Archive for June, 2011

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center visited Seoul, Korea for a week of performances and teaching as part of its ongoing partnership with the LG Chamber Music School.  Steven Tenenbom, Philip Setzer, Wu Han, Arnold Steinhardt and David Finckel prepared student ensembles for their year-end concert, and performed before a packed house at the LG Arts Center concert hall. For work on artistic partnership projects between LG and the Chamber Music Society, CMS Director of Artistic Programs Michael Lawrence accompanied the musicians for the entire visit.

in David’s words…

Only a few days off the Corinthian II in Istanbul, we boarded a flight from JFK to Seoul for CMS’s third trip to teach in the LG corporation’s innovative Chamber Music School, which provides free instrumental instruction and chamber coachings to deserving young Korean musicians on a year-round basis.

Just before getting off the plane, Wu Han wiped out all competition on the video game “Bejeweled” (Guest scores).

Since the advent of our collaboration, the program has grown steadily in quantity and quality. In addition, various divisions of LG have also become involved: LG U+, which runs LG’s mobile phone, IPTV, and cable service among others; and Dacom, which is the sister company for LG U+ and produces all of their content.  The relationship between LG and CMS has deepened and broadened, as we have found many projects of mutual interest and benefit.

The young musicians of Korea are tremendously exciting to teach.  They possess the signature Asian work ethic and are, at the same time, mostly gregarious and outgoing, which equips them both with the discipline needed to master instrumental and musical challenges, and to communicate their joy of making music across the footlights.

Some of the students with whom we worked have been in the program for three years, the maximum duration, which by coincidence is the same length of time for our CMS Two program residencies.  Those who were the most experienced not only brought so much more to their own performances, but have undeniably guided and helped their younger colleagues into the wonderful world of chamber music.

As our faculty assembled in the lobby of our favorite hotel in Seoul, the Fraser Suites in the Insadong district, we had the pleasure of introducing them to the dynamic Jeehyun Kim.  Jeehyun is the strategic connector between CMS and LG, and her company, Casual Classic, designs social responsibility programs for major corporations such as LG and SK Telecomm.   Jeehyun is also the founder and executive director of Chamber Music Today, a new annual chamber music festival taking place in Korea which debuts in December, the first to introduce and present, on a regular basis, world-class chamber ensembles in Korea.

Upon our arrival at the Yewon Art School, we were greeted by HS Ad director David Shin (HS Ad is advertisement company owned by LG)  and led to one of the large rehearsal studios for our first meeting with the eager students.

The Yewon School has educated many now-prominent performers, and also teaches other arts such as traditional dance, painting and sculpture, much of which was on display.

As we began our first coachings that afternoon, Wu Han and I both realized that the level of understanding of chamber music had come miles since we first encountered many of these students. Very little had to be explained to them about the nature of what they were doing.  Not only did they all “get it” from the beginning, some of even the youngest ones seemed to have chamber music running in their veins.  One twelve-year-old pianist, already playing both the Dvorak Quintet and Beethoven’s Ghost trio, already seemed an expert collaborator.

Each of us threw ourselves into the process with all we could muster.

At noon on Friday we were treated to a reception by Dacom in a spacious room atop the Plaza Hotel.  The event was designed to promote the long-distance learning project in which Dacom is partnering with CMS, and was hosted by, left to right, Dacom President Mr. Junwon Yun, Vice President Mr. Sun Kyu Chun, and Manager at LG U+, Mr. Sunho Park.

A large crowd consisting of student parents, staff, and professional musicians and teachers from Korea attended, including piano professor Daewook Lee of Hanyang University and pianist Aviram Reichart of the Seoul National University.

Dacom’s long-distance teaching collaboration with CMS was explained and illustrated with excerpts of educational events already filmed by CMS in New York in March. Dacom General Manager Yunbae Jung detailed the program, and Wu Han offered our perspectives and many thanks for the company’s dedication and generosity.

Long days of teaching and rehearsing were always rewarded by marvelous parties, great food, and making new friends.  On Saturday evening we were hosted by Junwon Yun, President of Dacom, in a traditional Korean restaurant, giving us an opportunity to exchange ideas with the leadership of this very vital component of LG which has opened the door to an unprecedented educational opportunity.

On Sunday morning we journeyed across Seoul to Olympus Hall for our students’ dress rehearsal and performance.  Our faculty seemed a bit shocked as Wu Han and I attacked the young performers’ stage deportment, making them enter, re-enter, bow and exit the stage until they came across as professionals.  In addition, at Jeehyun’s suggestion, the young musicians briefly explained the music to the audience before each piece (Jeehyun had visited Music@Menlo this past summer and witnessed our Chamber Music Institute in action).

