Ljubljana Concert

Tonight’s concert was awesome (and I don’t often use that word, due to a Terry Pratchett quote — ask me about it sometime). It was wonderful, stupendous, fantastic. We had a really good audience, the place was packed, and we got a (minor) standing ovation and flowers for Allan before we even got to the encore. I’m still psyched about it! Eeee! (In other words, Darcy is having another headless chicken moment.)

On the ride back, some of us were… shall I say “disinclined” or “unable”? to keep from singing. There was an incomplete rendition of Igraj Kolce and another of Ain’t No Grave, before (brought up by conversation) Susan sang, “Heaven,” and Selena, Diane, and I ended up singing pretty much all of Cheek to Cheek. And we’re not even singing that on this tour!

As I sit here writing, waiting on dinner, the ladies I’m sitting with have decided that we should practice Jubilate Deo on the bus tomorrow. It’ll be a great experience! Since we’re all mixed up randomly on the bus, and we should practice it a bit more anyway. Even if it were perfectly memorized, it could still be worked on some more. Jubilate is just that kind of piece.

(Deborah just asked me, “Do you want people to contribute to your blog?” Doris: “Do you want people to contribute to your Blagri?” Needless to say, we’re all in excellent spirits.)

Which reminds me: working with Damijan Močnik was also awesome. He corrected our pronunciation and emphasis and told us we were being too dramatic, but. Wait, why am I saying “but”? He corrected us all over the place and that, too, was a really cool experience. I like the song better now, aside from the pleasure of fine-tuning it to fit the composer’s vision.

(Susan: “I like ‘taters.” Which sent Jackie into a fit of the giggles and made Joan sing something about “my little potato.”)

On the city tour, I thought that the word of the day seemed to be ‘baroque-ize’. That is, to convert a piece of architecture from an earlier style to baroque. The work we did on Blagri (—an interruption: Joan says I’m Blagriling—) kind of felt to me like a de-baroque-ization, and a conversion to a more waltz-like feel.

Okay, moving on.

I have been informed that we need to talk about Allan next, so let’s do that. He was extremely animated this concert. “He went from almost weeping to maniacal,” says Doris. Joan adds, “to effervescent.” He certainly was not afraid to get down and boogie, and I am so glad that I memorize easily, because it means I get to watch him more. Deborah: “He’s the man. The man of the hour.” And I agree.

I could quote more, but I think Allan might not forgive me. In summary, he’s a lot of fun, his dedication to the chorus is impressive, and we love him to pieces.

Our thanks go out to the WVC Gentlemen’s Auxiliary (Diane: “Blessed are the Gentlemen’s Auxiliary.” Susan: “For they shall be fed.” Deborah: “For they shall have front-row seats for ever and ever.” Amen) and to Allan’s parents, who have been the parents of this trip (even if they’re not as old as some of the members). They are wicked awesome.

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Ljubljana

This morning WVC went on a very interesting guided tour of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We spent most of the day walking around this charming city. The city center of Ljubljana is mostly pedestrian-only, and it’s a great place to wander around, with architectural examples from lots of different eras, and a friendly, beautiful atmosphere. Here are some photos from our tour:

Our tour took us through lovely streets to locations like the Town Hall and St. Nicholas Cathedral, where we’ll be singing tonight at 9 p.m.

A view of St. Nicholas Cathedral past a statue in Ljubljana

A view of St. Nicholas Cathedral past a statue in Ljubljana

Flowers for sale at a market in Ljubljana

Flowers for sale at a market in Ljubljana

We walked over several notable bridges across the Ljubljanica river, ranging from the mid-nineteenth century Triple Bridge to the 2010 Butcher’s Bridge. You see dragons all over Ljubljana, since the symbol of the city is a dragon perched on top the tower of Ljubljana Castle.

Dragon's Bridge, Ljubljana

Dragon’s Bridge, Ljubljana

Looking down the Ljubljanica River

Looking down the Ljubljanica River

After walking around the city center, we took the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle, a 15th century castle that now houses a museum and cafe, as well as a tower from which you can get a great perspective on the city.

Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle

Tour manager Jen G. sits down for a moment in the chapel of Ljubljana Castle

Tour manager Jen G. sits down for a moment in the chapel of Ljubljana Castle

When the tour was over, I ate lunch at a Serbian cafe near our hotel with some fellow singers. Although we didn’t understand a word of the menu, our server helpfully suggested some family-style meal options, and we had a delicious, leisurely lunch of salads and meats, combined with great fellowship.

Lunch in Ljubljana

Lunch in Ljubljana

Chorus members Karla and Shelley, and Karla's husband John, enjoy lunch in Ljubljana

Chorus members Karla and Shelley, and Karla’s husband John, enjoy lunch in Ljubljana

 

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Gellért Baths

One quick, final Budapest post. A group of Women’s Voices Chorus members opted to spend a day at the Gellért Baths rather than on the city tour, and here’s a picture of them enjoying themselves in the swimming pool. Budapest has a long tradition of baths and spas, influenced in part by the Ottoman Turkish era of Hungarian history. The area abounds in natural hot springs, with 130 springs in the city limits, and the baths are one of the city’s most well-known attractions.

Chorus members at Gellert Baths

Chorus members Rachel, Laura D., Laura G., Deborah, and Pauline enjoying themselves at Gellert Baths

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Lake Balaton

On the way between Budapest and Ljubljana, we stopped for lunch at Lake Balaton, a resort location in western Hungary. Lake Balaton is a huge, shallow lake (the largest in Central Europe), and its emerald green color was shown off to advantage on this bright, sunny day. The beach and streets were filled with European tourists enjoying watersports, swimming, fishing, and sunbathing.

Sailboat on Lake Balaton, Hungary

Sailboat on Lake Balaton, Hungary

We had time to take a stroll along the lake and grab lunch in a local cafe. The lakefront is crowded with little Hungarian restaurants, mostly serving pizza.

Walking along Lake Balaton, Hungary

Walking along Lake Balaton, Hungary

After stopping for lunch, we headed on our way to Ljubljana. Tomorrow morning we’ll go on a city tour, and then in the evening have our performance in Ljubljana Cathedral! Here’s one more picture of a choir member enjoying herself along the lake today before I sign off for the evening:

Choir member Selena protecting herself from the hot sun on Lake Balaton

Choir member Selena protecting herself from the hot sun on Lake Balaton

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En route to Ljubljana

Slovenian countryside seems to fit the typical idyllic European picturesque. These were all taken from within the bus, after we’d crossed the border.

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Dinner Cruise on the Danube

Last night many of us had a lovely dinner cruise on the Danube river. As we sailed away at sunset with the “Blue Danube Waltz” playing, we stuffed ourselves with a delicious buffet and freely-flowing Hungarian wine. After eating, our informative guide Nóra gave us a tour of the illuminated buildings and bridges that light up after dark in Buda and Pest. Check out a few pictures:

Boarding the boat for our Danube dinner cruise

Boarding the boat for our Danube dinner cruise

The Hungarian Parliament building after dark

The Hungarian Parliament building after dark

The Chain Bridge over the Danube River

The Chain Bridge over the Danube River

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Budapest Tour

After our concert today, we had an excellent guided tour of Budapest. Our guide, Nóra Hajdú, was very informative and told us a lot about Hungarian history in general and sites around Budapest in particular. Nóra also accompanied us on our Danube dinner cruise and had lots of fascinating information to offer about the buildings we passed as well as Hungarian culture  (not to mention, she learned English in Scotland, so she spoke excellent English with a charming and distinctive Scottish accent). If you’re ever in Budapest and looking for a great tour guide, look Nóra up! The two stops on our tour were Heroes’ Square and Castle Hill. Budapest is a combination of two cities, Buda and Pest, and our two stops took us to both sides of the Danube.

