#NYOver: Reflection and reminiscence

In my first post here, I acknowledged that there are no words that could adequately capture what NYO means and how it affects or changes us. And that’s true now more than ever. Two weeks after we’ve returned and settled (or tried to settle) from an exhilarating month of incredible people and unforgettable adventures, it’s only become more difficult to pinpoint how much this monumental experience has poured into us in so many unexpected ways.

And so, because my limited perspective could never come close to encapsulating and portraying the NYO experience, and because my vocal, vivacious, and vibrant friends also have so much to say, I’ll let them share their beautiful parting words with the orchestra.

“I feel like NYO was over in the blink of an eye; the orchestra was filled with such wonderfully complex, interesting, and diverse people that it would take me years to get to know you all as well as I would have liked.” – Evan Hjort
“I feel like NYO was over in the blink of an eye; the orchestra was filled with such wonderfully complex, interesting, and diverse people that it would take me years to get to know you all as well as I would have liked.” – Evan Hjort
“Thank you thank you thank you for a magical month full of electric performances and warm smiles and unforgettable adventures. And kale.” – Mei Stone
“Thank you thank you thank you for a magical month full of electric performances and warm smiles and unforgettable adventures. And kale.” – Mei Stone
“You are all wonderful people with beautiful souls and incredible talent, and I cannot thank you enough for all the love you showed me and the inspiration you gave me each and every day. I found incredible friends in unexpected places and had terrific conversations about everything from Pixar films to college admissions.” – Tim Crouch
“You are all wonderful people with beautiful souls and incredible talent, and I cannot thank you enough for all the love you showed me and the inspiration you gave me each and every day. I found incredible friends in unexpected places and had terrific conversations about everything from Pixar films to college admissions.” – Tim Crouch
“Thank you all for being the best second family a person could ask for.” – Hannah Burnett
“Thank you all for being the best second family a person could ask for.” – Hannah Burnett
“Love you all so much, and I can easily say that the time I spent at NYO this summer has been the happiest month of my life, and I am truly grateful to be alive and have friends like you to share this planet with.” – Phillip Solomon
“Love you all so much, and I can easily say that the time I spent at NYO this summer has been the happiest month of my life, and I am truly grateful to be alive and have friends like you to share this planet with.” – Phillip Solomon
 “It feels difficult to go back to regular life after spending a month doing positive things with more than one hundred positive people.” – Henry Shapard
“It feels difficult to go back to regular life after spending a month doing positive things with more than one hundred positive people.” – Henry Shapard
“There is something truly special about playing the music you love with the people you love, and sharing it with the rest of the world. Why do we play music? In my opinion, it is for that precise reason. There is nothing more meaningful than bringing happiness to yourself and others through this beautiful art form we call music.” – William Yao
“There is something truly special about playing the music you love with the people you love, and sharing it with the rest of the world. Why do we play music? In my opinion, it is for that precise reason. There is nothing more meaningful than bringing happiness to yourself and others through this beautiful art form we call music.” – William Yao
“NYO is not only filled with amazing musicians but amazing people as well and each of you are special and important to me in your own way.” – Joshua Elmore
“NYO is not only filled with amazing musicians but amazing people as well and each of you are special and important to me in your own way.” – Joshua Elmore
“Everything you guys wrote in those little red notebooks was so touching and quite staggering--thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'll miss you all so much, but I am looking forward to future meetings with you!” – Jason Vassiliou
“Everything you guys wrote in those little red notebooks was so touching and quite staggering–thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ll miss you all so much, but I am looking forward to future meetings with you!” – Jason Vassiliou
“I'm not sure I could pinpoint what it is that has changed, but returning from NYO I feel like a person better equipped to live the life I want to live. Perhaps it's having another family of people in my life, that I know will always be there, that precipitated this change. Perhaps it was doing precisely what I love doing for a month. Perhaps it's simply a culmination of all the things I learned about music. In any case, it was NYO, and all of you, who made it happen.” – Eli Holmes
“I’m not sure I could pinpoint what it is that has changed, but returning from NYO I feel like a person better equipped to live the life I want to live. Perhaps it’s having another family of people in my life, that I know will always be there, that precipitated this change. Perhaps it was doing precisely what I love doing for a month. Perhaps it’s simply a culmination of all the things I learned about music. In any case, it was NYO, and all of you, who made it happen.” – Eli Holmes

My friends couldn’t have put it any better: NYO has given me a family and a legacy – not so much a legacy of fame or ego, but one that encompasses all the lessons I’ve learned and experiences I’ve embraced that could only have occurred among these people in these circumstances.

