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Stanford Symphony strikes the right chord in Eastern Europe
STANFORD -- Members of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra returned from a centennial tour of Eastern Europe laden with memories -- of the people, the food, the changing political scene and, of course, the music.
Violinist Kim Hsieh recalled clearing the shelves of bread, cheese and salami at a Berlin food store so that orchestra members would have something to eat before their concert. Hsieh, who was tour coordinator, is a 1988 Stanford graduate now working at the Stanford Medical Center.
Miriam Baron, a junior chemistry major who plays cello, talked the Vienna Opera House guards into letting her and a few friends in to see the last 10 minutes of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.
Matt Springer, a doctoral student in biological sciences who plays violin, percussion, and occasionally piano, was struck later by the fact that he had passed from east to west Berlin "without realizing I had."
And in Prague, Springer recalled, the Stanford symphony members arrived at the concert hall to unload their instruments just as members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, returning from tour, were about to do the same. The Prague crew helped the Stanford group with the logistics of moving instruments to accommodate rehearsals for both groups.
The Stanford orchestra, which left from San Francisco on June 19 and returned July 2, played concerts in five cities: Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Leipzig and Berlin.
The program was selected from Beethoven's Choral Fantasy (with soloist George Barth, a member of the music faculty, on piano), Ravel's Tzigane (with soloist Alan Rakov, a senior majoring in music, on violin), Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. Every performance included Bernstein and Shostakovich. The Beethoven work was scheduled when local choirs were available, as they were in Budapest, Leipzig and Berlin.
Orchestra members were familiar with all the works on the program, having performed them in concerts during the school year. Intense rehearsals were held in Dinkelspiel Auditorium during graduation week.
Cellist Alison Derbenwick, a senior majoring in communication and history, wrote in an article about the tour that at the final rehearsal, as weary orchestra members relaxed after a rather uninspired run-through of West Side Story, director Peter Jaffe reminded everyone of their common purpose.
"We're here because we love music," he said. "I love music. I have music in my dreams. And that's true."
After that, Derbenwick wrote, "a much more heartfelt" rehearsal continued.
The orchestra's second overseas venture (the group toured three Asian countries in 1988) was almost a casualty of the Gulf War. When the war broke out, orchestras all over were canceling tours, "and we came pretty close," Springer said.
A delegation of orchestra members sought advice from former Secretary of State George Shultz, a professor at the Graduate School of Business, who contacted friends in the State Department. The advice Shultz received, and passed along to the orchestra, was: "Go ahead."
Finances were another major hurdle. About half of the $219,000 total came from the orchestra members and the 15 accompanying Tour Friends, who paid their way and also contributed to the general tour fund. Symphony fund-raisers -- including extra concerts during the year and outside appearances by orchestra members -- brought in $56,000.
A mailing to past orchestra members, including postcards handwritten by current members, resulted in dozens of donations. The Centennial Operating Committee gave $5,000 to the tour, and other campus groups, including the Schools of Engineering and of Humanities and Sciences, the Music Department, and the Development Office, also made contributions.
Transporting 4,800 pounds of equipment (not counting carry-on instruments) required a lot of planning. Fellow orchestra members give full credit to cellist Marc Ullman, who just earned his doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics, for building "very elegant" and sturdy cases for many of the instruments. Airline baggage handlers dropped one of the cases during shipping, but the instruments inside suffered only minor damage, Springer said.
At the orchestra's final stop, members stayed with host families in what was formerly East Berlin, an experience that personalized for many the rapid political changes in that part of Europe.
Violinist Mari Shimizu, a 1991 graduate in biology, sat up late into the night with her hostess, an English teacher, and friends, talking about politics. The teacher showed footage she had taken of the Berlin wall coming down.
Cellist Baron was part of a string quartet that put on a concert to raise funds for homeless people in Berlin. She felt a special thrill, she said, sitting on stage between the flag of Berlin and the flag of a united Germany. Berlin's mayor attended the concert and gave a thank-you speech in German and English.
An overseas tour can continue to have reverberations long after the students have returned. Alice Lee, who as symphony president was responsible for much of the planning for the Eastern European tour, made the trip to Asia with the orchestra as a freshman in 1988. As a result, she decided to major in East Asian studies, and now, having received her degree in June, soon will leave to teach English in Japan.
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