After an introductory speech by Wu Han, assisted in translating by violist Sang Jin Kim, the concert began and went very smoothly in all respects.  The students performed their best, and were rewarded with enthusiastic applause and cheering from parents, faculty and LG executives, including LG President and Chief Operating Officer Juno Cho, who sat next to me on the edge of his chair, conducting much of the music discreetly with his hands.

The concert concluded with a surprise performance of the “LG Song” by the students, including an ensemble on stage and legions of string players in the balconies.

The festive post-concert lobby scene included innumerable poses for the cameras of students and parents alike, not to mention my own.

After much picture-taking, we were hosted for a Korean barbecue dinner by Juno Cho and Vice President Paul Chung.  Attending were Wu Han’s sister Evelyne, her daughter Elizabeth and husband Eric Tang, who presented as gifts to the astonished LG executives rare wines from his personal collection.  Mr. Cho’s daughter Yoojin, herself a gifted violinist and a student of Ian Swensen at San Francisco Conservatory, helped unveil the treasured bottles.

Also dining in neighboring rooms were the hard-working staff members of Jeehyun’s company: Julie Huh, Andrea Kim, Katie Lee, and Hongsik Jung.

Monday brought a day of rest for Philip Setzer and Steven Tenenbom, but for me, Wu Han and Arnold Steinhardt, it was a day of challenge which helped grow the roots of our education project both deeper and broader.

While Wu Han I worked with the very accomplished pianist and cellist Yekwon Sunwoo and Taykuk Moon on the Beethoven A major sonata, hearing first a complete performance and then offering our ideas.  As they played, we marked our score with Post-Its detailing our numerous suggestions, much to their subsequent amazement.

Arnold sat on a stool and talked to the cameras for two straight hours about violin playing, practicing, rehearsing and other aspects of life in music.  We can’t wait to watch what I’m certain will become a definitive educational video and a testament to Arnold’s extraordinary legacy as a consummate musician, thoughtful and generous educator, and incomparable violinist.  He also coached Yekwon and LG Chamber Music School graduate Erica (Keunwha) Lee in Beethoven’s sonata in G major, Op. 30

I also used the opportunity to knock off a couple more Cello Talks, these talks designed especially for the LG U+ project and drawn from the more extensive Cello Talks web site. The exhausting day was concluded with yet another wonderful meal and story-telling late into the night.

The excellent cellist Na-Young Baek served as my translator for all my classes during the week.  Her presence, as an expert musician and attentive colleague, made my many suggestions and ideas intelligible for the students. Doubtless I am sometimes a little hard to translate!

Tuesday morning gave us the opportunity to rehearse for our own concert one more time.  Phil, Arnold and Steve gathered around the piano in our suite for a run-through of the Dvorak Terzetto.

The evening concert was in the acoustically-excellent LG Arts Center Hall, a large venue that presents a huge variety of world-class and cutting edge productions of a wide range of music, theater and dance.

The concert was sold out long in advance, and we were gratified to learn that complimentary tickets were given to local youth orchestras and of course to all our students at the Chamber Music School.

Our program turned out not to be quite what we expected, as we were greeted on arrival with a large poster announcing our performance of Beethoven’s sonata no. 2 in g minor as opposed to no. 3 in A major.  After confirming that the programs had been printed that way as well, and that in fact we were in error, we found it fitting that we should change our plans and play the program as printed, something not out of the question for us having played the complete cycle many times in the last two seasons.

The program concluded with the Dvorak Quintet, which was a real joy to play with these distinguished colleagues.

The lobby scene was much the same as after the Emerson Quartet’s concert at LG Arts Center last year: many, many seeking autographs and photos, but this time, an astounding number of very young listeners.  We all agreed: none of us has ever played for an audience so largely youthful.

A concluding dinner, with magnificent state-of-the-art beef barbecue, was graciously hosted by LG U+ Vice President and CFO Sunghyun Kim. Mr. Kim is deeply into music, knowing a huge amount of repertoire (he whistled the opening of the Shostakovich cello sonata for us) and making astute comments on specific works such as the Beethoven quartets.  It was further revealed to us that these influential and powerful executives also play together in a band – which someday will play for us in a command performance, if I get my way.

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David and Wu Han recently returned from their annual Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center cruise, where they were joined by Society artists as well as numerous CMS patrons and enthusiasts from around the country. The cruise visited historic sites from Italy to Croatia to Greece and more.
in David’s words…

12 stops in 12 days


May 31: Palace of Diocletian, Split, Croatia (Telemann Gulliver Suite, Schubert A sonata, Bartok duos, Moszkowski Duo

June 2: Cathedral of St. Tryphon, Kotor, Montenegro  (Mozart duo Bb, Brahms e sonata)

June 4: on board (Beethoven String trio G, Beethoven Trio Op. 1 No. 2)

June 6: Apollon Theater, Syros, Greece (Beethoven A sonata, Dvorak piano 4tet, Brahms c slow)

Sunday, May 29: Venice

Most passengers, having arrived at the Venice airport, were met and transported via water taxi to our ship, the Corinthian II, which was parked near St. Mark’s square. CMS board member Harry Kamen and his wife Barbara joined me for the beautiful ride on a sunny morning.