I’ve received instruction and encouragement from some of the world’s greatest musicians. I’ve also poked fun at, taken embarrassing photos of, and repeatedly underestimated some of the world’s soon-to-be greatest musicians.

I’ve seen magnificent cities on two opposite sides of the word that overwhelmed me with throngs of people but also left me feeling startlingly lonely. I’ve also seen my friends at their best when their spirited performances galvanized boisterous applause, and at their worst when heat, illness, jet lag, food poisoning, insect bites, and every negative thought imaginable struck simultaneously.

I’ve engaged in hours-long conversations with busmates about anything from religion to aerospace engineering to the aesthetics of certain letters and words. I’ve also engaged arbitrarily in seconds-long (or sometimes minutes-long) stretches of silent eye contact, and found that sometimes relationships develop more persistently with the latter method.

I’ve immersed myself among a phenomenally organized staff, an inspiring and motivating faculty, and an almost-unbearably energetic group of young masterminds and world-changers, and I understand just a smidgen more now that what contributes immeasurably to cultivating a great musician, or a great music administrator, or a great anything is a passion for the people around you.

At NYO, I’ve encountered more of that unashamed passion than I have anywhere else, and that’s made the hugest of differences. So thank you, Carnegie Hall and NYO staff and faculty, Charles Dutoit, and 113 great friends, for a month of music, photos, and memories that I can look back on and cherish for years to come.

Advertisements
#NYOver: Reflection and reminiscence

Final stop: Hong Kong

The last few days of tour brought me to a familiar city; my dad is from Hong Kong, and I had visited just a year ago (right after the 2014 tour, actually). Interestingly enough, during that last visit, I clearly remember passing by the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, and remarking that it was such an oddly shaped building. Little did I know then that twelve months later, I would be performing a bittersweet, sold-out concert there with my incredible musical family.

I think the forthcoming end of the tour definitely made the final moments so much more invaluable. Here are some of those last few precious memories.

