Curtis on Tour

April 3, 2010

Hi Everyone,

I see from my last entry that it’s been almost a month since I last posted about Curtis on Tour (sorry!) but it definitely feels like that time has flown by quickly.  Even after returning to Philadelphia following the first stretch of concerts, we didn’t get much breathing time before making stops in Manhattan, Kenneth Square (Longwood Gardens), Maine, and Chicago.  It would be absolutely impossible to recapture all the joys, excitement, and memories of the tour so I’ll just jot down my thoughts for the pictures below.

Here we are backstage at the Mondavi Center in Davis, CA.  We spent more time in Davis than in any other city on the tour (four days).  Don’t get the wrong idea- the Mondavi Center and the affiliated outreach program put us to work immediately.  Hyobi, Yekwon, and I performed three formal concerts (a private Mondavi donor event and two public concerts with the full Curtis on Tour group) and visited five orchestra classes at local middle and high schools.  One of the great (and often nerve-wracking) aspects of these school visits is that each class reacts just a little bit differently to the music and even our personalities.  For instance, we interacted with two orchestra classes back to back at Emerson Jr. High.  The first responded with silent amazement while the second, though fidgety at times, wanted to know more about everything in the music.  The moment we finished playing each piece in the second class, multiple hands shot up from students eager to express everything from memories the music brought to mind to questions about technical aspects of the instrument.  This spontaneity was a refreshing reminder of why we spend thousands of hours in the practice room.  We can easily forget the greatness of music when we can barely wrap our heads and fingers around a nasty fingered-octave or up-bow staccato passage.

Yekwon took this picture of the stage and million-dollar view from the Allen Room at Jazz@Lincoln Center.  Luckily, this view of Columbus Circle and the southern edge of Central Park was behind us during the performance and not in our line of sight.  Even though this performance was technically on the road, there were tons of familiar Curtis faces in the audience.  President Diaz, Dean Mangan, most of the Curtis development office, and a handful of alumni gave us a hometown cheer when we walked on stage.  As an added bonus, even Yekwon’s page-turner was a recognizable face.  We needed a last minute replacement for the page turner and we couldn’t find anyone who was available.  My sister, a violist studying at Juilliard, was planning on coming to the concert even before my desperate call on Yekwon’s behalf.  Walking on stage alongside Yekwon and Elizabeth, two people with whom I’ve performed many times, totally dissolved any anxiety I may have had. 

These two pictures are the Camden Harbor Inn, where we all stayed for the concert in Rockport, as well as the complimentary breakfast served at the Inn’s restaurant.  You can’t see it in this photo, but the view from our rooms overlooked the Camden Harbor as well as the edge of the quaint downtown area.  The delicious breakfast you see is Maine’s take on  eggs Benedict.  And yes, that is fresh Maine lobster on top of the eggs.

We performed twice in Maine - once at the University of Maine in Orono and once at the Rockport Opera House.  In addition to our luxurious lodgings and delicious meals in Rockport, it was an added bonus for me to perform in the Opera House.  When I was 11, I attended my first chamber music festival in Rockport - Bay Chamber Concerts’ Next Generation Program.  I had been invited by Kathie Johnson, my chamber coach from Chicago, who with her husband Marc are co-artistic directors of the Next Generation program.  It was in Rockport that I got my first taste of what chamber music could be.  After the Curtis on Tour concert, I was surprised by two of my host families from past summers.  Doris Saltzman reminded me of an adventure I once had that involved their roof and smoke bombs.  Marty Rogers similarly recounted how I loved the trapdoors spread around their house (her beautiful mansion was used in a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s thriller “Thinner”).  Kathie Johnson and her husband, Marc, also came backstage and congratulated us, bringing back even more wonderful memories.  Similar to the Allen Room performance in New York, Rockport felt a lot like home.

Our final stop of the tour was in Chicago, where the whole gang performed at Ravinia and on air for one of WFMT’s (Chicago’s classical radio station) Impromptu programs. Yekwon, Hyobi and I performed two additional outreach programs.  After our second outreach, my parents (who live in Chicago) took us to Millennium Park so I could show Hyobi and Yekwon some of Chicago’s sights.  This is the “Bean” at Millennium Park in Chicago.  Yekwon has a habit of surprising us all with semi-candid pictures from his iPhone.  As you can see, Hyobi and I are caught a bit off guard here.

The last concert at Ravinia was a bittersweet ending.  Performances of all the pieces were arguably the best of the entire tour and, hands down, the most fun.  I must admit though, at the end of the last movement of the Dvorak I got nostalgic about ending such an amazing tour.  Ms. Kavafian, Mr. Wiley, Hyobi, and Yekwon have all taught me so many valuable lessons as a player, musician, and person.  Thank you for everything and I hope we all get many more chances to play wonderful music together!