Venice, the storied capital of the Veneto region, has long been our favorite city on earth, the only one we repeatedly visit purely for pleasure.  We find it the most beautiful of all cities, offering endless discoveries all within walking distance and not a car in sight. A lunch with cruise passengers at our favorite restaurant, La Rivetta, was followed by a 3pm embarkation and a welcome cocktail party in the ship’s bar. Left to right: CMS board member Susie Simon, her husband David, violinist/violist Lily Francis (back turned), Bernard Mindich and his wife, violinist Ani Kavafian.

After a celebratory dinner aboard ship, where the cuisine can rival that of Venice itself, everyone turned in early so as to catch the morning departure and its spectacular scenery.

Monday, May 30: Pula, Croatia

After sailing through the Guidecca canal into the Adriatic, we were treated to the first lecture by the journey’s resident study leader, John R. Hale, of the University of Louisville. John, who by his gregarious, approachable nature, quickly became good friends with everyone on the boat, memorizing all our names plus those of the staff. This would seem an unusual feat of memory for most but not for John: we soon learned that every one of his lectures, each packed with vital, useful information, would be delivered with enthusiasm and finesse but also without any notes in front of him, spoken in beautiful, unbroken sentences. (Not since the passing of Music@Menlo’s beloved lecturer Michael Steinberg have we experienced such an extraordinary speaker).  For his first talk, John took us through the founding, development and functioning of the ancient Roman city, both Pula and Split, our next stops, serving as prime examples.

By the early afternoon we landed in Pula, in the country of Croatia on the Istrian peninsula. The city came under the rule of the Roman empire in 177 B.C. and has been an important administrative center under subsequent ruling countries. The city passed from hand to hands, being at times a Byzantine port, part of the Frankish kingdom, a Venetian possession (fought over repeatedly by the Venetians, Genovese and Pisans), occupied by the Hapsburgs, the Austrians, the French, and so on, until the city was reduced to a population of only 3000 in the 1750’s.  Under Austro-Hungarian control in the 19th century, however, the city regained its stature, becoming an industrial town and resort. Under Italian control during World War II, the city suffered Allied bombings, and was finally united with Croatia in 1947.

The town’s massive Roman amphitheater, built during the first century B.C, is one of the six largest still extant. It is, of course, sickening to think of all the people who suffered and died there for the public’s pleasure. The combat between animals and convicted criminals was not outlawed until 681 A.D. Thankfully today the place is used for much more humane purposes such as concerts and theater productions.

Sailing back into serene Adriatic at 6pm, we were treated to a Captain’s Dinner, hosted the Corinthian II’s gracious and expert captain Georg Thomsen.

Tuesday, May 31: Split/Salona/Trogir, Croatia

In the early morning we arrived at the ancient town of Split on the Dalmatian coast, also in Croatia but considerably further south.  Split is named after a shrub of the area, and its history is thought to include the last 1700 years.  Founded as a Greek colony, the city came under Roman rule in 219 B.C., but it was in A.D. 305, with the completion of Emperor Diocletian’s retirement palace, that the city began to take on both shape and prominence.

In the morning, however, before visiting the historic sights, we paid a visit to the museum (and former home) of the Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.

Living from 1883 to 1962, he is acknowledged as one of the greatest sculptors of all time, and was the first living person to have a one-man show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  His studies first took him to Vienna, where he participated in the founding of the Secession movement, and then on to Paris where he absorbed the influences of Art Nouveau, the Impressionists, Symbolists and Cubists.  Meštrović’s works are breathtakingly beautiful, making a visit to Split worth it to see them alone.

Before returning to the ship we stopped by Diocletian’s Palace to see, among other sights, the famous underground cellars where we would be performing that evening.

After lunch on board we set out for the nearby towns of Salona and Trogir.  Salona is an ancient settlement that is now the site of important excavations of Greek and Roman ruins.  Trogir has a charming old town with a busy main square and the beautiful 13th century church of St. John the Baptist.

Dinner was once again on board ship but soon after the entire group returned to the cellars Diocletian for the tour’s first concert.  Ani Kavafian and Lily Francis began with Telemann’s charming Gulliver Suite; Ani and I played Schubert’s sublime A major sonatina; Lily and Ani teamed again for duos by Bartok, and the program closed with the hyper-romantic and virtuosic Suite by Moszkowski for two violins and piano. The damp conditions proved a challenge, especially for the string players, but the setting was unforgettable, and a largely-new crowd of listeners left the place entranced by the music and the performances.

