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Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Beijing Traffic Cop
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

One of the cool things for me about traveling to a foreign country, whether it’s business, pleasure, or in this case, pleasurable business, is savoring the differences from home.

In this photo a Beijing traffic cop keeps an eye on things, doing his best to maintain order in a place with traffic jams that actually make traffic in the Washington, DC area where I live seem light. Traffic was so heavy and so unpredictable, that the orchestra usually left our hotel around 4PM so we were assured of arriving at the theaters somewhere between one to two hours later. Better to get there with an hour to kill than to race in just as the curtain was about to arrive, the audience in place.

Coming Next: 7 concerts, 5 cities, 9 days

Mantovani 2009 China Tour: The Itinerary
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

China Itinerary

One thing to remember about an orchestra tour is the sheer amount of actual travel involved, particularly in a BIG country like China. Despite the best efforts of our in country tour hosts and promoters, the Zhang Brothers, Mag Jian and Jiao, and Jiajia Shu Fong (AKA “Beth”, herder of cats and musicians), the travel was arduous; the amount of sleep and time for sight-seeing, unfortunately, minimal. But hey, don’t pity us, we still had a heck of a good time, at least I know I did.

For the detail oriented:

  • First leg: Orlando to Guangzho via Shanghai
    • 6 hours of sleep in Orlando, bus trip to airport, check-in, 7AM flight to San Francisco
    • Noonish Flight from San Francisco to Pudang (Shanghai), China, go through customs and immiigration, arrive waiting area for in-country flight 2AM local time
    • Flight from Shanghai to Guangzho, arrive at hotel 3:30AM local time, some time Twilight Zone Time
  • Performances and Travel in China
    • Perform Guangzho, dinner at lovely restaurant,
      Guangzho Dinner Choices

      So Many, Many Choices...

      back to bed at midnight, up next morning by 6AM for…

    • Flight from Guangzho to Wuhan
    • Perform that night in Wuhan (yawn), luxuriate in extra sleep next morning and some time off, then up early next day for flight to Beijing
    • Perform that night in Beijing and again, the next night, up early the 2nd Beijing morning for…
    • Flight to Shanghai
    • Perform in Shanghai, next morning off, 2nd performance and late night dinner there, then up early for…
    • Road trip via bus to Huangzho, perform that last and final night, then…
  • Tour is over and flying home

Next post - Shanghai: Skyline to Subway

Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Shanghai Subway
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Shanghai Skyline

Shanghai is an amazing city full of examples of the vitality of the 21st Century China. The sky is pierced for miles on end by skyscrapers tall as any in the world. Having grown up outside New York City just across that fragrant patch which we locals called “The Meadows” with a view of the Empire State Building (I grew up before the World Trade Center was erected), I felt quite at home.

I’m also a connoisseur of subways and trolleys living in the greater Washington, DC area with our “Metro”, and living through my undergraduate years in Boston with its hodge-podge of trolleys, trackless trolleys and heavy rail subway cars, but I digress.


The Shanghai subway system is a marvel. The trains are clean and fast; the fare collection system a technological marvel with electronics aiding the traveler in multiple languages. One simply, and I do mean simply, selects a destination on an interactive map, and the system then calculates the fare and asks for the money. Simple.

And in the cars there are electronic maps as well.

One thing this traveler had never seen was an “open car” design in which a tall Westerner such as this writer could see over the heads of most of the Chinese passengers clear to the front and back of the 8 car (?) train. No doors separate the cars.

But then, in my experience, there’s always something interesting, and I mean this with affection and respect, about how a technology which starts in one part of the world, in this case, the West, is adapted for use in another.

This subway sign says it all: practical, down to earth, simple – and something I never saw anywhere else. Kind ‘a goes without saying, but in China, traffic, whether pedestrian or vehicular, or the usual combination thereof, is not the orderly flow it is in Germany, or even, in Italy!

Next post: Logistics – travel with musicians, instruments, and a live goat. (just kidding about the goat…).

Mantovani 2009 China Tour – Meet the Conductor
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus
Barry and the Tiger

Barry Knight and Friend

Beyond a certain number, much as we musicians might hate to admit it, working with a fabulous conductor really can really help us combine our musical talents and egos in the most beneficial way with the end result being a performance people would want to hear. It also takes a person with a certain skill, some would say, the ability to “herd cats”, to be a really fine conductor. As can seen in this photo, Barry has that skill in spades.

Having had the privilege to work with Barry, I believe he tells it like it is in his Facebook profile: “I’m a hopeless romantic at heart… I love lots of music, Italian Operas (esp.Puccini) & Russian orchestral works & lots of good light, popular, big band & middle of road music, as long as it’s good of its kind”.

And there’s evidence that the critics think Barry good as his word. Milton Kaine, in the October 2000 issue of American Record Guide, wrote, “Conductor Barry Knight is apparently an expert on British light music and does a commendable job”.

Barry Knight I also witnessed Barry’s ability to charm audiences, to communicate across cultures and languages, to make music available, accesible and enjoyable for people.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way about Barry. The concert reviewer in Wuhan devoted several paragraphs of his review to him:

“The English conductor, a Anthony Hopkins look-a-like, also doubled up as the narrator. During opening, his flawless Chinese greeting of “Good evening friends of Wuhan. Welcome to Mantovani’s beautiful music” gave the audience a pleasant surprise. After that, for every 2 pieces they performed, he would explain [sic] them in simple Chinese. When he was introducing the theme song of “West Side Story”, Tonight, he told the audience, this is a similar story to Romeo and Juliet, only the boy ‘Argh’ in the end – coupled with his imitation of ‘strangling of throat’, the audience laughed audibly in appreciation. Next when he was introducing the “007” theme song You Only Live Twice, he did a gun draw act just like Bond while saying ‘007’ in Chinese. Before the performance for the “Superman” theme song, he even whipped out a blue Superman top with a ‘S’ symbol and asked the ladies if they are willing to date this muscular gentleman.

