The Gustavus Wind Orchestra (click to read their tour blog) recently toured the Czech Republic, Poland, & Austria as part of the American Celebration of Music in Europe Concert Series.
Dr. Douglas Nimmo, Conductor, and Mr. Al Behrends, Director of Fine Arts Programs, had the following comments about this extraordinary opportunity and experience.
How pleased were you with the performance experiences on the tour?
Concert at St. Simon and Judah in Prague
Mr. Behrends: Great space, great audience (400+), wonderful first concert always!
Dr. Nimmo: We have now performed three times in that location. It is a wonderful place to be: historically significant, beautiful, and for three times now, with an absolute full house in attendance at our concert. We were able to occupy the church earlier than we would normally ask to be in, but it was very good that we did. It was our first performance, and the students needed extra time to adjust to the time change, having not played for three days, and an acoustic presence that required them to “hear” in a way they had not needed to hear previously. It was a wonderful day of learning for the students.
Concert at Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Miechów
Mr. Behrends: Best addition to the entire tour, maybe the highpoint. This was truly a blessing for us: incredible history and art with a wonderful audience. The addition of the lights that Jacek’s friend provided for this and the Krakow concert was wonderful for better reading the music. The audience was tough to count but I would guess somewhere between 250 and 300, maybe more.
Dr. Nimmo: This is a truly fantastic location. The people were welcoming and helpful. Here too, the audience was very strong. The church is absolutely beautiful. Al got some wonderful photos, with blue Christmas lights against the abundant gold of the church interior (you may want to use one or more of his photos for promotional materials—they are stunning!).
Concert at St. Katherine’s Church in Krakow
Mr. Behrends: Kudos again to Jacek for his work for us on this concert. Larger audience than 4 years ago (around 100), great meal and wonderful people to work with in the church.
Dr. Nimmo: Marvelous. Jacek is a master host, and we are so thankful to know him and to have had the privilege to work with him once again. The crowd was not large, but very appreciative and engaged. I really enjoyed conducting in that space once again.
Concert at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Kety
Mr. Behrends: Again, like coming home. The audience was wonderful (250+), the priest is a real gem and has become a great friend of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra and the people were so appreciative that we would include their “little town” in our tour. The honor was ours.
Dr. Nimmo: This is for us, almost like our experience of Stará Turá, some 20 years ago, and again in 2006. The priest is extraordinarily welcoming; the people are the same. The students loved every part of the experience. Following the performance, all of us stood and prayed the “our father” in our native language—an amazing moment of Christian unity and so very powerful and peaceful.
Shared concert with the Youth Wind Orchestra of Pomaz at Pomaz Music School
Mr. Behrends: This tour without this concert would not have been complete. Yes, it was a small space and it was crowded (250+ again) with standing room only and many people standing in the lobby, but this community has adopted us and I would not miss this stop. It is wonderful to feel that we may have had some influence in helping the music school prosper. Here again, the honor was ours.
Dr. Nimmo: We have now done this twice, and I think it is a magnificent experience. I would recommend it to any future touring group. The space is small, but that does not matter. The audience understands wind orchestra music and the Pomaz conductor, Zoltan, is very happy to share the stage. Moreover, the audience members included the host families, which made for a marvelous “connection” during and following the performance.
Concert at L’Orangerie Schönbrunn in Vienna
Mr. Behrends: Another wonderful spot to play and an appreciate audience of around 200.
Dr. Nimmo: A great place to perform! A very good crowd. Very appreciative, and sustained applause for each piece. One of our best performances of the tour.
Concert at Congress and Theatre House in Bad Ischl
Mr. Behrends: I want this concert hall on my campus! This is the perfect house to play the final concert. The acoustic and the building was magnificent. The audience was larger than last time, again around 100, but they were really excited about the concert and were involved from the first minute. And, someone at Bad Ischl found the college logo and rear-projected it on the upstage curtain — this was a very nice touch and made for some wonderful photos that will keep marketing and admission happy for another year!
I would build this exact building on our campus in a minute.
Dr. Nimmo: Again, a great place to perform! A larger audience than last time, although still somewhat small. Nevertheless, they were very appreciative, with sustained applause. The hall is acoustically impressive, allowing the ensemble to be heard with great clarity. I’d love to wrap it up and send it to our campus!
I felt a very strong sense of “teacher’s peace,” when I realized near the end of the tour that the members of GWO were beginning to understand the life-changing and life-long nature of what the tour enterprise was all about. It is an amazing thing, really, when a teacher sees in the eyes of his students an understanding – an embodiment of the values that are presented as a result of a carefully and thoughtfully planned musical tour.