Our first stop in Hong Kong was a dim sum lunch at the Cultural Center where we would perform. I’d mentioned before that this was one of our favorite meals, and I think this photo captures the good vibes. You can taste the happiness and marvel.
Our first stop in Hong Kong was a dim sum lunch at the Cultural Center. I’d mentioned before that this was one of our favorite meals, and I think this photo captures the good vibes. You can taste the marvel and the happiness.
We also spent much of our first day in HK seeing some popular sights. Some of us rode the ferry or took the subway across the harbor to Hong Kong Island. Others looked around for shopping and eating hotspots, such as Mong Kok featured above. Especially on a Friday night, the streets of Mong Kok are flooded with blazing signs, buskers, hollering vendors, and lots of tourists.
We also spent much of our first day in HK seeing some popular sights. Some of us rode the ferry or took the subway across the harbor to Hong Kong Island. Others looked around for shopping and eating hotspots, such as Mong Kok featured above. Especially on a Friday night, the streets of Mong Kok are flooded with blazing signs, buskers, hollering vendors, and lots of tourists.
 Our final concert hall! My most distinct impression of this venue (other than the green chairs) is its thorough emphasis on hygiene. Signs indicated that all door handles and elevator buttons were disinfected multiple times every day.
Our final concert hall! My most distinct impression of this venue (other than the green chairs) is its thorough emphasis on hygiene. Signs indicated that all door handles and elevator buttons were disinfected multiple times every day.
Here’s a little shoutout to our beloved apprentice manager, Nolan, who knew everything about anything relating to NYO (and much more) and exhibited exceptional poise. From before Day 1, when he committed to learning all our names and faces, to the last rehearsal, when, as always, he was on top of his announcements, Nolan demonstrated tremendous devotion to this program and to his relationships with us, and we have absolutely adored him for it. Thanks for all your work Nolan!
Here’s a little shout-out to our beloved apprentice manager, Nolan, who knew everything about anything relating to NYO (and much more) and exhibited exceptional poise. From before Day 1, when he committed to learning all our names and faces, to the last rehearsal, when, as always, he was on top of his announcements, Nolan demonstrated tremendous devotion to this program and to his relationships with us, and we have absolutely adored him for it. Thanks for all your work Nolan!
Hey, it’s my family! This last concert was special for so many reasons, not the least of which was the supportive presence of my parents. As a non-music-major, my experiences with these large-scale performances and tours are unfortunately coming to a close, but it’s comforting to me that, in addition to supporting and encouraging me all the way, my parents would be there for me at what is probably the pinnacle of my musical career. Go Mama and Papa Chow!
Hey, it’s my family! This last concert was special for so many reasons, not the least of which was the supportive presence of my parents. As a non-music-major, my experiences with these large-scale performances and tours are unfortunately coming to a close, but it’s comforting to me that, in addition to supporting and encouraging me all the way, my parents would be there for me at what is probably the pinnacle of my musical career. Go Mama and Papa Chow!
During intermission, we met some high-profile fans. Clifford Hart, U.S. Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau, and Curtis Chin, former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, came backstage and shared a few laughs and photos with us.
During intermission, we met some high-profile fans. Clifford Hart, U.S. Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau, and Curtis Chin, former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, came backstage and shared a few laughs and photos with us.
This final concert was rife with emotional hugs and final red-pants group photos. Here, the NYO Minnesotans flash dazzling smiles backstage before going onstage for one of our most dazzling performances of Berlioz.
This final concert was rife with emotional hugs and final group photos. Here, the NYO Minnesotans flash dazzling smiles backstage before going onstage for one of our most dazzling performances of Berlioz. I like to think that these lifelong friends will one day look back twenty, thirty years at these red pants moments and smile just as brilliantly.
The following day, we made our way to the Hong Kong Center of the Asia Society, where we toured the art exhibitions and former British military structures.
The following day, we paid a visit to the Hong Kong Center of the Asia Society, where we toured the art exhibitions and former British military structures.
Afterward, we made our way to a side-by-side rehearsal with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, in which we rehearsed two pieces together, performed for them, and listened to them perform for us. Although we were all running on reserve energy by now, we found this community engagement event wholly engaging and reflective of NYO’s ultimate mission - to connect, through the universal language of music, two entirely different cultures.
Afterward, we made our way to a side-by-side rehearsal with the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, in which we rehearsed two pieces together, performed for them, and listened to them perform for us. Although we were all running on reserve energy by now, we found this community engagement event wholly engaging and reflective of NYO’s ultimate mission – to connect, through the universal language of music, two entirely different cultures.
And right when we thought our meals couldn't get any better, NYO surprised us on the last night with a spectacular dinner on Victoria Peak overlooking the Hong Kong skyline. In preparation for the flight back and the dearth of all-you-can-eat buffets at home, we lavishly loaded up our plates.
And right when we thought our meals couldn’t get any better, NYO surprised us on the last night with a spectacular dinner on Victoria Peak overlooking the Hong Kong skyline. In preparation for the flight back and the dearth of all-you-can-eat buffets at home, we lavishly loaded up our plates.
Lovely view. Lovelier people.
Lovely view. Lovelier people.
And what's an NYO party without impassioned dancing? With no more rehearsals or performances or other events left, we expended whatever little energy we had left.
And what’s an NYO party without impassioned dancing? With no more rehearsals or performances or other events left, we expended whatever little stamina we had left.
That last dinner party also found many of us scrambling to write last-minute messages in each other’s notebooks. Also, another well-deserved shoutout to Nhyta, our apprentice librarian. She’s full of energy and contagious smiles, and although much of her work with NYO was behind-the-scenes, her positive presence among us was always palpable and conducive to deepened friendships.
That last dinner party also found many of us scrambling to write last-minute messages in each other’s notebooks. Also, another well-deserved shout-out to Nhyta, our apprentice librarian. She’s full of energy and contagious smiles, and although much of her work with NYO was behind-the-scenes, her positive presence among us was always palpable and conducive to deepened friendships.
How fitting that my last memory with NYOUSA is of greeting a beautiful sunrise in a beautiful city with beautiful friends. After all, in the words of NYO philosopher-poet Stephen Tang,
How fitting that my last memory with NYOUSA is of greeting a beautiful sunrise in a beautiful city with beautiful friends. After all, in the words of NYO philosopher-poet Stephen Tang, “as with our memories cultivated and friendships earned, we have seen only the beginning.”
Final stop: Hong Kong

“Are you bouché?” (A salute to Charles Dutoit)

I haven’t yet touched upon what is very likely the most remarkable feature of the NYO experience. It’s still a little mind-boggling to think that we spent three weeks working extensively with such a renown conductor as Charles Dutoit. Simply put, he’s a great musician, and it showed from the very first downbeat he gave. But just as David Robertson, conductor of NYOUSA 2014, flavored our playing with his eloquent stories and expression, Dutoit also contributed new dimensions to our music-making simply through his character and musical posture.

