Allen Whear, violoncello
“ We consider ourselves bi-coastal if you consider the Mississippi River one of the coasts.”
---Ron Albertson, Waiting for Guffman
Wednesday: Los Angeles
The second half of the House of Dreams tour took us to four different cities in four days. This was our third time performing in the magnificent Disney Concert Hall but it still took your breath away. There is some feeling, though, similar to revisiting a place from childhood and thinking everything has grown smaller. Someone remarks that the Disney “isn’t as big as I remember it.” This is partly because of familiarity but credit is due to the genius of Frank Gehry’s design, which brings the listeners closer--despite the room’s capacity—with its asymmetrical layout and by surrounding the stage with seats on all sides. This and the brilliant acoustics, which naturally embrace and enhance our relatively small band.
Thursday: Alisa Viejo
We had heard that the venue in Aliso Viejo was new, but did not know much more than that. We were heading from Disney Hall to somewhere vaguely in the direction of Disneyland. Imagine the surprise upon finding an absolutely world-class concert hall on a beautiful brand new campus in Orange County. It even seemed to have a “new hall smell” which I can only describe as freshly varnished wood. Soka University of America, affiliated with a Japanese predecessor, was founded in 2001, and just a few years later built its entire campus from scratch among the San Joaquin hills near the similarly new city of Aliso Viejo. We drove through the gate to see impressive architecture and landscaping, all seemingly done on an extravagant scale. The Performing Arts Center has wonderful acoustics; Jeanne guided the transformation of our playing style; one could dare to play ppp and with buttery soft bowstrokes. Turns out, the acoustician responsible for this miracle is Yasu Toyota, who also created the Disney Concert Hall, the New World Center in Miami Beach, and the Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Yo-Yo Ma, who played here last month, is quoted in Soka’s website as wishing to only perform in Yasu Toyota halls.
I went outside during the break between the rehearsal and performance, full of admiration for the hall and the effect it was having on our playing, and admired the view of adjacent canyons whose deer and coyotes were most likely starting their evening rounds.
Soka University Performing Arts Center (photo by Allen Whear)
Friday: St. Louis
We emerged from our hotel in darkness at 4:45 AM to catch the flight from LAX to St. Louis, Missouri, part of the payback, one supposed, for our enjoyment of a week of glorious California sunshine.
During this tour we used four different airlines. One way of contrasting them might be to compare their reactions to bringing cellos on board. One insists on capturing and subduing the instrument, ensnaring it in a webbing system no one seems to understand how to manipulate, another greets the prospect of two cellos with panic, insisting that without first-class bulkhead seats they would not be allowed, but confused and inconsistent on how to resolve the “crisis.” So what a relief when American Airlines attendants merely see a cello as something interesting, conversation-starting, joke-inspiring, even as the basis for flirtation. Amen.
“Welcome to St. Louis, center of the universe” announced our bus driver Albert, launching into a highly entertaining monologue on his hometown during the 20 minute ride from the airport. Pointing out landmarks and history, famous St. Louis natives like Phyllis Diller and Vincent Price, and climate extremes (“the record high was 118 F in 1953. I was six years old and remember my parents dabbing rubbing alcohol in front of a fan”), the trip flew by. Passing a famous medical research center, he tested our attentiveness by ad-libbing (“they even do head transplants there, but you better be sure that’s what you want, ‘cause if you change your mind afterwards, it’s a lot of trouble sifting through the garbage bags for your old head…”). Soon the famous arch came into view. St. Louis has an impressive civic infrastructure of museums, parks, and arts facilities, a fascinating history and culture which merits a return visit.
Albert pointing the way to Pappy's BBQ in St. Louis (photo by Allen Whear)
The venue for our final concert couldn’t have been more different from the previous one. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is an imposing Neo-Byzantine style building just short of 100 years old whose glittering interior boasts one of the world’s largest displays of mosaics, comprising 83,000 square feet. In San Diego I remarked on the coincidence of playing at a museum which boasted a Canaletto scene of Piazza San Marco, but now we find ourselves in a space with an interior and dimensions that bring to mind the Basilico of San Marco in Venice itself. Having overcome the staging problems (respecting the church’s refusal to allow the screen to block the alter) we tackle the issue of an eight-second reverberation. In a program such as this, when the musical selections and narration form a continuous flow (with occasional overlapping) there is no interruption by applause. So we find ourselves hearing the long echo of a final chord still resounding as we launch into the next piece, which is often in a different key. This is challenging but also has its own kind of beauty once we start to adjust to it. Savoring the reverb is like taking a moment to enjoy the prolonged and complex finish of a really great wine.
St. Louis Cathedral rehearsal, with Glenn Davidson (photo by Julia Wedman)
And so our first House of Dreams tour comes to an end. Before digging the hat and gloves from the bottom of my suitcase, I want to thank you for reading, and give special thanks to all who made this possible, particularly those who worked behind the scenes to make this tour happen but were not with us. Geographically, we have covered interesting ground. On stage, Alison’s narrative took us from London to Paris, Delft, Venice, and Leipzig. But our own “muddy vestures of decay” started on the Atlantic shore, flew to the upper left corner of the U.S. within a half hour of the Canadian border, then down to the lower left corner within a half hour of the Mexican border, and finally to the banks of the great Mississippi River.
I feel this justifies dubbing this Tafelmusik’s first Tri-Coastal Tour.
Editor's Note: Thank you so much to Allen Whear for these fantastic blogs - tours are very busy times, so we appreciate taking the time to write them. And thank you to all our readers - what a great tour!