Overall, how pleased were you with the sightseeing?
Mr. Behrends: Speaking as a historian and a musician, the complementary work of step-on guides and Karel and Annamaria, we had a wonderful educational experience while on this concert tour. So much information but also an understanding of who we were and making the tours fit our needs. When we needed to move inside to warm-up while in Poland, the guides were very understanding and helpful. And so much information. It will take me a year to process everything that I heard and saw.
Dr. Nimmo: Good balance of sightseeing and free time or unstructured time.
How were your interactions with the MCI team you worked with, John Wiscombe, Daniel Schwartz, and Mara Fink?
Mr. Behrends: Everything was handled so well, it’s hard to know where to start. Getting started early in our dinner with John was a great way to get me back into the tour management thinking. Thanks also for your gentle reminders and recommendations to visit by phone and your willingness to take my calls. I think we all worked together pretty well and the almost problem-free tour was indicative of that work and your continuing work on our behalf over the past 18 months.
Dr. Nimmo: Wonderful, responsive, caring, helpful! Bravo and brava to all of you!
How pleased were you with your Tour Managers, Annamaria Pocsaine-Walsch and Karel Schneider?
Mr. Behrends: Very Pleased! Both Annamaria and Karel are true pros and they have an incredible amount of information to offer as we toured. They have different approaches to keeping us on time and learning as we go but the blend was great. I am very impressed with their history and geography knowledge and very pleased with their commitment to making our tour a success. They were always on their phones with each other or the next hotel or the next restaurant or getting directions or taking someone to a repair shop or a doctor or you name it, they were constantly working for us. I would travel with them again without hesitation.
It was great to work again with Annamaria. She knows us and can anticipate our needs. Karel was a wonderful addition to our little adventure. Thanks for this suggestion. He was easy to work with and was a fountain of energy AND I think that he really enjoyed the music.
Dr. Nimmo: This is where “the rubber meets the road.” A great tour manager can make or ruin a tour. As one might expect, Annamaria and Karel are two different people with different “modes of operation.” Each brought a special and important personality to the tour, which was very much appreciated by the students and the “quartet” of leaders. They were extremely helpful, regardless of our needs. Both are seasoned and professional. I would travel with the two of them again tomorrow and next year. They are truly splendid people, who love young people and enjoy the “touring atmosphere.” Thank you for giving them to us!
Furthermore, they are both fountains of knowledge about the history and backgrounds of the places we visited, were generous in sharing their knowledge with all of us, and very helpful also with small details (currency, wcs, suggestions of things to do/see during free time), and really took on personally the responsibility of making the whole tour excellent for each individual student. They truly operated as a team and as part of our team, our “quartet” of leaders actually functioned smoothly as a “sextet.”
A word that keeps coming back to me is “Wow!” It’s simple but it is exact. Wow!
How pleased were you with the airline arrangements?
Mr. Behrends: Both airlines were wonderful and it seemed like there was more legroom than on my last flight. Having the entire group on one flight was really important and I’m thankful you were able to meet our wishes in that regard. Getting compliments from the onboard staff about our students was a great way to start the flight.
Dr. Nimmo: We really appreciated the fact that all the members of the Gustavus wind orchestra were able to travel on one plane, arriving at the same time in Prague. That saved a lot of time, and made for a very smooth beginning to the tour. Both united and Lufthansa were great. The flight attendants were welcoming to our students and very helpful.
How pleased were you with the motorcoach arrangements?
Mr. Behrends: Both buses were wonderful, comfortable and clean. All of our drivers were wonderful and incredibly competent. I couldn’t believe how they could maneuver those large buses.
Dr. Nimmo: Very nice, very clean, warm, quiet, with all the qualities that one would hope for on such a tour. Spectacular drivers—safe, thoughtful, helpful, and on time—all of them. Great choices. They enjoyed our students and vice-versa. We could not have been more pleased.
The driver (Rudolph) was excellent. He packed his truck following each concert alone, alone, and was very efficient. He was always at the concert site when we arrived, and was ready to go. Bravo to that company!
Everything was handled so well, it’s hard to know where to start.
How pleased were you with the hotel arrangements?
Hotel NH Prague
Mr. Behrends: Great hotel, great rooms, food, wonderful location and view.
Dr. Nimmo: Beautiful, great restaurant, very helpful people.