Heroes’ Square is a large, open plaza near the city center in Pest with a huge monument in the middle commemorating the original settlers of Hungary, who came from Siberia, and two large colonnades flanking it with statues honoring great figures from Hungarian history. The monuments, like many edifices in Budapest, were built in the late 19th century during the time of Hapsburg rule. 1896 marked the 1000 year anniversary of the first settlement of Hungary, so a number of important buildings date to around that time. Today the square was sunny, bright, and over ninety degrees, so it was a beautiful day, but hot.

Heroes' Square in Budapest

Heroes’ Square in Budapest

Choir members Sue G., Gail, and Shelley having lunch in a Hungarian cafe

Choir members Sue G., Gail, and Shelley having lunch in a Hungarian cafe

The second stop on our tour was on the Buda side. On Castle Hill, we saw the Matyas Church, named for a very popular medieval Hungarian king, which is much older than St. Stephen’s and has a colorful tiled roof. Right behind Matyas church is an impressive, mostly outdoor structure called the Fisherman’s Bastion, from which you can get a great view across the Danube.

Allan, our director, cools down by a fountain while listening to our tour guide on Castle Hill in Budapest

Allan, our director, cools down by a fountain while listening to our tour guide on Castle Hill in Budapest

Back view of Matyas Church, Budapest

Back view of Matyas Church, Budapest

Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

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Post-Concert, Pre-City Tour: Dohány Street Synagogue

Instead of having lunch, a few of us elected to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world.

The group on the steps

Front row: Amie, Sarah, Judy
Back row: Richard (Sarah’s husband), Jen G., Diane, Marguerite, Allan

I’m not included because I took the photo. You can imagine me standing next to Judy if you like.

Synagogue Steps

And then they went up the steps.

inside

ceiling & dome

The interior, like the exterior, is colorful and very beautiful, but it felt more like a cathedral than I expected it to. This is because, apparently, it was designed by a man who was not himself Jewish and had never been in a synagogue in his life. Mind you, neither am I nor had I before today, so I don’t really have room to point fingers.

garden

Connected to the synagogue is the memorial garden, very green and full of pigeons. And beautiful as well, of course.

On a completely unrelated note:

One of the trollies that run through Budapest

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Concert in St. Stephen’s Basilica

Today Women’s Voices Chorus gave our first European concert! We provided the music for the noon mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica, the most prominent church in Budapest. During the mass, we sang from the organ loft, which gave us a beautiful and unique perspective on the cathedral. For the final piece of the mass, Allan Friedman’s “Nunc Dimittis,” we stood on the steps in front of the altar, and stayed in that location to give an hour-long performance immediately afterward. Our audience seemed attentive and appreciative – I got the sense that they particularly liked the two Hungarian pieces that we performed, “Esti Dal” and “Huszt” by the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

From the organ loft we had a particularly great view of the sculptures and elaborate gilded ornaments. Although St. Stephen’s Basilica looks old, it was actually only completed in 1905. As our tour guide shared with us later, the edifice took a long time to build, in part because the dome collapsed partway through the construction process. The basilica also houses the reliquary containing St. Stephen’s hand. (St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary around the year 1000 who began converting the nation to Christianity, is much revered here.) Below you can see some photos of the choir practicing in an upper room of the basilica before our performance, and some views of the interior. Stay tuned later for more information and photos from our tour this afternoon – and tonight we’re going on a dinner cruise on the Danube!

WVC Rehearsing in St. Stephen's Basilica

WVC Rehearsing in St. Stephen’s Basilica

The organ in St. Stephen's Basilica

The organ in St. Stephen’s Basilica

The interior of St. Stephen's Basilica

The interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica

Detail of the decoration in St. Stephen's Basilica

Detail of the decoration in St. Stephen’s Basilica

 

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Arrival in Budapest, part 2

More pictures! These come from Diane.

silver-roofed building

Cool but unidentified building with silver domes, near Heroes’ Square

stone circles

A sculpture on the terrace outside the shopping mall near our hotel

window view

View from our hotel window

The hotel we’re staying at is in the Buda half of the city, which is also the hilly half. The Pest half (says our guide) is the flat half.

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