Author Archives: eliaspattn

About eliaspattn

A former violinist with the Boston Symphony and longtime associate concertmaster of the Utah Symphony, Gerald Elias has performed on five continents as violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher. Since 2004 he has been music director of the Vivaldi by Candlelight concerts in Salt Lake City, and continues to perform with the Boston Symphony at their Tanglewood summer festival. He was first violin of the Abramyan String Quartet from 1993-2003 and has been a faculty member of the University of Utah School of Music since 1989. An award-winning author, Gerald Elias’s Daniel Jacobus mystery series takes place in the dark corners of the classical music world and has won extensive critical praise. His debut novel, Devil’s Trill, was a 2009 Barnes & Noble “Discover: Great New Writers” selection and was recently released as a unique audio book produced by Alison Larkin Presents, with music performed by Elias, receiving high praise from AudioFile. The sixth installment of the Jacobus series, Spring Break, was released in the summer of 2017 by Severn House. Iberkshires.com wrote, the mystery is “wonderfully and imaginatively conceived, written and plotted, and is a joy to read.” The prestigious Strad magazine wrote, “a very deftly written murder mystery…guaranteed to please.” Elias’s short stories, provocative essays, and reviews have graced a growing number of diverse and distinguished anthologies and online journals, from Ellery Queen Magazine to Opera magazine. A native New Yorker, Elias resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he continues to expand his musical and literary horizons. For more information about Gerald Elias’s literary and musical activities, visit his website: https://geraldeliasmanofmystery.wordpress.com/ For his most recent books: Playing With Fire http://severnhouse.com/book/Playing+with+Fire/8663 Spring Break http://severnhouse.com/book/Spring+Break/8778 For his audiobooks: Devil’s Trill http://www.alisonlarkinpresents.com/product/devils-trill/ Danse Macabre http://www.alisonlarkinpresents.com/product/danse-macabre/

Reflections

I’m writing this from the country home of our longtime friends Makoto and Hitomi in the small mountain town of Kusu in Kyushu, Japan’s southern island. We’re here for a few days of r&r after the conclusion of the Boston Symphony tour. It’s cool and cloudy, the perfect poetic atmospherics for a haiku-like vacation. (By the way, Makoto and Hitomi were the prototypes for the characters Max Furukawa and Yumi Shinagawa in my Daniel Jacobus mystery series.)

Kusu

Dawn in Kusu

The final concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo ended with a joyful Mahler Symphony No. 1 and seemed to encapsulate the positive feeling of the entire tour. I think the audience caught the vibe, yet another reason live performance can’t be reproduced by electronic technology. Before the concert there was a lot of the usual chatter about sight-seeing, restaurants, and major purchases. At the high-spirited post-concert party, the tour’s sponsors were gifted with Red Sox caps and conductor’s batons. The speeches by all parties included vows of return BSO visits and sounded more than just empty promises. I think everyone in the orchestra would welcome the prospect.

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Backstage at Suntory Hall

caroline, suntory hall

With my devoted stand partner, Caroline Pliszka onstage at Suntory Hall

One of the highlights of the tour was the open rehearsal for students. School uniforms are standard garb in Japan, so Suntory Hall was awash in a sea of blue. I’m not sure how much the kids understood what Maestro Nelsons was saying to them, even with a translator, but it clearly was an exciting event for them. It’s something the BSO should consider doing more often as it’s yet one more way that music can build bridges over oceans.

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Maestro Nelsons delivers a heartfelt speech.

Students

Tokyo students lining up for open rehearsal.

For a number of young BSO musicians, this was their first time to Japan. For them, and for the rest of us, too, what might be the most impressive and memorable thing we carry away from the experience is the level of civility that is a given in this country. People speak to you respectfully and politely. Tokyo, a city of 20 million, is spotlessly clean. The subway system, which is used by almost 8 million riders everyday is prompt to the minute. Crime, at least in comparison to the US, is virtually unheard of. (Violent crime is 148 times greater in the US than in Japan: http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Japan/United-States/Crime)

While sitting on a crowded Tokyo subway two days ago, a little six-year old girl sat perfectly at ease on her way home from school. A powerful image. Fifty years ago we might have seen this in the US. No longer. We need to consider why.

When an orchestra like the Boston Symphony travels to foreign countries we bring the best of what America has to offer. I hope upon returning to the US we’ll share the positives we’ve learned and experienced from our host nations and help make our own a better place.

