Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22, 2015

Yesterday, as I was on my way to the conservatory for another day of teaching, I received the shocking news that Adam Gurley-Green has died.

Adam was my student at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School from 2005 or 2006 up until 2012, when he went to college.

I felt that I needed time to digest the news, and just kept driving on the highway. Once I got to the conservatory and started teaching I was inspired in a way that I have never felt before. Instead of feeling defeated, I felt empowered. The presence of Adam within me made it one of the best teaching days I have ever had. The music was flowing, and I felt alert yet unable to control the burst of inspiration.

Because of Adam, I choose to be glad for what I've gained, not sad for what I've lost. I have gained the friendship of a young bright student who shared with me a philosophy of life. Adam always had the look in his eyes of wanting to learn more. He had a strong spine, knew what he wanted to learn and how to achieve it. He was one of my all time favorite students, because he cared about others - one of the students I was sure will have a promising future, someone who would give so much to the world, and would help many people. He was intelligent, passionate and compassionate, and he was funny - we laughed a lot together about how funny this world can be; we jammed together on the piano, and had the best time together.

And that is why I can’t just be sad now: Adam gave me hope. He filled my life, made me feel like my work had great value - he helped me feel fulfilled.

I know Adam -  he would not want us to be sad. His will is one of learning and making this world better. His appetite for knowledge and excitement about learning will always stay with me. I hope that one day we’ll meet again, jam together on the piano and laugh. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The China Diary

Photography and design by Vincere Sylph

May 21, 2014

I woke up at 3:30 am on the date of our flight. For the last few days, I have been preparing for our trip to China. Finishing up the semester of teaching at the same time kept me very busy. The semester ended on May 17, and our concert tour started the following day. It was impossible to find time and mind space for practicing for the concerts, but I did my effort to juggle everything and be kind to myself and to people around me.

We left Boston shortly after 9 am, and traveled by plane to New York. From there we flew to Beijing. This flight alone was thirteen and a half hours long. At Beijing we had another connection, but since it took us a long time to get into the arrival hall, we missed the connection and waited for the next flight which was scheduled for a few hours later. Meanwhile, we had a meal at the airport with our friendly companions, who waited for us at the airport.

At around 10 pm China time we boarded the plane from Beijing to Dalian. This flight took about an hour and a half. From the Dalian airport we were taken by car to the beautiful Delight Hotel Dalian on 81, RenMin Road. The rooms were wonderful, and I slept like a baby, not before taking a bubble bathJ. I woke up at 7:45 am, went down for breakfast and up back to sleep until noontime.

Shortly after 12 noon we had a very delicious lunch at the hotel’s restaurant with Helen, who would accompany us on this tour. The Wonton was fabulous, and I took the remaining pieces to my room. After lunch, we were driven to the Dalian International Conference Center. It is a breathtaking structure that looks like a futuristic spaceship. The concert hall inside was also of the highest kind, with a great nine-foot Steinway piano, and a second grand piano which was arranged especially for our concert.

I was deeply moved by the great effort made by every individual person who helped us on this day at the Dalian International Conference Center. Every staff member, made hers or his best effort to make us feel welcome, and their level of professionalism was amazing. The concert in the evening was wonderful! I was very happy to see many children in the audience, and thrilled to meet some of the people who attended it following the concert. It was so moving to play for them with Tal the Chinese song “Jasmin Flower” as an encore. I felt emotional and sensed a wonderful spiritual connection!

Dalian International Conference Center

Eyran during rehearsal at the Dalian International Conference Center

Tal during rehearsal at the Dalian International Conference Center

Tal and Eyran during rehearsal at the Dalian International Conference Center

May 23, 2014

From the hotel in Dalian we were driven to the airport, and took a flight to Qingdao. At the Qingdao airport we were picked up and driven to the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel, which is located at 5 Yunling Lu, Qingdao 266101. The following evening, we played a concert at the concert hall adjacent to the hotel. It is a beautiful concert hall with great acoustic and a wonderful nine-foot Steinway grand. Again, I was deeply impressed by the level of professionalism and friendliness which we encountered on every step. Every time I had a question or a concern about something that has to be done for the concert, the answer was that it was already taken care of. The staff missed nothing, and made sure that our experience as performers is as smooth as possible. During the concert, I was able to practice a piano in my dressing room while Tal was performing on the stage, and see on the monitor when its my time to perform.

