Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buenos Aires

As soon as the Bicentenario concerts and festivities were over, a friend and I went to spend a week in Buenos Aires.

Let me just say, I LOVE that city. Different parts of it remind me of Paris or Madrid or New York, all with a cool South American twist. It's beautiful and fun, and only a short hop away. Doesn't get much better than that!

Now, this was no vacation, but it was absolutely magic! Both my friend and I got a ton of stuff accomplished, and it was great to spend time focusing on my flute after all the hectic-ness of the previous three weeks. Here's what I did:

- Got a giant dent in my flute's headjoint repaired by an AMAZING technician! I wish that I had had the time/money to have him work on the rest of the instrument (they key work very sorely needs a tune-up) . . . hopefully next time.

- Had a great lesson with CLAUDIO BARILE! He was so great and so generous with his time, I feel very lucky to have gotten to know him a little bit. (He was also responsible for putting me in touch with the aforementioned amazing repair guy.) Flute friends, he's going to be the guest artist at the NFA convention this year - go say hello, and be sure to catch his recital! It's going to be a little while longer before I can go back for another lesson, but I got a ton of stuff to work on/think about and am really looking forward to the next time.

- Saw the Buenos Aires Opera Lirica perform Wagner's Der Freischutz (with Claudio playing principal) at the Teatro Avenida. The cast and orchestra were lovely, especially the soprano who sang Agathe (I really wish I knew her name! Alas, concert programs are not free in these parts), and it was fun grabbing coffee with Claudio before the show. The theater itself is beautiful. I bought a cheap seat waaaaaaay up at the top, which I actually like for operas because I can see down into the orchestra pit. :) Also, the old theaters tend to have beautiful, intricately-decorated ceilings which are amazing to see up close. In a surprise twist that seems like it would be unusual in anybody's life but mine, I found myself sitting next to two guys from California who had wandered in to get out of the rain. After the show the new guys, my friend, and I all grabbed a couple of drinks, and it was fun to make some new friends.

- Saw the Orquesta Filharmonica de Buenos Aires perform Mahler's First Symphony at the Teatro Colon. There was also a xylophone concerto, but as I didn't have a program at this concert, either, I have no idea what it was. It was short and xylophone-y. But the Mahler . . . the MAHLER. Now, I was sitting way up at the top again, and at the Colon that means I couldn't see much. But this piece has so many unbelievable quiet and delicate moments that the orchestra played so well - there were times when the winds were making such soft, pure sounds that you couldn't tell where they were coming from, or that the strings were playing so lightly that you weren't sure that you actually heard the sound or just imagined it. People always remember the huge pieces, the finale moments when an orchestra is roaring and the audience is on the verge of cheering the whole time. But at this performance, the sound was so quiet and ethereal that it seemed that the entire audience stopped breathing to keep from overshadowing it. It was absolutely incredible.

This is not to mention that the theater itself is exquisite. The recently-restored Colon is so beautiful - definitely one of the most amazing theaters I've been to. And it's huge!

And if you think sitting next to a couple of Americans at the opera was an unusual coincidence, check this out:

When I had gone to buy my ticket earlier in the day, there were only two seats left in my preferred section of cheap (actually, at orchestra concerts, the cheap seats often tend to be some of the best for listening, but not seeing, as the acoustics at the back of the hall are different). I bought one, and didn't think anything of it. When I was waiting for the show to start, a girl who looked vaguely familiar was lurking around my section looking for her seat, and was staring at me. I couldn't figure out why until she came up and asked if I was the flutist from Uninorte.

That's right, people. I'm famous.


Just kidding. Turns out she's a singer/musician from Asuncion who works in the Uninorte chorus, and had also come down to Buenos Aires to study for the week. It also turns out that she had bought the seat right next to mine. We spent some time hanging out that night and the next day, and it was so much fun getting to know her! She was so sweet, and I really hope we see more of each other back in Asuncion.

- The next morning, I went to a rehearsal of Argentina's National Symphony, where my Maestro from Asuncion was conducting his new piece from the Bicentenario, and some other musicians from Asuncion had come to sing and play some more traditional Paraguayan music with the orchestra. I had to head back to Paraguay before the concert, but it was cool to see the rehearsal and also to hang out as part of what felt like a sort of Paraguayan artistic contingency in Buenos Aires for the week.

- Oh, and did I mention that Argentina's Independence Day just so happened to be that week, too? After our evening study session at the hostel, my friend and I headed to the Casa Rosada just in time to catch the end of a huge concert and a gigantic fireworks display. The plaza in front of the Casa Rosada had a giant stage in front of it, and the whole square was packed with people. For the grand finale, huge fireworks were set off from the roofs of the buildings around all four sides of the square - it was so loud you could feel the explosions in your chest, and everybody was cheering and excited . . .

Sometimes I swear I really am the luckiest person in the world. Despite having no real concrete plan when I showed up to Buenos Aires, everything went so perfectly. The hostels I stayed in were great, I met amazing people, my flute repair guy was magic, my teacher was generous and warm, I made great changes in my lesson, I heard fantastic concerts, I got to see the Independence Day celebration. The traffic practically stopped every time I wanted to cross the street (seriously), the whole week was so unreal. All this plus getting to spend a bunch of time with one of my best friends from Asuncion made for a pretty incredible trip.

This week, it also felt so good to connect to a bigger musical community again. After grad school, I really gave up a lot to make sure that I was in a position to hear great orchestras and chamber music almost every week of the concert year. And it was worth it - listening to the Cleveland Orchestra or the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or National Symphonies or the Metropolitan Opera or the Takacs Quartet or the Pennsylvania Ballet or the Tokyo Quartet or any of the other world-class groups or soloists that I've been fortunate enough to see LIVE almost EVERY SINGLE WEEK for the last two and a half years has functioned both as my inspiration to practice, my motivation to continue in what can be a dishearteningly difficult field, and as an invaluable education. I learned so, so much from listening to these musicians live and often. While I do love my life in Asuncion, it is sometimes difficult to be so far removed from the more international community, hard to stay inspired to continue raising my standards for myself when the best musicians in the country are considered to be my peers. Recordings aren't the same - there's something really magical about listening to the world's best musicians live in some of the world's greatest halls that is impossible to replicate. And while it's fun to be really respected for my playing here, I know that I have a long way to go to be my best, and going to truly great concerts has so far been the best way I've found to keep my attention where it needs to be. One of the biggest challenges about living in Asuncion is how isolated it is, and this week was a much-needed break from the bubble, even though I didn't realize beforehand how much I needed it.

I came back to Asuncion all inspired and motivated, flying back on a Friday night, just in time for my parents' arrival on Saturday morning. That's right, the Gioscias hit the PGY . . . stories and pictures coming soon!

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