BSO poster

 

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A Part, Yet Apart

Last night our close friends, Dr. and Mrs. Minami, took us to Gonpachi, a swanky restaurant in the Roppongi district, after the Boston Symphony’s successful concert at Suntory Hall. Surprisingly, a lot of restaurants close by 9:30 in Tokyo and this one was recommended by the Minami’s son because the combination of rustic and frenetic apparently inspired a scene in the movie, Kill Bill. I never saw that so I can’t say yes or no.

Gonpachi

Gonpachi

The food was great, the ambiance way too touristy, but what was interesting were the servers. They all spoke Japanese like natives and had the proper manners, but not one of them was ethnically Japanese. In the US we wouldn’t blink twice at someone who doesn’t look “American” (whatever that is) but who speaks English. In Japan, one expects people who speak the language fluently to be Japanese. It was curious that the servers at Gonpachi seemed everything but: black, Caucasian, middle eastern. You name it. It made me wonder about living in a country where you’re recognized as an outsider no matter how long you’ve lived there. (Having lived in Utah for thirty years among an eighty percent Mormon population has given me a mild dose of that awareness.)

In a way, playing with the BSO evokes a little bit of that as well. I’m touched by how respectfully my colleagues have embraced my now-and-then participation with the orchestra, but as someone who plays with them only for the Tanglewood season and on the occasional tour, my perspective is being on the outside looking in. Not a big deal, because the view is great from whatever the angle.

Gonpachi is also famous because former President George W. Bush had once been feted there by former Prime Minister Koizumi. I found this out after the Suntory Hall concert, which was attended by none other than a Crown Prince (not the one who cans the sardines, but Crown Prince Naruhito and the Crown Princess Masako of Japan.)

As a matter of protocol, we had been instructed to stand when the pair entered the balcony. Personally, I felt like taking a knee because I don’t believe that anyone, either an individual or a group, has a claim to superiority by birth. That’s the basis of what our Founding Fathers was trying to tell us, wasn’t it? For me, the notion of bowing to royalty is bris(t)ling, to continue the sardine joke. And in a touch of irony, better overlooked for this particular evening, the main work of the program, the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, is a musically graphic depiction of the horrors of the 1905 Russian Revolution inflicted against the common people by royalty. Out of respect for the Japanese people and the members of my organization, however, I stood with my fellow musicians and kept my protest silent. The prince and princess do seem like a nice couple, and they truly appeared to enjoy the concert, so I applaud their good taste.

Christmas in Tokyo, Already (?)

Christmas spirit has already arrived in Tokyo. It must have something to do with the time zones. Early or not, I’ve begun celebrating with reunions with old friends.

Christmas in Tokyo

The BSO arrived in town on Sunday evening, and I immediately jumped on a subway to meet my friend, Michael Selman, and his wife, Sachiko, at a restaurant near Tsukiji. Mike and I were fellow violin students at Yale, after which he became a violin expert for the famous shop of Charles Beare. Mike now divides his time between Dallas, New York, New Mexico, Mexico, Japan, and Korea, so he’s not an easy guy to pin down. We spent the evening laughing about our student days over a lovely dinner of grilled eel.

eel

An eel

Mike Selman

Mike Selman & I reminisce over post-eel coffee.

Yesterday, our free day, I paid a visit to the Musashino Music Academy, where I taught for four months in 1986 while on sabbatical from the BSO. It was a life changing experience for me, so it was wonderful to meet with President Fukui, who has not changed a bit in thirty years, along with other old friends on the staff and faculty.

Pres. Fukui

President Fukui with his copy of my Devil’s Trill audiobook!

Then last night, the best reunion of all. I took the train out to Narita Airport, where my wife Cecily arrived from Salt Lake City to join me for the rest of the tour and little R&R with Tokyo friends thereafter.

Have to run now. Rehearsal at Suntory Hall starts shortly.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my blogs, I may have a very exciting announcement to make in a few days! If you haven’t enjoyed reading them, then of course it won’t be nearly as exciting.

Game, Set…Concert

Our travel director handed out our randomly designated seat assignments for the Bullet Train from Nagoya to Kawasaki, where we had a matinee concert, followed by a bus ride to Tokyo. I was handed a chit for 7-D in Coach No. 10. En masse, we followed our guide to the correct track and boarded. (There’s never any question whether the train will be on time.)