Maestro Charles Dutoit's presence evoked an entirely new sincerity. He's a man of few (English) words and many grunts, and he rarely cracked a smile during rehearsal, but he knew exactly what he wanted in our playing and wouldn't let us get away with anything less than perfection.
Maestro Dutoit’s presence evoked an entirely new sincerity. He’s a man of few (English) words and many grunts, and he rarely cracked a smile during rehearsal, but he knew exactly what he wanted in our playing and wouldn’t let us get away with anything less than perfection.
Often this required the rest of the orchestra to sit still while the maestro patiently drilled a violin or timpani passage “again” and “again” and “again.” To demand hours of ceaseless concentration from 110 teenagers is a laughable feat, but as soon as Dutoit stepped onto the podium, we all understood the level of respect, trust, and focus that this musical veteran had earned and now expected from us.
Often this required the rest of the orchestra to sit still while the maestro patiently drilled a violin or English horn passage “again” and “again” and “again.” To demand hours of ceaseless concentration from 110 teenagers is a laughable feat, but as soon as Dutoit stepped onto the podium, we all understood the level of respect, trust, and focus that this musical veteran had earned and now expected from us.
There are a couple (well, a couple that I've noticed) of nuances that you'll find in a great conductor that can only come about through decades of working with excellent orchestras. Much of Dutoit's comments to us were notations already written in by the composer, but he somehow brought those notations to an altogether new life.
There are a couple of nuances that I’ve found in Dutoit’s rehearsing that I believe can only come about through decades of working with excellent orchestras. Surprisingly, much of his comments to us were notations already dictated by the composer, but Dutoit somehow brought those notations to an altogether new life. I also enjoyed how, instead of telling the timpanist to play softer, he’d say something along the lines of, “No. You play like it’s real. Not real. Not yet.”
But theres’s also something peculiar about him, something that extended beyond his interesting semantics and word choice. When he wasn't envisioning and inspiring our playing on the podium, he was like the eccentric great-uncle that's comfortable embarrassing himself before us, if only to make us smile.
But theres’s also something peculiar about him, something that extended beyond his interesting semantics and word choice. When he wasn’t envisioning and inspiring our playing on the podium, he was like the eccentric great-uncle that’s comfortable embarrassing himself before us, if only to make us smile.
At our final dress rehearsal in Hong Kong, amongst other affirming last words, Dutoit disclosed that he had never before worked with such a young orchestra. That may shed a bit of light on his intriguing antics. Perhaps he was just as fascinated with such young, spontaneous ruffians as we were in awe of such a prominent, seasoned musical figure.
At our final dress rehearsal in Hong Kong, Dutoit disclosed, amongst other affirming last words, that he had never before worked with such a young orchestra. That may shed a bit of light on his intriguing antics. Perhaps he was just as fascinated with such young, spontaneous ruffians as we were in awe of such a prominent, seasoned musical figure.
Even if that fascination involved his getting whacked by a viola bow here and there.
Even if that fascination involved his getting whacked by a viola bow now and then.
But I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that’s why he insisted on posing as our prom date in all his photos with us.
But I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that’s why he insisted on posing as our prom date in all his photos with us.
Maybe he was just subliminally reminding Michael of how he wanted the bouché. Remember: “With the flesh. No American machine.
Maybe he was just subliminally reminding Michael of how he wanted the bouché. Remember: “With the flesh. No American machine.”
“Are you bouché?” (A salute to Charles Dutoit)

Just a taste: Food Adventures in China

I’ll let the photos (and eager captions) speak for themselves. Bon appétit!