Hotel Qubus Krakow
Mr. Behrends: Best of the tour, great food, coffee and accommodations around the clock, although polished granite floors and snow aren’t a great combination and number of us took spills when entering from the parking lots. We’re too used to large entrance floor mats.
Dr. Nimmo: Here, too—a beautiful hotel, with spectacular breakfasts, and excellent lighting in the restaurant (a personal commendation). It was nice to be in the same place for four nights—a first for us.
Hotel Relax Kety
Mr. Behrends: Like going home, a little fewer stars than Prague or Krakow, but very comfortable, great food and the staff was really wonderful to us.
Dr. Nimmo: This is an older, folksy hotel, without the higher end accommodations of the hotels in Prague and Krakow. However, I heard reports from the students that they really enjoyed the “feel” of the place. Then too, because Kety has become a “destination” performance site for us (splendid in every way), the hotel would have been a non-issue regardless.
Mr. Behrends: Everything was great including the location next to the subway stop.
Dr. Nimmo: Very fine. Ideal in being located adjacent to u-bahn stop that led directly to downtown (Stephansdom) so students (and faculty) had easy access to the area for free time. Dining on their own in Vienna was a big plus for the students (and faculty).
Hotel Scherer Salzburg
Mr. Behrends: Wonderful staff helped us celebrate a 21st birthday. Small lobby but it too was like coming home. Great location, rooms and food.
Dr. Nimmo: Here again, somewhat folksy, but very nice; it worked well for us, with an easy load in and out. Nice though very small rooms, very good food.
Notel NH Muenchen Airport
Mr. Behrends: Large lobby made check-in very easy, the use of one of the conference rooms for a meeting was appreciated.
Dr. Nimmo: Convenient, right next to the airport, very easy load in and out. Perfect. This is a larger hotel than we used four years ago which made the whole experience easier for us on our final night in Europe.
While some of the hotels seem a bit blurry now, i have to say that they all were very good. Not once did I think that there was something that could have been better.
How pleased were you with the meal arrangements?
Mr. Behrends: As with all of our meals, great (and I mean GREAT soups)! Having the room to ourselves helped with announcements and conversation.
Restaurant Biala Roza
Mr. Behrends: Same as the Kojot.
Dinner reception in the home of Dr. Jutta Unkart-Seifert
Mr. Behrends: Wonderful, thanks for suggesting to make the change of date for this reception. The students really enjoyed the time.
Dr. Nimmo: At first, we did not quite know what to expect. It turned out to be a very nice evening, and the students were quite happy that they had the opportunity to walk to her very elegant flat in a stunning location in the city. She was gracious in every way. It would have been very nice to have a private dinner with her to talk about her life.
Restaurant k.u.k. Hofwirt zu Ischl
Mr. Behrends: One table of partiers in our midst was a bit unusual but the food, service and location was wonderful.
Dr. Nimmo: I don’t remember the names of various restaurants, but I have to say that personally, I have no complaints. Each location tried to make our experience as close to “perfect” as possible. They were all very good choices.
Wonderful, responsive, caring, helpful! Bravo and brava to all of you!
What was your personal highlight? What was the highlight for the performers?
Mr. Behrends: It’s too recent for me to make this call. Some venues were extraordinary, some of the performances also. Everyone was so gracious and welcoming. The art, architecture and grandeur are beyond my vocabulary. The history was always exciting. A word that keeps coming back to me is “Wow!” It’s simple but it is exact. Wow!
Dr. Nimmo: It is difficult to answer this question. I have been on 27 tours, 7 of them being international. I have experienced many highlight experiences, and there were many for me on this tour, also. Three come to mind, however: the beauty of the church in Miechow—stunning, with a very appreciative audience. There was a representative of the Vatican and a member of the polish parliament in attendance. Somehow, the presence of the American and polish flags seemed very personal and special.
I was also deeply moved after our performance in Kety, when the priest (translated by Jacek), asked all of us to stand and pray the “our father” together.
The tour was well planned and executed. The MCI employees in Europe—all of them—were excellent. The rental instrument situation was very good. We were pleased with the instruments; they were of good quality.
Then finally, I felt a very strong sense of “teacher’s peace,” when I realized near the end of the tour that the members of GWO were beginning to understand the life-changing and life-long nature of what the tour enterprise was all about. It is an amazing thing, really, when a teacher sees in the eyes of his students an understanding – an embodiment of the values that are presented as a result of a carefully and thoughtfully planned musical tour.