Curtis on Tour

March 3, 2010

Hi again!

Last night we had our third performance of the tour at Henry Chapel just outside Seattle.  The chapel was a very intimate performance setting.  Since the chapel wasn't designed as a performance hall, lighting and space were issues that we could only partially solve.  Ms. Kavafian, Mr. Wiley, Hyobi, and I had to huddle around an antique floor lamp that was borrowed from a house nearby in order to see our music.  In the Dvorak, Mr. Wiley and I took turns bobbing and bending out of each other's way to keep from smashing our bows.  Meanwhile, Yekwon and the piano were situated two steps above us near the altar at the back of the chapel.  Every time Ms. Kavafian glanced back to connect with Yekwon, I couldn't help but wonder if she was raising her eyes to the heavens pleading for divine intervention.  Even with these unorthodox conditions, there was a certain humility and charm to the performance.  Particularly in the Adagio of the Barber, playing in a house of worship with a high ceiling enhanced the emotion and sonorities.  The sound of each agonizing suspension and  chord evolved as it reverberated off the wooden ceiling and stone floors.  Similarly in the Dvorak, every outburst of exuberance was that much more powerful and joyous.

After the concert, we went back to our historic luxury hotel (The Sorrento) and met up with Frank and Cynthia Bayley, members of Curtis' board of overseers and hosts of the concert, and Mr. Diaz, President of Curtis.  I devoured my arugula and goat cheese salad, herb roasted yukon potatoes, and cranberry glazed lamb chops  quickly and dove into a mountain of chocolate cake.  When I returned to my room to pack, I slipped into the complimentary robe hanging in the closet and looked out at the beautiful view of Seattle’s skyline just outside my window.  Knowing that I had my own French press coffee waiting for me next to my bed in the morning, I drifted into sleep fairly easily.

Yeah, I think I could get used to this touring thing...


Curtis on Tour

 (Left to Right) Ida Kavafian, violin; Peter Wiley, cello; Benjamin Beilman, violin; Hyo Bo Sim, viola; Yekwon Sunwoo, piano; Christopher Rogerson, composer; Daniel Shapiro, composer.  (Photo: Jean Brubaker)

March 1, 2010

I'm crammed into an overbooked plane with a noisy sleeper next to me and a chorus of unhappy infants behind me.  Ms. Kavafian, Hyobi, and Yekwon are seated in remote parts of the cabin and I'm stuck for the next four hours on a bumpy flight with not much hope of stretching my legs (I'm in a window seat).  To escape these not-so-wonderful travel conditions, I plug in my headphones and scroll to the Guarneri Quartet/Rubinstein recording of the Dvorak Piano Quintet on my iPod.  Mr. Soyer's nostalgic and singing solo draws me away from my seat and back to our performance in Detroit last night.

We had our second concert of the tour in Detroit at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Music Box Theater.  On the morning of our kickoff concert in Philadelphia, we learned the sad news that David Soyer, legendary cellist of the Guarneri Quartet and Curtis faculty member, had died.  Mr. Soyer's wife, Janet, asked Mr. Wiley and the Guarneri Quartet to play some late Beethoven at the memorial service so they very appropriately chose the Cavatina from the Op. 130 string quartet.  Since we didn't want to cancel our first performance on the road, we spent our dress rehearsal time on Friday night before the kickoff concert in Philly frantically calling cellists in the Midwest who would be willing to step in on 48 hours' notice.  Amidst the combination of mourning the loss of Mr. Soyer and the anxiety of finding Mr. Wiley's replacement, the concert was an emotional event for us and the audience.

We were incredibly fortunate that Robert deMaine, Principal Cellist of the Detroit Symphony, generously offered to join us for our concert.  In addition to his gorgeous playing (which I'll get into later), he's also one of the kindest people.  In order to play the concert with us, he had to learn the Barber quartet in a matter of hours, perform twice on Sunday (the symphony had a performance at 3pm), and postpone his son's 5th birthday party.  After Ms. Kavafian confirmed his participation via phone call on Friday, he called right back just to make sure he sounded enthusiastic enough about the collaboration.

Hyobi and I met with Robert Saturday afternoon to read through the Barber just to let him get an idea of the piece.  He had played only the second movement in the string orchestra arrangement many times, but never the complete work in its original string quartet form.  On Sunday morning, Ms. Kavafian and Yekwon joined us to rehearse the Barber again and the Dvorak piano quintet.  Even though we had formed a solid interpretation of both pieces through months of rehearsing with Mr. Wiley, playing with Robert added just the perfect amount of spontaneity during the concert.  This quick change of personnel was great practice and allowed us all to dive deeper into understanding both works.