In my Beijing and Shanghai post, I wrote about the amazing display (and taste) of our hotel food. Short update: it never got worse at any city we stayed in. Thanks Andrew Carnegie!
In my Beijing and Shanghai post, I wrote about the amazing display (and taste) of our hotel food. Short update: it never got worse at any city we stayed in. Thanks Andrew Carnegie!
Buffet dinners make us so happy! Might I also add that I had the honor of witnessing the evolution of Pete’s chopsticks skills? He progressed from butterfingers to true chopstick-ninja in just 30 minutes - a testament to the level of talent and dedication here at NYO. Or it could just be from all of his percussion chops and dexterity with sticks.
Buffet dinners make us so happy! Might I also add that I had the honor of witnessing the evolution of Pete’s chopsticks skills? He progressed from butterfingers to true chopstick-ninja in just 30 minutes – a testament to the level of talent and dedication here at NYO. Or it could just be from all of his percussion chops and dexterity with sticks.
But when we leave the security and predictability of our hotels, the whole group relies heavily on the 25-or-so Mandarin speakers (even if we have to rely heavily on each other in turn) to find the right places and order the right dishes. We’re also lucky to have excellent Mandarin-speaking staff, such as Chris Lee!
But when we leave the security and predictability of our hotels, the whole group relies heavily on the 25-or-so Mandarin speakers (even if we have to rely heavily on each other in turn) to find the right places and order the right dishes. We’re also lucky to have excellent Mandarin-speaking staff, such as Chris Lee!
Now, onto a few signature Chinese dishes! Noodle soup is a popular, reliable dish that we encountered at many stops along the tour. Broths and toppings can vary but most often, the noodles are 拉麵, what many of us know as  “ramen,” which literally means “stretched noodles.” They’re handmade and delicious when done properly.
Now, onto a few signature Chinese dishes! Noodle soup is a popular, reliable dish that we encountered at many stops along the tour. Broths and toppings can vary but most often, the noodles are 拉麵, what many of us know as “ramen,” which literally means “stretched noodles.” They’re handmade and delicious when done properly.
I’d also touched upon 小笼包 (soup dumplings) in an earlier post, but, if only for the sake of posting another photo of this beautiful, juicy delicacy, I’ll reiterate my adoration. We aptly call it “soup dumpling” because, if made and eaten with care, you’ll find a surprising amount of heart-warming and stomach-warming soup inside the dumpling.
I’d also touched upon 小笼包 (soup dumplings) in an earlier post, but, if only for the sake of posting another photo of this beautiful, juicy delicacy, I’ll reiterate my ardor. We aptly call it “soup dumpling” because, if made and eaten with care, you’ll find a heart-warming and stomach-warming liquid medley inside the dumpling.
The more adventurous types can also find countless intimidating options. Above, Evan displays his soon-to-be lunch, consisting of a fried octopus-esque treat with an unidentifiable side of crunchy, peppered delight.
The more adventurous types can also find countless intimidating options. Above, Evan displays his soon-to-be lunch, consisting of a sautéed octopus-esque treat with an unidentifiable side of crunchy, peppered delight.
As the tour progressed, we looked forward to eating in Hong Kong, the land of dim sum. This meal was one of our favorites (which says something), because of the food, but also because of the company and service. Meals just seem so much more engaging and memorable when eaten around a typical Chinese turntable, which Akshay aptly described as
As the tour progressed, we looked forward to eating in Hong Kong, the land of dim sum. This meal was one of our favorites (which says something), because of the food, but also because of the company and service. Meals just seem so much more engaging and memorable when eaten around a typical Chinese turntable, which Akshay befittingly described as “the cornerstone of the Chinese community and family.”
The perfect refreshment after a long, sweaty day of walking around in a hot Chinese city is  刨冰 (shaved ice). It’s a cheap but satisfying dessert that accompanies a diverse array of toppings, including jellies, beans, ice cream, nuts, and apparently even corn.
The perfect refreshment after a long, sweaty day of walking around in a hot Chinese city is 刨冰 (shaved ice). It’s a cheap but satisfying dessert that accompanies a diverse array of toppings, including jellies, beans, ice cream, condensed milk, nuts, and apparently even corn.
And of course, my favorite beverage/dessert/soul food - boba a.k.a. pearl milk tea a.k.a. bubble tea a.k.a. heaven on earth. At this particular restaurant in Hong Kong, we ordered “jumbo” drinks for the equivalent of $1.50 US dollars. Fantastic deal!
And of course, my favorite beverage/dessert/soul food – boba a.k.a. pearl milk tea a.k.a. bubble tea a.k.a. heaven on earth. At this particular restaurant in Hong Kong, we ordered “jumbo” drinks for the equivalent of $1.50 US dollars. Fantastic deal!
Just a taste: Food Adventures in China

In our spare time…

We don’t have much downtime, but I’ve found that my fondest memories at NYO exist in the cracks between rehearsals, concerts, meals, and sightseeing, when we have nothing scheduled or when we’re just stranded at the airport for hours. In those moments, all sorts of conversations sprout and all sorts of friendships bloom.