Chit

Chit

I took my seat next to a woman a few years older than me who I had seen at our concerts and receptions, but who I had never met. James Orleans, my friend, long-time BSO string bassist and excellent tennis player, was sitting on the other side of the train aisle. Even before the train started to move he did the honors with the introductions. Anita Klaussen was his good friend and neighbor from back in Boston.

Anita and I started to chat, and shortly thereafter she mentioned she had been married to Bud Collins for twenty-five years before his recent passing. Did I know who Bud Collins is, she asked.

If you know anything about sports, especially tennis, you know who Bud Collins is. A world-class player, he gained even more fame as a world-class sports journalist. He was THE voice of American tennis for decades.

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Anita no doubt anticipated the standard deep, baseline crosscourt response: “Wow! Bud Collins! Of course I know who he was.”

Instead, I surprised her with an unexpected topspin lob: “Bud Collins was my older brother Arthur’s tennis coach at Brandeis in the ‘60s.” From the widening of her eyes, I could tell I had the advantage. Jim, too, immediately perked up.

And then I went for the kill with an overhand volley: “And because Art taught me how to play tennis, in a way that makes me Bud Collins’s grandson, doesn’t it?”

Point won. Street cred achieved.

Anita showed me the tribute book she had put together for Bud’s memorial service. It included testimonials from famous tennis players and lots of photos. She thought there might be one of Bud’s Brandeis days, maybe even with my brother in it, but there were so many photos that it’s still in a drawer with thousands of others.

Anita Klaussen

Anita and me with her tribute to Bud

We enjoyed a conversation about tennis, Japan, and life until we got to the Kawasaki station. I’m sure we’ll have more. One never knows what to expect on a concert tour. Just like when I’m playing tennis.

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Anita and Bud

 

The Osaka Conundrum

No, that’s not the title of a Robert Ludlum thriller. Rather, it was the BSO’s predicament for its concert in Osaka last night.

On the program was the colossal Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905.” Here was the situation:

  1. The Symphony No. 11 is a very long and difficult composition, full of potential musical traps for everyone, and which doesn’t lie well on anyone’s instrument. It’s the kind of a piece that is typically referred to in the profession as “a bitch.”
  2. The orchestra hadn’t looked at it in well over a month, since the beginning of the concert season in Boston.
  3. Before September, most of the musicians in the orchestra had never played the Shostakovich at all. It’s one of his least performed symphonies—I admit to never even having heard it–so there was no muscle memory to pull out of the hat.
  4. The rehearsal for the piece that was supposed to have taken place the day before had been washed out when the truck carrying our music was delayed beyond our ability to reschedule. (See yesterday’s post: Intrigue in Nagoya.) All we had was a 15-minute acoustical rehearsal an hour before the concert at the Osaka Festival Hall to slay all those millions of phantoms.
Maestro at the train station

Strategizing at Nagoya Train Station

Well, wouldn’t you know? The performance went of without a hitch. What a credit to the BSO musicians and Maestro Nelsons! (Smart guy, he took ½ an edge off the perilously frenetic tempos he had us play in Boston. It made everyone onstage feel much more secure and confident, but the Osaka audience got just as big a thrill.) When it was all over the sense of accomplishment (and relief) was palpable. The post-concert reception had even more levity than usual.

Happy campers

Maestro & Musicians Celebrating

 

Being on tour does not preclude life at home interjecting itself from time to time. Just before the concert I received an email from a violist who was going to be one of the soloists in Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg Concerto that I’m conducting next month in Salt Lake City to tell me she won’t be able to do it. So I have to find another violist from afar and quickly.

To more than counterbalance that bit of unsettling news, however, was another email I received, this one from Alison Larkin, the producer of my new, critically acclaimed audiobook mystery, Danse Macabre, to tell me it is now finished (weeks ahead of schedule) and available for download purchase. (CD sets will be ready in the near future.) Check out the audio sample. I can’t think of a better, easier, or more “novel” way to get your holiday shopping out of the way. Can you?

Danse Macabre AUDIO COVER

DANSE MACABRE: AUDIO

Intrigue in Nagoya

It wasn’t the way you’d want to start a concert tour. At 8:00 we received a message from Chris Ruigomez, the BSO Director of Concert Operations. “Good morning. We have just been notified that one truck with some of our instruments will not arrive until about noon.” That was unfortunate, since the rehearsal at NTK Forest Hall in Nagoya was scheduled to start at 10:30. “We will move the rehearsal to be from 1:00 PM.”