The last triumphant run of the Dvorak's fourth movement just ended and the pilot announced our descent into Seattle.  I have to pack up my laptop and turn off my iPod for now.  Thanks for reading and I'll post again after our concert in Seattle.

Take care!


Happy Belated Halloween!

Over the weekend, some Curtis students carved pumpkins and decorated the school with them, reinstating an old Curtis tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

After the all-important pumpkin selection.

Violinist Dayna Anderson providing instruction.

Violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and trumpeter Sara Huebner.

Finished products (on the Barber display!).

On the mantle.

And, of course, no Curtis event would be complete without some double bass pride!

Here's hoping that the tradition continues!

If you have any suggestions for content you would like to see added, please send us an email at!

The Curtis Institute of...Dog Walking?

Adedeji Ogunfolu, third year hornist, on his new dog-walking business.

Adedeji and Donut

Before the beginning of this school year, I decided that I wanted to do my best to pull my own weight financially by making some relatively significant income. I have been wanting a new instrument for a few years, and, of course, there are bills to pay. Unfortunately, while I'm a student at Curtis, there just isn't much time to get a full-time or even part-time job outside of school. There are so many rehearsals, coachings, and of course I have to allot time for my own individual practice. I will be 23 years old in February, and so I'm getting to the age where I want to get out and see what it is like to have more of a hand in supporting myself. Ideally, being able to support myself freelancing would be great, but this isn't  happening (yet, hopefully!), so I decided I would use whatever skills I had to make my own income.

One day in August, I was practicing in the Tabuteau room and decided to take a break (as I do when practicing isn't going so well…). I put down my horn and gazed out of the window which overlooks Rittenhouse Square. It was such a nice day, and everything in the park looked so peaceful. I noticed that there were a lot of dogs running around with their owners in the square, and then the idea just hit me. I should start a dog walking business! I had seen dog walkers many times around Rittenhouse Square, dragging their gangs of several canines around town.

The idea seemed perfect. I love dogs (I had a Rhodesian Ridgeback-Pit mix growing up), and since I would be working for myself, I could make my own hours. I decided to go online and do my own informal research about other dog walking agencies in the area. What I saw was that a lot of the companies seemed very impersonal and they all charged a lot of money. I figured that I could charge significantly less, but still provide a personal and professional service to people desiring dog walking and pet sitting services.

There ended up being very little time spent on coming up with the name and slogan of the company. I wanted a name that was interesting and that made reference to music. Bach Walkers just seemed to work - something about those two words, I think. Next came the slogan. One of my colleagues has a very creative mind, and thought of “We’re All Bach and No Bite.” I would have never thought of something so creative. The play on words is catchy and endearing, but more importantly, the slogan is directly related to the name of this little company. A two for one!

I started advertising on My ads were very modest at first: I just listed a desired price for the service, but then followed that prices were all negotiable. Now that I have gotten more experience with dogs and how to make the business side of Bach Walkers run more efficiently, I have become much more insistent on keeping a flat rate. I have also learned what is expected from people when caring for their animals. Really, I know from having my own dog that people just want to know that you will do your best to ensure their pets' safety above all else, and that is something that I take very seriously.

Thanks to this job, I know now that if I set my mind to something, and really invest the time and do my research, that I can totally attain the things that I want. I have learned how to communicate with people more effectively - an important skill no matter what your line of work. I have also learned how to budget my time in a much more effective manner. Time management is a skill I have seen many people struggle with, myself included. Being in business for myself has forced me to look ahead and plan for the future more. Basically, I have become a much more responsible and attentive person. I have never been so busy, and I absolutely love it!

My business is continually growing. I have now enlisted a few people at school who help me with walks, namely Natalie Helm (cello)  Alexandra von der Embse (oboe) and Maia Cabeza (violin). I recently ordered t-shirts that I plan to have myself and my colleagues wear on walks as a kind of mobile advertising. I am also in the process of launching a website, which I hope will be completed before the end of October. I get such joy looking at the present state of my little company!

If you have any suggestions for content you would like to see added, please send us an email at!

Traveling with a Double Bass

Derek Zadinsky, fourth year bassist, on traveling with a double bass.

