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Boston Symphony Tour, Day 19: Amsterdam-Home


Because we had to check out of the Okura Hotel by 8:15 AM and get on the 8:30 bus to the airport in time for the first of two BSO group flights back to Boston, I had an early breakfast and did my Amsterdam sightseeing from 8:00 to 8:14. There was a fine view from my hotel window, and take my word for it, it’s a lovely canal that passes in front of the hotel.


Seeing the sights from my hotel room window.








Amsterdam on 5 minutes a day.

I’m going to miss the elegant all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts at the fine European hotels we stayed in. All the bacon and sausages, eggs and omelets made to order, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, pancakes, crepes, cold cuts and cheese, smoked fish, pastries, rolls, salads, fruit, fresh-squeezed juices, cereals. A fresh pot of coffee for a breather. And then back for more. A bacon-free diet is in my future.

I won’t miss those inscrutable, user unfriendly showers, which arbitrarily get you where you don’t expect it with scalding or icy water of their choosing, or the microscopic print shampoo/conditioner/bath gel/lotion containers that require a magnifying glass to read, or the heating/air-conditioning systems that require an instruction manual to decrypt. I won’t miss the elevators that require your room card to activate when you’re lugging a suitcase in one hand and your instrument case in the other.

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Typical tour breakfast (main course only)

I’ll miss the great concert halls but not some of the backstage areas where we had to change in phone booth sized spaces. (You remember phone booths, don’t you? For those too young, they were very cramped.) I’ll miss the friendly, witty banter of the brass and percussion players, most of which can’t be repeated. I’ll miss the professionalism not only of the musicians, who played beautifully throughout an exhausting tour, but also the management, staff, librarians, and stage crew—that’s for you, John Demick—who truly make what we do on stage possible.

For certain, I won’t miss waiting at airports. At Schiphol Airport I parted ways with my colleagues, since I was not returning to Boston with them. After schlepping at Schiphol for about five miles I found the gate for my flight to the Northwest, where I’m going to be meeting my first grandchild for the first time. For the moment, I’ll miss playing with the gang, but I’d put other music and writing projects on the back burner that have been awaiting my attention, and now it’s time to dive back in. (Announcements on those coming soon!)

And, there’s always next year to look forward to.

Bye for now.

If you’ve enjoyed these blogs, here’s a list that represents the best of my published oeuvre. It should keep you going for the time being:

The Daniel Jacobus Series:

Devil’s Trill (new edition in the works)

Danse Macabre (new edition in the works)

Death & the Maiden

Death & Transfiguration

Playing with Fire

Spring Break

Western Mystery:

Roundtree Days*


Symphonies & Scorpions

Short Stories:

Mister E’s Mysteries (Volumes 1-6)

Children’s Story:

Maestro, the Potbellied Pig*

Audio Books (includes music performed by the author and his friends!):

Devil’s Trill

Danse Macabre

Dances with Death: Devil’s Trill & Danse Macabre, Anniversary Twin Set!*

Maestro, the Potbellied Pig*

(*on the drawing board)




Boston Symphony Tour, Day 18: Paris-Amsterdam


The last day of the Boston Symphony European tour, in Paris, started out like the other days. The bus left the hotel on time, at 9:45. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport on time at 10:30. We whisked through security, went to the lounge waiting area, and then to Gate 21, all according to plan.

After briefly waiting at the gate, we were told there would be a 45-minute delay. No big deal. Back to the lounge. I could use a cup of coffee anyway.

After an hour we were informed our plane, a Luxair private charter, had experience mechanical difficulties and there would be another hour wait. At this point our antennae went up. It was already the time we were supposed to have arrived in Amsterdam. As it was, we only had a few hours between arriving at our hotel and our scheduled pre-concert rehearsal. Our waiting lounge, unlike those at other airports, had no decent places to eat. About the best one could muster was a chicken with mayonnaise sandwich. So I had a chicken with a mayonnaise sandwich.

