May 19 2009

Cannons in Kaosiung

Published by at 12:41 pm under PSO 2009 Asian Tour

I’m sitting just behind the stage of the Kaohsiung stadium while the Pittsburgh Symphony rehearses Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony with a chorus of singers from the Vienna State Opera and choirs from Taiwan. It is a very warm and humid evening. The stage for the Orchestra is brightly lit with colorful lights projected onto white and blue curtains. The shape of the shell and its colored lights looks a little like the Hollywood Bowl. Walking into a downtown 7-Eleven this afternoon I picked up some flyers for the event here with a color photograph of the Pittsburgh Symphony on stage at Heinz Hall. This is a city of 1.5 million. A port city with huge shipping traffic. It’s historically been an important military city with the Taiwanese navy based here.

PSO Asian Tour Slideshow

Stadium workers are rolling rubber mats over the playing field sod. The technical crew is putting the jumbotron through its paces. It’s an elegant design for the stadium. Percussionist Christopher Allen practiced filling in for the cannon in the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky with his big bass drum heavily amplified. The fireworks were tested with a few colorful blasts. Stage technician James Petri told me they were rolling in the big instrument cases morning and afternoon in the heat but the Taiwan crew had been extremely pleasant to work with. Manfred is working on the details with lots of stopping and starting—telling the singers to accent ‘seid umschlungen.’ The soloists include Gregg Baker, who sang with the Pittsburgh over a decade ago when Lorin Maazel took Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess to Italy’s Arena di Verona. The amplification sounds good even with the wah-wah acoustical effect of stadium echoes. Imagine a Beethoven concert at PNC Park or Yankee Stadium and you have an idea of how it sounds.

Lake at Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Lake at Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Lake at Kaohsiung, Taiwan

This morning, Principal French Horn Bill Caballero and Associate Principal Horn Steve Kostyniak walked with me to the harbor area. We poked in a few shops. This was a dusty part of the city with a jumble of convenience stores , restaurants, a fountain pen shop and, surprisingly, two dentists a few doors apart with their patients mouths open in the chair focused under a light. No air conditioning, and just steps from the street the door wide open. Makes you wonder abut the possibilities for infection but the patient can watch passersby to keep the mind off the probing. A first for me.

We took a taxi to the area known as Lotus Park, a man-made lake in a part of the city where a temple was established in 1684. There are several colorful temples with enormous incense burners in front. You can buy a stick of incense and say a prayer. There were hundreds of giant turtles swimming in front of one temple. The temples seem right from a movie set with ornate decoration and intricate ceilings. Gigantic 30 foot figures, a lady, a long bearded pirate sort of guy, a dragon– all greet the penitent.

Temple statue in Kaohsiung

Temple statue in Kaohsiung

Temple statue in Kaohsiung

Violinist Lorien Benet Hart helped me negotiate a good price for 20 good luck charms for the students of Minadeo Elementary School in Squirrel Hill, where my wife Laurie Cunningham is substitute teaching for the last few days of the Pittsburgh Public School year.

We sat down in the hotel lobby restaurant for a quick lunch, joined by Principal Viola Randoph Kelly, Timothy Adams Principal Tympanist, and his friend Kim Toscano who is the tympanist for the Tucson Symphony. I always like to ask the question “What’s on your iPod?” Bass Jeff Grubbs told that just this morning, he downloaded a classic recording by saxophonist Joe Henderson playing Brazilian music. His favorite jazz bassists include Eddie Gomez and Scott LeFaro.

They’re wrapping up the Beethoven 7th rehearsal. It’s almost 10pm. Time to get back on the bus for the thirty-minute ride back to the hotel.