We have to keep our chops up with warmups, practicing, and massages - even and especially if this means breaking out our instruments at the airport.
We have to keep our chops up with warm ups, practicing, and massages – even and especially if this means breaking out our instruments at the airport.
An amazing part of the NYO experience is the interaction between the staff and faculty. We eat, sightsee, ride on buses and planes, and goof off with the NYO and Carnegie Hall staff all the time. Above, New York Phil Photographer Chris Lee not only takes amazing photos, but also looks as photogenic as any teenager in our photos of him.
An amazing part of the NYO experience is the interaction between the musicians and the staff. We eat, sightsee, ride on buses and planes, and goof off with the NYO and Carnegie Hall staff all the time. Above, New York Phil Photographer Chris Lee not only takes amazing photos, but also looks as photogenic (and silly) as any teenager.
All we need is a laptop, bluetooth speakers, and snacks to enjoy a movie night together. Throughout the residency and tour, we've explored the nuances of friendship and learned much about bromance through Lord of the Rings and about womance through Mean Girls.
All we need are a laptop, bluetooth speakers, and snacks to enjoy a movie night together. Throughout the residency and tour, we’ve deepened our friendships by exploring the nuances of bromance through Lord of the Rings (all three extended editions) and of womance through Mean Girls.
The selfie sticks make an appearance. It's so gratifying to see everyone documenting the NYO experience just as eagerly - after all, every person and moment is so incredibly worth remembering.
The selfie sticks make an appearance! It’s so gratifying to see everyone documenting the NYO experience just as eagerly – after all, every person and moment is so incredibly worth remembering.
To be honest, at NYO, we spend far less time with their instruments than we would at a typical music camp (not that NYOUSA is anything remotely close to a typical music camp). Much of our friendships often develop through non-musical conversations and interests, so it's not too difficult to forget the level of musical talent and devotion here - that is, until a few of us sightread Shosti 8 at blurringly fast tempos.
To be honest, at NYO, we spend far less time with our instruments than we would at any other music camp (not that NYO is anything remotely close to a typical music camp). Much of our friendships develop through non-musical conversations and interests, so it’s not too difficult to forget the level of musical talent and devotion here – that is, until a few of us sight-read Shosti 8 at blurringly fast tempos.
Or when they arrange and record Disney songs backstage. Crowds of us would gather during intermissions and rehearsal breaks while Isabella, Grant, and Chris refined their arrangement. View the final result here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2XB1K5sfis
Or when they arrange and record Disney and pop songs backstage. We’d always congregate during intermissions and rehearsal breaks to listen while Izzy, Grant, and Chris refined their arrangements. Check out their final Disney medley and pop songs medley!
This is a personal favorite memory. After hiking up and down the Great Wall, we spent a good ten minutes at lunch figuring out how to laugh without smiling. Naturally, hilarity ensued and our antics left us actually laughing nonstop for the rest of lunch.
This is a personal favorite memory. After hiking up and down the Great Wall, we spent a good ten minutes at lunch figuring out how to laugh without smiling. Naturally, hilarity ensued and our antics left us actually guffawing ceaselessly for the rest of the meal. I do think it’s these simple moments that we take for granted while they happen, but cherish the most in retrospect. Anyway, what we do in our spare time…
Many of us used our Carnegie Hall notebooks to collect messages, quotes, and polaroid photos of our colleagues, and as the end of the tour approached, we moved even faster to sign everyone's and to have everyone sign ours.
Many of us used our Carnegie Hall notebooks to collect messages, quotes, and Polaroid photos of our colleagues, and as the end of the tour approached, we moved even faster to sign everyone’s and to have everyone sign ours.
Overheard at NYO: "You can sleep as much as you want after the tour is over." But sometimes, if we happen to find a sliver of an opportunity, we try to get a little shuteye.
Overheard at NYO: “You can sleep as much as you want after the tour is over.” But sometimes, if we happened to find a sliver of an opportunity, we did try to catch a few precious spells of shuteye.