The Players Committee and management, staying ahead of the curve, started discussing Plans B-Z, depending on how late we’d be. Still no cause for alarm, though. Until an hour later we were informed the flight had been cancelled.

Cancelled! How the hell were we going to get to Amsterdam? It was too late to get back on a bus, and at this point taking a train was out of the question. (Train would have been faster than flying to begin with, but security concerns drove the decision to fly.) We continued to wait.


The Great Wait

Calls were made, now with a great deal of urgency. Because I was not privy to any of it, I can only tell you what I heard secondhand. The good news was, Luxair could get a plane to de Gaulle sometime between 4:00 and 5:00. The bad news was, it was not big enough to accommodate all the musicians. However, they could fly some musicians to Amsterdam (a one-hour flight), turn right around and pick up the rest. We were each handed 11-Euro vouchers to get something to eat. Unfortunately, most of us had already eaten, so a long line formed at the fancy shmancy macaron concession for last-minute gifts.

Decision time. Our scheduled program was the Bernstein Serenade on the first half and the Shostakovich 4th Symphony on the second. The Bernstein instrumentation is for reduced string numbers and percussion, but no winds or brass. The Shostakovich calls for an army of musicians. So the decision was made: Take the Bernstein musicians, with solo violinist Baiba Skride, on the first flight, with enough additional winds to play the Beethoven 7th Symphony. Even though the orchestra hadn’t played the Beethoven for some time (and if I’m correct had only done it once before with Andris Nelsons conducting a few years ago) it remained one of the BSO’s strongest fallbacks. If the other musicians got there in time, we’d do the Shostakovich. If not, we would play the Beethoven.

Good plan. The plane (a prop plane no less) showed up. We were ready to go. The only glitch was that the airport officials decided to get officious. French bureaucracy rearing its famed opaque head. One musician at a time, they went through all the paperwork that had already been gone through for the original flight.


Replacement Plan

Finally, we boarded, but because of the paperwork delay, we missed our spot on the runway. By the time we took off it was 6:40. Forget about going to the hotel. Forget about the rehearsal Forget about Shostakovich. Maybe even forget about the concert. Once in the air, we were offered a sandwich–cheese or chicken. I knew from experience it would have to be cheese.

We landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at about 7:30 and were able to immediately get on a bus waiting for us by the efficient and pragmatic Dutch people. The starting time of the concert had been pushed back from 8:15 to 9:00 PM. Because we were starting so late, there would be no intermission between the Bernstein and the Beethoven. Would the Concertgebouw audience, having to wait 45 minutes, be as irritated as we were? That remained to be seen.

We got to the hall at about 8:15, and were provided a quick but surprisingly good meal by the efficient and pragmatic Dutch people. When we got onstage and were ready to play, the managing director of the Concertgebouw gave a little speech about the circumstances we had endured to get there, and the audience responded with very rousing applause. So far, so good.


With a still smiling Baibe Skride

Baiba Skride performed the Bernstein as if she didn’t have another care in the world. She’s a terrific violinist and, having traveled with the us musicians, which few guest artists do, showed herself to be a wonderful colleague as well. The performance went very, very well, in no small part to the magical acoustics of the Concertgebouw. Having just played in the other great halls on this trip, I’d have to say that the Concertgebouw is the créme de la créme! What a pleasure.


The Concertgebouw

After the Bernstein came the challenge of the Beethoven, but first an answer to a question you might already have. How did we get the music? Here’s where having a great librarian come in. For a variety of reasons, every orchestra has its own set of parts to almost all of its repertoire. Playing on another orchestra’s parts could be very confusing, if not catastrophic when sight-reading at a concert! Wilson Ochoa, the BSO librarian, and his crew downloaded and printed out every part to the Beethoven for all seventy-plus musicians from his computer files. Not only that, by the time we walked onstage, they had professionally bound all the parts as well. Talk about teamwork! And at this point, may I also say kudos to the whole management team for pulling a rabbit out of a very deep hat!

