Monday, April 20, 2009

Apparently...

...the first performance of my work in 2009 will be... tonight! Surprise!

I got a pleasant e-mail today from the director of the New Music Ensemble at Delta State University in Mississippi saying that Cycles, which I sent to their call for scores back in January, will be included on their program tonight. Swimming! Not everyone who comes across my music thinks it's terrible!

Also, in case anyone is wondering why my music website hasn't been updated for ages, it's because I'm almost finished with an entirely new-and-improved website to replace the current, dated-looking one. If I can find the time between projects for school, it should be up within a couple weeks.

This week: absolutely slammed with the back-to-school to-do list.

This weekend: Barcelona!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rockstars and More Walking

Gustavo Dudamel and the Simòn Bòlivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela are the unequaled rockstars of today's classical scene (sorry Taylor, you're a close second), and with good reason: they are not only flat-out exhilarating to watch, they represent music's power as a positive influence to overcome generations-old social conditions. Their Proms appearance last summer was one of the most vaunted, written-about, and all-around beloved Proms ever.

Naturally, then, their week-long residency at the Southbank Centre was sold out more than a year before the concerts, long before I arrived in London. Demand was so high, though, that they made the rehearsals public, and I did get a ticket to one of those.

It's impossible not to be blown away by the size, the precision, the energy of this incredible group; they rehearsed Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, which is not a piece I typically go for, but they played it with such energy and conviction that I must admit my mind was changed. It's also impossible not to see certain connections between Dudamel and Bernstein — especially in how completely he becomes immersed in the music, and how pure and focused his energy. Again, like Bernstein, even when I don't agree with his interpretation, I have no doubt whatsoever that he has an interpretation and that he is communicating and employing that interpretation with great skill.

In the years to come, it will no doubt be a regret of mine that I didn't bring my camera that day because I was seated in the first row (!), but in my defense, when has photography ever been allowed in a concert hall while the orchestra is playing? Tons of people, it turned out, were prepared to snap as many flash photos as their hearts desired; I've never seen anything like it.

Still woozy from the incredible musical rush I had just witnessed, I decided to take advantage of the decent weather (still something of a novelty) and walk along the south bank of the Thames. This pleasant little walk proved two theorems I already suspected were true:

1. Tourists are like gaseous molecules. With all the regularity of scientifically-reproduced tests, they diffuse to fill their available space. Example: say there's a walkway in which, say, 6 people could walk comfortably side-by-side. Not squished, comfortably; a fairly wide walkway. This law of tourists (which perhaps should be named the Peterson Law of Tourists after its discoverer) states that 2 tourists can and will take up the entire width of such a walkway.

2. London is probably the best city in the world for taking a walk. You never know what you're going to find. Example: on a walk from the Southbank Centre to the Tate Modern, I discovered a public skate park, an outdoor used-book fair, another free art gallery, and a small beach on the Thames, accessible only while the tide is out, on which artists/bored citizens were constructing a waist-high sand castle.

I love this city.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hampstead

Operating under Charles Richard's warning — "Don't be fooled by the calendar; there are only as many days in the year as you make use of" — we took opportunity of Monday's bank holiday to go have a walk through one of London's parks, Hampstead Heath.

The Heath is in northwest London, rich in history — countless famous Londoners have lived in the area, including C.S. Lewis, who used the otherworldly forests as inspiration for Narnia — and has one of the few places in London, called Parliament Hill, where, on a clear day, you can get a vista overlooking the city's landmarks.

The forests and meadows are also dotted with dozens of ponds — in one of which, I found a Mandarin duck, my favorite kind! How could I go on purporting that this blog is actually about ducks, geese, and squirrels if I didn't post a picture of my favorite duck?



The weather was fantastic but hazy, so instead of climbing Parliament Hill, we headed to Kenwood House to have a look.




It was a nice, stress-free (and cost-free!) way to spend an afternoon.

Matt Visits London

From Ireland, Matt flew back to London with me and Teriann to spend a few days with us in London. The presence of a visitor, along with the weather finally beginning to show signs of summer, was enough to make me re-appreciate the incredible depth of what London has to offer.

We rambled through Hyde Park (sorry, I have to put up this swan pic because I think it's hilarious),



Mayfair (where we saw the American Embassy), a free modern art gallery behind Piccadilly Circus (which included these skeletons of famous cartoon characters),



and a street performer in Covent Garden.



I also came to look at now-familiar sights, like the Lord Nelson Column on Trafalgar Square and the London Eye, below, through refreshed eyes:




The jewel of the week, however, was Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII's favorite hangout, and a half-hour train ride from the city's center. The palace itself covers more than 4 acres; the gardens another 60 or so; and it's still owned by the Queen, so the deer that roam the 600-or-so acre park out back are occasionally culled and — no joke — served for dinner.





Another fantastic thing about the palace is that they give you capes to wear while visiting the Henry VIII apartments; you're encouraged to participate in the reenactments they put on. Matt and I, though, wore ours all day.






Here's a picture to give you an idea of the average age of folks wearing capes and taking pictures with the costumed actors.



And here we are:



Oh, what a day. Just like old times, only with capes.

It was great to hang out with my old buddy for the week — it made me miss undergrad something fierce and really start to look forward to July when we get a slew of visitors.

And yes, before Matt went home, Teriann and I did take him to feed the squirrels in Hyde Park.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Emerald Isle: Part II

From Slea Head, our happy team drove back to Dingle for what by all accounts was the best meal of our journey. We ate here and you should too:



The crab in my salad still had claws!