Wednesday, June 1: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Either of us never having set foot in Croatia, it was especially thrilling to experience this country for the first time via its important historical sites, with the company of local guides and our resident lecturer John.  It is not often anymore that we visit important cultural destinations for the first time, and the spectacular city of Dubrovnik was a true stand-out on this itinerary.

Dubrovnik in its entirety is best viewed from the mountain ridge road that leads from the airport (where I landed in the afternoon) down to sea level.  Coming in sight of the Corinthian II – the same vessel from last year’s cruise, here dwarfed by a monstrous boat – was a moment I had dreamed of for over a year, and especially during the Emerson Quartet’s grueling 10-day, 9-concert tour of South America, which had concluded only the day before yesterday.

After depositing my cello and luggage in our penthouse suite, the same quarters we were given so graciously last year as well, we headed for the historic city center.

It was a joyful moment, entering through the ancient walls in the company of a trio of women who had been with us on the last cruise: from left to right, Marei Vonsaher, CMS board member Priscilla Kauff, and new board member Beth Sackler.

Earlier in the day, John Hale had lectured on the history of Adriatic maritime cities, Dubrovnik and Kotor, our next stop, being prominent examples.  Known as the fifth maritime republic of the middle ages, along with Venice, Pisa, Genoa and Amalfi, it was the only eastern Adriatic city that could rival Venice. The historic city, despite being demilitarized to avoid shelling, was the victim of a devastating siege by the Serbians and Montenegrins in 1990 which wreaked unforgivable destruction on a city that had already been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Recent discoveries have caused historians to propose that the city was founded by Greeks, much earlier than its established birth in the 7th century. The city came under Byzantine rule, and later Venetian.  In 1272 the city (called Ragusa at that time) became a free state and thrived, adopting modern practices such as medicine.  The reportedly oldest pharmacy in existence (founded 1317) can be found just off Dubrovnik’s main street. Slave trade was abolished in the 15th century, an orphanage was established, and a water supply system was created in 1436.

In 1808 the city was absorbed, after siege, into Napoleon’s Italian kingdom, and following Napoleon’s defeat the city was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire for a century, ending after World War I when it became part of Yugoslavia. Declaring its independence in 1991 as part of Croatia, it came under attack from the Serbs and Montenegrins for 7 months before being liberated by the Croatian army, the extensive damage not fully repaired until 2005.  A map showing the extent of the damage is prominently displayed for all to see near the city gates.

Walking the old town today, one is not so aware of its recent, difficult past.  The city is impeccably clean and at every turn – from looking down its main street, to wandering picturesque side alleys, to strolling the walkway on its magnificent walls – one is greeted by views that together constitute a photographer’s paradise.

The evening, which included a fantastic grilled fish dinner in town, concluded with a walk down the main street towards the taxi stand just outside the old walls.

Thursday, June 2: Kotor, Montenegro

The following morning brought us to yet another country new to us: Montenegro, and its historic port town of Kotor.  Montenegro is further south of Croatia and Serbia, on the Adriatic coast; the name means “Black mountain”, and its history dates back to the 9th century.  With a history of foreign domination similar to that of Croatia, Montenegro finally declared its independence in 2006.

The city of Kotor – backed by the kind of rugged, steep mountains that give Montenegro its name – is reached by sailing inland through what has been described as the world’s southernmost fjord. As we had arrived in the dark, however, we would have to wait until after our visit to the old walled town, and our second concert at 2pm, to experience the scenic wonders of the Bay of Kotor.

The town’s historic wall, as were many of its architectural treasures, was built by the Venetians during their four centuries of domination.  Our ship docked so close to the town that we could see our cabin (top deck center) from inside the main gate.

Our concert venue was the St. Tryphon Cathedral, consecrated in 1166 in honor of the city’s patron saint.  The tour organizers somehow located a nine-foot Estonia grand piano to move in for the concert, which unfortunately, due to the intense humidity, suffered from keys sticking almost all the way through the Brahms e minor cello sonata.  It’s interesting hearing that very familiar piano part with notes in melodies simply not showing up at all.  While I was playing, I could glance over and watch Wu Han attempting to quickly lift the keys up when she could.

Still, the tour group seemed to love it all, including a Mozart duo to begin with played by Ani and Lily.  After the concert, we all took a leisurely stroll back to the ship, stopping on the way for one of the famous local beers.

The sail out through the Bay of Kotor lived up to all expectations.  I think all the passengers were out watching and taking pictures on the Corinthian II’s various decks, before our vessel headed out into the middle of the Adriatic, bound overnight for the southern tip of the Italian boot.