Here was our (the musicians’) question: Would Andris Nelsons play it safe, lay back, and just let the orchestra find an acceptable groove? Beethoven 7th is a symphony we can play in our sleep, but that might make it sound…sleepy. On the other hand, how damaging would a BSO train wreck in the Concertgebouw be on the last night of a big tour?

It took about two seconds to get the not unexpected answer. Nelsons, like the musicians, was ready to show the crowd what the BSO could do under the most trying circumstances. It was a true collaboration. Whatever he showed, the orchestra responded. Standing ovation. And as a personal note—after having alternated the Mahler 3rd and Shostakovich 4th for the whole tour, it was revelatory to hear what a supremely gifted genius Beethoven was. For me, it was the perfect way to end the tour.

Walking off the stage at 10:30, we got the news. The rest of the orchestra had just gotten off the plane at the airport. I’d been one of the lucky ones. What a pleasure and an honor to perform Beethoven with the Boston Symphony conducted by Andris Nelsons in the Concertgebouw. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There was a post-concert party at the hall hosted by Nelsons. A lot of good food and drink and promises to return to Amsterdam under better circumstances in the near future. We finally arrived at our hotel at 12:30 AM. It had been a long day. With an 8:15 AM bus to the airport and home, I was ready for a rest.


Best Laid Plans (Might look blurry, because it was.)

If you enjoyed this hair-raising episode, you’ll go crazy over SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS.



Boston Symphony Tour, Day 17: Paris

Two Tales of a City

The sunny Sunday morning in Paris had a festive air. Not only was it a weekend when entrance to all public buildings—museums, historic sites, palaces, government buildings—was free of charge, it was also a car-free day in central Paris, as decreed by its mayor as a gesture toward mitigating climate change and adhering to the goals of the Accord which bears the city’s name. As a result, the Champs Elysees, usually congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic, was today a pedestrian mall. Instead of engines revving and horns honking, all you hear was the quite hum of people talking! The only “motorized” vehicles were bicycles and scooters. And if merchants were worried about losing business on a car free day, I think their concerns were relieved, as the cafés and shops were buzzing with activity.


As I was walking along the Champs Elysees, enjoying this friendly, if temporary new reality, a block away from the Arc de Triomphe a phalanx of police seemed to appear out of nowhere. The quickly cordoned off a wide perimeter around the George V café, politely but firmly ordering pedestrians to detour around the block. It was later reported that there had been a bomb scare or threat—I’m not sure which—that was ultimately determined to be a false alarm.

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On one hand, we have the hope and optimism that we have the technology and determination to deal with looming catastrophe of climate change. On the other, we have hurricanes, floods, droughts, and fires that increase in intensity as, year after year, the earth’s temperature continues to warm.

One one hand, we have humanity’s resiliency, that perseveres unbowed in the face of terrorism. On the other hand, we have a world whose political destabilization matches the climate’s.

What have we learned since 9-11? Or more to the point, what haven’t we learned? We haven’t learned that no matter how many terrorists you kill, you can’t terrorism because terrorism is rooted in an idea and you can’t shoot an idea. But trying to understand the roots of terrorism—whether by Middle Easterners purporting to represent Islam or white supremacists purporting to represent Christianity—is considered a weakness and will ensure you won’t get reelected. So we choose to shoot or incarcerate rather than to understand. I ask, where has that gotten us in the past seventeen years?

The same with climate change, which ostensibly should be a scientific issue. But one’s opinion of it is determined not by data, but by whether you represent a red or a blue district. The earth couldn’t care less what we think. It will do what it will do. We’re capable of helping move things in one direction or another, but it remains to be seen how long we will continue to turn a blind eye to the causes of the catastrophes of Florences and wildfires on our coasts before we take concerted action.


My new friend, Paul Finnegan, who inspires hope for the world.