Playing the double bass definitely has its fair share of perks: we have the most fun of any section in the orchestra, we get our own special room at school, and we can always sleep in our cases in times of need. Unfortunately, playing the bass carries with it one major drawback: traveling. Unless the bassist has hired his own personal Sherpa to carry around his stuff (no offense intended to any Sherpas reading), he must quickly come to terms with the fact that he is going to be carrying around a lot of stuff pretty much all the time. Now, when he only has to get nearby rehearsals and such, it’s not too bad. The real trouble comes when he has to get somewhere far away.

There are a number of ways to get a bass to where it needs to be, but none of them are ideal. One could just ship it, which costs an arm and a leg, and is not really practical since bass players don’t really have any money. One could drive for days and days, which isn’t very healthy physically or mentally. One could take a train or a boat, but that’s pretty boring (and good luck finding a boat to take you from Philadelphia to Los Angeles). Or…one could fly with it. Now, although this is the quickest way to get somewhere, it is almost always just a good old pain in the neck. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to decide how to get off a Band-Aid and you can’t decide whether to slowly soak it off or to just rip it off really fast. Flying, or the quicker-but-more-painful-method is the one I usually end up choosing.

Depending on the size of the bass, there are a couple of different options when it comes to flying. If one is flying with a big orchestra bass, it will have to go in a flight case the size of an industrial refrigerator. If, however, one is playing a petite instrument for solo work, one can actually purchase an extra seat for it in the cabin (as Curtis faculty member Edgar Meyer does). Now, one might imagine the latter option to be safer, cheaper, and easier, but…well…it carries with it is fair share of problems.

Story time! Last summer I returned to the Aspen Music Festival and School for my third summer and bought a seat for the bass I was flying with – a nice little old bass affectionately nicknamed ‘The Peashooter.’ Since Southwest (by far the most bassist-friendly airline) does not assign seats, I was able to pre-board and secure the window seats in the bulkhead (the only place where the bass is legally allowed to be). I sat in the middle, next to the bass, and fastened the bass in with a seatbelt extension.

I am usually not one to make small talk with the random people on the plane, but a friendly teacher from Denver sat next to me and had plenty of questions about the bass and music. Well, we talked quite a bit on the flight, during which I explained to her how I was getting to Aspen from Denver. The original plan was that I would meet a film composition student (who I found on Facebook) in Denver, rent a car, and drive to Aspen. The problem was, he called me the night before to say that every single rental vehicle in the Denver metropolitan area was taken because of the big Food and Wine Festival that was going on in Aspen. So, since he didn’t want to strand me in Denver with my bass, he changed his plans and was going to fly into Aspen, rent a car there, drive out to Denver, pick me up, and drive back. When I told her this, she said that she lived about 30 minutes west of Denver so if I headed back with her to her place I would save my friend an hour of driving. Naturally feeling a little tentative at first to head to a stranger’s home, we talked more on the flight. I eventually became assured that I was more of a threat to her than she was to me, what with me being a brawny bass player and all, so I agreed to take her up on her offer. We got off the plane and I waited with the bags while she went to get her car. A few minutes later she shows up, not in a van or an SUV, but in a red MINI COOPER convertible! Needless to say, I didn’t take this as a good sign, and things were not helped by the tornado warnings for Denver. Believe it or not, somehow everything fit. The bass blocked the right rear view mirror, though, so whenever we needed to merge on the highway, I had to stand up and turn around to check that the coast was clear. It actually did start raining on us at a couple points, but the bass didn’t get wet at all. My buddy found her place on his iPhone and we were in Aspen by midnight.

A bass. In a Mini Cooper.

The return trip was not nearly as epic, but it was not without its snags. I took a shuttle with the bass back to Denver, checked in, and headed to security. So far, so good. Now, what’s supposed to happen at security is this: I hand them the bass, I go through the metal detector, and the TSA people hand check the bass and do whatever they need to do. Should be simple. Should be. It actually happened like this: I head for the metal detector when it’s my turn. I am greeted by a guy who immediately tells me, “You gotta put that thing through the X-Ray.”  I smile, thinking he must be joking; I mean, a viola case would be tight in those machines. When I realize he’s actually serious, I tell him that I bought a ticket for it and that it just needs to be hand checked. His response? “It ain’t gettin’ on the plane unless it goes through the machine. We don’t know how to hand check.” I give him a look of disbelief and try reasoning with him, but to no avail. He just keeps repeating that I need to go back to the airline and have it sent with the checked luggage. Very frustrated, I pack up all my things again and head back to my friends at the Southwest counter. I explain the situation to them and they seem just as puzzled as I am, so their manager goes down to talk to the security manager. They get things sorted out and I evidently just got a lazy worker who didn’t want to hand check the bass.