Friday, June 3: Taranto/Mepontum/Matera, Italy

Having heard a fascinating lecture from John Hale the afternoon before “Greater Greece: Hellenic Colonies in Southern Italy”, we were more than primed to visit some of the major Greek outposts in the regions of Italy known as Apulia and Basilicata.  Known as “Magna Grecia”, this area was considered by the early Romans to be a more important Greek area than the Greek peninsula itself.

After all the anticipation, it was a more than a shock to arrive at the port city of Taranto.  With its overwhelming industry, largely consisting of refineries and factories, it is considered to be the most polluted city in Western Europe. The drive through it could compare only to the worst areas of Eastern New Jersey, but this was much worse.

Not far from the city, however, the country opened up and we happened upon, right beside the highway, some of the remains of the ancient Greek city of Metapontum, dating from 700 B.C. and, by legend, even earlier, involving a man named Epeius who reportedly built the wooden horse of the Trojan War.

The majestic columns, which once framed a magnificent sanctuary of Hera, now seem lost in the middle of nowhere, speaking silently of a long-lost age of grandeur and of a people of extraordinary industry and artistry.  Among them was the great philosopher, scientist and mathematician Pythagoras who was active in the late 6th century B.C. and is reported to have died in Metapontum.

After visiting the Museum of Metapontum, with its depressingly drab exterior and breathtaking treasures inside, we boarded the buses again, venturing further into the country and the hills towards the amazing city of Matera.

Founded by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. the city occupies a rocky mountain bowl.  The limestone cliffs that support it and surround it are littered with caves that have been adopted over the centuries as homes, as recently as the 1950’s.  The caves were also colonized by Benedictine and Greek monks in the 7th century. The town’s totally-antique look has made it a popular movie set, and it has been host to filmmakers re-telling the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, the most recent being The Passion of the Christ with Mel Gibson.

The city’s rocky paths and steep climbs, not to mention the high temperature, proved a challenge for most of us. But our energy and enthusiasm to explore were fueled by an incredible lunch, in a restaurant literally carved into the rock.

A truly unique stop after lunch was the Rock Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve, a church carved into the hillside by Benedictine monks in the 8th century.

On the same street, one can visit a rock house preserved as it was last occupied by a family in the 1950’s.  These homes housed donkeys as well as humans, and were heated with piles of fermenting donkey dung, something I think we could have all done without.

Exhausted and amazed, we boarded the buses for the trip back through poor, ugly Taranto to our beautiful ship, where we were greeted, as always, by the friendly crew offering cool towels and refreshing cocktails.

After another delicious dinner, we sailed once again into the night and into the Adriatic, heading for Albania.

Saturday, June 4: Saranda/Butrint, Albania

We were again excited to set foot in yet another country for the first time, Albania, on the west coast of the Greek peninsula.  Albania was originally inhabited by Illyrians, the ancient people who occupied the western portion of the Balkan Peninsula as far back as 1000 B.C., including the area of Albania and the countries that comprised the former Yugoslavia.  By the 8th century B.C. the Greeks had begun establishing colonies along the Adriatic coast, and our destination, Butrint, was one of them.

Butrint is reached (from the sea) by docking at the nearby town of Saranda, which contains historical sights that are practically swallowed by contemporary construction.  Viewed has having the potential of a resort location, much building of apartment complexes was begun there in the last two decades, only to have fallen victim to the world financial crises of recent years.  As a result, a close look at the town reveals almost as many unfinished structures as inhabited ones.

A brief drive through the suburbs, into a national park located on a lagoon, provided beautiful scenery.  The large lakes were dotted with contraptions designed to capture mussels, a famous local delicacy.

Before visiting the historic site we made an amenity stop at a country hotel, which included an opportunity to view local handicrafts for sale.  I was especially excited to encounter Roma, or gypsies, selling small trinkets out of their hands. This fulfilled a hope I had for my visit to Albania, after having read Isabel Fonseca’s amazing book Bury Me Standing, about the gypsies and their story, which contains large portions of her experiences in Albania. Their swarthy skin and distinct, unusual features left little doubt of their ethnicity – which was confirmed to me by our Albanian guide.

The archeological site of Butrint is meticulously maintained and is still undergoing exploration.  The Roman remains include an agora and a theater, public baths and houses, all of which can be wandered through, plus a spectacular baptistery and a sanctuary dedicated to the god of medicine, Asclepius.

While seated in the theater, we were treated to an inspiring talk by former director of the site Auron Tare, who was instrumental in recent decades in helping save the ruins from decimation by pilferers and naïve locals who simply needed building stones.  Mr. Tare also, most brilliantly, revived the tradition of theatrical production in the ancient theater, and in eleven years has grown an annual festival into one of the country’s major cultural events, attracting foreign attendees as well as locals now possessing renewed appreciation of their heritage.