The two main works of the current Boston Symphony tour are the Mahler Symphony No. 3, which ends in joy and triumph, and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4, which ends in fear and despair. In a way that dichotomy is a reflection of Paris this morning and, more broadly, the world we currently live in. It’s up to all of us to determine which ending we want to hear.


Warming up for Shostakovich with my buddy, Ronan Lefkowitz. (Look closely.)


For less weighty issues, MISTER E’S MYSTERIES will surely entertain you!

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 16: Paris


When musicians walk onstage for a concert on an international tour we not only represent our orchestra and the music, we become de facto ambassadors of our city and country. It’s quite a bit different than a business person going to an international conference because orchestras have such a public face which is seen by thousands of different people every night who are not members of the same field. While on tour the musicians’ diplomatic role often extends outward from the concert hall. Musicians have friends in other countries, meet with colleagues in other orchestras, or give master classes at conservatories from city to city.

Here in Paris, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the results of citizen diplomacy in a long-lasting  way. Since 2005, I’ve been the music director of the Vivaldi by Candlelight chamber orchestra series, which has been going on in Salt Lake City for 35 years. The performance of great Baroque music in a local church that has wonderful acoustics is an annual December and is one of Utah’s cultural highlights of the holiday season.

But in addition to being an intensely rewarding musical experience for me, as conductor, the performing musicians, and our loyal audience, Vivaldi by Candlelight is a major fund-raising event for UCCD, the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, a nonprofit organization whose mission it is “to help shape US foreign relations one handshake at a time.” I highly recommend you take a look at their programs. If there’s going to be hope for the future of the world, it will be through the kinds of activities they support.

* Vivaldi Virtuosi Ensemble 2

Vivaldi by Candlelight

One of those activities is to ask for volunteers to host a dinner in their homes for the hundreds of international visitors it invites to Utah throughout the year. In 2012, we hosted two people from France whose expertise was in immigrant rights, employment opportunity, and workplace protection. The friendships that arose from that one dinner with Chrysoula Malisianou and Madjid Bourabaa have lasted to today. Yesterday in Paris I had a warm reunion with Chrysoula at a bistro near our hotel—Madjid had gotten the flu and sadly couldn’t come—and she’s also very excited be going to our concert on Sunday. We talked about friends, family, work, and life in general. She claimed that her English, in which she is almost fluent, is terrible. Since my French vocabulary is limited to merci and some expressive hand gestures, it was a good thing one of us could speak the others’ language.


Chrysoula and me.

For all that these international tours have to commend them—the art and architecture, the music, the culture, the history, the food, the gardens, the museums, even the shopping—for me the most important thing is the one-on-one, the connections we make with people and not just places. That—and playing great music, of course—is what seems to me to be the most valuable export we can provide in our roles as international representatives.


For more on the life as a cultural diplomat: SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 15: Lucerne to Paris


It’s an open secret that French music is sometimes considered shallow and lacking in philosophical gravitas, especially compared to German and Russian music, which tends to go to considerable length probing the depths of humanity’s (usually dark) soul. Whatever validity there may or may not be to that debate, I think Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, two of the most angst-laden composers ever, would have benefited from some quality downtime in the City of Light. With that in mind, last year I invited them to join me for dinner at Le Valois, a perky bistro just down the block from our hotel in Paris.

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Gusty Mahler

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Dima Shostakovich


Escargot at Le Valois

Me: So, Dmitri, how do you like the escargot?

DS: Men are snails. They are trapped, curled up in their little shells, waiting to die.

Me: I see. How about you, Gusty? Enough garlic for you?

Mahler doesn’t respond but, with wild eyes, runs out of the café in a frenzy.

Me (to DS): I wonder what’s his problem.

DS: He is afraid. They are coming for him.

Me: Who is?

DS: Does it matter?

(Later Mahler tells me he ran off not out of fear but out of inspiration. He has composed a symphony movement called “What the Snails Tell Me.” It’s six hours long.)

