad we were able to get away for a little bit. We had hoped to take a bigger trip this week, but it's hard to go anywhere with no money. Halloween is just around the corner, we're planning a big party on November 3 and I think some of us are wearing costumes to rehearsal on Halloween itself. Chihiro has some friends visiting from their program in Hungary before then, we'll be checking out the Sarajevo Jazz Festival and hopefully seeing the Bad Plus on the 31st!

America, America

Violin Concerto and Slobodan Dan