 

In our spare time…

Backstage Pass: Suzhou, Xi’an, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou

Each performance with the National Youth Orchestra is a whirlwind of setting up, adjusting balance, dressing, dining, and ultimately trying to make everything flawless. There’s so much that we need to do, and even more that the staff does that so easily goes unnoticed. But amidst the storm of preparations, there are innumerable great moments before, between, and after a concert that make the entire experience more rewarding. Here are some of those moments from our concerts in Suzhou, Xi’an, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.

The Suzhou Cultural and Arts Centre performance hall was most reminiscent of most standard Western halls (such as the one at Purchase), with a closed shell around the sides and back of the stage. Consequently, acoustics (from the violins’ side of the stage) were familiar and much more comfortable than they had been at Beijing or Shanghai. I also appreciated the cantaloupe-esque designs around the hall.
The Suzhou Cultural and Arts Centre performance hall was most reminiscent of a standard Western hall (such as the one at Purchase), with a closed shell around the sides and back of the stage. Consequently, acoustics (from the violins’ side of the stage) were familiar and much more comfortable than they were at Beijing or Shanghai. I also appreciated the cantaloupe-esque designs around the hall.
At each venue, a couple sections would dress early and pose for a section photo. Before our Suzhou concert, the cellists gathered on the stairwell and jammed out while waiting for their Chris Lee Photoshoot.
At each venue, a couple of sections would get dressed earlier and pose for a section photo. Before our Suzhou concert, the cellists gathered on the stairwell and jammed out while waiting for their Chris Lee Photoshoot.
Chinese superstar YUNDI spotted. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to take photos with us, so I sniped one while he warmed up on stage.
Chinese superstar YUNDI spotted. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to take photos with us, so I sniped one while he warmed up on stage.
Assistant conductor Jake Sustaita conducted traffic to a halt and cued our entrance across the streets of Xi’an as we made our way to dinner before the concert.
Assistant conductor Jake Sustaita conducted traffic to a halt and cued our entrance across the streets of Xi’an as we made our way to dinner before the concert.
Xi’an is a culturally rich city that boasts over 3 millennia of history and architectural influence. The Xi’an Concert Hall, on the other hand,  opened in 2009 and presented a much more modern interior design and function.
Xi’an is a culturally rich city that boasts over 3 millennia of history and architectural influence. The Xi’an Concert Hall, on the other hand, opened in 2009 and presented a much more modern interior design and function.
During our pre-concert lobby performances, enthusiastic listeners often crowd around, leaving no space for latecomers to catch a glimpse of the performers. Luckily, we’re able to watch second-hand through the dozens of raised smartphones and tablets.
During our pre-concert lobby performances, enthusiastic listeners often crowded around, leaving no space for latecomers to catch a glimpse of the performers. Luckily, we’re able to watch second-handedly through the dozens of raised smartphones and tablets.
The Shenzhen Concert Hall's angular design and confusing audience layout gives it a look reminiscent of the Berlin Philharmonie.
The Shenzhen Concert Hall was aesthetically my personal favorite. Its angular design and confusing audience layout gave it a look reminiscent of the Berlin Philharmonie.
During our Shenzhen dress rehearsal, we sightread Copland's Outdoor Overture and a Chinese song called
During our Shenzhen dress rehearsal, we sightread Copland’s Outdoor Overture and a Chinese song called “Dance of the Yao People” in preparation for a side-by-side rehearsal we’d participate in later on. To accommodate this event, the strings switched up our seating and Austin braved the concertmaster seat (and solo).
Many members of NYO joined the audience in the lobby for our Shenzhen preconcert, in which our brass section performed the Vienna Phil Fanfare before a gigantic, somewhat-distracting LED billboard.
Many members of NYO joined the audience in the lobby for our Shenzhen preconcert, in which our brass section performed the Vienna Phil Fanfare before a gigantic, somewhat-distracting LED billboard.
Guangzhou's Xinghai Concert Hall exuded a more musky, venerable ambience, and we found the performance much more intimate - some of the audience sat quite literally onstage, right behind the percussionists.
Guangzhou’s Xinghai Concert Hall exuded a more musky, venerable ambience, and we found the performance far more intimate – some of the audience sat quite literally onstage, right behind the percussionists.
Another example of enthusiastic, photo-loving audiences for our preconcert performances - here, a brass quintet performs an arrangement of songs from West Side Story (in a lovely throwback to NYOUSA 2014).
Yet another example of enthusiastic, photo-loving audiences for our preconcert performances – here, a brass quintet performs an arrangement of songs from West Side Story (in a lovely throwback to NYOUSA 2014). I’ve found that the audiences of our Chinese concerts tended to be much younger than those of our American concerts (which might explain their social media habits and persistence in taking photos during the concert despite ushers’ incessant reminders). If my observations are a true reflection of what’s going on, then there’s hope for the future of classical music, even if that future involves more infringements of cell phone rules.
Backstage Pass: Suzhou, Xi’an, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou

Chinese Street Life

Despite my Chinese heritage, this tour with NYO has actually been my first visit to mainland China. In some ways, I feel as much like a foreigner as anyone else – here, there are unfamiliar rules (and unconcern for rules), hazardous traffic, and insufferable humidity. But coming to China has also surprisingly felt like coming home and seeing not just the cities and landscapes that my family comes from, but also the attitudes and sensibilities that have shaped my own upbringing and character. Here are a few of my impressions of Chinese street life.

Streets in metropolitan China look weathered and tangled, but also give off a vibe of efficiency and no-nonsense, as if nothing ever really bothers the Chinese people. Case in point: bikers that simply don't care about speeding into a red light at a huge intersection.
Streets in metropolitan China look weathered and tangled, but also give off a vibe of efficiency and no-nonsense, as if nothing ever really bothers the Chinese people. Case in point: bikers that simply don’t care about speeding into a red light at a huge intersection.
Traffic in the large cities we have visited has simultaneously frightened and impressed us. I'm not sure how I'll ever be able to drive "normally" in the States anymore after witnessing such aggression and proficiency in the drivers here.  Photo: Stephen Tang
Traffic in the large cities we have visited has simultaneously frightened and impressed us. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to drive “normally” in the States anymore after witnessing such aggression and proficiency in the drivers here.
Photo: Stephen Tang
In most of the cities we've visited, we've encountered profuse smog - another testament, I think, to the industrial, unconcerned attitude that pervades a lot of the metropolitan areas.
In most of the cities we’ve visited, we’ve encountered profuse smog – another testament, I think, to the industrial, unconcerned attitude that pervades a lot of the metropolitan areas. The cityscapes and skylines are magnificent, but always set against a somber ashen background.
At the same time, certain neighborhoods boast breathtaking, lush canopies  that conceal smaller streets and alleyways but reveal a beauty and calm amidst the hustle-bustle of city life.
At the same time, certain neighborhoods boast breathtaking, lush canopies that conceal smaller streets and alleyways but reveal a beauty and calm amidst the hustle-bustle of city life.
One of these hidden gems is 田子坊 (Tianzifang), an labyrinth of alleyways developed from a former French Concession residential area in Shanghai. This enclave exhibits arts and crafts stores, street food vendors, and hints of European architecture that melds with the authentic Shanghai-esque alleyways.
One of these hidden gems is 田子坊 (Tianzifang), a labyrinth of alleyways developed from a former French Concession residential area in Shanghai. This enclave exhibits arts and crafts stores, street food vendors, and hints of European architecture that melds with the authentic Shanghai-esque alleyways.
You'll find all kinds of foods on every street, some more authentic than others, some more reliable than others. Our trusty advice is: "Peel it, cook it, boil it, or don't eat it."
You’ll find all kinds of colorful foods on every street, some more authentic than others, some more reliable than others. Our trusty advice is: “Peel it, cook it, boil it, or don’t eat it.”
The Chinese people are fascinating to me. There is a culture and history here that is near and dear to me - as a Chinese-American, I can recognize familiar strands of diligence and humility and sincerity that shows in their unapologetic, practical posture, but also in their curiosity for people around them (especially American tourists!).
The Chinese people are fascinating to me. There is a culture and history here that is near and dear to me – as a Chinese-American, I can recognize familiar strands of diligence and humility and sincerity that shows in their unapologetic, practical posture, but also in their curiosity for people around them (especially American tourists!).
Chinese Street Life