The stage’s stone backdrop provided shade for the sun-sensitive.

Walking through pleasant wooded trails brings one to clearings containing archeological treasures such as the baptistery, famous for its mosaics.  John Hale led us through the temple, describing how qualified worshippers entered from the back and progressed forward to the altar.

Ascending the hill to the site of the old fortress (now a museum) we encountered a forensic archeologist from the University of Utica who was there with a small class of students.  He promptly removed a human skull from a plastic bag and proceeded to explain all the ways in which his skills and experience told him of the man’s age and condition at time of death.

An equally beautiful drive back through the town of Saranda took us to our ship and an exquisite lunch of grilled local fish.

Later that day, while sailing the Ionian Sea, we performed Beethoven’s String Trio in G major, and his seldom-played Piano Trio in G major, Op. 1 No. 2.

In attendance whenever possible, Captain Thomsen seemed especially appreciative of the music of his countryman.

Prior to dinner, the musicians met on our balcony for a “faculty meeting”, a happy-hour tradition that, for us, goes back to our days teaching with Isaac Stern in Jerusalem.

The evening light, the calm seas, and the gentle motion of the ship only further enhance the relaxing benefits of these days that combine stimulating learning experiences with great weather, new friends, and way more than the comforts of home.

Sunday, June 5: Gýtheio/Mystra, Greece

After a morning interdenominational service conducted by tour director Peter Graham, we gathered for yet another lecture by the infinitely knowledgeable John Hale on the significance of our next stop, the city of Mystras on the southernmost part of the Greek peninsula. “Mystras: Last Outpost of the Byzantine Empire” summed up the place to which we would devote our entire afternoon, and it proved an extraordinary site worth every bit of time and preparation we put into the visit.

The Corinthian II docked around lunchtime at the incredibly picturesque port of Gýtheio, once the naval base of ancient Sparta.

Departing by bus, we traveled inland through beautiful countryside and within an hour could see our destination, the Byzantine city of Mystras, looming above us.  Deposited near the mountain’s summit, some of the heartier among us (including Eugene Grant, age 92) set out to scale the peak to visit the fort, the first structure of the city, built in 1249 by the Frankish ruler William II de Villehardouin, just after the Fourth Crusade.

In this site he saw the potential for a successful middle ages city: one needed a peak upon which to build a defensible fortress, plus fresh water, arable land below for growing food and raising animals, and a ready supply of stone and wood for building.  Mystras had them all, but by 1262 the fortress had fallen to the Byzantines and the city below it began to develop.  By the 14th and 15th centuries the city had become the capital of the entire southern or Peloponnese Greek peninsula. The church in the foreground of the photo above is St. Sophia, and the spectacular view over what was once ancient Sparta is what one sees upon turning around.

Below the fortress evolved different levels of construction, the upper city occupied by upper class residences and administrative buildings, while the lower level contained the cathedral and monastery and middle class housing.  The churches, some dating from the middle of the 14th century, contain some of the rarest surviving Byzantine frescoes.

A walk down the mountainside on easily navigable stone paths afforded us stunning views and visits to magical interiors, many alive with the vivid colors of centuries-old paintings, and occupied by mysterious faces looking at us through time.

The church of the monastery, which is still inhabited by nuns and their numerous cats, offered a peaceful place for reflection.  As is our custom, we lit a candle for our daughter.

The buses had moved to the lower parking lot to meet us, and before we knew it we were back on board the Corinthian II, headed for the island of Delos in the Aegean.

Monday, June 6 Delos/Syros Greece

With a sense of acceleration towards our journey’s end, our busy Monday included stops on two nearby islands in the Cyclades, the group of islands in the middle of the Aegean south-east of the Greek mainland.  On last year’s cruise, we visited one of them, the spectacular island of Santorini, which lies just to the south of present destination, the sacred island of Delos, heart of the Cyclades, and one of Greece’s most important archeological sites.

The approach to Delos told us we were in for something different than we had yet experienced, as the island is uninhabited save for a few resident archaeologists and security guards.

Still, there was time for yet another magical Corinthian II breakfast on the rear fifth-floor deck, as we watched the rocky neighboring islands gradually surround us.

As the island has no large-scale dock, we dropped anchor not far from shore and were ferried in on a tender commanded by a gentlemen who looked as though he had stepped right out of the Odyssey.

According to Greek mythology (and Homer’s Odyssey), Delos is the birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis.  It has been inhabited since 3000 B.C.  In the 6th century B.C. attempts were made to purify the island, making it more fitting as a holy place, and all dead bodies were dug up and moved to neighboring islands.  It also was not permitted to either die or be born on the island, removing the island from claims by landowners or inheritors.  Delos was the home and central meeting place of the Delian League, an organization of city-states that existed during the fourth century B.C. for the purpose of fending off the Persians.