The audience was very warm, and clapped with our music on several pieces. Again, it was wonderful to meet some of the people who came to the concert and to see so many children, including some who play the piano.

The food at the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel was great. My favorite was the beef with onions, and the addictive caramelized sweet potatoes. I just couldn't stop eating these.

I realize two things early on this tour: one is that we all have our roll, and mine is to play the piano. The other thing is that you have to be patient and flexible because much of the time you need to be coordinated with others so that everything goes smoothly. 

Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 9 am and go by car to the next city, were we will have another concert in the evening.

Tal and Eyran outside the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel

Piano Fight concert sign outside the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel

Eyran during rehearsal at the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel

Tal during rehearsal at the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel

Window view from hotel room at the Hai Tian Grand Theatre Hotel

Caramelized sweet potatoes and cooked eggplant

May 24, 2014   

From Qingdao we went by car to Weifang, which took about two hours. After checking in at the Weifang International Financial Hotel, which is located at 86 Spring Road, Wei Fang in Shangdong Province, we were taken to the venue in which our concert took place that evening. Since the venue was twenty minutes away by car from the hotel, we decided to go there after lunch and practice and rest there until the concert at 7:30 pm, and not go back and forth between the venue and the hotel.

The concert took place at the Weifang Culture and Art Center. The complex in which the concert hall is located is awe inspiring architecturally. The concert hall is sublime and has wonderful acoustic. And then there is the piano: a truly glorious new Steinway D, which I absolutely fell in love with from the first note. This combination, or the perfect piano inside a great concert hall, is a dream come true for any pianist. It was one of the most enjoyable settings to play in. I have to admit that this piano, in this particular setting, may have surpassed all the other pianos which I have previously performed and recorded on. It was simply a great instrument – one of a kind.

Again, professionalism and friendliness all around! The concert went very well. I loved having so many children in the audience, and we took pictures with many of them at the greeting table following the concert.

Also, the Weifang International Financial Hotel deserves compliments. I loved my room, because it really felt like a bedroom at home. There were things in the room which made me feel comfortable, like this little plastic cup with a stapler, scissors, glue and ruler. And the restaurant connected to the lobby had wonderful food. My favorite was a slightly sweet bread pocket coated with sesame seeds filled with pieces of beef, chopped sweet carrots and peas. So delicious!!!

Eyran during rehearsal at Weifang Culture and Art Center

Tal during rehearsal at Weifang Culture and Art Center

Weifang Culture and Art Center

Concert hall with piano at Weifang Culture and Art Center

Eyran and Tal at the greeting table at Weifang Culture and Art Center

Eyran and Tal by the Piano Fight concert poster at Weifang Culture and Art Center

Concert hall at Weifang Culture and Art Center

May 26, 2014

From Weifang we were driven back to the Qingdao airport, and took a flight to the beautiful city of Taiyuan. From the Taiyuan airport we were taken to the Binhe Hotel, located on 103 Fuxi Street, Taiyuan 030002, Shanxi. Already on the way from the airport, we were amazed by the number of new apartment buildings that are being constructed. At night the city is illuminated with beautiful colors, which reminded me of my trip to Las Vegas a few years ago. We saw beautiful parks were people were flying their kites. And in the evening we took a taxi to a favorite local restaurant with great food. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. It was a beautiful evening, and we saw many people sitting outside, playing cards and eating.

Our performance took place the following day at the Taiyuan Poly Great Theatre. It is another grand concert hall which is located inside an enormous ultra modern complex. At evening time, the sights from of its housing complex and the illuminated city beyond the river were an awe-inspiring futuristic vision. In this concert, people were also seating around the hall, on high balconies overlooking the stage, and we had to bow in four directions. The piano was a marvelous Steinway D with a singing ringing voice.

The audience was very warm and demanded encores. I enjoyed waving back to the smiling children who were sitting in the front rows. Also, the flower bouquets that were handed to us at the end of the concert were especially beautiful and had such a wonderful scent. I wish I could take back home with me the beautiful flower bouquets we have been receiving after each concert…

The morning after the concert I went for a walk on the boardwalk along the river which can be seen running under the bridge from my hotel-room window. Around noon time we were taken with a cab to a beautiful pedestrian-only food street and had a wonderful lunch.

