Home again...

We have just arrived back home in Berlin, after a mammoth and very fun tour! But it’s been a while since I wrote a blog entry, so let’s rewind a bit…

Our second cellist for the tour, Elena Cheah, flew out from Berlin in the beginning of April. Our first stop was to our favourite Melbourne coffee-spot, St Ali cafe in South Melbourne. After a delicious breakfast with friends, we drove up to my parents’ olive farm, Kalaparee Olives, in St Arnaud (central Victoria), to begin some serious rehearsing for our next concert in two days time. We had already done a lot of rehearsal on our program with Elena in Berlin, but after performing five concerts with Julian Smiles, we had changed just about everything!

The farm in St Arnaud was a good introduction to Australia for Elena - isolated, dry, surrounded by gum trees, kangaroos and native birds, it really feels like you’re in the true Australian bush.
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Elena has already filled you in on the details of our concerts in Dunolly, Macedon, Hamilton and Mornington. I don’t really have anything to add, except to say that the concerts were great, the audiences were fantastic, and we met a bunch of really interesting people. It was good fun traveling around Victoria with Elena and her husband, and we also stopped off at some beautiful holiday places en route to our concert venues, such as the Great Ocean Road, Torquay and Sorrento.

Our final Australian concert for this tour was at fortyfivedownstairs. This is a Berlin-esque underground venue, with peeling brick walls and cool lighting. We’re never quite sure what to expect there, because the acoustics can vary quite a lot, depending on what seating and staging equipment is set up there (the venue also doubles as a theatre), but this time, the acoustics were exactly right. We had a very responsive audience, who made the atmosphere very warm. Our program was Mendelssohn C minor trio, Elena Kats-Chernin Spirit and the Maiden, Haydn E major trio and Schubert trio in B flat major. It was a huge program (nearly 100 minutes of music), but the enthusiastic audience helped us keep our energy levels up until the very end.

The following morning, we set off to Sydney, for three days of rest and family catch-up time before a 14 hour flight to our final concert in Dubai.

Dubai was a fascinating place to visit - so different to any place I have been before! Our concert there was for the Dubai Concerts Committee, the only classical music concert presenter in the UAE. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they had put us up in the Sheraton hotel, on top of the Emirates Mall (the second largest shopping mall in Dubai). Check out my flash room!

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I found it hard to imagine a bigger shopping mall than this one - it was complete with an indoor ski slope and skating park, but on our first evening, we went to visit Dubai’s very largest shopping mall - the Dubai Mall. It also happens to be one of the largest shopping malls in the world. I have never seen such extravagance inside a shopping centre - from the indoor aquarium to the numerous fountains, to the indoor waterfall, to the enormous indoor ice-skating rink, to the huge lake and fountain display (don’t forget that this is in the middle of the desert).

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After watching an elaborate light-and-fountain display, we ate dinner in a restaurant overlooking the lake, which is towered over by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was lit up like a Christmas tree, changing colour every few minutes.

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Dubai is such an interesting place. A mostly man-made city in the middle of the Arabian Desert, it’s a melting pot of over four million people from many different cultures (83% of people living there are foreign-born), many of whom have come to Dubai for the same reason: to make some serious money. Tax-free Dubai is sweltering hot all year long, especially in summer where the temperatures often rise above 50 degrees, but you wouldn’t guess it - everywhere we went was strongly air-conditioned. Even the outdoor terrace we ate dinner on featured an air-conditioner, blowing cold air directly out into the heat. Judging by the sheer quantity of shopping malls in Dubai, shopping seems to be a very popular recreational activity. The shops were the same as you can find in shopping malls all over the world - mainstream designer as well as the lower-end chains, but I have never been in shopping malls that were so enormous or opulent as the ones we saw in Dubai.

Our concert hall was actually joined to the Emirates Mall; a convenient 10 minute air-conditioned walk from our hotel. Named the Dubai Community and Arts Centre, the hall seated around 600 people. Our concert had been widely publicized around Dubai, especially towards the expat community - we were pleasantly surprised to find that our audience almost filled the hall. The concert was very well organized, and the audience was warm and enthusiastic. Our program was Haydn E major, Mendelssohn C minor, Kats-Chernin Spirit and the Maiden and Ravel Trio. The audience really seemed to appreciate the program; their applause resulted in an encore of the Andante movement of Mendelssohn’s D minor trio. We enjoyed meeting many of the friendly audience members after the concert, followed by a delicious dinner with some of the committee members.

The following day, we packed our bags for the last time and headed off to the airport. We had been very lucky with every flight on this tour - aside from one Jetstar flight where we weren’t allowed to bring our instruments on board (despite having purchased extra seats), we had no hitches at all with our travel this trip. All our planes ran on time, we didn’t miss any connections, and no bags got lost. Until our very last flight back to Germany… Our plane was delayed on the tarmac, because they couldn’t get the plane “unplugged” from the landing dock. One hour ticked by, then another, then another, until we realized that we were in danger of missing the last connecting train from Hamburg back to Berlin that evening, so could potentially be stranded at Hamburg Airport. “Don’t worry,” Emirates staff assured us, “they’ll sort something out for you when you land in Hamburg, since you bought the rail-and-fly tickets through us.” Sure enough, our plane landed four hours late, around 11pm, and the last train (and the last bus) to Berlin had long gone. And after some lengthy discussions with Emirates, we realised we were all on our own. We quickly booked into ourselves into a dingy little hotel at Hamburg train station just before it closed. But all’s well that ends well - we discovered one a great little pizza restaurant right next to our hotel and finished up our tour with a delicious midnight feast - not such a glamourous ending to the tour, but a tasty one!

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An early train the following morning brought us finally home to Berlin. It felt good to be back home and finally unpack the suitcases, after over 6 weeks away. Spring time has finally arrived in Berlin, and the trees are just beginning to grow leaves. It’s a nice change from the freezing, grey winter that we left behind in March.

So, what next? Well, we have just met up with Martin, and we’re happy to report that his broken wrist has healed up nicely, and he’s back to playing the cello again. It will be interesting to play with him again and see how much Ben and I have changed from the experience of playing with two new cellists. We will begin rehearsals next week for our next program (Tchaikovsky piano trio - so exciting!) and we have some concerts in Lithuania, Switzerland coming up, plus a new CD recording to make - we’re about to record the complete piano trios by Elena Kats-Chernin. And there’s also a lot to organize for our next Australian tour in July and August. We can’t wait to come back!