Unforgettable Mahler, Unforgettable Cologne

      Violinist Johnny Lee and Associate Concertmaster Bing Wang

      Violinist Johnny Lee and Associate Concertmaster Bing Wang (right) at Music Director Gustavo Dudamel's 30th Birthday Party in Cologne, Germany -- right after the LA Phil finished a command performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

      We played our second concert in Cologne on January 26, which happened to be Gustavo's 30th birthday.  This is simply incredible.  How many professional orchestras get to celebrate their Music Director's 30th birthday?  All of us knew it was a very special day and it's wonderful to be back at the Cologne Philharmonie on this memorable occasion.

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      The Tour So Far — A Painter’s View

      Plaza a Luis de Camoes in Lisboon
      A view from the Plaza a Luis de Camoes in Lisboon - watercolor painting by Caitlin Heimerl.

      On this tour, I'm traveling with my niece, Caitlin Heimerl. She is a recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, and she is loving the opportunity to paint in all of the beautiful cities we are visiting on this tour.

      After visiting the castle in Lisbon, we found the Plaza Luis de Camões and stopped to paint as the sun was setting.

      In Madrid, after a morning at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which houses Picasso's "Guernica," and a walk through the cobblestone streets of the city, we found a lovely fountain on Paseo del Prado. In spite of the cold, Caitlin pulled out her watercolors to paint there in the early evening.

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      Party On, Dudamel!

      Gustavo cake
      Save me a corner piece!

      Wednesday, January 26 was a big day for the LA Phil and its Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel. Not only did he lead the orchestra in its fifth performance of the 2011 European Tour -- in Cologne, Germany -- but he also turned 30 years old!

      Clearly, a celebration was in order. And that's just what the LA Phil did, cutting loose during a "Crazy Hats"-themed birthday bash at a venue called Alter Wartesaal, near the famous Cologne Cathedral and the Kölner Philharmonie, the hall where the LA Phil performed. Spanish singer Pasión Vega provided the entertainment and, as seen in the gallery below, a great time was had by all.

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      When In Köln…

      In the context of orchestral trumpet playing, "rotary" refers to a specific style and design of trumpet. Rotary trumpets (named for a particular type of valve construction) are typically used in German and Austrian orchestras rather than the piston trumpets we use in the U.S. They look and are played a little differently than "normal" piston trumpets. In fact, audience members often ask us why we're holding our instruments sideways.

      Chris Still, of the LA Phil trumpet section, shows off a rotary trumpet, which is normally used in German and Austrian orchestras and thus was the perfect instrument to bring along on this tour.

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      Well Worth The Wait

      We flew in this morning to Cologne, Germany and the pedestrian shopping district between our hotel and the Kölner Philharmonie is bustling with shoppers. Signs in most of the shop windows shout, "ALLES REDUZIERT!" (Everything reduced!). Even the trendy store, at home known as "Forever 21," is reduced to being called "Forever 18".

      A lineup at the ticket window for a chance to buy one of about 100 tickets that went on sale the day of each of the LA Phil's two concerts at the Kölner Philharmonie. Percussionist Perry Dreiman spoke to two fans who waited for hours, but were able to get tickets to see the first concert.

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      An Overseas Reunion

      Every so often on tour you get the luxury of seeing friends who are normally too far away to visit. For years my family has been talking about taking a trip to Belgium to visit our good friend Andrew, who used to live in Los Angeles, but it had never happened. Now here I was going to be in Köln, a mere one-and-a-half hours from his home in Leuven (yes, this is where they make Stella Artois beer - if the wind is right, you can smell it in the air.)

      The orchestra deplaned to a cold and rainy Cologne; however, all on tour were impressed that the buses came right out onto the tarmac to collect them!

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      Happy Birthday, Gustavo!

      I'm writing this just a few moments before the musicians will be taking the stage for our first concert in Cologne, this ancient city on the Rhine blessed with a marvelous concert hall.

      Deborah Borda
      LA Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda, hard at work on this blog post.

      The performances in Lisbon and Madrid found the Beethoven and the Mahler 9 already in stunning shape and growing every night. I find the intensity at times almost overwhelming. Audiences are wonderfully receptive with standing ovations every night.

      Our concert in Madrid was a gallery of Angelenos and international friends including Zubin Mehta, James Conlon and the First Lady of Spain. It was quite the scene backstage!

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      Free Day In Madrid!

      Musicians all over the world know each other, so it is a happy coincidence that I am able to meet my friend Anne, who I've known since junior high school, on tour with her orchestra. The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Zubin Mehta is playing tonight in the same hall as we did last night. In fact in Madrid this week is a venerable quartet of transplanted Angelenos: Mehta, Placido Domingo, James Conlon and Gustavo Dudamel. Heady company, indeed.

      LA Phil in Madrid
      Gustavo leads the LA phil in rehearsal for the single concert in Madrid. After performing Mahler's Ninth Symphony, those on tour enjoyed a much-deserved day off in Spain's capital city.

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      Travel Day – Lisbon to Madrid

      Lisbon was fascinating.  A beautiful city, rich in history and culinary delights.  I could easily spend several weeks exploring its winding, cobbled streets and diverse cultural offerings.

      Luggage at the airport
      A long luggage queue, courtesy of the LA Phil, awaits its spot on a plane from Lisbon to Madrid. Despite problems with the luggage tag printer, all bags arrived safe and sound in Madrid.

      However, it is not to be as this morning we are en route to Madrid.  I'm traveling with my fourteen-year-old son, Keith, who is finding the food challenging but enjoying the sights.  We'll squeeze in a trip to the Prado Museum on Sunday afternoon, then Mahler 9 for me and homework for him.  After that, we head out for some authentic Spanish Flamenco, sangria and last, but not least, a good night's sleep!

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      The Tour So Far…

      Thursday- free day: met with friends from the opera orchestra, toured the opera house Teatro de Sao Carlos. The building was originally destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and modeled after La Scala. We ate lunch by the river at their favorite location. Great fish, pastries and espresso.

      Went for a walk and stumbled across the Re-Rite exhibit featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia. Needless to say, he looked rather familiar! Dinner in the Bairro Alto neighborhood at Largo- wild boar and local wine, excellent!

      Friday- jet lag jet lag jet lag.  rehearsal at Gulbenkian. Fascinated with the automated espresso machine at the hall. I recommend the 'long' cup. My daily espresso average- 4, I am a local.

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