Tall during rehearsal at at Taiyuan Poly Great Theatre

Eyran during rehearsal at at Taiyuan Poly Great Theatre

Signed programs after the concert at at Taiyuan Poly Great Theatre

Helen, Dongpo, Eyran and Tal at Guo Guo Mutton restaurant in Taiyuan

Guo Guo Mutton restaurant in Taiyuan

A walk in the park by the river, near the Binhe Hotel in Taiyuan

At the food boardwalk in Taiyuan

May 29, 2014

The last few days were very hectic with traveling and performing, so I’m catching up now and trying to see if I can remember the order of things since the last time I wrote. We are now on the train from Wuhan to Beijing. It’s a seven hour long train journey and we just entered its second hour. This morning I woke up shortly after five am. I met with Tal, Helen and Dongpo at 5:45 at the lobby of the hotel and we were driven to the train station. The train left at 7:00 pm, and now it’s shortly after 8.

Last night Tal and I played our Piano Fight program at the Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre. It is a beautiful large double balcony concert hall, which seats 1800 persons, and in housed in a huge ultra modern concrete and glass structure. The hall’s seats and walls are all red and the frame of the stage is decorated with an oriental arabesque coated with gold. The piano on stage is a grand Bosendorfer with an extra low octave with dark piano keys. The back stage area is as big as the hall itself. Each VIP dressing room had a grand piano, and they were also equipped with a private bedroom for resting, and a bathroom with shower. The dressing rooms were not far from the main stage, so when Tal played one of his longer pieces I could go back to my dressing room and warm up for my following piece.      

Going chronologically one step backward to our previous concert - one night before playing in Wuhan, we played in Zhongzhou, at the Henan Art Center on May 27. From Taiyuan we traveled by fast train to Zhongzhou, a journey which takes about three hours with the fast train, which travels at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour.

The Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou is a stunning piece of architecture. It is shaped as a group of five golden egg shaped structures divided by bowed glass walls, while an enormous office skyscraper is towering behind. The dressing rooms at the Henan Art Center were lovely studios fully equipped with pianos, coaches, water coolers and bathrooms, and we stayed in them until the evening’s concert rather than going back to the hotel. Both Tal and I felt that our concert at the Henan Art Center may have been the best thus far in terms of the consistency of our performance. The audience was wonderfully expressive, and it was great to see many happy children and meet with some of the people who attended the concert afterwards. Many of them wanted to take pictures with us.

We have now entered the third hour of our train ride to Beijing. It is expected to be very warm during our stay there, with temperature nearing 40 degrees Celsius (Above 100 Fahrenheit). We will stay in Beijing until June 1 and will then go with Helen to her home town, where I also plan to buy some gifts. On June 6 and 7 we have two more concerts, and on Jun 9 we will fly back to Boston.

Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Tal outside the Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Eyran during rehearsal at Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Tal during rehearsal at Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Tal during rehearsal at Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Eyran outside Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Relaxing in the dressing room before the concert at Henan Art Center in Zhongzhou

Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre
Eyran during rehearsal at Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre

Tal during rehearsal at Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre

Tal during rehearsal at Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre

Eyran during rehearsal at Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre

Bosendorfer piano with extra set of keys

Eyran during rehearsal at Wuhan Qin Tai Grand Theatre

Fried tofu dish 

Menu in a restaurant in Wuhan

June 1, 2014

After arriving from Wuhan with the train, we stayed in Beijing for three days. Two days ago Tal and I visited the Chinese Wall and the Summer Palace. We climbed the wall up and down for two hours. I purchased two engraved medals stating “I have climbed the great wall for my student who recently had her tenth birthday and for her brother. We took photos during the climb, including a nice one together. I wore a hat which Tal bought the previous day at the supermarket in Beijing and one of the medals around my neck, and Tal said that I looked like a rapperJ.

During our visit to the Chinese Wall and Summer Palace, we were accompanied by a tourists’ guide and a driver. The guide was great, had great English and had vast knowledge of the places we visited and the Chinese history associated with them. The driver drove safely and had a beautiful very comfortable car. At the end of our visit to the Summer Palace, we walked the long painted corridor all the way to the marble boat and took a short boat ride in the Kunming Lake which allowed for a very nice view of the temple atop Longevity Hill. Some of the trees at the Summer Palace are very old. The ones that are over one hundred years old are marked with a green tag, while a red tag marks the ones that are over three hundred years old.

