My first day of work in London, was September 10th, 2001 [see my post here.] I am also a New Yorker, and New Yorkers tend not to talk about that fateful time, particularly if we were impacted by losing someone. There may be a time when writing about my second day of work in London will seem appropriate, but this is not that time.
One of the perks of teaching at The American School in London were the numerous opportunities to chaperone students to great destinations [see my post here] Because of travel precautions for Americans, some of those trips were canceled that year. The uncertainty of the Afghan war was building. We decided that the AMIS (The Association for Music In International Schools) International Honor Band Festival in Ankara, Turkey was somewhat risky. Turkey’s role as a possible host for airbases and refueling made me wary. Had I been more experienced, the trip would have likely proceeded as planned. Autumn came and went without any international chaperoning.
An Unexpected Invitation
At some point in the late Autumn or early Winter, a favor was asked of me. The AMIS International Honor Orchestra was rehearsing and performing in February in Vienna, Austria. Despite the fact that I taught wind band, and not orchestra, an invitation was extended that I serve as a chaperone AND play trumpet. As fate would have it, the organizers wanted the young string players in the orchestra to play two Mozart pieces, which included winds and percussion. They needed an adult trumpet player to play Mozart at The Vienna State University. You want me to perform Mozart in Vienna?! Sign me up!
Mozart in Vienna
Although born in Salzburg, Mozart is most commonly associated with Vienna. He passed away there in 1791 and spent much of his career in that city. The Mozart House was very close to the university that was hosting the festival performance. Additionally, numerous spots throughout Vienna carry significance relevant to one of the greatest composers that ever lived. The iconic Mozart Monument (pictured above) is situated in Burrgarten Park. The famed composer moved around quite a bit and Vienna is filled with Mozart residences. Sprinkled with his performance venues, museums, cafes, fountains, and sculptures, Vienna and Mozart are somewhat synonymous. And, of course, his grave is also located there in St. Marx Cemetery.
Thumbing through tomes of his letters, listening to more Mozart than was already part of my routine, and imagining what his life must have been like consumed me before heading to Austria in February 2002. If you have not read any of Mozart’s letters, you are missing out. I recommend, Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life, Selected letters edited and newly translated by Robert Spaethling (W.W. Norton, New York, 2000.)
When writing to his father, Mozart almost exclusively began with the French, “Mon Trés Cher Pére!”—My Dearest Father! This was special in itself. However, what invokes emotion in me to this day is the way he signed off in his letters.
These closings were somewhat common for the times, but the way Mozart expressed himself in his writing style mirrored the elegance of his music. When desperately seeking his father’s advice regarding a musical situation in a letter from Vienna dated April 11, 1781, the twenty-five year old Mozart signed off as follows: “That’s where I need your fatherly and well-meaning advice—but quickly—because I have to make a decision—by the way, you can have complete confidence in me in everything—I am now much more level-headed—farewell, I kiss your hands 1000 times and embrace my sister with all my heart. I remain Forever…your most obedient. W. A. Mozart.”
Arrival and Such
Fair warning: This may be the most vague post I write in terms of a detailed account of my travels…
After arriving via Austria Airlines, my timeline of events becomes unclear. As mentioned in other posts, my recollections are generally quite strong, but would certainly not withstand cross-examination. One of my favorite parts of traveling is the uncertainty of what precisely will occur. Regardless of written itinerary, there is no predicting twists and turns. On the first night, we had a traditional meal after meeting hosts in a hilly section of what I would deem the outskirts of Vienna. We ate family style at a traditional Viennese restaurant far outside the city center. This is one of my favorite types of dining. [see my post about Sharing Meals]
The meal consisted of chicken schnitzel and numerous traditional Austrian plates. I would only be guessing (or Googling) to name more. There are fleeting memories of scalloped potatoes and some sort of vegetable medley; but beyond that, who knows? I am certain that our group of hosts, only a few of whom spoke English, bore some of the friendliest faces I have ever seen. My conversations can best be described as possessing a warm, family feel, like something out of one of those Hallmark Channel holiday movies, but set in Austria—Goldilocks meets a New Yorker!
Rehearsals, Performance, and Sightseeing
Because my only real role was to play trumpet for a few segments with middle school students, there was very little rehearsal needed on my part. We stayed at a Novotel and I did use a practice mute in my room, as well as practicing in random rooms at our host school. The dress rehearsal was quite short. Regardless of the age of my fellow musicians (adult winds and percussionists, adolescent string players), between the rehearsals and the performance, playing Mozart in Vienna did not disappoint in the “strong emotions” category!
The group sightseeing that I attended was limited to the Mozart House, the Mozart Monument, and possibly one or two more locations. This was one of the rare student trips where I had very little responsibility. As a result, I wandered by myself, as well as with my colleagues throughout the city. My sister had tasked me with finding her something “small, inexpensive, and Viennese.” She received a cuckoo clock and she liked it!
The Story of Tiko
There was much more to this trip, and I have numerous photos of the sights. But, as is typical of my stories, an unexpected occurrence is what made the trip memorable. Our last night in Vienna coincided with the Vienna Opera Ball. Beautiful people from around the world were roaming the streets alongside throngs of tourists like ourselves.
The website for the Vienna Opera Ball states the following:
“Once a year, Wiener Staatsoper turns into the world’s most beautiful and elegant ball room for the Vienna Opera Ball: a glamorous gala of unique splendour and allure, the ball of all balls, much-copied around the world.
Where opera and ballet performances capture the audience only a few days before and after the Opera Ball, some 5000 visitors party away and dance into the small hours of the morning – international celebrities from the world of culture, business, politics, academia and sports make the ball a high-key social event…”
Escaping the Streets
Somehow, me and my two colleagues did not know the Vienna Opera Ball was occurring on that very night, but we were enjoying ourselves nonetheless. As the hours passed, we popped into a dark lounge for one last beverage. The place was called Loos American Bar. I kid you not—and it is still open. Check it out, if you don’t believe me!
In the far corner table, my friend Pete noticed an older man dressed in a dar, yet flamboyant outfit, complete with black hat and red feather, as well as dark sunglasses. The septogenarian was surrounded by beautiful, young women. People were clamoring to get near the man any way they could. There was a buzz in the room. This was an early version of the famed Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world!” Before we knew it, Pete had been invited to sit down with the mysterious Casanova.
Somewhat confused, our fellow American friend and I were summoned over to the table. As we got closer, Pete explained to us that the man wanted us to join him and we did. Who was this mysterious stranger? Why were people swooning? Pete stood up and quietly explained with a bemused smile that this was Tiko, the World-Famous Russian interpretive dancer and we were about to be part of his entourage.
To this day, I have no idea if Tiko was actually Russian, an interpretive dancer, or a man of any esteem from any country. All I know is that against all convention, in stark contrast to the elegance of playing Mozart in Vienna, wandering through the incredible St. Stephens Cathedral, and standing in Mozart’s house, we were hanging out having a drink with The Great Tiko, world-renowned Russian interpretative dancer, fashion aficionado, and lover of women.
It was fantastic!
In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.
Even if my writings do not produce the desired result—please enjoy the blog!