Schedule

Changes were made on the fly, including our bus departure from the Nagoya Hilton, where the orchestra was staying. Rather than returning to the hotel after the rehearsal and going back to the hall for the 5:00 PM performance, we would stay at the hall. Food would be provided in between the rehearsal and concert.

We were at the hall and ready to begin rehearsal—our first of the tour—at 1:00. Only problem, still no music, still no string basses. The truck was still somewhere between Tokyo and Nagoya. Rumors spread. The one consistent one was that the driver had overslept. Jet lag? Nope. Not one of ours. A Japanese driver. This seemed strange. Oversleeping a half hour, maybe. Even an hour. But to be four or more hours late?

Waiting

Thumb twiddling time.

Already, the inconvenience and the expense were adding up. “What ifs” started seeping into the conversation. All the contingencies had to be considered. It could be a major disaster.

Finally, at about 1:30 the truck arrived. The BSO stage crew and their Forest Hall counterparts sprang into action. Swinging into actionThe rehearsal, which was supposed to run for 2 ½ hours, went from 2:00 to 3:00. No time for Shostakovich today. Maybe tomorrow. Maestro Nelsons was his usual unflappable self. All smiles. No hurry. Take care of business. See you at the concert.

Backstage Subway sandwiches and bento boxes. A quick dash to a nearby coffee shop for additional caffeinated sustenance to ward off potential jet lag.

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The audience never knew.  Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham. Mahler Symphony No. 1. Beethoven Egmont Overture as an encore. Everything went off without a hitch. Disaster averted. At least for us. I heard the driver was fired. Actually, that made me relieved. I worried it would go much worse for him.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

 

Sand Castles

Castles still serve a valuable function. They inform us about ancient history, architecture, art, culture, and politics. They’re gathering places for friendly, informed tourists and for tourist dollars, helping support the local economy. And, in the case of Nagoya Castle, offer excellent soft serve green tea ice cream.

Green Tea Ice Cream

Samurai nourishment

I had been to Nagoya Castle once before, decades ago. At that time, it was impressive but a bit tattered so yesterday, on our day off, I considered it more a destination of my walk—I needed to stretch my legs after all those hours in the plane—rather than as something I particularly wanted to see.

It turned out my route was a lot more circuitous than I planned. That will happen when you start out ninety degrees in the wrong direction.

Walking Map

You figure it out!

It being a lovely fall day, however, I enjoyed whatever came my way. Walking through city streets and parks in a foreign country is always interesting, if occasionally bewildering.

NOT Nagoya Castle

NOT Nagoya Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving at the castle entrance, one cannot be anything other than awestruck by the massive stone works that form the walls of the moats and base of the castle tower. The only places I’ve seen that might equal it are the Incan stone work in the mountains of Peru or the Etruscan walls in Umbria, Italy.

Nagoya Castle

The correct Nagoya Castle

Things had certainly changed since my previous visit. Gardens had been re-landscaped. Extensive renovation had taken place. And most of all, the palace, which had been totally destroyed along with the original castle tower by American bombing in World War II, has been painstakingly reproduced in every detail. The beauty of the architecture and murals are as breathtaking a marvel of Japanese artistry and esthetic as the original apparently was.

Palace Mural

Palace mural

The current, rebuilt castle tower looks like the 17th century original on the outside, but is of cement construction. Unlike the palace, which is a virtual recreation, the inside of the castle tower is simply a museum space of various interesting exhibits with photos and artifacts. One floor recreates a street scene in old Nagoya. Another has an impressive scale model of the entire city from the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

17th Century Taxi

17th Century taxi

Some of the exhibits have captioned photos of the castle pre- and post-bombing, and of pieces of artifacts seared by heat of the explosions. There is a subtle implication in much of it that the bombing of the castle, which had been designated a national treasure, was wastefully unnecessary.

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Bombing of Nagoya Castle, 1945

 

 

Though it certainly was tragic that so much irreplaceable beauty was destroyed, one must also consider the original purpose of the castle. It was a military, government fortress in which endless wars of conquest and destruction were planned and executed. While Nagoya Castle had long abandoned that function, in a sense its bombing was a continuation of history more than a disruption of it. Poetic justice? Perhaps not. The real tragedy is war itself and the killing of innocent civilians because all castles, whether made of stone, sand or of metaphors, are eventually are swept away by the tide.

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