I manage to convince Dima and Gusty to stay in Paris until the next Boston Symphony tour. When we arrived in Paris today, a year later, I found them again at Le Valois wearing berets and have been joined at their table by none other than Francis Poulenc, the admitted composer of some of the world’s most intentionally frivolous music. Dima is attempting to balance a spoon on his nose. Francis is encouraging him on by singing the famous can-can by Jacques Offenbach, with Gusty clapping his hands in rhythm.

GM (whispering): Jerry, take a look at Dima!

Me: Yes, I see.

GM: Shhh! He’s concentrating.

Me: He looks happy. What’s wrong?

GM: Nothing’s wrong. He is happy. And he’s given up composing.

Me: I can’t believe it! What’s he doing instead?

GM: He’s taking mime lessons. You should see him do the window routine.

As I order my meal, Poulenc does a card trick that throws Mahler into a fit of giggles.

Me (to Mahler): Have you stopped composing, too?

GM: (trying to answer in between guffaws): Oh, no! I still compose everyday.

Me: So what’s your latest? A new symphony? A sequel to Kindertotenlieder?

GM: No, not at all. I’ve gone off in a new direction.

Me: Oh? What direction? Atonality?

GM: Video game music. It’s so incredibly shallow. People love it.

Me (to everyone): Are you going to our concert tonight?

FP: What’s on the program?

Me: Mahler and Shostakovich.

DM: (flipping the spoon up in the air with his nose and catching it in his mouth): Sorry, Jerry. We’ve got other plans.

Me: Another concert?

GM: Better. A Jerry Lewis all-night marathon, starting with The Nutty Professor and Cinderfella!

FP: Lewis was a genius. He is a national hero in France.

DS: And there’s free popcorn.

I shake my head and depart the café somewhat disheartened. Maybe I’d led them astray. Maybe their personal misery had indeed made the world a better place. Well, I sighed, at least we still have their music.

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If you find this ludicrous story the least bit entertaining, you may well enjoy MISTER E’S MYSTERIES. You can now purchase the entire 6-volume set for less than $18!











Boston Symphony Tour, Day 14: Lucerne


Performing some of the world’s greatest music in the world’s greatest concert halls with one of the world’s greatest orchestras led by one of the world’s greatest conductors—it doesn’t get better than that, right?

Well, maybe it does. I’d bet many of my colleagues would agree that as musicians there’s no feeling more gratifying and fulfilling than seeing former students thrive and succeed. When you consider the years of intensive, often grueling lessons that are part and parcel of helping a student achieve their musical goals; of being part parent, part counselor, sometimes part therapist to your student; helping them find suitable instruments to play on, summer programs to participate in, scholarships to audition for, colleges to apply to, seeing them wend their way through life is almost like seeing your own child grow up. And today, within the universe of the first paragraph’s superlatives, I had that very opportunity to see the fruits of my labors as a teacher.

One of my former students, Celeste Carruth of Logan, Utah, is currently living in Geneva. When she saw I was playing in Lucerne she contacted me and asked if I could give her a lesson. I had seen Celeste, a talented student, only once since she went off to college about ten years ago, and I hadn’t heard play at all. She had been a conscientious hard worker and had made good strides as a violinist in high school. However, I had no idea what level to expect of her current violin playing but in any event I said, sure. Why not? It’ll be opportunity for a pleasant reunion and we’ll have a nice lunch in Lucerne together.

So a friend of hers in Lucerne arranged for a room for the lesson at the Hochschule der Musik. At the top of a very high hill outside of town and up an additional 100 steps, it literally is a “high” school. Here’s a view from the Hochscule. I’d have a hard time concentrating on practicing scales from here:


We met at 11:30 and it was wonderful to see my former student again. Celeste got out her violin and I asked her what she wanted to play for her lesson: Brahms Concerto, Prokofiev D Major Sonata, and Mozart A Major Concerto. Major repertoire. So far so good.

