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It's a Party; No, It's Work : Orchestra: A violinist shares his experiences as he and fellow L.A. musicians perform in Taiwan and Japan.

Symphonic Convergence: The L.A. Philharmonic Tours. Asia. First in a series.

March 19, 1994|ROY TANABE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Tanabe is a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic traveling in Asia with the orchestra. and

Monday, March 14, 1 p.m.: The Hollywood Bowl parking lot. Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic gather to board buses to the airport, beginning a 12-day concert tour of Taiwan and Japan. As departure time approaches, farewells become more resistant; children sensing something ominously familiar about this scenario, become quiet and apprehensive.

The musicians, meanwhile, have already begun familiar boarding and reboarding rituals: Alliances must be established and assured in order to face the daunting uncertainty of this recurring "temporary bachelorhood."

In the Philharmonic, these alliances seem to occur, with some predictability, along "sectional" lines. For example, the string bassists maintain as exuberant and loyal a camaraderie as any college fraternity. The low brass are drawn together by their unquenchable quest for "The Perfect Brew." Violinists seem to be unable to shop without the support of other violinists. And our percussionists seek one another out to do their mysterious percussion things. (There is some trans-sectional fraternizing; however, clef considerations are usually maintained.)

As expected, there is continuous schmoozing during the 14-hour flight. It must be bewildering to the "civilian" passengers and to the flight crew that these 100 people can find so much to talk about and that all of the talk can be so relentlessly funny. Suffice it to say that the level of exuberance maintained during the potentially deadly flight underlines the conviviality of the group.

Two and a half meals later . . . four showings of "Mrs. Doubtfire" later . . . we land in Taipei. It is late Tuesday now. I hear an announcement that seems to say, "Pizza of the house . . . oh! oh! Bus," but I'm too tired to decipher. The transfer to our hotel rooms is smooth and professional. And most of us choose to go directly to bed.

Wednesday, March 16

A Free Day: My first "Chinese meal" consists of bacon and eggs, toast and coffee. Esa-Pekka Salonen joins our little covey of string players for breakfast and announces that Anja Sofia will be the name of his newest family member, born, conveniently, just 10 days prior to the tour.

Sitting in a hotel in Taiwan, we relive some of our experiences during our one-month residency at the 1992 Salzburg Festival. Before we go our separate ways, Salonen describes his observations of Japanese orchestras. He finds them extraordinarily disciplined and attentive, but he adds: "I kind of missed the looser deportment that I encounter in Los Angeles."

Following breakfast, our small string band decides to visit the National Museum, a Confucius Temple (ablaze with an ongoing carnival/bazaar) and a local herb marketplace. We stop for dim-sum and noodles at the mega-grand Grand Hotel.

Then, on the recommendation of two of our more adventurous colleagues, we decide to visit a "nightmarket" called Snake Alley in the evening. Is there a restaurant there? Our hotel concierge scribbles something in Chinese on a card, and smiles.

Through sign language and expressive pointing, we find ourselves in front of a puzzlingly European-style dining room, staring at open-air bins of familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures, most of which are moving and twitching. A friendly looking man with an apron and one gold tooth makes gestures, smiles and nods. We are bewildered. We make gestures, smile and nod and before we know it, we are sitting down to a seven-course seafood feast that would have made Kubla Khan blush!

The only discomfort in paying out the $107 per person was the fact that we were unable to recognize the species of some of the elegantly presented morsels. A waitress obligingly attempts to identify some of our dinner, but, because of a single hilarious and potentially pornographic slip in interpretation, we decide it is better not to know.

After perusing some of the extremely local color, we are whisked back to our hotel by the "Niccolo Paganini" of taxi drivers: He lunges, veers, skips and slides through the Taipei traffic frenzy with a blinding virtuosity that makes us teary-eyed.

Thursday, March 17

Workday: Many of the musicians have been practicing in their hotel rooms in preparation for today's rehearsal and concert . . .

First rehearsal. 4 p.m.: There is always an edge of apprehension when entering a new hall. True to my fears, I find the stage seating scheme changed, the sight lines altered, the lighting and temperature different, and the sound, as perceived from my seat, echoey and distant. I am annoyed and disoriented and find it difficult to concentrate . . . for the first four minutes. Then, those distractions are no longer important, as we are all back in our familiar rehearsal mode. At the end of the rehearsal, we play through the Taiwanese national anthem, which pulls me back to the reality that we are on tour.

The Concert: As I walk onstage at 7:30 p.m. I understand why I was on a plane for 14 hours, why I disrupted my life, the meaning behind the exotic meals and the necessity of communicating in a foreign land. I am here to accomplish something special in these next two hours.

As on all tour concerts, a certain nervousness, an additional margin of earnestness helps us to play with a heightened awareness--sometimes a new freshness. This happened during Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" tonight.

We file offstage, out of sight of the audience. There's a mass collapse. The accumulated exhaustion is total and intense. I know, though, that the orchestra will ignore this temporary paralysis and go back onstage to perform Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony" at the very peak of its capability. Because that's what we do.

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