Interlochen, Israel, and Italy!

Interlochen, Israel, and Italy!Gordon Sparber, NW, Sarah Alexander and Howard Alexander in San Gimignano, Italy

It was difficult to leave my friends at Laity Lodge after our last Messiaen performance, but I was happy to have a few days at home before leaving for this year’s Adult Chamber Music Institute at Interlochen Center for the Arts. I look forward to returning to northern Michigan every year, and it’s especially meaningful given the years I spent teaching at the Academy.

This year’s event was the best yet: It is always rewarding to work with the participants, but this year’s group was particularly special. The participants love getting together to make music and they always bring joy and energy to the experience, but this year there was so much evidence of ongoing commitment to improvement. It’s clear they are absorbing what they learn at camp and applying these things in their musical lives during the year in their respective homes. As a result, the overall level of the participants was the better than ever, allowing them to have even more rewarding coachings and performances.

The faculty at the institute is a terrific group of musicians and educators from all over the country. It’s inspiring to teach alongside them and to make music together. This year’s faculty expanded to a full woodwind quintet for the first time ever, which was a great pleasure both for the faculty and the participants. Beth Goode, flute, Dane Phillipsen, oboe, Lauren Murphy, bassoon, Paul Austin, horn, and I performed Refrains and Chorusesby Harrison Birtwistle and Walking Tune by Percy Grainger. The following night, I performed the Sextet by Gustav Holst with Dane and Lauren, along with David Salness, violin, DJ Cheek, viola, and Evelyn Elsing, cello. Our rehearsals were productive and fun, and our performances were gratifying and well-received.

It was great to make new friends, reconnect with old friends, and immerse ourselves in the arts in these beautiful northern woods surrounded by beautiful lakes. The weather couldn’t have been more ideal, with daily highs equalling the nightly lows during the same period of time in Texas!

Just as I was sad to leave Laity Lodge, leaving Interlochen was also bittersweet, but made much easier by the promise of my current adventures.  When I first began this post, I was looking out over the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and as I continue I’m on a flight from Tel Aviv to Milan . . . . .

Gordon, his sister Sarah, her husband Howard and I left a week and a half ago for Israel where we spent a few days in Jerusalem, then moved on to Tel Aviv for five days. During our time there, we covered much of the country from north to south, then to the east to the Dead Sea. The experiences there were meaningful, educational, and at times quite moving.

In Jerusalem, we stayed in an apartment near the market, which is almost always bustling with activity and filled with the wonderful aromas of species, coffee, and delicious food.  We spent a day touring the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and exploring all around the old city.  It was especially meaningful that we were there for the Sabbath and able to observe so many different groups observing their respective rituals at the Wall on Friday evening.  We another day on an archaeological tour which included the site where David slew Goliath.  That tour also presented us with the chance to try carob straight from the tree, and capers fresh from the bush.  Arguably the most meaningful, sobering moving, and educational experience was our visit to Yaad Vashem, a museum memorializing Holocaust victims, offering visitors the opportunity to learn more about those horrible events than I had ever known before.

You never know who you’re going to run into no matter where you are, and it was a wonderful surprise to see one of my former students, Ryan Lohr, while we were at Yaad Vashem.  Ryan was in Jerusalem for his brother’s wedding and I was very happy we could reconnect, if only briefly, in that amazing setting.

The it was off to Tel Aviv, where I was finally able to fully relax into vacation mode.  In Tel Aviv we explored the markets and swam in the Mediterranean Sea every day.  It was my first time in those warm and beautiful waters and I savored every moment.  We enjoyed some wonderful meals there, but three restaurants in particular were unforgettable:  Shila, North Abraxus, and Mashiya. We enjoyed a day of wine tastings at a few Israeli wineries (Vortman, Amphorae, and Vitkin) and went on a full day tour to Mt. Masada and the Dead Sea. The experience at Mt. Masada was surreal—-it’s difficult to get my head around the fact that people built homes, brought and stored food and water, lived, fought and died in such a place and in those conditions—–but it happened. Floating in the beautiful (but sadly diminishing) waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth at 450 meters below sea level provided a great balance to the experience at Masada. The sensation of floating in the Dead Sea was a bit like zero gravity and it made me feel as relaxed as I’ve ever felt in my life. THAT is a feeling I’ll do my best to carry with me always. Well, doing my best to carry it with me always pretty much sums up this entire trip so far.

Now, we are off for a week in Italy, where we will spend time in Milan, Florence, and Venice. My previous experiences in Italy were all along the beautiful Amalfi Coast, so I’m excited to explore other parts of this varied country.

(Since writing this on the plane, we arrived in Italy, so I used a photo from our first day here for the featured image on this blog post.  I’ll update with some highlights from our adventures in Tuscany once we’re home.)

And once this trip is complete, it’s only 10 days until we open the new season of ROCO! I am filled with joy for the present, anticipation of what is to come, and incredible gratitude for every moment.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

                                                                                                         —–Mark Twain