The following day (yesterday), we went to visit Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. We took a taxi from the hotel, and returned with the subway. It was a very powerful experience to visit sites so overwhelming that it is impossible to say if they are embedded in history or history is embedded in them. At the midst of the day, I enjoyed a personal moment: sitting in one of the smaller courts, away from the crowds, and looking at an old wise tree.

Today we are checking out of the Oak Hotel at noon and taking the train to Helen’s home town, Shijiazhuang. Tal and I are very much looking forward also to meeting there Lewis, who has conceived the Piano Fight tour and has invited us to come with it to China.

Tal at the Chinese Wall
Rapper Rani at the Chinese Wall

Climbing the Chinese Wall
Still climbing...
Tal realizing how much more he still has to climb
Tal and Eyran at the end of their climb
After reaching the top, Eyran is getting ready to work
Tal at an introspective moment of triumph

The marble boat at the Summer Palace in Beijing 

Before crossing the Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace

The genie is finally out of the bottle! 

June 3, 2014

Shijiazhuang turned out to be the perfect setting for taking a few days off before we resume concertizing on the 6th. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of our host, we are staying at the Hoton Hotel located right at the center of town. Below the hotel there is everything we need: two shopping malls, a large piano store were we are welcome to practice as long as we would like, and a beautiful lake perfect for a morning or an evening stroll.

Yesterday Tal and I practiced during the day. We had lunch at the mall and dinner at the hotel. In the evening we went to the lake. There were many people dancing together at a concourse by its side, under the weeping-willow trees. It was the nicest sight and the evening weather was just perfect.

Today we are planning to practice more at the piano store and to visit Lewis’ offices. In the evening, I hope to meet with Jessie, who studies with me in Boston and is also from the town of Shijiazhuang!

And a word of advice about crossing the road in the center of Shijiazhuang: In Boston, if you step down with your foot on the crosswalk, the cars will immediately stop and let you pass. Here, stopping is a luxury no one can afford. People move around and drive as if they were water – the flow of pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles is unstoppable. You just have to find your way to interlace within it.

Tal meets an elephant at the park in Shijiazhuang 

Eyran at the mall in Shijiazhuang

Tal at the mall in Shijiazhuang

Eyran at the park in Shijiazhuang

Fluffy airy ice covered with sweet beans and topped with pinapple

Piano at the piano store in Shijiazhuang

June 6, 2014

It’s around 2 am. Today (yesterday actually) we took a train from Shijiazhuang to Xuzhou, which is in the district of Jiangsu. The train ride took nine hours, but it went by very quickly as the cabin had bunk beds which we could sleep in or lie down. It was a great ride!

At the Xuzhou train station we were picked up and driven to the Best Western Friendship Hotel on 241 Huaihai West Road. Already when exiting the train station it was evident that Xuzhou is a very developed and modern high-end city, and as we drove to the hotel we saw many luxurious hotels and store fronts and beautifully illuminated buildings.

The time in the previous city, Shijiazhuang, was absolutely wonderful. We met with Lewis for lunch and visited his offices and I went shopping with Jessie and bought nice Chinese gifts for my friends in Israel and Germany and for my parents.

Tal and I continued practicing at the piano store. The store managers and staff where very kind to us. We both choose upright pianos at the opposite sides of the store for practicing, so that we don’t interfere which each other’s playing and with the business conducted in the store. One day when we were practicing, a woman came into the store and was looking at pianos. She was having a difficult time making up her mind between two pianos, and I was asked to give my opinion. I played both and told her which one I thought was a better purchase. I think that she may have bought that piano, because after that the store manager asked me to move my practicing to the front of the store, where I practiced on a magnificent Bechstein. The following day we stopped by the store and gave the store managers and piano consultants a signed concert poster and CD, and we took pictures together.

Tomorrow (actually today) we meet at the lobby of the hotel at noon for lunch. At 1:50 pm we will go to the venue for practicing and in the evening play our concert there. According to Helen, the following day, June 7, we will check out from the Best Western already at 5:45 am. We will be driven to the train station and take a train from Xuzhou to Nanjing. At Nanjing we will go to the airport and fly to Jinjiang. We are supposed to arrive at Jinjiang at noon. The staff of the Xiamen Concert Hall will wait for us at the Jinjiang airport and drive us to our hotel in Xiamen, which is about an hour away. Already at 3 pm we are planned to give a master class to piano students in Xiamen. After the master class we will have a little time for practicing and then play our final concert for this tour in China at 7:30 pm. On June 8 we will go back to Beijing, and on June 9 fly back to the United States.        