And our table was next to an open, roaring fire!



And there was a gathering of local Irish music enthusiasts — no big names or egos — playing music around a couple of pints in what apparently is called a 'traditional session'. The experience was less like a concert than it was a sublime and transporting glimpse of music as it's supposed to be made. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but it was my favorite experience in Ireland.



The next day started off with a trip to Bunratty Castle. Two interesting things about this castle: first, it doesn't have any of the flash of the Windsor or Hampton Court castles of Britain. No, this is a working-Earl's castle with tiny (one person can barely fit through) crooked stone staircases, impressively unimpressive bedchambers, and a truly terrifying dungeon. It was much easier for me to imagine medieval life in this craggy building than in any distant, opulent palace. Second, behind the grounds lies a tiny distillery where they make Bunratty Meade, a delicious honey liquer that is deceptively sweet.




Monday also had some of the best scenery of the trip, starting off with the Cliffs of Mowher. The cliffs are of course majestic and impressive in scope,




but what you may not get from the typical photos is just how cold and absurdly windy it was.



There was also a sign where the 'official' park ended that was roundly ignored.



From there, we headed North into the Burren, a bizarre part of the Earth that consists of vast expanses of gray, rocky landscapes. The region is mind-boggling, oddly moon-like, and impossible to adequately capture on film (sorry).

Instead, I'll use the opportunity to interject just how comically narrow most of the roads in Ireland were. On the road up to the Burren, for example, Teriann jumped out of the car and snapped these:




And don't forget the various farm animals by the side of the road:



While we (thankfully) didn't have any near-misses, it did make driving slightly more high-stress. The driving-on-the-left thing, on the other hand, turned out not to be such a big deal when the roads were wide enough.

We ended the evening in Galway, a vibrant, youthful city that's packed with character, friendly people, and pub after pub after pub. Luckily, after a few tries, we found this one: The Quays.



We finished up dinner at a place down the road, and we came across the Quays, thinking to ourselves that it looked lively inside and wondering whether to go inside. It's one of those seemingly small turning points on which can hinge something much larger: I can't imagine what that night would have turned out like had not a fat, bald doorman leaned out of the door and waved us in. It turned out to be my new favorite pub anywhere in the world (except, of course, the Bang in Tempe). We met, among others, a group of 50-something-year-old Belgians and a group of Americans who were the only other people in the bar who wanted to hear the band play Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'.

I couldn't have asked for a better end to our Ireland journey.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Emerald Isle: Part I

Shortly after Teriann and I moved, my old roommate Matt suggested that he'd come visit for St. Patrick's Day and that we'd go to Ireland. Well, it turned out that I was in school for St. Patrick's Day, so we bumped it back a few weeks but kept the idea of going to the land of leprechauns, clover, and Guinness.



Speaking of that dark, heavy drink, we started off in Dublin on Friday (April 3) with a tour of the Guinness factory, followed by the Jameson's Irish Whiskey factory. The Jameson tour was by far the better one (our tour guide was a funny old guy who clearly enjoyed his job), and along the way Teriann was made a certified Irish Whiskey Taster!



We also made a random friend, Betsy, who has been traveling on her own since January (wow) and whose stops thus far have included, among other places, New Zealand, Egypt, and Bali (wow!). Meeting people like this is one of the most fascinating things about traveling, and explains why the more one travels, the more one feels not as if he is accomplished, but as if he has a great deal more to experience.

In general, I could take or leave Dublin: it's kind of just another big, dirty city — albeit with, in true Irish style, some good pubs for the craic (Irish for both 'fun times and conversation'). And as Dublin clearly demonstrates, the Irish are apparently very proud of their drinking heritage:





The rest of the country was very different, though. On Saturday morning, we picked up our rental car and headed West. Our first stop was an ancient monastic site, Glendalough, in the Wicklow mountains.







Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves: it was a beautiful day, and a beautiful site in some beautiful mountains.

From there, we stopped at Kilkenny Castle (probably one of the only things we could have skipped and not been disappointed) on our way down to Killarney for the night. If you take a glance at a map of Ireland, you'll find it's kind of a haul from Dublin in the middle-east to Killarney in the southwest. And it was: we spent the most time in the car of any of our days and arrived at Blarney Castle too late to kiss the Blarney Stone (turns out they close early in April). Driving, though, allowed us to see the refreshing Irish countryside, though, and to stop and take pictures when the countryside looked like this:





We arrived in Killarney too late to have a proper dinner, but just in time to find out that it is a nightlife capital of Ireland. Apparently, when Irish people go somewhere for a bachelor or bachelorette party, Killarney it is!

One of my favorite Christmas songs is 'Christmas in Killarney' so I was very excited to actually be in the town, and it did not disappoint. Our wonderful B&B (the Redwood) was just outside of town,



and the town turned out to be quite beautiful by day.




In addition to rummaging around Killarney, we spent the morning hiking to Torc Waterfall.




In the afternoon, we drove out to Dingle, a great little seaside town, and the western-most point in Europe, Slea Head.




And just to clarify, yes, the scenery along the way was amazing.





This trip was 5 days (rather than our standard 2- or 3-day weekend jaunts), so I'll have to get to the rest of the trip soon. In the meantime, there are three facebook albums that cover the trip in its entirety:

Ireland 1

Ireland 2

Matt visiting London