The ostensible reason Celeste wanted this lesson is that she’s hoping to audition for some of Europe’s major youth orchestras and this could be her audition repertoire. (Youth orchestras in Europe are different from what Americans call youth orchestras. They’re really orchestras of young professionals and have an extremely high level of music-making.) For the next two hours we had a splendidly productive lesson. I was very pleased, though not particularly surprised, that Celeste played as well as most conservatory students I’ve heard, with technical confidence and artistic understanding. The concepts and techniques we worked on at the lesson only made sense in the context of someone who already knows how to play at a very advanced level.

But that’s only half the story with Celeste. Along the way in her university studies—first at University of Michigan and then UC Berkeley— she picked up a little bit of physics. The reason she’s living in Geneva is that after earning her PhD last spring, she’s now doing anti-hydrogen research (don’t ask me to explain what that is) at the CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research particle accelerator (don’t ask me to explain what that is). See what practicing your scales can do?

So, yes, performing Mahler 3rd at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum with Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony was as wonderful an experience as any musician could ever ask for. But that’s not what made my day.


Celeste and me.

For more heartwarming orchestra stories, you may enjoy SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS

If you’re not into heartwarming, but prefer a gritty mystery in the world of classical music, go for SPRING BREAK, now available in paperback.


Lake Lucerne is famous for its swans. But sometimes you can also spot a crane. (Such a bad joke. That’s why I saved it for last.)



Boston Symphony Tour, Day 13: Vienna to Lucerne

I’ve got writer’s block today.  Bear with me. I’ll try to work through it.

The Boston Symphony arrived in Lucerne yesterday afternoon after another uneventful, uninteresting charter flight. “Cheese sandwich or chicken sandwich?” Today I choose chicken, but there’s nothing between the two pieces of bread that come close to imitating chicken. Better to call it a bread sandwich so that whatever’s inside will come as a pleasant surprise.

Lucerne, as always, somehow manages to retain its charm and elegance even as it becomes more and more tourist saturated. The lake, mountains, and its historic architecture are as beautiful as ever. Here’s visible proof. In previous posts I extoled the brilliance of Felix Mendelssohn as a musician. It turns out he was also a gifted artist. On the left is a watercolor Mendelssohn painted of Lucerne back in the 1830s. On the right is a photo I took today from a similar angle, though with the swarms of tourists it was hard to find a spot that wouldn’t have a head in it.


The other noteworthy feature of our first of two days in Lucerne is the famous coffee machine at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum concert hall where we performed tonight. As soon as we got to the hall for the pre-concert rehearsal, a dozen of us ran to the machine, which makes the best coffee in Europe (from scratch) with the touch of a button. (Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.) To our great dismay, the machine was off and required a key to turn it on. In desperation we sought out and eventually found a hall staffer who turned it on for us.

Success? Not yet. The machine required “warming up” and the clock was ticking to our rehearsal. “How long?” we asked. “Be patient,” we were told. “Everyone knows this machine. That’s why we turn it off. Otherwise, we would run out of coffee.” I wanted to take a photo of the machine for this blog, but the hall manager would not permit it. He said no one is permitted to let the secret out. (I just made that up. I simply forgot to take a photo.)

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Kultur und Kongresszentrum, home of the famous coffee machine

The machine seems to be thumbing its nose at us. Should we wait, or should we go on stage and rehearse Shostakovich 4th and Bernstein Serenade? Our contract requires us to do the latter, not drink coffee, so we grudgingly obey our orders, casting gloomy looks over our shoulder at the intransigent machine.

But we have not given up! The rehearsal, only a 15-minute acoustical rehearsal, allows us a half-hour before the concert. Enough time to change into our concert dress, and yes, the coffee machine is cooperating! It has made its point, it seems to say. Once again, after our last trip to Lucerne two years ago—voila—a superior double espresso. Remaining alert through the Shostakovich will now be a piece of cake.

Did someone mention cake?

If you enjoyed this hastily written blog, you’ll certainly enjoy SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS, an insider’s (my) look at life as a symphony musician, set against the backdrop of the BSO’s two historic tours to China.