The extensive remains of on the island can be divided roughly into halves: to one’s left, walking in from the dock, is the flat, public area that contained temples, the agora, the market, fountains and well, various monuments and statues.  To the right, ascending a gentle hill, once enters into the small streets of the residential area and progresses towards the magical theater near the top.

The area of the agora, looking towards the residential hill

Pedestals whose statues were stolen away long ago

Footprints are all that remain of the statues

A pride of lions decorates what was once a magnificent street

Small masterpieces of sculpture turn up everywhere

The street that takes one up the hill, through the residential area

This elegant home had central, open courtyard with a beautiful mosaic floor

The remains of the theater.  One can easily imagine presenting plays here any time, so intensely quiet is the atmosphere. Our wonderful Greek guide treated us to an expressive poetic reading in her native language as we sat on the ancient stone seats and relived history.

We could see the Corinthian II waiting patiently for us nearby.

There are enough sites to visit and bits of history to learn on Delos to have kept us there easily for a week or two.  But we had to get to nearby Syros in time for our concert.  An outdoor pasta bar was all fired up in time for the hungry passengers’ return.

The short sail to Syros concluded with a stunning view of the city, and another masterful docking of the ship by Captain Thomsen which put us as close to being in town as we could get.

Syros is a busy, much visited island that boasts an airport and once enjoyed status as a port that rivaled Athens’ Piraeus. There was little time for sightseeing but our traveling companions headed into the quaint town and could be found all over it, eating at outdoor tables, and perusing specialty shops that sold local goods including dates, pastries, olive oil and Ouzo.

The musicians traveled to the concert hall through the majestic town center, Miaoulis Square, ringed with cafes and dominated by the neo-classical City Hall.  The air-conditioned Apollon Theater was an impressive and reassuring sight for the musicians – especially after having endured the challenges of Diocletian’s basement!

The inside is vastly charming, built in the style of a small Italian opera house.  Wu Han welcomed our audience and talked about Beethoven’s A major sonata for piano and cello.

In programming our series of concerts, we saved the most sonically-lavish work for our fourth and final performance.  Dvorak’s beloved Piano Quartet in Eb, composed at the height of his European career just before he left for America, is a masterpiece in every way, each movement a powerful evocation of some aspect of Czech life.  The peaceful slow movement is graced by cello solos of unbelievable beauty.  As a musical goodbye to our captive but devoted passenger audience, we played for them another gem from the romantic era, the slow movement from Brahms’ Piano Quartet in c minor.

Our listeners gave us the warmest thanks, complete with flash cameras.

Stepping out into the late afternoon light, we headed back through town to the ship, which loomed over the old streets like an alien vessel.

On board that evening, the cruise’s two major constituents – the Chamber Music Society and the Yale Alumni Association – each held cocktail receptions for the passengers who had joined the tour through them.  Wu Han spoke and toasted CMS’s generous supporters and our many friends new and old.

On this evening we also said goodbye to amazing Greece, as we sailed east through the Aegean towards the Turkish coast and the major port of Izmir.

Tuesday, June 7 Izmir, Turkey

Once again there were more options than we really had time for, so the group divided into two parts, one heading to Pergamum, once a powerful city during the time of Alexander the Great, and the other touring Sardis, once the capital of the Lydian kingdom.  Wu Han opted for Sardis while I stayed on board to catch up on practicing, staring out the cabin window at the incredibly ugly port of Izmir.

Sardis was one of the most important cities of the Persian Empire, and what remains of it are both Roman and Byzantine ruins.  Sardis was under Persian control until it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C.

Included in the more recent discoveries is the synagogue, one of the most important to be found dating from the later period of the Roman empire.  It was in use for about 500 years before being destroyed in 616 A.D. by the Persians, and helps to confirm that there were indeed thriving Jewish communities in the region during Roman times.

The synagogue remains include stunning mosaics on the walls.

Nearby the synagogue is the gymnasium, a splendid ruin connected to the old Roman baths. The structure is still remarkably intact, with towering columns and balconies that loomed over us.

The Roman bath is enormous.

After leaving Sardis we stopped at the famous Temple of Artemis, unearthed by a Princeton University archeological team in 1914.  Excavations continued, sponsored by both Harvard and Cornell Universities.  Two enormous columns, at least six stories high, dominate the site.

After lunch many of us headed to a bazaar in Izmir which turned out to be a highly unsuccessful shopping trip. We did get a sense of the size of the city, and experienced a bit of feeling conspicuous amongst the locals, always a good thing for Americans once in a while.