“Through his narration, the audience got to know about some other things besides the programme notes; “Limelight” was by Charlie Chaplin, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes gave him a ‘gliding in the sky’ feel and he also mentioned that two members of the Orchestra had their birthdays the day before, and they might go for a drink after the performance. The audience felt an affinity towards this elderly, humorous and easy-going gentleman.

“…and when he gave the flowers he received to a lady in the audience and kissed her hand, he was greeting with a thunderous applause.

Well done, Barry.

Well done, indeed, and, I must add, it was a lot of fun working with you.

Best Violins in the World: Made in China?
Jan 7th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

On my way to enjoy an evening of socializing and to play some piano quartets with some musician friends I happened to be listening to a PRI show called The World. The topic being covered was the emergence of China as a place where world class violins are now being built by an old world craftsman trained in Italy after 5 years “in the country side ‘working like a peasant’” and his proteges. That artist craftsman, Zheng Quan, works at the Chinese Conservatory of Music, where, according to the PRI piece, he teaches at the only school in China to offer mandatory training as a string player for those students who want to become (Western) stringed instrument builders.

The transcript, photos and sound file can be found here: http://www.theworld.org/2010/01/06/violins-made-in-china/.

For this writer, a proud-to-be-American citizen and grandchild of immigrant parents, the report was both heartening and sobering.

I was heartened to learn that the fine arts of violin making and the playing of Western Classical violin music are now being appreciated in China, a place with a LOT of people.

I am sobered by the thought that the next generation of great instrument makers as well as players may be one that does not include our children. At the high end (hand built and custom built instruments), I worry that our own skilled instrument builders are being starved out of business for lack of interest and funding. At the middle and lower ends (mass produced instruments), I worry that our we may have already lost our production capacity, infrastructure and work force to the pressures for profit and subsequent “off-shoring” of manufacturing plants and jobs. As for players and singers, the pressure is on them from society in general and concerned for their welfare parents, to keep music as a hobby learned in childhood and adolescence, not to be confused with a way to make a living as an adult.

Those are my thoughts and feelings on the subject topic. I welcome yours as comments to this post and wish you a good day whatever day you happen to read it.

Bye-Bye Awful ‘Aughts
Dec 28th, 2009 by Andrew Kraus

I don’t know anybody, at least I don’t believe I know anybody, who’s doing better now than they were in 1999, the last year of the Twentieth Century – but then, I’m a working musician, and I don’t have an office on the executive floor at Goldman & Sachs or Bank of America or… you take my point.

This post being on a blog primarily concerned with music as art and inevitably with music as business, I want to swing the spotlight around to focus on your experience of the ‘Aughts, particularly if you’re a working musician.

If it’s the case that you’re doing better, how’d you make that happen?

If it’s the case that you’re not doing as well, what happened? Did the funding for your organization dry up (think Baltimore Lyric Opera, for example)? Are people spending less on music lessons for their kids? Are you being paid on time? Is it harder to find students? gigs?

And “how is Andrew Kraus doing?”, you ask.

I’m holding my own, and had some great experiences in 2009 including being a guest soloist with the Mantovani Orchestra on their China Tour in the Spring. I’ve started collaborating regularly with two wonderful musicians: Laurien Laufman – Cellist, and Jennifer Paschal – Soprano. You can see details of upcoming recitals with both of them on my events page.

Enough for now about me and my views on this topic. How about you?

Recordings – Blessing or Bane?
Dec 22nd, 2009 by Andrew Kraus

Is the use of recording technology a blessing or bane?

The answer is “yes”, or so this writer asserts. It depends on which side of the very sharp sword you’re holding at any given point in time.

On the blessing side, e.g., as a working accompanist, when I am learning something new, or want to see or hear a performance by a particular artist or artists, I can go to YouTube or to iTunes or Amazon’s mp3 site. I don’t have to travel to a library as I would have just a few years ago, or wait for a local performance as I would have 100 years ago. Pretty cool, eh? And then there are performances only possible on recordings – does the work of Enya come to mind for you?

On the bane side, among other, perhaps more serious considerations, people have gotten into the habit of talking (with their mouths or by texting) while listening to music, not paying for performances (that’s a really tough one), and in many ways, the most baneful of all, have come to expect the sort of perfection most often achieved after many hours of skillful work by performer and recording engineer in the studio as what a live performance should be.

From The GMU Gazette:

“Recordings have conditioned audiences to expect note-perfect performances,” [David] Sternbach says. “As a result, critical standards for live performances have become unreasonable and excessive.”

Your thoughts?

Piano Vandals Strike at Ithaca College
Dec 21st, 2009 by Andrew Kraus

As US News and World Reports reported on their website at UsNews.com.

Twas the night before finals when a vandal damaged more than 60 pianos at Ithaca College. The discovery stunned the school of music and its students.

A sophomore music student stumbled upon the instruments that suffered vandalism Sunday…

Sickening, isn’t it? Who did it? Why did they do it?
Was it a student at the school?

Thank you, Maryland Governor O’Malley!
Dec 19th, 2009 by Andrew Kraus

As a working musician, I appreciate what our Governor has done for the Arts. The squeaky wheel got the oil; now it’s time to say “thank you” so we keep getting that oil:

On August 26th, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced details of the latest cutbacks needed in order to balance the state budget. The necessary $454 million was cut, but we, (Maryland Citizens for the Arts) are pleased to announce that the Maryland State Arts Council budget was not affected.

Live in Maryland, want to be informed about advocacy issues like this? Sign up with Maryland Citizens for the Arts here: http://www.mdarts.org/content/About/aboutus.htm.

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