ASQ in Poland
Outside the High School for Music in Krakow

It would be pointless to attempt to conceal that it’s more than two weeks now since the ASQ’s return from our invigorating, unforgettable and soon to be repeated (one hopes!) Polish tour.

Untoward ending:

UNITED AIRLINES dropped the ball in canceling our non-stop return UA 902 from Frankfurt to San Francisco with less than 12 hours electronic notice while failing to protect transit options (5 full-fare paying passengers, including the cello). Lufthansa from Warsaw to Frankfurt and ended up coming home from there in an otherwise un-coordinated and free-form manner through a variety of Munich, Washington Dulles and Houston, arriving in some cases without baggage. United Airlines did not make the mistake of emailing their usual solicitation for our opinion about “our most recent UAL itinerary” – no surprise there…

Last minute sound check un the Sukkenice in Krakow. Just a “small” sample of the stunning art on display at the National Gallery.

Picking up on the continuation of our trip…

The Gdansk concert at the Baltic Philharmonie was memorable in every sense. The audience was wonderfully attentive, including many children and students. I was pleased to introduce our encore of the Shostakovich 1st Prelude and Fugue (Zak’s transcription) with my heartfelt appreciation of our short but unforgettable visit to this arresting Baltic city and, in particular, my personal gratitude for almost 3 hours spent in the brand new European Solidarity Centre’s Museum. For a very recently published and related article, check out Rick Steve’s syndicated feature article. I heartily endorse his experience as described therein. I certainly plan to return.

Sandy's Birthday Bash
Lining up some of the flavored vodkas to “help” celebrate Sandy’s birthday

Our post-concert celebration at a nearby up-market hotel and restaurant complex involved some local vodka as well as a selection of local beers and an excellent variety of traditional Piroshki (wonderful stuffed pastries with typically savory combinations of spicy vegetables and sometimes meat too). Simple but very satisfying and entirely appropriate. I was personally gratified to forge a spontaneous friendship with a wonderful Polish cellist, Krzysztof Karpeta, principal of the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra. We sat up until 1:30am trying each other’s cellos, playing Bach while comparing our respective bows and instruments.

The ASQ and our film entourage had an early departure the next morning but we did not escape the touching requests for autographs from our devoted cab drivers who expertly delivered us to the Gdansk train station in good time for our express train, bound for Vienna with a stop in Warsaw — where we disembarked right on schedule at half-past noon. Somehow we came unglued from each other, straggling through an improbable variety of alternative exits from the platform and surfacing in all the wrong places – including in nearby shopping centers! Finally after nearly 20 minutes of unnecessary stress and strife, we congregated in the station arrival hall and convened once again with our trusted fleet of matching black BMWs, spiriting us away once more to the Regent Warsaw Hotel and just a couple of hours to unpack and nap before plunging back into our anticipated rehearsal madness.

Bernd Musing of Arcus Bows with Sany
Sandy with Francis Kuttner’s Egger cello and Bernd Musing of Arcus Bows. Bernd is “helping” decide which Arcus bow to use for the Brahms Piano Quintet in Sunday’s lunchtime recital at the Royal Castle.

A 10 minute chauffeured trip back downtown to the Philharmonic delivered us to our back-to-back rehearsals with our old friend, Spanish clarinetist Joan-Enric Lluna freshly arrived from Geneva — and then on to our “newest” best friend, the renowned pianist, Boris Berman. We were all done by 7:30 allowing enough time to move on to the evening’s recital of Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert in the adjacent large hall of the Philharmonic by Chinese pianist, Zee Zee. Instead however, after a long travel-day for everyone and on top of two back-to-back rehearsals, we crumpled. Back at the hotel, we were greeted by one of the ASQ’s favorite bow-makers, Bernd Müsing of Arcus Bows, who had just arrived by car from Würzburg. We enjoyed a quick and fun supper together and then turned-in early for a much needed good night’s sleep.

The last two days of our Polish tour began early and featured a pair of noon-time concerts in the breathtaking mirrored and acoustically sparkling rooms of the Royal Castle, the whole of which was entirely re-constructed between 1977 and 1989 according to the paintings of Canaletto (painted between 1770-80). We performed both concerts on the Ellen M. Egger string quartet made in 1987 by instrument maker, Francis Kuttner, and Arcus S-8/9 bows by our bow-maker, Bernd Müsing, both or whom were present for both performances in this unique space. What a treat for everyone present!!

Post-concert dinner at the Hotel Copernicus, Krakow

We loved our reunion with Joan-Enric, as well as our new-minted collaboration with Boris. Such kindred musical-spirits are unmistakable and irresistible, especially when encountered under such happy circumstances. These were “festival” performances indeed, with creative connections to be revisited soon and often. Saturday wound up with an elegant reception hosted by the Ambassador of the United Kingdom at the Philharmonic. Sunday’s finale was a distinguished reception, hosted at the residence of the Spanish Ambassador, in honor of our collaborator, clarinetist Joan Enric Lluna, and of the distinguished young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno who performed the Shostakovich Concerto #1 that very evening with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Another great program under the direction of the young Armenian conductor, Sergey Smbatyan. What a festival and great way to remember our last evening in Warsaw.

Alexander String Quartet in Poland
In our own shadow in the lobby at the Jaggielonian Library, site of the specially curated manuscripts and scores

This trip to Poland was exceptional – everyone agrees – and how often does that happen?

We’ll hope to return before long — certainly we made wonderful new friends and were welcomed and assisted by exceptionally talented and experienced administrators who’s polished efforts behind the scenes make it possible for so many artists of all stripes, including the ASQ, to step forward and shine. Our gratitude goes to everyone at the Ludwig van Beethoven Association. Their efforts helped reveal the beauty and urgency at the core of the great music of Beethoven and his successors — including many Polish giants — to so many contemporary audiences today.

Our thanks to US Artists International who with funds provided by the N.E.A. and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped support the ASQ’s trip to the 19th Annual Easter Beethoven Festival. Thanks also to Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and to San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music for their help and guidance. Also to the Krakow-San Francisco Sister City Commission who graciously provided helpful advice and support and to the DocFilm Institute at SFSU for following and documenting an unforgettable tour. Lastly to all of our Polish friends and supporters, you have our enduring admiration, our gratitude and a special place in our hearts.

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