The bazaar seemed to be one stocking low-end merchandise (socks, shirts, spices) for consumption chiefly by locals, who mostly looked at us with a “what are you doing here?” kind of expression.

Towards the end of our walk we did stumble into what looked like a serious and active opera house.  Perhaps a future venue for cruise concerts?

It was good to get back to the ship.  It was always good to get back to the ship.

Wednesday, June 8 Mudanya/Bursa, Turkey

It was a long sail from Izmir to the port of Mudanya, on the Sea of Marmora and on the way to our final stop of Istanbul.  Our tour destination for the day, however, was the nearby city of Bursa, which became the first capital of the Ottoman Empire in 1326.

An over-zealous customs official at the dock delayed our disembarkation for a good 45 minutes, examining and stamping every one of our passports.  I had never seen our tour manager Peter so angry.

Arriving in Bursa around 5pm we managed to hit a big prayer call for the late afternoon, blasting out on loudspeakers from the minaret connected to the Great Mosque that we had hoped to visit.

We had to wait until prayers were over to enter, which was not a problem as the shopping-starved among us had a chance to attack the nearby silk market. (Bursa is famous for its silk and is located at the end of the northern Silk Road). This was indeed an enticing market in an atmospheric setting, and almost everyone came away with something after a frantic 25-minute shopping blitz.

Entering the mosque was distinctly unpleasant, as everyone was trying to come in and out of the same small entrance simultaneously, and in the process, remove or replace one’s shoes in the correct area so as not to defile the holy space. This proved a challenge for many of us: even John Hale did it wrong and got chewed out by indignant locals. It was, at best, amusing.

The Great Mosque interior is grand and spacious and is covered by 20 domes.  Apparently the sultan who built it in 1400, Bayezid I, had promised the population to build 20 mosques but then backed off and built one with 20 domes.

There were plenty of warnings not to do this or that.

Outside the mosque, the locals hang out. Many of them are irresistibly picturesque.

Once again, it was great to get back to the ship, everyone showing off their silk purchases. That evening we were treated to the Captain’s farewell dinner, and we, including the musicians and John Hale, made the rounds between courses thanking everyone for coming and bidding them safe travels home.

There were speeches and thanks to the ship’s crew from all, and to our hard working Cruise Director Peter Graham and tour managers Elena Myasoedova and Nina Padden.

And of course there were many expressions of gratitude to Captain Thomsen, who was here enchanted I’m sure by more than Lily Francis’s perfect German.

Needless to say, there was another late night in the bar, where the extraordinary and gracious   bartender Jerome – everyone’s best friend by the end of the tour – served us our final drinks of the voyage.  We had traveled 1533 miles together.

Thursday, June 9 Istanbul, Turkey (sort of)

I believe that possibly the entire ship was up early on our final morning to witness the arrival in Istanbul, known to be the most spectacular port one can approach.

The weather and the sights did not disappoint the crowd on the breakfast deck, somewhat hurriedly eating and exchanging individual goodbyes.

Many of us were able to stay and see Istanbul.  Others departed for other sightseeing in European locations.  But many of us had to head home as quickly as possible and only got a look at the great city from the harbor across the water.

Transported to the airport with great efficiency by the tour staff, our luggage tagged and picked up outside our room, we were finally left on our own after having gone through metal detectors before reaching the check in counters (there is a lot of security in this airport).  Although we all knew that we were re-entering the real world, we had no idea how rough it was about to become.

Many of us on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt (for connection to New York) were informed that the flight would be delayed more than an hour and that we would all miss our connections.  The very hard-working airport staff (I’ve never seen American or European ticket agents try this hard) managed to re-book us on all sorts of flights, through different cities, on other airlines.  It was amazing. Wu Han and I plus Marei Vonsaher wound up on a direct flight to New York on Turkish Air, which turned out to be a great airplane with about 300 movies to choose from.  Joel and Eileen Birnbaum, the Kamens, and others of us holed up for hours together in the business lounge, eating stuffed grape leaves and drinking Turkish coffee, managed to disappear two by two and apparently all made it home.

The final wrinkle of the journey came when we landed in Bangor, Maine, instead of New York, because of bad weather.  We all watched our umpteenth movie and finally got into New York at 1 a.m., arriving home at 2 a.m.  We had traveled for 24 hours.

The next morning Wu Han and I were at the Chamber Music Society at 8 a.m. to begin presiding over three grueling days of CMS II auditions for individuals.  In two days we listened to 25 contestants and on the final day played together with the finalists in chamber works.  The results are pending – stay tuned.


Many more cruises are preparing to embark; visit:

The Chamber Music Society website, or contact Sharon Griffin at CMS for more information: sgriffin@chambermusicsociety.org

— or —

The Music@Menlo website, or contact Annie Rohan for more information: annie@musicatmenlo.org

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