Eyran on the train from Shijiazhuang to Xuzhou

Tal on the train from Shijiazhuang to Xuzhou

Stage at the Xuzhou Concert Hall

Eyran during rehearsal at the Xuzhou Concert Hall

Tal during rehearsal at Xuzhou Concert Hall

Xuzhou Concert Hall

Eyran and Tal arriving at the Xuzhou Concert Hall

June 11, 2014

The busy traveling plan which we had on June 7 went very smoothly, much thanks to Helen. At Nanjing, we were able to find a large London style taxi which could fit all of us with our luggage and transfer us quickly from the train station to the airport. As planned, we were awaited for at the Jinjiang airport and driven to the beautiful Golden Beach Garden Hotel in Xiamen.

We arrived at the hotel at around 1:30 pm and met with JQ Wang from The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen shortly after our arrival. A kind staff member arranged with Helen for food to be brought to our rooms, as we were scheduled to give a master class already at 3pm.

The master class took place at an intimate concert hall located within the venue. It was the perfect setting to listen to the young pianists and share with them our musical thoughts and advice. JQ Wang conducted the master class and Helen translated what we said to Chinese with great fluency. It was a moving event for me, and a wonderful opportunity to communicate with the musicians and their parents, who also attended our concert later that evening. I was inspired to hear Tal’s musical insights during the master class and excited to incorporate improvisation during my coaching of these highly talented and hard working young musicians. After the master class we took photos with everyone, and there was a wonderful feeling of music sharing and warm hospitality.      

The final concert of our Piano Fight tour took place at the concert hall of The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen. It was the perfect setting: a wonderful concert hall with two magnificent pianos, a Bosendorfer and a Steinway, both perfectly tuned. The staff was also wonderful and demonstrated great team work. But the best thing, which left us after this concert with such a great memorable impression, was the audience. They where so warm and full of enthusiasm, and made the experience of playing genuinely inspiring.
Following the concert, people waited for an hour in line to meet with us and take photos together. I was humbled and full of appreciation for the opportunity to interact in such a friendly way with many of the people who came to this last concert on our tour. At the end of the concert, we were so pleased to meet Linda Sun, the Deputy Gereral Manager of Kingtronics Group. Ms. Sun greeted us with wonderful warmth and it was such a pleasure to receive her compliments following the concert.  

After the concert JQ Wang took us in his car for a short night tour of the city, and only then we understood how beautiful the Island of Xiamen is. It was the perfect ending for a wonderful day. I deeply enjoyed the ocean breeze at night and the slightly cooler elevated inland air as we drove around the island and through it. We ended the evening in a great little restaurant where we had pizza and beer.

Before ending, I would like to thank Helen and Dongpo on behalf of Tal and I. There are more than one and a half billion people in China, but it only takes one person to make the whole of China inviting and beautiful. We were so fortunate because we had two friends like that, who made our tour so wonderful and exciting: Helen and Dongpo. Tal and I would like to express our deepest gratitude for them for their kind friendship and incredible professionalism. You helped us so much perform at our best!

And last, but not least, a huge thank you to my wonderful friend Vincere Sylph, for creating all the imagery associated with our China Tour of 2014. Vince’s photography and designs were utilized by all the venues we performed at, in everything from concert programs to large billboards. 

Eyran and young pianist during master class at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Helen, Eyran and young pianist during the master class at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Eyran and young pianist during the masterclass at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Tal and Eyran with two young pianists and a parent following the master class at the The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Young pianist with Eyran and Tal following the master class at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Billboard with imagery created by Vincere Sylph in the concert hall of The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Tal and Eyran during rehearsal at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Backstage at The Hong Tai Center in Xiamen

Tal, Eyran and JQ Wang

Eyran, Helen and Tal before saying goodbye at the airport in Beijing

Concert flowers for Helen at the airport in Beijing

Libertango (Piazlolla) performed by Tal Zilber and Eyran Katsenelenbogen, piano