Just goes to show that the experience one has traveling with a bass is based purely upon the people one meets along the way. If I’m trying to check the bass with any airline other than Southwest, I try to pick someone at the check-in counter who at least looks nice.

Just a quick note on ground transportation: it is by far the most difficult aspect about traveling with a bass trunk, since there just aren’t a ton of vehicles that it can comfortably fit in. The last time I flew with my trunk was for a Curtis on Tour performance in Orange County, California. I flew with Curtis faculty member David Ludwig, while the rest of the group traveled on a different airline. We were supposed to arrive and be greeted by a 12-seater van from the hotel. Well, that didn’t happen. What showed up was one of those cute little vans you see in pictures from London, where I can only assume bassists never have to travel. Fitting the bass in there was going to be like trying to fit an elephant into a Smart Car. We eventually got it sorted out and, naturally, went to the nearest In-N-Out. I’m sure Mr. Ludwig will agree that a burger, fries, and shake have never tasted so good.

The bass trunk, safely stowed in Orange County, CA.

These are only the stories of my past two experiences flying with a bass; suffice it to say that these stories only represent a small sampling of the adventures that traveling with a bass can entail. I truly love playing bass and making music, but traveling with a bass certainly makes things a little more interesting.

If you have any suggestions for content you would like to see added, please send us an email at!

Grand Opening Tour

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural post of the new Curtis Institute of Music Blog - Backstage at Curtis! As the title implies, this blog is intended to provide an insider's look at what life is like for students, faculty, and staff at the Curtis Institute of Music, located on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. The blog is moderated by members of Curtis' Student Council. In short, whether you're a prospective student, patron, or complete outsider to the world of classical music, your feedback and comments are most welcome.

For this first post, we felt it might be logical to provide an informal "tour" of Curtis, the main building of which occupies two historic mansions on Rittenhouse Square.

Upon entering the building, what better place to start than at the nerve center of it all - the Registrar's Office. Here we see Paul Bryan, Registrar and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, in his spacious office.

Meanwhile, just outside Paul's office is the place from which, if he chose to, he could send the entire school into chaos - the Registrar's Bulletin Board. In the locked space to the right, you can see the lesson and coaching schedule for the week, as well as a list of upcoming master classes. To the left, we have the orchestra schedule and seatings, Student Council minutes, a reminder for a Town Hall Meeting, room assignments, and other important information.

Just downstairs is where the real learning goes on at Curtis - the student lounge. Here we see violinists Dayna Anderson and Ben Beilman engaged in a heated game of foosball.

Also in the basement is the percussion studio. Percussionists and organists occupy a somewhat unique position at Curtis, in that they are granted 24-hour access to the building (which to all other students is open 7 AM - 11 PM). This is because it is rather difficult for percussionists and organists to practice their respective instruments at home, those instruments being somewhat large and unwieldy.

Upstairs are the practice rooms, most of which are converted bedrooms from the building's "mansion" days, and many of which are named after former faculty members - Marcel Tabuteau, Mieczyslaw Horszowski and others. Here we have the Zimbalist room (named after Efrem Zimbalist), which is a particular favorite among many Curtis students for reasons that will become clear momentarily...

...and here, on the other side of the room, we can finally see why. Behind flutist Masha Popova, there is, in fact, a fully functioning bathroom, complete with shower. Yes, that's right. This bedroom-practice room has its own bathroom.

Along the hall outside Zimbalist, there are display cases used to pay tribute to various Curtis traditions, alumni, and whatever else we can come up with. These have included tributes to Carlos Salzedo (the longtime harp teacher), major orchestra principals, and the current display, "First Ladies of The Curtis Institute: Influential Women of the last 85 years."

Speaking of Carlos Salzedo, the room shown below is the Salzedo room, where the school harps are stored and, oddly enough, where flute lessons often take place. Notice the bulletin board nearly obscured on the left side of the picture, where harp competition and audition announcements are posted, and the mysterious cello case that you can see reflected in the mirror, which has been there for over a month and has no apparent owner.

Finally, this tour of Curtis will wrap up with a glimpse of what's in store for the future - a brand new building. This new building, scheduled to be completed in 2011 (and currently on schedule and on budget), will contain expanded practice and teaching facilities, an orchestra rehearsal space (which, suffice it to say, is sorely needed), and (in a first for Curtis) student housing and dining facilities. This building is named after Gerry Lenfest, who has provided astronomical amounts of support to the school, both monetary and otherwise, and without whom this exciting new project would not be possible.

If you have any suggestions for content you would like to see added, please send us an email at!